From the canyons and deserts out West to the rolling green pastures of the East, there’s an awful lot of beauty packed into our US-of-A. And as our founding fathers intended, we’ve made it our own by designing spaces as unique as each separate corner of the American landscape.
So this July 4th, as we celebrate our founding fathers, we’re also tipping our hat to our founding designers. These iconic creative minds put their decorative touch on homes from Hollywood to the Hamptons, creating whole new schools of style for the States.
Read on for the six designers who have made America beautiful from sea to shining sea.
Elsie de Wolfe
Known as the first lady of interior decorating, Elsie has done more for America’s interiors than any other designer. She was born in New York City in 1865, where she fought against the stuffy, overly formal Victorian style of decorating. Designing elite social clubs, a home in Versailles, Hollywood mansions, and spaces for clients with names like Condé Nast and Frick, Elsie pioneered the bright, streamlined look we know and love today.
Quotable: “I opened the doors and windows of America, and let in the air and sunshine.”
Tennessee-born Albert Hadley is fondly referred to as the “dean of American decorators.” With an impressive client list of high-society names like Getty and Rockefeller, you can imagine his design influence stretches far, but to Hadley, names were not really the point — he just wanted to create interesting spaces that were imminently livable. Later joining forces with Sister Parish to create Parish-Hadley Associates, the pair merged their styles to create a modern mix of well-balanced sophistication (Hadley) and flair (Parish).
Quotable: “Decoration is really about creating a quality of life, and a beauty in that life that nourishes the soul, that makes life beautiful.”
Sister Parish was the colorful, romantic side of Parish-Hadley Associates. She had a thing for stripes, chintz, quilts, and overstuffed armchairs, and added a dose of cozy elegance to every interior she touched. Along with Hadley, she’s most famous for decorating the family quarters of the Kennedy White House and is the driving force of the classic American country aesthetic that was so popular in the 1960’s.
Quotable: “Innovation is often the ability to reach into the past and bring back what is good, what is beautiful, what is useful, what is lasting.”
Billy Baldwin is as classic an American designer as you can get. However, he resented the term interior designer and preferred to call himself a decorator, despite his belief that the architecture of a space was a higher priority than its decoration. Whether he was revamping Diana Vreeland’s place on Park Avenue or Cole Porter’s Waldorf Towers apartment, he infused each space with proportion, scale, bold, dark colors, and crisp, polished style.
Quotable: “Comfort is perhaps the ultimate luxury.”
To understand Dorothy Draper’s aesthetic, just take a cue from the title of her 1939 book: Decorating Is Fun! The “Draper touch” was elegant, cheerful, and boldly colorful; a modern Baroque style that can be seen in public buildings all over the U.S. But her most famous work is her impressive overhaul of the legendary Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia. The building is a technicolor masterpiece of vibrant pinks and greens with grand spiraling staircases and checkerboard floors. It is a hotel that embodies all that is ingenious, brash and bold in the American imagination.
Quotable: “I’ll always put in one controversial item, it makes people talk.”
Ralph Lauren may be more well known as a quintessential American fashion designer, but he’s also left an indelible touch on interior design. In 1983, he launched the first ever home decor line by a couture house, bringing his visionary sense of style from our closets to the rest of our homes. Though he doesn’t call himself an interior designer, all of his homes are self-designed. They represent all facets of American style from his classic Manhattan apartment to his rustic, Southwestern ranch in Colorado.
Quotable: “I think it’s the eye, the taste, and the spirit of the dream that links it all together.”
Top featured image courtesy of the Wall Street Journal. Designed by Dorothy Draper for the Greenbrier Hotel.