Tabulous Tastemaker: Elsie de Wolfe

December 19, 2014

By Tab Byrum

We are going to take a little break from Christmas and holidays today and celebrate a Tabulous Tastemaker,  American Interior Designer Elsie de Wolfe.

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de Wolfe was born December 20, 1865 in New York City, as a child she spent time in Scotland and was even presented at court to Queen Victoria.  Returning to America, de Wolfe dabbled in acting for several years, first in amateur theater then becoming a professional actress throughout much of the 1890’s.  Sometime in the early 1900’s de Wolfe restyled and redecorated her own home and in 1905 decided to focus on decorating as a profession full time.

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Her first major job was the Colony Club in NYC, an all women’s club established by ladies with names like Astor, Morgan and Whitney.  With the club’s opening in 1907 de Wolfe’s reputation as a decorator/designer was firmly established and she never looked back.  In the early 20th century much of the world was still decorating in the heavy Victorian style, de Wolfe changed that by focusing on more feminine types of decor, more comfortable furniture and brighter, more vibrant colors.

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To quote de Wolfe, “I opened the doors and windows of America and let the air and sunshine in.”  She is known for her practical designs, eliminating much of the “clutter” that people were accustomed to with Victorian design making it easier to entertain in one’s home.

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She is also credited with creating the cocktail party, the chaise longues, using animal prints as well as faux finish treatments on walls and furniture.  de Wolfe decorated homes on both coasts of America over the next several years, with perhaps her greatest triumph being when she landed the job of decorating the private family quarters of the Henry Clay Frick home in NYC.

 

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In 1926 de Wolfe married British aristocrat and diplomat Sir Charles Mendl, making her Lady Mendl at the age of 61.  Most people saw this only as a marriage of convenience for both of the parties involved, although they did entertain as husband and wife they maintained separate homes from each other.

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Elsie de Wolfe was almost equally known for the clothes she wore as she was for the rooms she decorated.  In 1935 she was named The Best Dressed Woman In The World by Paris fashion experts, remarking that she always wore what looked best and suited her instead of caving into the fashions of the time.

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Her book on home decorating, published in 1913.

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She worked much of her life, embarking on lecture tours as well as writing articles when she was older, she was always willing to advise.  Elsie de Wolfe died July 12, 1950 in Versailles, France at the age of 84. 

 

All images are courtesy of Pinterest

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