Elsie de Wolfe, Networking in the 1930s, Good Advice and Deck Cushions

Elsie de Wolfe in 1919
Architectural Digest

America's first lady decorator. Yes, they were called ladies back then. Elsie de Wolfe was largely responsible for the creation of interior decorating as a distinct profession. Before Elsie, the design end of things was mostly done by architects and upholsterers.

The de Wolfe signature style of white paint, botanical chintz and leopard print was ground breaking 100 years ago. Let's not forget her love of dogs either.

Cristi Holcombe

Today, white interiors are described as fresh, new, clean, even dramatic. Leopard has been declared by some as a new neutral. Dogs play a supporting role in photo shoots.

Channeling Elsie. She died 65 years ago in 1950.

Elsie de Wolfe opened shop in 1905 and reigned as rock star decorator until the start of World War II. Her client list included Henry Clay Frick, Condé Nast, Cole Porter (he gave her a line in Anything Goes), Wallis Simpson. She worked both coasts, Paris and London.

Back in the day, adverts for decorators were unexciting. This one from 1910.

From the blog, Down East Dilettante.
As a business card  this works. Plenty of space to write a note to the client, e.g. "Call Me, I'm available to do your ball room!"

Black and white newspaper ads generate zero buzz. Shelter magazines are in their infancy. Color film has yet to be invented.

If you are young enough to be on your third iPhone, film is that stuff on your teeth when you hop out of bed in the morning. Difficult then to comprehend life devoid of technology. No reality tv, no internet, no blogging, no daily emails from Elle Decor, Traditional Home, Architectural Digest.

So how does a decorator in the 1920s and 30s network, generate buzz, get new clients?

Parties. Lots of parties.

1938. Arriving at an Elsie soirée. Coco Chanel and Serge Lifar, the ballet master 
of the Paris Opéra, and writer Paul Morand.
Photo: Roger Schall and (c) Jean-Frédéric Schall
From the AD article.

Elsie's were legendary. Everyone wanted to attend an Elsie event. Politicians, socialites, business tycoons, royals, film stars, clients and the glitterati of the day, they dressed to the nines and came in droves.

Elsie de Wolfe dispensed advice as legendary as her hospitality. My favorite:

"Be pretty if you can, be witty if you must, but 
be gracious if it kills you."

I'll be gracious and share my latest find. The Scalamandré version of Elsie's classic botanical fern print in an outdoor fabric, on sale at Scalamandré's Third Floor outlet! Just in time to do the deck cushions for your 4th of July party!

Elsie de Wolfe fern print at Scalamandré's Third Floor outlet.
This would look great on my white kitchen chairs.
Design tip: outdoor fabrics aren't just for the deck. 
They are rugged, very cleanable and kid friendly.

Sort of like six degrees of separation with this post. If I had just shot off a scoop on a great outdoor fabric on sale, and by the way it was a favorite of Elsie de Wolfe, you would have thought, "Elsie who?" while hitting the delete button (designer readers excepted, of course).

And now for the Friday equivalent of Throw Back Thursday. I proposed the de Wolfe ferns a couple years ago for a master bedroom. Elsie's fern fabric has been in production by one or more fabric houses forever. Decades.

from l-r: Elsie de Wolfe fern print from Lee Jofa, an OWW weave, a silk taffeta from Schumacher.
The walls to be the same warm white as the ground, the blue/white weave for an upholstered reading chair or chaise, floor length billowy curtains in the silk, the print for the upholstered headboard.
Tranquil. Calm.

I could really do an Elsie, paint our deck table and chairs white with cushions in Scalamandré's outdoor version,

corded in dark green. Design history on my deck and completely washable.

Let me know what you think of the de Wolfe fern print. Miles Redd used it not that long ago in a guest room in Lyford Cay, the Bahamas.

Love Miles Redd, but this is too much, even for me.
I do, however, love the rug, the bamboo bed and the curtain hardware!
Wish there were a better picture of that armchair by the doors.
Architectural Digest 

Have a great weekend!

Thanks for reading,
Linda Pakravan

p.s. I mentioned Elsie in a previous post on Leopard


Garden to Vase, Baptisia Australis

Baptisia Australis, better known as Wild Indigo.
This pic was taken before the morning sun hits this spot in the garden.

One summer day early in my gardening career, my husband came out to check on me. Noting that I have a lot of flowers he asked,

"why don't you bring them in the house?"

Thus began my weekly ritual of making an arrangement using only what grows in my garden. It usually rests on the console in the foyer.

Baptisia, more commonly known as False Indigo, was last week's floral.

"Mom, I mean this in the best way possible, it's too perfect." 

This tradition predates my first digital camera so there are no pics prior to 2010. Photographing the garden and the arrangements morphed from a small role in the ritual to borderline obsession.

As obsessions go, it is mostly benign.

Baptisia is one of the few perennials that look great in the vase and all season long in the garden. The foliage is interesting and holds its color up till frost.

Given a sunny spot, a mature specimen can reach over 3' with a 4' spread (I like big plants). Deer ignore it (major plus in our area). Bees enjoy the open blossoms which resemble Sweet Peas. Established plants do not require a lot of water. Thrives in many zones.

All in all, a great architectural addition for any garden.

Dogwood in the background, roses in the foreground.

The down side is dividing. A three year old can easily achieve a 4' wingspan. The tough fibrous roots grip the earth and spread out towards the drip line, some burrowing down a foot.

Q: what is the volume of a 4' cylinder with a 1 foot depth?

A: enough for a backhoe.

The mother plant has been divided several times. 
She is now too big to dig up.

It is tempting to dig a smaller hole, break the roots and get on with it. Your Baptisia will wilt pitifully and look ill for weeks, maybe all summer. Or worst case, all hope lost, Baptisia refuses drink and dies. This tragic scenario sends the wrong message. Roses are particularly susceptible to anxiety disorders and will fret till first frost convinced they are next.

I learned to shade my transplanted and well watered Baptisia with an umbrella for several days. Yes, it looks insane to have umbrellas propped over plants in the garden. Your neighbors will think you are a bit odd. Mine are used to such goings on, they no longer ask about my gardening practices.

Two more intrepid kids orbit further out on the garden's edge.

Barbara, the delightful gardener and author of Silver in the Barn has yellow Baptisia in her garden. I wonder if there is a white variety? I wonder if the yellows and whites are stilled called False Indigo?

Do you have this lovely plant in your garden?

I've collected some of the better foyer arrangements on my imaginataively named pinterest board, The Foyer Project. Here's a sample. I had forgotten what my foyer looked like 5 years ago.

A small blue oil painting hangs above the console.

A year later I swapped the blue oil for a botanical print from my daughter.

Another year later the botanical is swapped for a mirror. I added a lamp (the shade is just visible in the upper left). 
The lamp has a 9.5 watt LED bulb which sheds surprisingly pleasant light, not harsh in the least.
The ceiling fixture has eight 20 watt bulbs, 160 watts total. 
The lamp uses 94% LESS electricity than the ceiling fixture for the same amount of light.

Late Summer 2013 I swapped the Chippendale chair for a Regency. I love the Regency chair.

Dogwood, daisies, pink roses. Dogwood is the hardest flower to arrange.



Hope you enjoy my pinterest board, The Foyer Project.

Thanks for indulging me,
Linda Pakravan