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#QueerQuote: “Be Pretty If You Can, Be Witty If You Must, But Be Gracious If It Kills You.” – Elsie De Wolfe

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Photograph via NYC Public Library Archives

 

Believe it or not, the founder of the profession of the modern Interior Designer was not a gay man. That credit goes instead to Elsie de Wolfe (1859-1950), a lesbian who bounced back from a mid-life career crisis and found a way to make a considerably good living and bring design influence out of her incredible good taste and personal smart style.

De Wolfe’s taste influenced the very rich and the fabulously famous of London, NYC and Palm Beach, but she also inspired the more common people. Newspapers and magazines dispensed her advice, which was collected into the bestselling, influential book, The House In Good Taste (1913). She advised Americans to throw out their ostentation in favor of simplicity. She recommended that they do away with draperies in order to let in the light, and to replace the deep browns and burgundies with beige and ivory. De Wolfe:

“I believe in plenty of optimism and white paint, comfortable chairs with lights beside them, open fires on the hearth, flowers wherever they belong, mirrors, and sunshine in all rooms.”

Somewhat surprisingly, she played a heroic role as a volunteer nurse in France during WW I and, even more surprisingly, married British diplomat Sir Charles Mendl in 1926, when she was 61-years-old. As the most famous decorator in the world, she counted among her private and most celebrated clients Condé Nast, Cole Porter, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Her influence, however, extended to the public as well.


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