I am a little obsessed with Elsie de Wolfe lately...but I can explain.
I’ve been volunteering my professional services to keep the inventory of donated items for the 2011 North State Symphony Frugal House event. It is a clever (and very timely) fundraiser that pairs professional interior decorators with design students from the local university and community college. It starts with an empty house, a lot of donated furnishings and household stuff, some creative thinking, and more committee meetings than you can shake a stick at. A few months and thousands of combined volunteer hours later, the fully decorated house opens to the public (on Thursday, June 9 to be exact). Every item in the house is refreshed and/or repurposed and frugally priced for sale.
So where does Elsie come in? Hollywood Regency is the theme for the house this year, and there was an orphaned room without a decorator...the next thing you know you’ve got an Elsie de Wolfe inspired laundry room decorated by an artist, and an appraiser of antiques and decorative arts. It turned out to be a good combination, though I think we are both happy to be done with the project and back to focusing on our real professions.
Here’s the room description as it will appear in the Frugal House program:
Though we doubt that Elsie de Wolfe ever lingered in such places, she was nevertheless the inspiration for the decorating scheme of the Frugal House Laundry Room. Elsie became the first professional (paid) interior decorator in 1905 when she was commissioned by famed architect Stanford White to fit up the Colony Club in New York City. As an actress, Elsie was already well known in fashionable circles for her enviable wardrobe and unconventional personal decorating style. The success of her work at the Colony Club was to launch her on a long and storied decorating career.
During a 1940s sojourn in Beverly Hills, Elsie decorated her house in an exaggerated black & white color scheme punctuated by shiny surfaces, striped walls, fern chintz, and tented ceilings. (Oh, and little dogs...there were always little dogs.) With that, the Hollywood Regency style was born. So while many others gained fame as practitioners of the style, its roots can be traced back to one impeccably dressed pioneering woman whose decades of work continue to influence the interior decoration of houses to this day. Thanks Elsie.
~Pat Macias & Carol DiGiovanni
And that’s enough of Elsie for now! Unless, of course, you’d like to know more about the old girl yourself. In that case, I recommend Elsie de Wolfe: A Decorative Life for your reading pleasure.