Timeless Decorating Tips from America’s First Interior Designer

thehouseingoodtaste

Trends come and go, but there are some tenets in decorating that will always stand the test of time. Elsie de Wolfe, America’s first interior designer who was often referred to as the “First Lady of Interior Design,” was a revolutionary and trendsetter and the first to promote a design concept that revolved around a lifestyle.

Her decorating  book, The House in Good Taste (1913), has influenced generations of designers and her impact on style, elegance, and the art of living remain an important influence even today.

The key elements of de Wolfe’s style are as sensible and fresh as ever. These tips from her book are as pertinent today as they were a century ago:

1. Painted Walls

“To me, the most beautiful wall is the plain and dignified painted wall, broken into graceful panels by the use of narrow moldings, with lighting fixtures carefully placed, and every picture and mirror hung with classic precision. This wall is just as appropriate to the six-room cottage as to the twenty-room house. If I could always find perfect walls, I’d always paint them, and never use a yard of paper. Painted walls, when very well done, are dignified and restful, and most sanitary.”

2. The Use of Color

“What a joyous thing is color! How influenced we all are by it, even if we are unconscious of how our sense of restfulness has been brought about. Certain colors are antagonistic to each of us, and I think we should try to learn just what colors are most sympathetic to our own individual emotions, and then make the best of them.”

3. Curtains

“How often do we see masses of draperies looped back and arranged with elaborate dust-catching tassels and fringes that mean nothing. These curtains do not even draw!…
A window is such a gay, animate thing. By day it should be full of sunshine, and if it frames a view worth seeing, the view should be a part of it. By night the window should be hidden by soft curtains that have been drawn to the side during the sunshiny hours.”

4. The Living Room

“Listen a minute while I tell you how I see such a room: Big and restful, making for comfort first and always; a little shabby here and there, perhaps, but all the more satisfactory for that—like an old shoe that goes on easily. Lots of light by night, and not too much drapery to shut out the sunlight by day. Big, welcoming chairs, rather sprawly, and long sofas.”

5. The Dining Room

“In most other rooms we avoid the “pairing” of things, but here pairs and sets of things are most desirable. Two console tables are more impressive than one. There is great decorative value in a pair of mirrors, a pair of candlesticks, a pair of porcelain jars, two cupboards flanking a chimney-piece. You would not be guilty of a pair of wall fountains, or of two wall clocks, just as you would not have two copies of the same portrait in a room. But when things “pair” logically, pair them! They will furnish a backbone of precision to the room.”

 

Iconic Design: The Barcelona Chair

“The chair is a very difficult object. Everyone who has ever tried to make one knows that. There are endless possibilities and many problems – the chair has to be light, it has to be strong, it has to be comfortable. It is almost easier to build a sky scraper than a chair.”

~ Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Photo by Mikael Leppä via Flickr
Photo by Mikael Leppä via Flickr

Originally designed as the centerpiece for the German Pavilion at the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona, Spain, the Barcelona chair was a design sensation that has lasted nearly nine decades. Though Bauhaus designer Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and his design partner Lilly Reich usually created designs for the ‘common man’, these chairs (and their matching stools) were created for the King and Queen of Spain, who were to preside at an opening reception in the German Pavilion. The Barcelona Chair was the talk of the design world at the time and is still a “must have” piece in the homes of architects, designers, and modernist design aficionados.

Mies van der Rohe, along with Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Frank Lloyd Wright, is widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of modern architecture. Often associated with the aphorisms, “less is more” and “God is in the details”, Mies (as he is commonly referred to) believed in the use of simple rectilinear forms, clean lines, pure use of color, and the extension of space around and beyond interior walls. His collaborator for more then ten years, Lilly Reich, was a modernist designer who began her career as a designer of textiles and women’s fashion. When Mies became the director of the avant-garde Bauhaus School of architecture and design, Reich joined the faculty, teaching interior design and furniture design. It was during this period of professional and personal partnership with Reich that Mies van der Rohe became involved in furniture design.

Since it’s introduction, the Barcelona Chair has been in production (with the exception of one sixteen year period), with very few changes from the first version. The original frame was designed to be bolted together, but in 1950, Mies redesigned the chair using stainless steel, which had recently become available. Cowhide replaced the ivory-colored pigskin which was used for the original pieces. In 1953, Mies van der Rohe ceded his rights to the design to Knoll, who has manufactured the chair since then. Though Knoll claims to be the current licensed manufacturer and holder of all trademark rights to the design, replicas abound and are sold under different marketing names. (Click here to get the scoop on licensed reproductions and reissues here on Apartment Therapy.)

For more remarkable chair designs, from classic to funky to fabulous, check out our Pinterest board! 

Classic design that will will stand the test of time is what you will get with a natural stone countertop from Prestige Marble & Granite. Stop by our showroom and let our knowledgable staff help you select the most beautiful and enduring countertops for your home. Our highly skilled fabricators use the latest in technology to ensure precise cutting, fitting, and installation of your natural stone, for a beautiful look for years to come. 

 

 

Decorating is Sheer Fun: A Look at Dorothy Draper and Her Five Principles of Design

“Decorating is just sheer fun: a delight in color, an awareness of balance, a feeling for lighting, a sense of style, a zest for life, and an amused enjoyment of the smart accessories of the moment.” ~ Dorothy Draper

Dorothy_Draper_1942
Dorothy Draper, 1942

In 1925, design icon Dorothy Draper opened America’s first professional decorating firm, the Architectural Clearing House, setting the standards that transformed interior decorating from a hobby or avocational service into a full-fledged profession. Draper revolutionized the concept of design by breaking away from the dark color schemes used throughout the Victorian style and introducing bold, bright color palettes in vibrant hues.  Extremely confident and driven purely by her own idiosyncratic taste, Dorothy Draper was famous for the dictum “if it looks right, it is right.”

Benjamin Moore Draper color palette
Benjamin Moore issued a Dorothy Draper Color Collection of 15 signature shades.

Draper’s style was very anti-minimalist, encompassing exuberant colors, big florals, bold stripes, impressive mirrors, and ornate details such as rococo scrollwork and baroque plaster work. The looks Draper created with combinations of flamboyant colors, big, bold patterns, and interesting textures are referred to as the “the Draper touch,” and the classically modern style she created is known as “Modern Baroque.”

Decorating is Fun coverDraper’s 1939 book, Decorating Is Fun!: How to Be Your Own Decorator, is a timeless how-to full of practical dos and don’ts in decorating. In the introductory chapter, “How to Get Started,” Draper explains the book is about how to have a good time decorating: “If you want to be grim and serious about it, don’t read another word, for what I have to say is not for you.”

Draper was firm in her belief that nothing is as satisfying and friendly as a house that “seems graciously filled with the definite aura of its owner’s personality,” and promises that a home that is “just what we really want” is within reach for everyone. Draper firmly believed there was nothing “deep and mysterious” about interior decorating, but she acknowledged we need to understand some fundamental design principles. These principles are “our five most powerful friends to guide us” – and they are as on-target today as they were in 1939.

1. Courage
“You need courage to experiment, courage to seek out your own taste and express it, courage to disregard stereotyped ideas and try out your own. But courage doesn’t mean recklessness. Before you become your decorator, you must first become a critic. Before you make any decisions, look the field over carefully. Take inventory of what the market has to offer, and above all, explore your own taste.”
2. Color
“The Drab Age is over. Color is coming into its own again. Until very recently, people were literally scared out of their wits by color. Perhaps this was a hangover from our Puritan ancestors. But whatever the reason, brown, grays and neutrals were the only shades considered ‘safe.’ Now we know that lovely, clear colors have a vital effect on our mental happiness.”
3. Balance or Size
“The proportions of your room, the balance of your arrangements, and the size of your furniture and accessories all are most desperately important. Many people have sensitive eyes when it comes to color, but so many are unawake when it comes to line.”
4. Smart Accessories and Details
“It is just as disastrous to have the wrong accessories in your room as it is to wear sport shoes with an evening dress. It will always be these details of a room that will give it distinction.”
5. Comfort
“No room can be called perfect unless it has real comfort. It must be livable for you. It must meet graciously every requirement you make of it. Plan your room for the people who live in it. Think of their habits as you rearrange your furniture. There are a few hard-and-fast rules about this arrangement, which should be obeyed for the sake of balance. But they are very few, and otherwise you are free to experiment.”

Dorothy-Draper
“In the Pink” by Carleton Varney captures Dorothy Draper’s iconic style, indomitable spirit, and original inventive designs which have become an enduring legend.

Draper revolutionized the way we look at interior design by trying new things and pushing people to think outside the beige box. Though she died in 1969, the exuberance and confidence that permeates her work still inspires designers today, and Dorothy Draper & Company is still going strong with accomplished designer and author Carleton Varney at the helm.

Check out our Pinterest Board to enter vibrantly colored world of Dorothy Draper!

When it comes to countertops, Prestige Marble & Granite is here to help you think outside the beige box with a vast selection of unique, exotic and rare natural stones from around the world. Our knowledgeable staff will guide you through selection, layout, design and installation. We welcome homeowners, designers, and contractors to browse our showroom any time! 

 

Iconic Designs: The Eames Lounge & Ottoman

A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous ~ Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

If you were a fan of the TV show, Frasier, you’ll recognize the Eames Lounge that was often featured in Frasier Crane’s apartment; and this particular episode is a classic. The Eames Lounge chair is quite possibly, to quote Dr. Crane, “the best engineered chair in the world,” but do you know the story behind this iconic chair that is still being made today?

EamesesThe Designers

The famous husband and wife design duo, Charles and Ray Eames, made significant historical contributions to the development of modern architecture and furniture. They also worked in the fields of industrial and graphic design, fine art, and film. The Eameses pioneered technologies in furniture design, such as molded plywood work, fiberglass furniture, plastic resin chairs, and wire mesh chairs.

Eames Lounge and OttomanThe Design

Charles’s vision was for a chair with “the warm, receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt.” He said he thought of the human body as a baseball, sinking comfortably and correctly into the inviting, soft leather of the mitt. Unlike its purely modern molded plywood predecessors, the lounge chair was first and foremost, comfortable. It also looked comfortable – a look quite different from the more spartan furniture of earlier modernist designers. But it also had the modern “Eames look:” playful, functional, sleek, sophisticated, and beautifully simple.

The Materials

The chair is composed of three curved plywood shells: the headrest, the backrest and the seat. In early production, beginning in 1956 and running through the very early 1990s, the shells were made up of five thin layers of plywood which were covered by a veneer of Brazilian rosewood. Because excessive harvesting of this species since colonial times has led to its extreme endangerment, the use of Brazilian rosewood was discontinued in the early 1990s. Current production uses seven layers of plywood covered by finishing veneers of cherry, walnut, and other non-endangered woods.

The seat cushions eschew standard stapled or nailed upholstery. Instead, the cushions are sewn with a zipper around the outer edge that connects them to a stiff plastic backing. The backing affixes to the plywood shells with a series of hidden clips and rings.

Introduction

While the Eamses aimed to develop furniture that could be mass-produced and affordable, the Eames Lounge was an exception; it was the the first chair that the couple designed for a high-end market. When the chair was dramatically unveiled on the Arlene Francis Home show in an aura of glamour, the Eames Lounge and Ottoman instantly became a status symbol for the well appointed home of the 1950’s.

Production

Since its introduction in 1956, the chair has been in continuous production by Herman Miller in America, and later by Vitra in Europe. Immediately following the chair’s release, other furniture companies began to copy the chair’s design, but only Herman Miler and Vitra produce authentic chairs with the Eames name attached.

The Eames Lounge chair embraces the ideals of comfort, simplicity, and even elegance; it is truly one of the greatest pieces of furniture ever made.

Any time one or more things are consciously put together in a way that they can accomplish something better than they could have accomplished individually, this is an act of design. ~ Charles Eames

 

Let Prestige Marble & Granite play a role in your “act of design,” by helping you select the most beautiful and enduring countertops for your home. Our highly skilled fabricators use the latest in technology to ensure precise cutting, fitting, and installation of your natural stone, for a beautiful look that will stand the test of time.