If you haven't already seen part 1, it's here.
Old and Bold: Above, Dorothy Draper's New York's Essex Hotel from 1954; Still brazen after all these years.
Interior Decoration may be design's oldest profession. Before there was a room, there was the tomb: Tomb construction goes back to the megalithic period, and cave painting even further. But it wasn't until well into the Industrial Revolution that interior design would be considered the legitimate industry it is now. With the help of the era's version of New Media — magazines — design could be mass marketed to middle class worker bees, a demographic who'd never had such access before. A cause forwarded by publications like Good Housekeeping, House Beautiful, and Ladies Home Journal, and others which all began near the end of the nineteenth century.
(Draper's Greenbrier Hotel, WV, above. Her Victorian Writing Room on the premises was once called The most photgraphed room in the United States.)
By the 'teens of the last century, the nascent industry was already minting its first superstars. Their names were Dorothy Draper, Syrie Maugham, Sybil Colefax, Elsie de Wolfe, Ruby Ross Wood, Rose Cumming, and Sister Parish (with her partner Albert Hadley). They would be women (mostly), born of wealth, blue of blood, and with design credentials often overshadowed by their status as socialites. Their client list — Astor, Vanderbilt, Kennedy, Roosevelt, Vreeland, Warhol, Jackie O, various Royals and other A-listers — would be impressive, and their influence, indelible. Interestingly, you'll find none of their names in Architectural Digest's "The 20 Greatest Designers of All Time." Maybe fashion is to blame; for most of the aforementioned, their work is wildly out of it. Maybe it's their use of chintzes, metallic wallpapers, paisleys, fabric by the truckload, and a musty classical grandiosity burlesqued too many years by too many lesser talents. Those who survived into the sixties would also live to see Minimalism torture their particular brand of high-style.
Designer egghead, theorist, Polosky Prize winner, and author John Pile (one of his definitive sourcebooks above) makes the point that "interior design is a field with unclear boundaries in which construction, architecture, furniture, decoration, technology, and product design all overlap."
With that in mind, The Evidence:
It's been argued that Dorothy Draper is the Mother of all interior designers (besides being Design Editor at Good Housekeeping and author of the classic Decorating Is Fun!). It was she who started the first interior design firm and was the first to "professionalize" the craft. (Though, according to the New Yorker this honor belongs to Elsie de Wolfe.) Whether she was first it seems clear its Draper's work that has left the more lasting legacy. Called the Martha Stewart of her time, she not only established herself in the otherwise female-unfriendly industry of construction, there was that best selling book and she was, from the 30s to the 60s, the most famous interior designer in the world. She was one of the first designers to use eclecticism authentically and not simply as a boast of an over-stamped passport. She is also the only interior designer, man or woman, to be honored with a retrospective at a major museum (starting with the Museum of the City of New York and traveling on).
Another Draper work: This from the Hotel Quitandinha in Ipanema, Brazil. Compare this to her contemporary, Elsie de Wolfe:
De Wolfe's work, while literate and fluent, was still very much a part of the Victorian age that was her time. Draper's style, often referred to as "mischevious," takes the Victorian motif as a starting point. She electrocutes it with color. She exaggerates the forms and modernizes them with affection and humor. And the impact of her work continues.
Two designers to be impacted by the Draper style were American Billy Baldwin and Brit David Hicks.
Billy Baldwin, called the dean of indigenous decorators by Architectural Digest — he hated the term interior designer (and just to note: another designer, Benjamin Baldwin, was similarly called the dean of American interior designers), may be best known for his treatment of Diana Vreeland's Park Avenue apartment. Her instructions to the designer: "I want this place to look like a garden, but a garden in Hell." Eclectic gone wild with exotic flourishes and few strokes of orientalism was his answer. (For a guy who said "the best way to decorate a room is to simplify" this must've been way outside his comfort zone.) The room has an almost pummeling energy and dynamism which makes Draper's bold work practically understated by comparison. Baldwin takes Draper and spins it into something else, which, as we know, is what great creatives will do.
The design of David Hicks (above) came to symbolize the epitome of Swingin' Sixties style. Hicks was infatuated with motifs and geometry and his design, while extremely ordered and disciplined, pulses with anarchic energy and color. Not only could he dress a room, he could dress himself: He was voted Best Dressed Man from the Clothing Manufacturers Federation of UK.
From the Dean of Interior Design to the man Diana Vreeland called the James Dean of decorators: Michael Taylor. If the image above is any indication, his work didn't shrink from the bold. As a colorist, it was subtlety for which he'd be better known. Credited with inventing the California Look, Taylor's style is described as glamorous rustic. His neutral tones and natural textures might appear pale against the aggressive color of the Draper-ists but aggressive color or style would never go mainstream. Enter Michael Taylor: He would change that. His palatte, while subtler and muted, favored tertiary colors to play off the reflective mirrors, chandeliers, and white accents. And natural light: Abundant natural light was his meat.
The result: Whispered elegance and a substantial influence.
Unlike the others above, Taylor was one of Architectural Digest's "20 Greatest Designers of All Time." His supporters are legion. Taylor may also be the one designer who most significantly helped form our contemporary standards of good taste. Yet, in his time he was considered an innovator, an original, and for many he was the best of America's designers.
One design theorist recently spoke of aesthetic sustainability: If there's a yardstick for measuring a designer's greatness, sustainability may be it. With all things considered, for aesthetic adaptability and sustainability the verdict is:
Michael Taylor: World's Greatest Interior Designer.
Next, Part III: Furniture.