March is Women’s History Month—so we thought it was the perfect opportunity to shine a light on some of our favorite women designers. We’re highlighting some of the women in history who paved the way for female interior designers, as well as some current designers who are doing amazing work in the field.
Read on to discover some designers through the decades and learn more about 10 famous women interior designers you should know!
Elsie de Wolfe
Born in 1859 in New York City, socialite Elsie de Wolfe started her career as an actress, and later made the transition to working as an interior decorator. She was one of the first female interior designers—and some say it was she who invented interior design into its own profession. Prior to that, interior design was more part of the architectural process. But when Elsie hit the scene, she established it as its own discipline.
Alive during the heart of the Victorian era, her designs vanquished Victorian gloom—replacing heavy, dark interiors with light and uncluttered layouts featuring fresh colors and 18th-century French furniture. (Was she, perhaps, one of the original minimalists??) She also notably popularized chaise lounges and animal print upholstery. She had a very high-profile clientele, including Amy Vanderbilt, Anne Morgan (daughter of J.P. Morgan), and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
“Light, air and comfort—these three things I must always have in a room.” – Elsie de Wolfe
Elsie’s Most Iconic Design
One of Elsie’s notable decorating gigs was The Colony Club, New York’s first female-founded social club exclusively for women. This is the space that, nearly overnight, established her reputation as an interior decorator. In stark contrast to the dark, upholstered spaces in men’s clubs, Elsie decorated The Colony Club with a light, feminine style, full of glazed chintz, pale walls, wicker chairs, and even an indoor garden pavilion.
Dorothy Draper was born in 1889 to a wealthy family. She was the first to “professionalize” interior design, establishing the first official interior design firm, Dorothy Draper & Company, in 1923. But she wasn’t just a pioneer of the field; she also invented the “modern baroque” look, a then-modern take on the elaborate, intricate style that was popularized in the seventeenth century. Dorothy loved using vibrant, splashy color in her designs—which contemporaries often referred to as “The Draper Touch.”
“It is just as disastrous to have the wrong accessories in your room, as it is to wear sport shoes with an evening dress.” – Dorothy Draper
Two of Dorothy’s Iconic Designs
Dorothy Draper’s design style is so iconic, we couldn’t just pick one design. So, here are two of her iconic designs that we love!
Above is the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia. It features her signature black-and-white floors, with colorful walls—both striped and palm printed. Dorothy was hired to redecorate the hotel after it had been used as a makeshift hospital during WWII. Using bright colors and oversized patterns, she gave the space a luxurious, elegant facelift. She remained the resort’s decorator into the 1960s.
Below is a residential project she worked on in Michigan. We love the bright, cheerful pink and white palette. (And those Staffordshire dogs!) This space epitomizes what we love so much about Dorothy’s iconic style.
Sister Parish was truly an American original. With no formal training, she launched her own decorating business at 23, during the Great Depression—during which time she really caught on, with friends and family wanting her to decorate their homes. As her design business grew, so did her clientele. Her high-profile clientele included the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Astors, and even the Kennedys. In fact, she designed the Kennedy White House.
She spent six decades professionally designing—with a “cozy, old-money” look being her staple style. She wanted every room to feel romantic and whimsical, and her iconic design style certainly reflects that. She’s widely considered to have created “American country style” and is considered to be the last of America’s grande dame decorators. And, fun fact: Dorothy Draper was her mother’s first cousin!
“Behind every attractive room there should be a very good reason” – Sister Parish
One of Sister Parish’s Iconic Designs
You can’t talk about Sister Parish without talking about her design of the Kennedy White House. She worked with Jackie Kennedy to give the White House a facelift when they moved in, focusing specifically on the residence. Above is the Yellow Oval Room, a space on the second floor of the Whtie House, within the residence, that has typically been used as a private sitting room or a formal living room for entertaining. Sister Parish brought in Louis XVI-inspired furniture for an airy French-style salon vibe.
Born in 1912, Ray Eames grew to fame in the design world for her designs with creative partner and husband, Charles Eames. She made groundbreaking contributions to the fields of architecture, furniture design, manufacturing, and industrial design. However, she actually started as an abstract artist. Over time, she and her husband began developing furniture and architectural design—creating famous pieces like the molded plywood chair and their iconic home, now known as “The Eames House.”
“What works good is better than what looks good, because what works good lasts.” – Ray Eames
One of Ray’s Iconic Designs
Is there a more iconic Mid-Century space than the Eames house? Probably not. Located in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, it was designed and constructed by Ray and Charles to serve as both their home and studio. Built into a hillside, they wanted the natural elements surrounding the house to seamlessly integrate with the home’s design. The two-story steel and glass windows make the outdoors feel like an extension of the home.
India Mahdavi is an Iranian-French architect and designer who founded her studio in Paris in 2000. Her work is largely in the commercial sphere, consisting of bars, restaurants, retail concepts, clubs, and hotels. In all her designs, she loves using bright colors and says she gets her playful color palettes are inspired by the classic Disney films she loved as a child.
“My work is about joy and sunshine and how you can change the mood of a room full of people when the place has some kind of happiness to it. People need color. If I can bring that into the environments I create, I’m happy.” – India Mahdavi
One of India’s Iconic Designs
India designed The Gallery at Sketch in London. A tea room and cocktail lounge, this space is full of so much glamorous, quirky charm. We love the use of pink on pink (on pink) and the opulence that the channel-tufted seats, velvet, and brass accents bring to the space. This is an Instagram-able space at its finest.
Sheila Bridges founded her New York City design firm in 1994. One of her most notable projects is that she designed former-President Clinton’s Harlem offices. She was named America’s best interior designer by both Time Magazine and CNN. Sheila has her own lines of furnishings and decor that are sold in several retail stores—including her now-famous Harlem Toile De Jouy fabric and wallpaper pattern.
“Whether we’re dealing with antiques or modern furniture, everything can be classic.” – Sheila Bridges
One of Sheila’s Iconic Designs
We’re pretty much in love with all of Sheila’s Harlem townhouse—but we were particularly taken by the artwork in this hallway. We’re big fans of cheeky animal art, so we love this floor-to-ceiling gallery wall. It’s full of framed moments from Sheila’s own Van Doe wallpaper, where a deer stands in as the subject of many famous paintings.
Kelly Hoppen is a British interior designer and TV personality. She started her career at the young age of 16 when she was given the opportunity to design a family friend’s kitchen. Since then, she’s designed jets, yachts, and many commercial and residential projects all over the globe. Her style is defined by the fusion of clean lines and neutral tones (she’s often referred to as “The Queen of Taupe”), but those neutrals are balanced with an opulent warmth. She’s the author of nine different design books, with her first book, East Meets West, defining her aesthetic and the balance she seeks to achieve through her designs.
“I am convinced that a calm, quiet and harmonious interior can be as beneficial to health as sensible diet and regular exercise.” – Kelly Hoppen
One of Kelly’s Iconic Designs
The industrial modern vibes of this space are truly in a league of their own. Despite the hard lines throughout both spaces, both feel like an inviting place to gather. And, in the living room, we love how the organic forms of the chairs sit in such contrast to the clean hard lines throughout the rest of the space.
Justina Blakeney is a designer, artist, and the author of New York Times best-seller, “The New Bohemians.” She’s also the founder of the decor brand, Jungalow®, which brings to life her eclectic, bohemian, and global-inspired design aesthetic.
“Add life: People, plants, and pets are the soul of the home.” – Justina Blakeney
One of Justina’s Iconic Designs
Full of Justina’s signature bright colors and boho style, this living room is the perfect blend of that “Jungalow” style, mixed with some modern lines. The result is a space that feels trendy but livable. We’re big fans of the way that the mix of bright colors and a hanging chair give a youthful playfulness to this space.
Barbara Barry grew up with modest means in a family of working artists. She founded her design firm in LA in 1985 and has grown to international renown. In addition to interior design, she’s developed product lines of everything from furniture and lighting to dishes and tiles. Barbara takes inspiration from the colors and forms found in nature, and she believes these restrained color palettes bring order to the chaos of life. In both her home and the spaces she designs, she likes to bring a sense of elegance and simple luxury into the space.
“Underneath all I design, lies the solid belief that beauty is a positive force” – Barbara Barry
One of Barbara’s Iconic Designs
From a residential project in Hawaii, this dining room really blew us away. Though it features a neutral, monochromatic color palette, the textures and shapes in this space give it so much visual interest. It very much gets at the heart of her design style—which leans on the forms and materials of nature, with a desire to bring order out of the chaos of life.
Kelly Wearstler founded her own design firm in the mid-1990s. She built her reputation through designing boutique hotels, and she now works on both residential and commercial properties. Some of her major clients include Gwen Stefani and Cameron Diaz. As a designer, Kelly always refused to blend in, with her design aesthetic being very eclectic and avant-garde.
Today, her firm has evolved from simply working on interior design projects to an interdisciplinary lifestyle brand that offers not only interior design and architectural services but also product design, branding, and graphics. Kelly also designs and develops furniture, lighting, rugs, and more, which she sells under the Kelly Wearstler brand. She is the author of five different design books.
“My aesthetic is about mixology; always something old and something new, raw and refined, masculine and feminine.” – Kelly Wearstler
One of Kelly’s Iconic Designs
Kelly designed the Santa Monica Proper hotel, using the city’s climate, history, and iconography as inspiration for the design. With a mix of vintage and contemporary pieces, the hotel’s lobby lounge gives us major Mid-Century vibes. It’s a feeling of walking back in time, without losing and of today’s modern conveniences. Excuse us while we go book a stay!
Tiffany Brooks was the winner of HGTV’s “Design Star” in 2013, which helped launch her career as an interior designer. Today, she has a design firm in Chicago, but also works with HGTV on several shows and writes for her design blog. Her mission as a designer is to create stunning living environments that encompass her clients’ individual needs and unique style.
“I seek out to uncover that flavor; the soul of their home which always tells the true story of those that inhabit it.” – Tiffany Brooks
One of Tiffany’s Iconic Designs
It’s an unexpected move to put upholstered accent chairs and ottomans around a dining room table. But somehow Tiffany makes it work in this space. We love how the seats and patterned curtains bring softness to this space, while the large windows and oversized plants make this feel like a truly special place to dine.