When thinking about your own decorating style, it’s important (and delightful) to explore the history of interior design—from the birth of the “professional decorator” to the advent of the “Prince of Chintz” in the 80s and 90s. This list of legendary decorators is a great place to begin.
1. ELSIE DE WOLFE (1859-1950)
Courtesy of Gray Walker Interiors
Arguably the first “professional” decorator in the United States, Elsie de Wolfe had a penchant for mixing French antique furniture with animal print fabrics. In her famous interior design manual, The House in Good Taste, she articulated her design maxim: “Simplicity, suitability, and proportion.” Her work at The Colony Club, a New York City women’s club, featured her touchstones: indoor latticework, Neoclassical elements, French antiques, and an immaculate sense of proportion. She devoted her life to making everything she touched beautiful.
2. MADELEINE CASTAING (1894-1992)
Castaing’s Lèves Country House
Photo: René Stoeltie
A legendary French decorator and antiques dealer, Madeleine Castaing is known for her unique and whimsical take on the interior. Her iconic style—”le style Castaing”—remains a decorating reference. Her country home (pictured above) featured her signature blue walls, a plush Napoleon III sofa, and 19th century antiques playfully arranged on the chicest ocelot carpet.
3. JEAN-MICHEL FRANK (1895-1941)
4. DOROTHY DRAPER (1889-1969)
The Greenbrier Hotel
The American decorator who penned Decorating is Fun! became famous for her “anti-minimalist” attitude and exuberant environments. Draper hallmarks include black-and-white checkered floors, saturated colors, baroque plaster work, and overscaled florals. Her point of view paved the way for the Hollywood Regency style, and she popularized the Banana Palm motif.
5. BILLY BALDWIN (1903-1983)
In the United States, interior decorating was considered a female profession until Billy Baldwin arrived on the scene. Boasting designs that were rooted in classicism but thoroughly modern in spirit, Baldwin believed that one must be faithful to his/her own taste “because nothing you really like is ever out of style.”
6. SISTER PARISH (1910-1994)
7. DAVID HICKS (1929-1998)
8. TONY DUQUETTE (1914-1999)
Tony Duquette was a renaissance man. As an interior designer, set decorator, and sculptor, Duquette’s unique vision brought him much fame throughout the 20th century. The king of maximalism, Duquette fabulously illustrated that more is more. The offices of Tony Duquette Studios are still in business and operate out of his famed Los Angeles home, Dawnridge.
9. ALBERT HADLEY (1920-2012)
10. ANGELO DONGHIA (1935-1985)
Arguably the “it” designer of the 1970s and 80s, Angelo Donghia’s client list included Mary Tyler Moore, Liza Minelli, Barbara Walters, and Ralph and Ricky Lauren. The above photo embodies his signature look: a relaxed yet sophisticated elegance with just the right amount of glamour.
11. ETTORE SOTTSASS (1917-2007)
The designer’s Milan apartment, 1958
Courtesy of the Archivio Ettore Sottsass
A visionary, Ettore Sottsass began his career as a multi-media designer. He founded the Memphis Group, a 1980s Italian design studio that challenged the tenets of modernism and laid the foundation for the postmodern design movement. Though his work remains polarizing, his mark on 20th century design is undeniable. Especially today.
12. MARIO BUATTA (1935-2018)