The First Professional Interior Designer – Elsie de Wolfe ( 1865-1950)

Before Elsie, there was simply no job description or title “interior decorator” or “interior designer.”

Throughout Europe in the late 1800’s, architects, painters, craftsman, upholstererers, and cabinet makers provided their talents and trades to the wealthy.

Elsie de Wolfe began to change this by combining all the sources and services needed to personally decorate a home. Daughter of a doctor, an amateur-turned professional- actress, Elsie dedicated her life to beauty and style. She selected and supervised the installation of everything she purchased for her clients.

Elsie moved out the Victorian style and brought in a new elegant style. She often chose 18th Century French furniture of the Louise X and Louis XVI style. Woodwork was painted white and ivory. Windows were uncovered to allow natural sunlight in. She changed collections of smaller pieces of art on a wall to a large dramatic painting or a mirror.

Elsie had created her own signatute style but also took part in the glitz and glamour Hollywood Regency style, decorating the homes of  film luminaries in Hollywood’s Golden Age of the 1930’s.


By the mid 1920’s the new “profession” of interior decorators began to flourish. Many society women  started representing  themselves as decorators during this time. They were referred to as “the ladies” for several decades.  Interior design was not taken seriously and was consideredd a “hobby” for the rich and famous.

Elsie de Wolfe paved the way for serious decorators to estsblish themselves as professionals. By the 1930′ s other decorators like Dorothy Draper and Billy Haines emerged.

I will try to have some good photos posted later, but hope all of you who love interior design will enjoy learning about its origins.

We’ve come a long way since Elsie !

This entry was posted in Design Styles. Bookmark the permalink.