The House in Good Taste by Elsie De WolfeAfter ninety years, The House in Good Taste by Americas first lady of interior decoration, Elsie de Wolfe, still offers timeless design advice.
Compiled from her articles in newspapers and magazines and first published in 1914, The House in Good Taste is a seminal book on interior design with ideas that have lasted a century because they influenced not only the wealthy clients of Park Avenue and Palm Beach, but popular taste as well.
De Wolfe advised Americans to shun ostentation and clutter in favor of simplicity, to dismantle the draperies in order to let in the light, and to replace garish colors with beige and ivory. I believe in plenty of optimism and white paint, she declared, comfortable chairs with lights beside them, open fires on the hearth and flowers wherever they belong, mirrors and sunshine in all rooms. The rooms that Americans inhabited in the middle of the twentieth century still today owe much to de Wolfes tastes.
Elsie De Wolfe
Design Legend Series Part One: Elsie De Wolfe
Style setter, actress, business woman, and a free spirit who lived to be different Elsie de Wolfe blazed the interior design trail in She wanted to find a way to bring that talent into homes that were quite tired and dark with Victorian gloom. She did just that by decorating her own apartment on Irving Place proudly showing it off while handing out her fashionable business cards announcing her new venture. She approached the project breaking all the rules like any great decorator should. The indoor garden pavilion concept was born and Elsie was the creator. She swiftly made a name for herself that got her hired by the Vanderbilts, Fricks and Morgans to name a few. Rendering of the Colony Club by Elsie de Wolfe.
De Wolfe, relaxing at home at Villa Trianon, Versailles, The occasion was the second annual Circus Ball given by the storied decorator and society figure Elsie de Wolfe. Lady Mendl as de Wolfe preferred to be called after she wed Sir Charles Mendl, in had organized a suite of performances to amuse her guests, who included Cecil Beaton; Coco Chanel ; Clare Boothe Luce and her husband, Henry Luce; several members of the Rothschild family; and no shortage of titled aristocrats.
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A New York actress who dressed much better than she performed turned self-taught, headline-making, hard-nosed, ferociously Francophile aesthete, de Wolfe a. The magazines recorded her Mainbocher dresses, her Cartier jewels, her blue-rinsed hair, her fine French furniture, her sharp witticisms, her splashy parties, and her often transactional relationships with the inevitably bold-faced, from the Duchess of Windsor who de Wolfe tutored in all things fashion- and decor-related to Hollywood superstars she entertained them with shameless gusto. Equipale chairs, anyone? If you associate those traditional Mexican pigskin-and-cedar seats solely with the American Southwest, think again. Secretary of the Air Force. De Wolfe used the same textile in her sunroom to cover a lengthy divan.
The key elements of her style are as fresh as ever, and the aura of celebrity she brought to her profession has been passed on from one to another of her successors. After having had some success in amateur theatrical circles in New York, she became a professional actress and performed various light comic and historical roles throughout the s. Her appearances, however, were praised more for the clothes she wore than for what she did in them, as de Wolfe enjoyed the unusual arrangement with her producer of being allowed to choose her own wardrobes—usually couture ensembles she ordered in Paris from Paquin, Doucet, or Worth. Its handsome headquarters at Madison and 31st Street were designed by Stanford White, who, along with Marbury and other friends on the board, got de Wolfe the commission to do the decoration. When the Colony opened in , the interiors established her reputation overnight.
Elsie de Wolfe , also known as Lady Mendl ,  December 20, c. According to The New Yorker , "Interior design as a profession was invented by Elsie de Wolfe,"  although the praise is not strictly true. During her married life from until her death in , the press often referred to her as Lady Mendl. In her autobiography, de Wolfe — born Ella Anderson de Wolfe and the only daughter of a Canadian-born doctor — called herself a "rebel in an ugly world. Arriving home from school one day, she found her parents had redecorated the drawing room:.