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Five influential interior designers who made an impact

Five influential interior designers who made an impact

The best interior designers can take a space and transform not only its appeal, appearance and atmosphere, but also its functionality and value. 

If you’re a fan of interior design and décor, looking to make a lasting impression with your own contributions, you can start by checking out some of the most influential designers who’ve paved the way before you. 

Elsie de Wolfe, USA 

Look up the history of interior design and you’ll soon come across Elsie de Wolfe, often credited as the world’s first interior designer. Born in New York in 1865, she was a stage actress who became known for her theatrical design. Rebelling against the dark and clutter of her Victorian childhood home, Elsie’s designs were light and airy: she “opened the doors and windows of America, and let the air and sunshine in.”

Known to feature French country furniture, leopard print, tropical flowers, zebra, mirrored, and even calico wall coverings, her portfolio included the infamous remodelling of the Colony Club, a women’s society in Manhattan, New York. Clients included the publishing tycoon Condé Montrose Nast, Cole Porter and the Duchess of Windsor. Famed for her quote – “I believe in optimism and white paint” – Elsie was 84-years-old when she died at her home near Versailles, in France, in 1950.

Philippe Starck, France 

A leader in democratic design, French designer Philippe Starck has conceived more than 10,000 projects limited to no single genre. His architectural projects include hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs, museums, shops, homes and the next international space station. He’s created outdoor lamps for Italian lighting brand Flos, sleek chairs for plastic company Kartell, and minimalist bathroom mixers and showers for AXOR.

Born in Paris in 1949, he studied interior architecture and design at the École Nissim de Camondo, Paris. He first became known after designing the private rooms of former French President François Mitterrand at the Élysée Palace in 1982, but it was his small, intelligent, light, cheap chairs at the Café Costes in Paris which garnered international attention. Famed for his quote – “The only acceptable style is freedom” – in 2000 Philippe received the National Order of the Legion of Honour, the highest French order of merit, both military and civil.

David Hicks, UK 

Born in Essex, England in 1929, David Nightingale Hicks graduated from the Central College of Art and began his career drawing cereal boxes for an advertising agency. His interior design career took off after his mother’s home was featured in House & Garden magazine. Denouncing the designs of stuffy old English homes, Hicks was interested in mixing colours, patterns, and shapes of furniture and decor.

His design legacy is one of bold, clashing colour, dynamic geometric shapes, and over-the-top contemporary opulence. His famous clientele included the Royal Family, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, Vidal Sassoon and Mrs. Condé Nast. Hicks' Hexagon, a carpet pattern of interlocking hexagons, featured in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 psychological horror film, The Shining. Famed for his quote –What is important is not how valuable or inexpensive your objects are, but the care and feeling with which you arrange them” – he died aged 69 in 1998.

Mario Buatta, USA 

Fondly known as the Prince of Chintz, Mario Buatta was born in Staten Island, New York. He studied architecture at Wagner College and Cooper Union, before taking classes in design at Pratt Institute, Columbia University, and the Parsons School of Design in Europe. Starting his own business in 1963, his luxurious style originated from the English country home. He designed opulent interiors for notable clients including Mariah Carey, Henry Ford II, Malcolm Forbes, Barbara Walters, Nelson Doubleday, Samuel Irving Newhouse, Sr., Charlotte Ford, and Billy Joel.

His 1988 work on Blair House, the official guesthouse for distinguished foreign dignitaries in Washington, in collaboration with interior designer Mark Hampton, brought him national prominence. Famed for his quote –I like all the chairs to talk to one another and to the sofas, and not those parlor-car arrangements that create two Siberias” – he died at the age of 82 in 2018.

Billy Baldwin, USA 

Referred to as ‘The Dean of Indigenous Decorators’ and ‘The Great American Decorator’, because he hated the term interior designer, William Williar Baldwin Junior was born in 1903 in Baltimore, Maryland. A Princeton dropout, he moved to New York and was employed by famous decorator Ruby Ross Wood in 1935 and took over the firm when she died in 1950.

His work was sleek, polished and neat, he preferred clean-cut, pared-down look and rejected baroque, rococo and florid. Partial to plump deep-seated sofas and chairs, his signature look included cotton, plain draperies, off-white and plaid rugs, pattern on pattern, corner banquettes, slipper chair and dark walls. Famed for his quote –No matter how taste may change, the basics of good decorating remain the same: We're talking about someplace people live in, surrounded by things they like and that make them comfortable. It's as simple as that.” He died in 1983.

Feeling inspired to develop your own iconic style? 

Our two-year online MA in Interior Design offers intakes in January, May and September. Whether you’re a graduate, professional or an aspiring interior or architectural interior designer, it will help you make your mark on this exciting field:

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