19 April 2011

A Top Ten Design Legend List

It's no secret that when it comes to the twentieth century, most design schools focus on modernism.  While students learn all about the Bauhaus to Post-Modernism, traditionalism doesn't get a look in.  Elsie de who?

So when I was asked recently to lecture to F.I.T.'s interior design club on the subject of my choosing, I thought why not take to opportunity to fill this gap as best as possible.  I only had 40 minutes, so I set the parameters of:
10 designers
only American
only traditionalists (i.e. reference historical styles)
active in the 20th century.

1.  Elsie de Wolfe - my starting point as arguably the first professional lady decorator

de Wolfe transformed a stuffy formal ballroom into a trellised indoor fantasy for Bess Marbury

2.  Mrs. Eleanor Brown, McMillen, Inc.  

As an early graduate of the new Parsons School of Design, Eleanor Stockstrom McMillen Brown approached her firm with a head for business.  That it is still thriving almost a century later is testament to its excellent foundation.  McMillen, Inc.'s style was heavily influenced by the fine neoclassical furniture sourced by Parsons' Paris Atelier founder William Odom.

 Mrs. Brown's own dining room - timeless elegance.

3.  Dorothy Draper

Draper made her reputation during the Depression as the one to call to give a project an overhaul on time and within budget.  She not only delivered, she delivered BIG - literally blowing up proportion and scale to exuberant effect.

The Greenbrier, Draper's masterpiece, called "Brigadoon" by one guest and that's exactly right.

4.  Billy Baldwin

From here on, men dominate the list.  Baldwin in many ways was the Bonnie Cashin of interiors bringing an American sportswear attitude to high style.  Cotton upholstery, humble materials such as rattan wrapped tables, and the like all brought everything but the chic factor down a notch.

A client's Matisse inspires the custom print of the upholstery.

5.  William Pahlmann

In his day, Pahlmann was considered the most influential decorator of the 20th century along with Elsie de Wolfe.  Eclectic decor?  He invented it.  His contributions to retailing are equally important.  He began his career on Lord & Taylor's fifth floor of home furnishings and was the first to set up themed vignettes.  As Charlotte Moss says, it's all about giving ideas and did he ever.

6.  Tony Duquette

Duquette never forgot the magic of fantasy and bedazzled his rooms with as much whimsy as trompe l'oeil.  "More is more" is definitely more in my book and if life should be a musical, then a Duquette room is the perfect soundstage.

7.   Parish Hadley

The perfect combination of cozy and curatorial, Sister Parish and Albert Hadley complemented each other beautifully like a chocolate covered pretzel.

8.  Michael Taylor
Taylor was a complete original and proved it with his California look.  Oh what an eye (and the extravagant ego to match)!

9.  Mario Buatta

The Prince of Chintz brought the English Country House style to Manhattan penthouses and how.  Buatta is also a king of color and comfort.

10.  Michael Smith
What better way to round out the list with the Obama's designer.  Architectural Digest EIC Peggy Russell certainly agrees - Smith graced the cover of her first completely new issue.  While Smith knows his way around Fine French Furniture, he trades in brocades for cool Indian-inspired prints.

What do you think?  Who made or didn't make your list?


Blue said...

My list would be so different! It would not be exclusively American and would include David Hicks and David Mlinaric. If my list were to be exclusively American it would certainly include Kalef Alaton and the other men I've been writing about for the last few months.

Dandy said...

The only one I disagree with is Mario Buatta. His mentor, and my former employer, Keith Irvine would have been my choice, or Richard Keith Langham, another protégé of Mr. Irvine's. No,on second thought, since it was Mr. Irvine who schooled these designers,as well as Tom Fleming and Jason Bell, and has a direct line to Colefax and Fowler, and Sister Parrish, he would definitely be my choice. I find his design to be more finely balanced and genuine than Mr. Buatta's. Mr. Buatta is more of a household name, but he is not the better designer. Otherwise, I find the list to be spot on, and think that Michael Smith is the perfect choice for a contemporary traditional designer.

Anonymous said...

As the list is restricted to American decorators only, I would like to see Frances Elkins in it. I would not under estimate her influence on a younger generation of decorators like i.e. Michael C. Smith and Huniford & Sills.

The Devoted Classicist said...

While I think Michael Smith is a fine designer, I would save him for a 21st century list, as that is when his exposure and subsequent influence really began to take off. In that slot I would nominate Mark Hampton because of his fame and wide-spread influence for the Tasteful Interior. (How many country club interiors were redecorated in a copy of his style?!). Otherwise, I think I am in complete agreement.

Picture of Elegance said...

I totally agree with you, they all had a great impact on designing interiors. I would also add Mark Hampton to the list.

soodie :: said...

EEE, i know it is so hard because so many have contributed to the history. but i would have to add Nancy McClelland because of her tireless effort to bring formal training to the profession. i deliver a similar lecture as you do and then question why were some names more popular than others. successful design or successful marketing? one problem is we only see the end result, and not the process from beginning to end (concept, space planning, etc.). you know, to understand who solved the most complicated problem.

home before dark said...

So lovely to hear your voice again Ms EEE. I agree with the Devoted Classicist about adding Hampton and bumping Michael Smith "into the future."

ps Is it just me or the more that Miles Redd does bigger budgets is seems like he and Smith are merging/morphing. But then what do I know, I may have a faulty this side of my computer problem!

Paul Gervais de Bédée said...

That Duquette room is simply stunning, but the height of the ceiling has more than a little to do with it, the proportions of the room were already an ideal raw material that the extraordinary Duquette knew exactly how to shape.

The Down East Dilettante said...

hmmm, love the Bonnie Cashin/Billy Baldwin. If the list is strictly American, then Frances Elkins would be on my top Baker's dozen (incapable am I of editing any list down to ten). While perhaps not the highest profile in her day, her influence since has been huge, Michael Taylor being one of the best examples of her acolytes. And if the list goes international, oh my, Castaing, Fowler, Maugham, Hicks, Mlinaric. And though an admirer of Smith, Hampton was there first...

oh dear. What a tough homework assignment. But very glad to know that these designers got some quality time at F.I.T. One can't do truly great work without a little history behind one.

quintessence said...

What a tough assignment you gave yourself. I think your list is admirable. As much as I adore Michael Smith, I must agree with everyone in that there is an entire list of more contemporary designers that could be considered if you open that floodgate. I think Mark Hampton is an excellent choice for his spot. I also liked the Frances Elkin suggestion or even Van Day Truex.

Jane Hall The Voice of Style said...

Great post and very helpful as I am doing a series on my blog about the history of interior design. I would love to have seen Billy Haines on the list as his furniture designs are still being copied today and he really began the Hollywood Regency look. I would also loved to seen David Hicks and Syrie Maugham on the list. Van Day Treaux was also very influential and I am in LOVE with Tony Duquette and he is the subject of my next post. As a designer, I personally feel I am channeling Dorthy Draper, and Tony Duquette and am very bored with the Bauhaus where the principal of design for the masses, and function over form translates to loss of beauty for beauties sake!

The Devoted Classicist said...

I knew I was forgetting someone! As much as I admire the ever-so-decorative work of the Master of Display Tony Duquette, I would have to omit him from my list of 10 to add John Saladino, certainly to be counted as one of the most influential designers of our time.

Emilie Verbeek said...

Dear Emily,
Thanks for this post!
I recently wrote a post about Syrie Maugham and would love to refer to this post. May I do so?
I'm a fan of your blog roll and place a link to your url in my site. Have a nice day, Emilie Verbeek

Laura Casey Interiors said...

Loved reading all the comments with this interesting post. The only names that come to mind that haven't been mentioned are Billy Haines and Nancy Lancaster.

Anonymous said...

I think that Mark Hampton should have been on this list but I agree with the rest of the choices.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

The big leit motif seems to be the exclusion of Mark Hampton and I have to say he and Frances Elkins were next on deck for my list. But if I swapped out Michael Smith, who I agree is more 21st century, I honestly don't know which one I'd choose. John Saladino is a very interesting suggestion....

Reggie Darling said...

I agree that Francis Elkins should be on this list, and Mark Hampton, too. If you bump Michael Smith into the 21st century, that would allow the addition of John Saladino, too, so long as you expanded the list to be the Best Dozen Decorators...

Claudia Juestel said...

I would have swapped out Mario Buatta and Michael Smith for Frances Elkins and Mark Hampton, or perhaps also included Van Day Truex.

Michael Smith I don't feel has reached the status of a legend yet.



FishHawk said...

"Emily Evans Erdmans" has been included in this weeks A Sunday Drive. I hope this helps to attract even more new visitors here.


Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Wonderful list.
I would add Mark Hampton, Keith Irvine and Nancy Lancaster.
It's a treat to see that Mario Buatta bedroom again. Lovely, timeless room.

Bryan Roberts said...

I would have liked to have seen Jacques Grange and Mark Hampton listed here, especially the former. But overall, a great list!

Jamie Herzlinger said...

Great lost of Americans that really set the tone for interior design. A couple of them on the listnare truly my personal favorites. It was wonderful just to read about each one. Just caught up on some of your recent posts, always wonderfully inspirational.
Have a great weekend!
Jamie Herzlinger

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Dean Farris said...

Plus One Angelo Donghia, plus two! Tom Britt. Loved it when design luminaries would lecture us at FIT ! I was one lucky boy to have attended 1980-83 side by side with Richard Keith Langham, Tice Alexander, and Marcy Masterson...We had the old Parsons faculty, including Stanley Barrows, former ID chair, at Parsons- He died here in Naples,at the NCH, which Dorothy Draper decorated back in the

Dean Farris