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10 iconic interior designers everyone should know about

10 iconic interior designers everyone should know about

If you didn't study interior design or architecture, you'd be forgiven for not knowing off-hand the names of some of the world's most renowned and iconic interior designers. But perhaps you're sidling into a social or professional network where you'd like to know a little more about interior design, and the icons who paved the way for some of the interior aesthetics we know and love today. From mid-century modern to minimalist – we've got you covered with a list of the 10 most iconic interior designers – both contemporary and historical – that we think everyone should know about.


1. Billy Baldwin (1903-1983)

Despite his title as 'America's Dean of Interior Decoration' in the 1950s and 60s, Baldwin despised the term 'interior designer'. For him, luxury was about comfort and pared-back sophistication, favouring crisp patterns, clear colours and an eclectic mix of contemporary and antique furnishings.

Somewhere in between a classicist and a futurist, Baldwin said that he championed "a mixture of all nationalities, old and new," and considered the use of antiques as "giving a room flavour.” For him, a room's atmosphere or mood could never be achieved without an "enormous personal manifestation" of a client's own furniture.

His staples? Plain draperies, white plaster lamps, plaid rugs, pattern-on-pattern, and plump, deep-seated sofas.


2. Elsie de Wolfe (1865-1950)


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It's not a conversation about iconic interior designers unless we include one of the industry G.O.A.T's Elsie de Wolfe. Revered as one of the USA's first 'decorators', and the queen of entertaining in 1940s Hollywood, she was one of the first to bring about an air of 'celebrity' to the profession. When she was asked to design the interiors of New York City's first club exclusively for women, the Colony Club, her reputation was established practically overnight.

Hers was a casual, feminine style that placed focus on an abundance of glazed chintz fabrics, tiled floors, wicker chairs, and trellised rooms.


3. Sister Parish (1910-1994)

When Dorothy May Kinnicutt (whose childhood nickname was 'Sister') saw both her husband and father's fortunes take a hit in the Wall Street crash of 1929, she opened her own interior design shop in Far Hills, New Jersey. Credited with popularising the 'American country' aesthetic in the 1960s, she favoured ticking stripe, quilts, hooked rubs and overstuffed armchairs over the common interior fares of the time, which consisted of heavy, dark, brown antiques.

For six decades Parish held the reins of taste, mastering the effortless and cosy old-money look. Parish’s design partnership with Albert Hadley, which lasted more than three decades until her death, and was also considered one of the most successful in the world of interiors.


4. Albert Hadley (1920-2012)


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Tennessee-born Hadley was a designer with some fairly notable NYC clientele – Rockefeller, Astor, Getty, Whitney and Mellon – whom were drawn to his ability to marry glamour with function. Joining forces with Sister Parish in '62, the duo became well-associated with the home design of America's elite, and was perhaps best known for redecorating the Kennedy White House, as well as the Kennedy family’s own homes.

His taste was sparing and modernist, always willing to try something new, to mix styles and aesthetics that drew upon his extensive knowledge of design history. “Never less, never more,” was one of his common adages.


5. Kelly Wearstler (1967-present)


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Among some of the contemporary interior design greats is American designer Kelly Wearstler, who founded her eponymous firm in the mid-90s to serve the hotel industry. Working across a swathe of commercial residences, she touts a design philosophy that sets out to respect a building's history, architecture and locus – using design as storytelling, whilst being unafraid to take risks. She favours open-plan designs that strategically zone areas to create flow, oversize focal points, natural materials and channeling a sense of effortless luxury.


6. Axel Vervoordt (1947-present)


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Not strictly an interior designer, Vervoordt is a Belgian entrepreneur and creative multi-hyphenate whose headlining crafts are his striking residential interiors, and his collection of art and antiques. He is most known for his sombre, sparse and rustic designs that feature radically neutral, muted colour palettes, plaster walls and bare boards. Self-defining his style as "harmonious living", Vervoordt encompasses the essence of Japanese 'wabi-sabi' – an acceptance of transience and imperfection. He also designed Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's monolithic home.


7. Dorothy Draper (1889-1969)

An early pioneer of the profession, Draper established her firm in the early 20s, eschewing the favourable period styles of the time for a more 'modern baroque' aesthetic that favoured bold and vibrant decor, black-and-white checkered flooring and mixed patterns. Stylistically, she was quite anti-minimalist, utilising bright, exuberant colours and large prints, rococo scrollwork, and baroque plasterwork that have since become hallmarks of the Hollywood Regency style of interior decoration.


8. Jean-Michel Frank (1895-1941)


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Frank was a Frenchman and interior and furniture designer whose clientele included Cole Porter and Elsa Schiaparelli – he even created a furniture line for Hermès. His signature 'luxe pauvre' look was the rage among the Parisian Elite, and he was a fan of refined and opulent minimalism, marrying clean lines and sumptuous furniture made with luxurious materials. Frank loved the colour white, but also had an eye for exotic patterns – specifically in veneers, including snake and sharkskin.


9. India Mahdavi (1962-present)


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Mahdavi is an Iranian-French architect and designer who has built a name for herself working across large-scale hospitality projects, luxury collaborations, and even launching her own furniture line. Known as the 'virtuoso of colour' or 'queen of colours', The Gallery at Sketch in London—arguably her most well-known project – was the results of her search for "the essence of pink". Her wondrously saturated spaces are whimsical yet tasteful, designing spaces for the likes of Ladurée, and collaborating with brands from Bisazza to Louis Vuitton to Nespresso.


10. Peter Marino (1949-present)


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Fashion's favourite interior designer is Peter Marino, who founded his firm in 1978. He's designed stores for all the big players in the luxury fashion and jewellery scene, like Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Chanel, Fendi and Dior. Luxurious materials and impressive art displays remain at the fore of Marino's designs, including at the recent Cheval Blanc Hotel in Paris.


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