7 Legendary Interior Designers Everyone Should Know

Elsie de Wolfe

Known as “America’s first decorator,” De Wolfe boasted a lifestyle as glamorous as her decor. But early on in De Wolfe’s life, it was her onstage style and wardrobe—couture ensembles from Paris—that caught people’s eyes more than her acting chops. She successfully restyled the house on Irving Place that she shared with Marbury, eschewing the stuffy Victorian decorating approach of her day by decluttering, simplifying, and warming up its gloomy and too-busy interiors.

Jean-Michel Frank

But Frank’s style is hard to describe. He’s known as a minimalist, but it’s his layer of maximalism that makes his work so interesting and complex. He was understated and restrained in the shapes of furniture he designed, but often dressed them in opulent materials: ornate mica screens, bronze doors, lamps made of quartz, as well as the shagreen-covered vanity and cubic sheepskin club chair he created for Hermès. Frank’s favorite color was white, which he made appear both spare and rich.

Albert Hadley

Tennessee-born Hadley became known for his modern style, which deftly incorporated a mix of design styles thanks to his seemingly innate sense of balance and what worked together. “Never less, never more,” was his overarching design philosophy.

Sister Parish

Her designs for clients such as Brooke Astor were romantic, warm, and elegant, but her tactics were precise and exacting: Her unforgiving assessment of a client’s space before she started any design project involved rolling a tea cart around the room, editing out any items that didn’t meet with her approval.

Dorothy Draper

“Almost everyone believes that there is something deep and mysterious about [interior decoration] or that you have to know all sorts of complicated details about periods before you can lift a finger. Well, you don’t. Decorating is just sheer fun: a delight in color, an awareness of balance, a feeling for lighting, a sense of style, a zest for life, and an amused enjoyment of the smart accessories of the moment.”

David Hicks

Hicks rallied against the overly precious and stuffy decorating treatment typically given to old English homes, instead becoming a master of mixing colors, patterns, and time periods of furniture and decor to pull off cohesive looks with elements others would have found to be clashing or conflicting. (For example, his infamous living room designed for American cosmetics maven Helena Rubenstein combined purple tweed walls with Victorian furniture upholstered in magenta leather.)

Billy Baldwin

Don’t refer to Billy Baldwin as an “interior designer.” He detested the term. Which is odd, considering that his comprehensive approach to the home went far beyond his role as a “decorator,” his preferred title. Comfort and quality were Baldwin’s top tenets, but he considered a space’s “good bones” to be a higher priority: “I’ve always believed that architecture is more important than decoration. Scale and proportion give everlasting satisfaction that cannot be achieved by only icing the cake,” he said.

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