Tabulous Tastemaker: Sister Parish

July 15, 2015

By Tab Byrum

“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.”
-Sister Parish


Today we are celebrating one of America’s most well-known interior decorators of the 20th century, Sister Parish, today would have been her 105th birthday. Sister Parish was born Dorothy May Kinnicutt, her nickname of Sister came from being the only girl in a family of five children. Parish was born and raised in New Jersey, her parents maintained other homes in New York and Maine and these influences showed through in her work throughout her life.


In 1929 at the age of 19 she met, fell in love with and married Mr. Henry Parish II, the story goes that the young couple moved into a small farmhouse and Sister immediately began putting her stamp on it. She hung white striped wallpaper, pillow ticking drapes, painted the bedroom floor red with white diamonds and dressed the bed in white taffeta with a flower border, people loved what she did in decorating her own home and soon she was decorating for others. When the depression came her family’s fortunes were hit hard, she immediately hung out her own shingle and began working to bring in extra money, it was all downhill from there.

Sister Paris went on to decorate for folks with names like Astor, Vanderbilt, Mellon and Rockefeller, she decorated the Georgetown home of Senator John F. Kennedy and was asked by the new first lady to decorate the family quarters of the White House after he was elected President in 1960. Sister Parish was always known for speaking her mind and not holding back and was fired by Jackie Kennedy from the White House job after she got onto Caroline Kennedy reportedly for putting her feet on the upholstery.


The look of Sister Parish has been described as old money and she was known for her take on English Country. In 1964. Albert Hadley joined her and the design firm of Parish-Hadley was born. Hadley’s take on modernism helped to balance out the more opulent look of Sister, she being known for chintz, needlepoint, and Aubusson rugs. Join me today as we remember and salute Sister Parish, an American original. Enjoy!!!


A Parish room done in varying shades of green, notice the hooked run on the floor. Sister Parish was known for the use of such rugs along with needlepoint pillows and taffeta fabrics. 

The White House, Kennedy Administration


This is the living room of the private family quarters in the White House, decorated by Sister Parish for the Kennedy Family. 


One of the downstairs public rooms at the White House is the Green Room, this is how it looked after it was decorated by Sister Parish. 


Another view of the same Green Room today, it still looks much the same with a few changes like the rug and upholstery. 


Mrs. Kenndy’s bedroom in the White House. 


The dressing room for the First Lady. 


A room in Sister Parish’s former apartment, decorated by Mario Buatta. 


This is a great biography of Sister Parish written by her daughter Apple and granddaughter Susan, I bought a used copy a few years ago, it’s a great read. 


Sister Parish believed that all draperies should have some kind of edging or trim, you just didn’t stop with the fabric, but you added to something to it to finish it off. 


A portrait of Sister Parish and her Pekingese Yummy, painted by Aaron Shikler. 

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