Elsie de Wolfe:
The First Lady of Interior Design
"I opened the doors and windows of America, and let in the air and sunshine." - Elsie de Wolfe
Born in 1865, design legend Elsie de Wolfe devoted her life to making everything around her beautiful. A maverick in the male-dominated field, she became known as the first lady of interior decoration. For de Wolfe, the focus was not on what would fit in a room, but what was appropriate to a room. She took great offense to “ugly” decorating, and pioneered an anti-Victorian style of simplicity and airiness. Her talent attracted the attention of famed architect Stanford White, who championed her commission to design the interior of the Colony Club, New York’s first social club for women. At the club’s opening night, members, accustomed to the gloomy decor of the time, were astonished by de Wolfe’s ability to create the illusion of a light-filled indoor garden pavilion. She was an immediate success, and her signature principles, described in her book, The House in Good Taste, went on to shape the style of her generation. Her celebrated clients included the eminent art collector Henry Clay Fricke, American authority on etiquette Amy Vanderbilt, publisher and business magnate Condé Montrose Nast, French industrialist and philanthropist Paul-Louis Weiller, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Her friend and client, American composer Cole Porter, even wrote a song inspired by her popular black-and-white color scheme: “That Black and White Baby of Mine.”
De Wolfe’s honors stretched beyond decorating. During World War I, she received the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honour for her hospital relief work for gas-burn victims in France. Upon her marriage to Sir Charles Mendl, a British diplomat stationed in France, she became known as Lady Mendl. The marriage and subsequent residence abroad cost her herAmerican citizenship, yet was restored by a special act of Congress. After World War II, the Mendls moved to Hollywood. Life in California led de Wolfe to many prestigious commissions, among them, Green Gables.
Though the downstairs living and dining rooms have since been redesigned, de Wolfe's original furnishings have been carefully preserved in three of the bedrooms in the main residence. The beds, dressers, desks, and ceiling light fixtures are all excellent exemplars of de Wolfe's simple, light, and lovely style.