Women's History Month
Women's History Month
Five Female Architects & Designers that Shaped the Industry
Last month, in honor of Black History Month, we recognized five black architects and woodworkers who helped shape the industry into what it is today. This month, we are recognizing the achievements of female designers and architects and the legacies they left behind in honor of Women's History Month.
Candace Wheeler (1827-1923)
Candace Wheeler's productive life spanned almost an entire century during a time of rapid societal growth and transformation. Often referred to as the “mother of interior design”, Candace was one of America's first female interior designers and textile designers. Throughout her time she was associated with Colonial Revival, the Aesthetic Movement, and the Arts and Crafts Movement. She was a non-radical feminist who believed that economic power, rather than political power, was the most immediate need of women. While she was a supporter of obtaining voting rights for women, she decided to focus her attention on helping women to earn their own living. Wheeler was cofounder of the Society of Decorative Arts in New York in 1877 which was meant to help women support themselves through skills such as sewing, embroidery, needlework, and more. One year later, Wheeler helped launch the New York Exchange for Women's Work which served as a safe place for women to sell any product they could manufacture at home such as baked goods and household linens. By 1879, there were over seventy-two Exchanges all across the United States.
In 1979, along with Louis Comfort Tiffany, Wheeler founded Tiffany & Wheeler, an interior decorating firm in New York. Amongst some of their more notable accomplishments were the interior of the Madison Square Theater, the drawing room of the Cornelius Vanderbilt II house, and the interior of Mark Twain's house. In 1883, Wheeler formed an off-shoot textile firm called Associated Artists which involved women only. The firm was particularly well known for their “changeable” silks which were woven out of two threads and appeared to change color depending on the light. Associated Artist's signature tapestry style was a loom and tapestry weaving combination that Wheeler had invented. Wheeler spent most of her later life writing books and articles about decorating and the textile arts. She published her last book in 1921 at the age of 94.
Dining Room – Mark Twain’s Residence
Elsie de Wolfe (1859-1950)
Credited as the “inventor” of interior design as a profession, Elsie de Wolfe had a slew of high profile clients including Amy Vanderbilt, Anne Morgan, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. While the idea that Elsie was the inventor of the profession may be a slight exaggeration, she was definitely one of the first to become famous for her work. She is known for transforming the homes of her time from dark, heavily curtained castles, into more intimate, light, airy spaces. Her designed put fresh colors at the forefront and included mainly 18th century French furniture and accessories. Arguably her most famous commission was the Colony Club which had light fabric for window coverings, pale wall colors, tiles floors, and wicker chairs and settees which gave the illusion of an outdoor private garden. The building became the premier women’s social club much due to de Wolfe’s fresh with reminiscences of nature. She was once quoted saying “I opened the doors and windows of America, and let the air and sunshine in.”
Elsie was certainly a free spirit, and wasn’t afraid to step out of the norm when it came to design, or her personal life. She was in a relationship for nearly 40 years with Elizabeth Marbury. The two lived openly together and were known as socialites amongst Manhattan’s elite. She not only drew the curtains – quite literally – on the darkness that encompassed traditional design at the time, but also on the thought of what a traditional relationship should look like. She had a platonic and convenient marriage with Sir Charles Mendl but never shared a residence with him as her true home was with Elizabeth. The two remained together until Elizabeth’s death in 1933. In 2015, Elise was named an Icon of LGBT History Month by Equality Forum.
Tea Room - The Colony Club
Marion Mahony Griffin (1871-1961)
Marion was one of the worlds earliest licensed female architects and the very first employee of the prolific Frank Lloyd Wright. She studies architecture at MIT and was hired as a draftsman by Wright. Her influence over the development of Wright's Prairie style architecture was significant. She was known for her wit, infectious laugh, and the refusal to let Wright's ego get the better of her. She married in 1911 and started her own practice with her husband. They moved to Australia after winning the commission to design the Canberra and ran their business there for 20 years. After her husband's sudden death in 1937, Marion returned to America to write an autobiography about her architectural work. Some of her most notable work throughout her life include the Capitol Theater in Melbourne, the David Amberg Residence in Michigan, and the Adolph Mueller House in Illinois. She passed away in 1961 and leaves an incredible legacy of stunning work behind her.
Capitol Theater – Melbourne
Dorothy Draper (1889-1969)
Dorothy was often referred to as “The Duchess of Bold”. She was a larger-than-life character, and her design aesthetic matched her personality. She was totally anti-minimalist, employing bold colors and lots of decorations that were anything but subtle. She was obsessed with horror vacui (filling the entire surface of a space with detail) and shared her approach to design in her various books. She encouraged the women of the house to take decorating into their own hands and advocated courage and confidence. Her motto was “if it looks right, it is right”. Draper opened the Architectural Clearing House in 1925 with the goral to connect women seeking to redecorate their homes with architects. Her first large commission was the lobby of the Carlyle Hotel in 1928. This was also her first venture into the world of hotel and resort design which she would go on to make her own. Arguably, her most notable project is the 600 room Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Her commission was an impressive $4.2 million, the highest fee ever paid to a decorator at that time. Her company, now run by Carleton Varney, still provides design services to this hotel today. She passed away in 1969 but not before leaving her colorful mark on the design world. One thing is for sure – you cannot mistake Dorothy Draper’s style for anyone else’s.
Main Hallway – Greenbrier Hotel
Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992)
Lina was an Italian-born Brazilian modernist architect. She designed daring buildings that merged Modernism with Populism. She graduated from Rome College of Architecture in 1939 and moved to Milan where she set up her own practice in 1942. She moved to Brazil in 1946, where she eventually became a naturalized citizen. In 1947, she was commissioned to design the São Paulo Museum of Art. This now iconic building, which is suspended above a 70-metere-long square, has become one of Latin Americas most treasured museums. Lina founded Habitat Magazine in 1950 with her husband and was its editor for the first three years it was in circulation. At the time, Habitat was Brazil’s most influential architectural publication. She died in 1992 but left behind an incredible legacy which includes The Glass House in São Paulo, The SESC Pompéia (a cultural and sports center), and establishing the first industrial design course at the Institute of Contemporary Art.
São Paulo Museum of Art