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.”
“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.”