Celebrating the Female Pioneers of Interior Design

Lyden Claire Killip
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The interior design industry has a long history of phenomenal female interior designers who have shaped the foundations of the industry and pioneered new eras of design.

From the "mother of interior design" Candace Wheeler to the queen of maximalism Dorothy Draper, each of these design heroines boasts a unique style and taste, which makes them iconic in their own right.

The contributions of these female interior designers continue to influence the industry, cementing their legacy and artwork as legendary. Time for a quick her-story lesson!

Candace Wheeler

Candace Wheeler
Candace Wheeler - the mother of interior design. Image credits: The Met Museum.

Candace Wheeler is often referred to as the "mother of interior design", practising the profession even before it was widely considered one!

Whilst establishing a lasting legacy for herself in the interior design industry, Wheeler also worked tirelessly to open the door to the industry for other women.

In 1877, Wheeler co-founded the Society of Decorative Arts in New York—a society dedicated to allowing women to support themselves through handicrafts. Then in 1883, Wheeler founded the female-only textile firm, Associated Artists.

In 1879, Wheeler co-founded the interior design firm, Tiffany & Wheeler. Tiffany & Wheeler made a clear mark on the 19th-century design scene, designing iconic buildings such as Madison Square Theatre, the Union League Club and Mark Twain's home.

Elsie de Wolfe

Elsie de Wolfe
Elsie de Wolfe - star of the interior design world and the stage. Image credits: Brittanica.

Before being recognised as one of the first female interior designers, Elsie de Wolfe was a stage actress. Wolfe was somewhat of a fashion icon and her style and taste evidently naturally translated to interior design.

De Wolfe transformed wealthy residences with outdated Victorian decor into fresh, spacious, and comfortable spaces adorned with 18th-century French furniture, animal prints, and florals.

Her first commission saw her take her signature style to the Colony Club in New York.

Dorothy Draper

Dorothy Draper
Dorothy Draper - queen of maximalism . Image credits: 1st DIBS.

In 1925, Dorothy Draper built her own interior design firm under the name Architectural Clearing House, making her one of the first to professionalise interior design as a career.

As well as making history, Draper also pioneered the future of interior design with her distinct style. Draper was an anti-minimalist! She had a flair for bold colour schemes, excess furniture and drama in all forms—a style that came to be termed "Modern Baroque".

Draper landed her first break with Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan—the first of many hotel designs throughout her career.

PS. Draper's company continues to exist to this day!

Kelly Wearstler

Kelly Wearstler
Kelly Wearstler - interior designer for the stars. Image credits: Kelly Wearstler.

Just like Draper, Kelly Wearstler lives for maximalism. since the mid-90s Wearstler has been causing a stir in the interior design world—her work with the likes of Gwen Stefani and Cameron Diaz earning her quite a reputation amongst modern-day A-listers.

Today, Wearstler sits at the head of her namesake lifestyle brand and continues to work with a distinctly West Coast style

Her unique approach to design has received endless recognition, such as being named Architectural Digest's 2021 Hall of Fame awardee and Time Magazine The Design 100 awardee.

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Celebrating the Female Pioneers of Interior Design

interior designer

Words by 

Lyden Claire Killip

Published on 

March 22, 2023

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