1905 A former actress, Elsie De Wolfe creates the interiors for the Colony Club, a building designed by the famous architect Stanford White and claims for herself the title of first interior decorator. De Wolfe continued to work in the field for over 50 years. Her great inspiration was 18th-century France. She hated dark, heavy Victorian rooms.
1914 Ruby Ross Wood opens Modernist Studio and publishes a book, “The Honest House.” The studio fails but Wood reinvents herself, opening a successful firm in the early ‘20’s that bears her name. Wood started her career as a journalist and ghost wrote Elsie De Wolfe’s “The House in Good Taste.” Her rooms showed her sense of drama and refinement. She was a great colorist. Billy Baldwin, who worked for and with her for 15 years, took over her firm when she died.
1917 Rose Cumming, an Australian immigrant, opens her street-level shop and, besides designing theatrically eccentric interiors, produces a line of chintzes that are still sold today. Her great niece, Sarah Cumming Cecil, carries on the family business 95 years later.
Rose Cumming’s own home on West 53rd St. in Manhattan was her showcase. Her dining room, entirely covered in Venetian Roccaille mirror, is filled with early Georgian and Regence furniture and accessories.
1918 Washington’s Elsie Cobb Wilson, another of the era’s so-called great lady decorators, sets up shop in New York and continues her successful career, creating the interiors of U.S. embassies in Peking and Tokyo. Her style focused on comfort and refinement. Lucy Rutherford, the woman with whom FDR was romantically involved for many years, worked in Wilson’s Washington shop. When Eleanor Roosevelt demanded an end to the affair, it was Wilson who convinced Rutherford that it was best for the country to end things.
1923 Eleanor Brown McMillen founds the firm McMillen, which still exists today under the leadership of Betty Sherrill. Brown, who had worked for Elsie Cobb Wilson, was known for her love of many different decorative styles, according to Mark Hampton, who worked for her for five years. Among her top commissions was the design of Lyndon Johnson’s private White House quarters. Her clients have included Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Field and Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford 2d. She went to Parsons and would only hire Parsons graduates.
1924 Frances Elkins, considered the first great California decorator, gets a divorce and becomes a professional designer. She started her involvement with design in 1918 when she took on the restoration of her home, Casa Amesti, in Monterey, California, with the help of her brother, noted architect David Adler. Photo courtesy of the New York Times.
1927 Syrie Maugham creates her famous White Room —one that won her instant notoriety and fame. She started her design career in 1922, when she opened a shop on Baker Street in London. Her stormy marriage to Somerset Maugham ended in 1929. She is known for her palette of delicate soft colors, white rugs and antique carpets, and she always combined a mixture of old and new.
1943 Florence Knoll forms Knoll Planning Unit, revolutionizing office space planning. In 1946, she becomes a full partner in the business and marries Hans Knoll. A pioneer of workspace planning and design, Florence Knoll defined the look and feel of modern corporate interiors in the mid-20th century. She championed the Bauhaus approach to interior design. Photo courtesy of Knoll.
1946 Dorothy Draper redoes the Greenbrier Hotel, one of the high points of her career, which began in 1925 when she opened her Architectural Clearing House. Her first big commission was the decoration of the lobby of the Carlyle Hotel. Draper appeared on the covers of both Time and Life magazines and was a guest on Edward R. Murrow’s Person to Person TV show. Draper was a cousin of Sister Parish, who was 20 years her junior.
1958 Barbara D’Arcy begins doing model rooms at Bloomingdales (shown: Xanadu room). Her rooms were so famous that people flocked to their openings. Some often bought the room in its entirety: Imelda Marcos was one of them. D’Arcy was responsible for launching more trends and styles than any other designer, and was the person most responsible for the popularity of French Country.
1933 Sister Parish began her career in 1933 and was briefly the American partner of Nancy Lancaster, the American who bought and then ran Colefax and Fowler in the 1940s. She was famed for creating a homey "undecorated look," and her client list included Kennedys, Paleys. Rockefellers, Mellons, and Gettys.Shown: The Yellow Oval Room at the White House during the administration of President John F. Kennedy, as decorated by Sister Parish.
1962 Sister Parish joins forces with Albert Hadley and Parish Hadley becomes the dernier cri for decoration. It launched the careers of many designers, including Mark Hampton, Bunny Williams, David Kleinberg and David Easton.
1968 Melanie Kahan publishes “There’s a Decorator in Your Doll’s House” a design book for children. Kahane started her business in 1939 and created a sensation when she used a bright red stove in a kitchen she designed in 1946. She was known for her innovative use of color, materials and textures.
1972 Sally Sirkin Lewis founds J Robert Scott. Lewis began designing in the early ‘60’s and opened her first shop in 1968. She has more than 100 U.S. and U.K. patents for her creations in furniture and fabrics as well as a high-profile interiors practice, which includes designing the home of Paige Rense, the former editor in chief of Architectural Digest. Shown: Library, Private Residence in Carmel Valley, California, designed by Sally Sirkin Lewis. Photo by Ken Hayden.
1979 Rose Tarlow starts Melrose House— the beginning of her fabled antiques and furnishing empire. She does only a few interiors projects—David Geffen and Barbara Walters are two of her clients but she’s as famous for the commissions she rejects as those she accepts (she notoriously turned down Bill and Melinda Gates). Her style is understated and classic and she easily mixes Georgian and Scandinavian modern, always using the very best of everything.
1988 Anabelle Selldorf opens her offices in New York. German-born Selldorf, daughter of architect Herbert Selldorf, makes her mark with a style some called gentle modernism. In 2002, her work on the Neue Gallerie in Manhattan catapults her to greater fame. Shown: Richmond Townhouse in London. Photo by Simon Upton.
Anabelle Selldorf has revived Vica, a furniture company founded by her grandmother in the 50s and designs pieces for it as well as reproducing her father’s work. Selldorf has an impressive client list, especially in the art world. She has designed studios for Jeff Koons and David Salle as well as galleries for Gagosian, David Zwirner and Barbara Gladstone. Shown: Fifth Avenue apartment in New York. Photo by Thomas Loof.
1998 When her father, Mark Hampton, dies, Alexa Hampton takes over as president of Mark Hampton LLC, a business that he founded in 1976. She has gone on to make a name for herself that is as recognizable and well-regarded as his, with the same classic, eclectic and comfortable style. She also designs products for Kravet, Hickory Chair, Visual Comfort and Stark Carpet. She appears regularly on This Old House.
2002 Eva Maddox’s Branded Environments, a firm she founded in 1975 —one that has had a major impact on how business offices are designed— is acquired by Perkins and Will. In 1994, she co-founded, with Stanley Tigerman, Archeworks, a multi-disciplinary hands-on school that advances design in the public interest. Shown: Haworth's showroom in Calgary by Eva Maddox Branded Environments.
2012 Lauren Rottet becomes the only woman in history to be recognized as a Fellow Member in both American Institute of Architects and International Interior Design Association. Corporate interiors are her specialty. Her firm, DMJM Rottet, has a client list that includes Walt Disney, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Mattel. She also has a list of products to her credit, with furniture collections for Brayton and Bernhardt Design as well as carpeting for Lees and case goods, in collaboration with Richard Riveire, for Steelcase Woods. The offices of Artis Capital in San Francisco offer a great example of Lauren Rottet’s architectural sensibility and her technical prowess with lighting, making the breathtaking views even more spectacular.