Adam Lewis does his research. The design writer spent ten years on the drilling down process, going through design archives for his newest book, The Great Lady Decorators
by Rizzoli. On Tuesday night, he gave a captivating talk at the Grolier Club and a signing with Potterton Books
. Not only is he a dynamic speaker, he was an Episcopal priest AND an interior designer! Much of his research involved Albert Hadley-- Lewis penned Hadley's book, and since he had worked with these ladies he shared great stories. Mr. Hadley sat in front of me that night, and it was great to hear him chuckle at the funny tales. One such tale involved a French designer who lived and worked in her shop, Madeleine Castaing. The great French decorator never liked things to look too neat. So when she vacuumed, she would reverse the flow to release dust into the air because she felt it gave the space more character! These women were nothing if not independent thinkers. He has selected the dames of design, featuring the works of Elsie de Wolfe, Ruby Ross Wood, Elsie Cobb Wilson, Dorothy Draper, Frances Elkins, Thedlow and Marian Hall, Syrie Maugham, Nancy Lancaster, Madeleine Castaing, Eleanor Brown and Sister Parish. Through a mix of period photographs and color interiors painted by Jeremiah Goodman, the book tells the design stories of these twelve legendary and influential women, sharing their decorating maxims and theories. Even if you are not familiar with everyone on the list, there is a great deal that can be learned from looking at the work of women who helped shape modern day interior design as an industry and as an art form from 1870-1955.
These designers were all ladies. Most either married someone of great wealth or had to find ways to support themselves after the war. Above, a Dorothy Draper room with coordinating floral elements and shapely chairs. Draper did mostly commercial work in the dramatic Baroque style, starting off with the Carlisle here in New York. If you walk through the elegant lobby today, few things have changed.
Syrie Maugham's entry hall in her King's Road home has richly painted walls and white accents. She is best known for her short period of designing all white rooms. Not practical but visually stunning.
A Frances Elkins room painted by Jeremiah Goodman with red upholstery. He uses bold colors in his work that come from his imagination and are not necessarily an accurate recreation. To him, nothing is more boring than realism. Elkins was one of the first designers to bring back Jean Michel Frank pieces from Paris.
Eleanor Brown's Sutton Place apartment with a round dining room. It is considered one of the finest rooms she designed. Brown was one of the only ladies that studied design, she took classes at Parson's after her divorce.
But there is more to come!
Never one to rest on his laurels, Adam Lewis is working on his next tome about Billy Baldwin due out in the fall.