by Rose McClement
I heard mutterings recently about today being International Woman’s Day, but obviously I wasn’t really paying much attention. I once sat down to examine the international calendar and believe me there are many causes out there that have a day set aside for them. That, I think, was my subconscious reaction towards this day – until this morning that is. That is until I went onto Google this morning and took a long look at the women who were being celebrated and acknowledged for their contribution to global society as a whole!
It was then that I decided that we here at The Design Tabloid need to pay tribute to the women who have made their mark in the field of Interiors internationally. Some of them local gals (since South Africa isn’t so behind the bush in a third world country as some may be tempted to think) and some international ladies. We salute these impressive women for making their mark in the Interiors Profession.
Elsie de Wolfe
While Elsie De Wolfe, also known as Lady Mendl, was not the first ever interior decorator – there were definitely others before her – it is she who is said to have turned it into a valid profession. From her first commission in 1905 to the 1930s, Elsie was without doubt the most well known name in the American interior design / decorating field.
Elsie was quite the interior design revolutionary – a style rebel of her time. She famously detested the Victorian style of her youth which she described as dark and ugly. Instead she opted for lighter and brighter schemes, creating softer and slightly more feminine interiors. Elsie, who preferred the late 18th century French style, also reintroduced the concept of white and light painted furniture. She hated clutter and favoured expanded open living spaces.
In 1913 Elsie authored the widely read book, The House in Good Taste, a collection of writings on interior decoration and practical decorating advice.
Annie Sloan – I almost have to say no more than that – has been a household name for decades. She can be viewed as the figurehead of the decorative painting revolution and is internationally recognised as a respected paint and colour expert. The Telegraph even named her as one of “Britain’s most influential female designers.”
Annie unwittingly changed the face of furniture painting in 1990 when she launched her own range of decorative paint. Unable to find the exact paints she desired to work with, Annie used her fine art knowledge of colour, paint, pigments and art history to develop the now renowned Chalk Paint brand. The Annie Sloan Chalk Paint product can be found in over 50 countries around the world and has influenced not only the decorative painting industry, but interior decorating as a whole.
Tricia Guild is a British designer and the founder of Designers Guild, an international home and lifestyle company. She is known for her bold and exciting use of colour and pattern.
Designers Guild had its modest birth in 1970 when Tricia was searching for new and exciting textiles to decorate with. She recoloured a collection of Indian hand-block printed textiles, which later became the company’s first collection.
In the past four decades Tricia has grown and expanded Designers Guild into a global homeware and lifestyle empire. Today their product range includes everything from fabrics and wall coverings, to furniture, homeware and even paint.
Tricia has authored 15 books and has been commissioned by the Royal Family multiple times – something which is no small feat.
In 2008 Tricia was appointed an OBE for services to interior design.
Lynn McAdam has been involved in the field of South African interiors for must be well over thirty something years. Lynn and her sister were the founders and creatives behind the Biggie Best brand of the 80’s, a household name in South African retail interiors.
Lynn and her husband, Sibley sold Biggie Best and in 1987, they opened a retail brand, with a new and different type of interior product, namely handcrafted wooden furniture. The shop was called Block & Chisel. Naturally, driven by their passion and business skills, Block & Chisel has become a much desired interior retail store in Cape Town and has expanded to include Loft Living as well as a store in Johannesburg.
Retail interiors is a very challenging field and needs clever and dedicated navigation in order for it to remain a player in the business. Block & Chisel under the guidance of Lynn McAdam has done just that.
When Lynn and Sibley McAdam decided to explore other avenues in life, Pru Phufl bought Biggie Best and continued to expand the retail outlets via franchises throughout South Africa. Every major city had a Biggie Best shop.
Pru went on to take the brand internationally via franchises as well, with shops in Europe, Australia and Britain. Pru was awarded the coveted “Business Woman of the Year Award” in 1989 by Business Woman Association of South Africa. Being very hands on person, Pru continued to be involved in the design and development of their range of fabrics, wallpapers and furniture throughout the years.
Although many of the franchise outlets have been reduced, Biggie Best continues their retail and trade business to this day, having survived for near on forty years. They have managed remain in touch with the flow of interior trends, while retaining their particular flavour / style of interior finishes – Contemporary Country.
To me the secret of their success was to remain an affordable brand – bringing interiors to the middle class people. Making it attainable at a time when interior decorating was a luxury only the privileged of the upper class could afford it, just outside of the reach of the middle class. Oh how times have changed – thank you Pru Phufl for your contribution.
4 thoughts on “5 Pioneering Women In Interiors”
It seems Elsie de Wolfe was quite a character – really gutsy and ahead of her time.
I read this anecdote in The New Yorker:
“In 1921, at the pinnacle of her decorating career, Elsie de Wolfe sued one of her clients for neglecting to pay her for seventeen thousand dollars’ worth of furniture. De Wolfe had never before set foot in a courtroom, but cross-examination presented no terrors for a woman who, at the age of fifty-six, was plucky enough to perform headstands in public. When the opposing attorney asked whether she had written a certain letter, she replied that she was not a stenographer. When asked whether she had overseen the furniture shipment, she replied that she was not a shipper. ‘Well,’ the lawyer asked, ‘what do you do, Miss de Wolfe?’ In her autobiography, de Wolfe recalled, ‘I looked at him, as though he had been graciousness personified, and said in a voice of milk and honey, ‘I create beauty.’'”
LOL, got to love her!
She had me at ” I create beauty’. My kinda gal all the way.
This is so great, I love it!
Thank you. That’s such a ‘feel good’ comment.