Famous Interior Designers – History through famous People
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Today, we will present to you six prominent figures of the Interior Design: Elsie De Wolfe, Ogden Codman, Frances Elkins, Frank Lloyd Wright, Fritz August Breuhaus and Stephane Boudin.
Elsie De Wolfe
For “an ugly child who lived in an ugly age,” the quest for beauty was a lifetime objective for this pioneering famous interior designer. This child was none other than Elsie de Wolfe, who was born in 1865, and grew up to be a professional much ahead of her own time. Described as the first lady of interior design, Elsie de Wolfe was by no means traditionally beautiful. However, defining beauty in her own terms, she held that a person could be attractive by staying healthy, dressing tastefully and keeping fit.
De Wolfe began her professional career in theatre as an actress, making her debut on the stage in 1890 as a member of the Empire Stock Company. Later, she also formed her own stock company. Developing a passion towards interior decoration, in 1903 she decided to retire from the stage and launch a career as a professional interior designer.
Elsie lived in an age, the high Victorian styles and trends which did not appeal to her aesthetic sense. Averse to the gloomy decors induced by densely patterned wallpapers, heavy velvet draperies, and dark woodworks of the period, Elsie de Wolfe introduced her unique style which featured light and fresh colours and wallpapers with delicate Chinoiserie prints. Fascinated with the eighteenth century furnishings of France and England, Elsie introduced comfortable chairs with soft upholstery to America, in place of the ornate, uncomfortable Victorian era chairs. Her trips to Europe made her absorb French lifestyle and fashion. Mastering the arts of food, fashion and entertaining, she brought many unique elements of European lifestyle to America.
In 1905, Stanford White, the architect for The Colony Club and a long-time friend, helped de Wolfe secure the commission for its interior design. The building located at 120 Madison Avenue in New York City, became the premier women’s social club and is now occupied by the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Elsie’s success in this project was a turning point in her career, which secured for her a number of esteemed clients. As well as being a successful interior designer she also was a successful author on the subject. “A House in Good Taste” is one of her most famous books on interior design and her autobiography published in 1935 outlines many interesting aspects of her private life.
In 1926 she married a diplomat, Sir Charles Mendl and until her death in 1950, was called Lady Mendl. As a self proclaimed “rebel in an ugly world”, she was named ‘the best dressed woman in the world’ by Paris experts in 1935. Coming from the fashion capital of the world, it was the highest praise one could receive at that time.
Elsie’s distinctive philosophy of interior design is evident from her words “I opened the doors and windows of America and let the air and sunshine come in”. Apart from interior design, it is claimed she introduced innovative ideas such as cocktail parties and small intimate dinner parties to American society.
Ogden Codman Jr was a famous American architect and interior designer. Codman was born in the year 1863 in Boston, Massachusetts to Ogden Codman Sr. He was sent to Dinard during the period of 1875 to 1884, which was a colony of America in France. Once he returned from Dinar, Codman joined MIT, the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for his future studies.
Codman was influenced by two of his uncles to take up interior design as a career. One of his uncles, John Hubbard Sturgis was an architect and the other one, Richard Ogden was an interior decorator. Codman was attracted to sixteenth to eighteenth century Italian architecture, as well as to French and Boston architecture.
At the start of his career Codman worked as apprentice in many Boston architectural firms. In 1891, he started his office in Boston and practised on his own until 1893 after which he relocated to New York City and Newport, Rhode Island. In Newport he happened to meet the novelist Edith Wharton, who became one of the first clients. Codman and Edith Wharton together published ‘The Decoration of Houses’, a famous book on interior design.
Codman was introduced to Cornelius Vanderbilt II by Wharton. Vanderbilt employed Codman to design the second and third floor rooms of his Newport summer home, called ‘The Breakers’ where he designed the rooms in eighteenth century Italian classical and French style.
he built a home called Codman-Davis House in Washington DC in 1907, for his cousin Martha Codman. Presently this building is the official residence of the Ambassador of Thailand. Codman-Davis house is one of the few homes he designed which is still intact.
Among his many esteemed clients in New York, is John D Rockefeller Jr, for whom he designed the famous Rockefeller family mansion in 1913. Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site in New York for Frederick Vanderbilt and the townhouse for Edith Wharton in Park Avenue figure prominently among Codman’s creations. Codman designed and completed 22 houses. He also designed the East wing of the Metropolitan club at 1 East 60th Street. He introduced the trend of lowering the entrance doors of townhouses from elevated stairways to the basement level. Among Codman’s Newport commissions, a prominent one is the garden trellis for Wakehurst, the summer home of James J Van Alen.
In 1920 Ogden Codman Jr left for France and spent the last thirty one years of his life in a French City called Chateau de Gregy. He died at the age of 87 in 1951.
Frances Adler Elkins was one of those legendary decorators of the early 20th century and was renowned for her inspired designs. Elkins was born in 1888 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and is the younger sister of the celebrated Chicago architect David Adler (1882-1949). David Adler was an architect specialized in the French architecture movement know as The Beaux Arts, and both Adler and Elkins worked together in Chicago and the Bay Area from the 1920s to 1930s. Some of her works in the Bay Area includes interior designing of Yerba Buena Club at the Golden Gate International Exposition and the 1939 fair at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. Her designs integrate the prevailing style of various places with changing timeline in history, and ranges from country French to Chinoiserie to art deco.
In the beginning she was influenced by the works of Jean-Michel Frank who is a French interior and furniture designer, and Alberto Giacometti, a sculptor who designed fixtures. She promoted these designers through her California-based interior design business established in 1918.
Elkin’s career started when she and her husband Felton moved to Monterey, California where they purchased the historic abode Casa Amesti and transformed it into a masterpiece in architecture with their diverse architectural styles and periodic transformations. She showed exceptional talent in interior designs with classical details such as a dentil cornice and fluted door casings being added to the plastered wall and plank ceilings of the residence. Elkins had her own design principles which she tried first in the dwelling itself by arranging various English, French and Chinese furnishings on the polished redwood floors. She had a special affection for white, blue and yellow colors.
Elkin’s creativity was enhanced by her friends who often urged her to decorate their homes. Her initial masterpieces include the clubhouse of Cypress Point Club which she designed in 1930. The same period saw her reputation spreading to San Francisco where she was the chosen interior designer for the city’s famous families such as the Haases and the Zellerbachs. The Zellerbach mansion in Broadway contains some of Elkin’s original designs. She was one of the architects among the trio who was elected by the San Francisco society. Her interior design works have influenced designers such as Michael Taylor.
Her usage of colors within her interior design schemes were accepted with great enthusiasm during the early periods of the twentieth century, due to the unique style and fineness she had incorporated into her works. Her contemporary furnishings have the combination of fine antiques blended into them and the combination set a trend in the ‘eclectic’ style which had become popular ever since. Her designs stood ahead of the time they were designed and attract art lovers even today.
Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright was an American architect and interior designer famous for introducing innovative design structures for buildings. He was born in Wisconsin state, US as the son of William Carey Wright and Anna Lloyd Jones in 1867. His career in interior design and architecture flourished from 1885 until his death in 1959, and he has to his credit about 500 completed works including skyscrapers, resorts, museums, churches, government offices, schools, bridges, hotels and a number of other masterpieces. He was also famous for designing most of the interior elements for his buildings including furniture, light fittings, stained glasses and other decorative elements.
Frank Lloyd Wright took a keen interest in promoting organic architecture which blends human habitation with the natural world, and he widely supported the Prairie school of architecture. His organic architecture was clearly a turning away from the traditional European style that existed at his time throughout America. He also developed the concept of the ‘Usonian’ home for middle income families in the USA.
Frank Lloyd Wright designed custom-built furniture and fittings which integrates ideally with the structure of the building. He was one of the first architects to design and install electric light fittings including some of the first electric floor lamps, all custom-made to match the interiors.
During his childhood, he was given the initial spark in creating designs by his mother Anna Lloyd Jones who gifted him with kindergarten educational blocks which could be assembled in various three-dimensional compositions. Some believe, the geometrical clarity he got in his building designs are a result of his experience with these blocks in his early days.
In 1886, while attending the University of Wisconsin, he joined Phi Delta Theta fraternity and took part-time classes there. He then moved to Chicago without completing his degree, where he joined the Joseph Lyman Silsbee’s architectural firm. After working there for nearly one year, he left to work for Adler & Sullivan.
In 1889, he got married to Catherine Lee ‘Kitty’ Tobin and settled in Oak Park, Illinois. His social status and popularity as an interior designer and architect increased only after marriage with Kitty Tobin, who was the daughter of a wealthy businessman.
Louis Sullivan of Adler & Sullivan Company was one of his mentors who had brought him to the forefront of building designs. Frank had to leave the firm under particular circumstances, and decided to acquire an income by designing homes he referred to as ‘bootleg’ designs. His famous ‘Prairie Houses’ were designed between 1900 and 1917 and those designs were custom-built for matching with the landscape of Chicago.
He made his mark in writing by authoring almost twenty books and many articles. As a tribute to his services in the field, the American Institute of Architects recognized Frank as ‘the greatest American architect of all time’ in 1991.
Fritz August Breuhaus
Known for his good looks, winning personality and how he charmed women, Fritz August Breuhaus was considered to be one of Germany’s most sought after and most important architects. However, he is also known for his contributions to interior design. His interior design projects ranged from the interiors of his own flats and libraries in various parts of Europe to designing the interiors of training vessels, battleships, steamships and airplanes.
Also known as Fritz August or F.A.B, he was born on the 9th of February,1883 to Heinrich Hugo Breuhaus and Johanne Kipling in Solingen, Germany – a steel industry center. Friedrich pursued his studies in a well-known private boy’s high school in Oberkassel.
From 1929, Fritz August added “de Groot” to his name, to make it known that he was a descendant of Breuhaus de Groot, a famous dynasty of Dutch painters. However, in reality Fritz August was not the great-grandson or grandson of Frans Arnold Breuhaus de Groot.
Completing his schooling and graduation in the French town of Bonn, he returned to Solingen in 1900 to start apprenticeship at a steel founding firm. In 1902-03, Breuhaus studied at Hessische Technische Hochschule Darmstadt. In 1903, he studied construction science at Technische Hochschule Stuttgart and attended classes on design, watercolor painting and decorative design. In 1904, he studied at an arts and crafts school “Kunstgewerbeschule Düsseldorf”.
From 1913 to 1914, his interior design projects included a library room, a hunting room, a dining room, and also for a cabaret hall on the “Delphin”, a pleasure boat. He served in the First World War and became a sergeant. Following Breuhaus’ arrival from Russia, his life was a picture of disaster – he lost a son to pneumonia and divorced his first wife.
Breuhaus turned to fabric printing, and the designing of furniture, utilitarian and decorative objects, and wallpaper in the 1920s. He became a star in interior decoration when he furnished the first class of the luxury liner named ‘Bremen’. The period from 1920 to 1930 is marked by Breuhaus marrying again and by his winning various interior design competitions. During this period, he did interior design for steamships such as ‘Westindiendampfer’ and ‘Azorendampfer Orotava’, and also for a barbecue restaurant.
In the period from 1932 up to his death in 1960, Breuhaus’ activities included interior design for ships such as the SS Cordilliera and Gorch Fock and for the passenger section of airplanes such as the Heinkel HE 70. He also designed the interiors of an entrance hall for an organization of Berlin artists. Fritz August Breuhaus, the interior designer and architect passed away on the 2nd of December, 1960.
Stéphane Boudin, a Parisian interior designer is well-known as the President of what is considered by many to be the world’s leading interior decorating firm in the 20th century – Maison Jansen. One of Boudin’s greatest projects as an interior designer was the restoration and renovation of the White House in the early 1960s.
Stéphane Boudin was born in 1880. His father – Alexandre Boudin was a manufacturer of passementerie and trimming. It was while Stéphane was working at his father’s textile trimming business in the 1920s, that he was approached by Jean-Henri Jansen, the founder of Maison Jansen. In 1925, Boudin got an assistant by the name of Monsieur Henry Samuel. Following Jansen’s death in 1928, Stéphane Boudin along with Gaston Schwartz, took control over all Maison Jansen’s interior design and decoration projects. While Schwartz contributed aspects of modernism, Boudin was the traditionalist.
Boudin helped the firm win several new interior design projects by giving importance to historical accuracy and detail, and through his adeptness at creating spaces that were both dramatic and unforgettable. He efficiently schooled the firm’s young protegés, reviewed their work on a regular basis, and arranged trips for them to Europe.
The most significant order which Boudin received was most probably the one he got prior to his retirement – the order from Jacqueline Kennedy to work on the interiors of the White House (1961-63). Jayne Wrightsman – the woman who introduced Boudin to Jackie – was personally tutored by Boudin in French decorative arts.
Jacqueline wanted a touch of the international to be added to the American look of the White House, and Boudin was entrusted with the task of making this desire a reality. In addition, Boudin and Henry du Pont were enlisted with the duty of getting antiques, and of lending sophistication and thoroughness to the décor.
Boudin mainly focused on the American Empire style when furnishing the Red Room of the White House. He included pieces made by Charles-Honoré Lannuier, a cabinetmaker. In the case of the Blue Room, Boudin laid emphasis on furnishing it with furniture of the French empire style. The style for the Green Room, namely the Federal Style, was chosen by Henry du Pont, influenced by Boudin. Boudin also introduced changes in the décor of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room.
Another important interior design project which Boudin was entrusted with in his lifetime was to completely change the famous Leeds castle into a stylish country residence. It was the last private owner of the castle – Lady Baillie who entrusted him with this task.
Stéphane Boudin retired in his seventies and passed away in 1967 – his successor was Pierre Delbée.