How They Decorated: An excerpt

by P. Gaye Tapp

This month, Rizzoli will publish How They Decorated by P. Gaye Tapp, a North Carolina-based interior designer, blogger, and Walter contributor. The book begins with a foreword by celebrated designer Charlotte Moss and showcases the memorable rooms and homes of 16 influential women including Babe Paley, Georgia O’Keeffe, Evangeline Bruce, and Bunny Mellon. How They Decorated “is an invitation to enter the enchanting worlds” these women inhabited, Moss says.

Book Excerpt

There are many celebrated women who lived with great style but are lost to the pages of old magazines or books, waiting to be rediscovered. Portraits of these women by great artists of the day remain; they gaze out at us, framed by their beautiful rooms. Most of those interiors are gone. Yet their portraits remain, luring us to discover more about how they decorated.

How They Decorated revives and revisits the beloved rooms I was introduced to as a child sitting cross-legged in a tall closet, at my grandmother’s house, where there were stacks and stacks of decorating magazines and scrapbooks, or as a teen sitting on my mother’s poster bed with the current copy of Vogue. At the time I saw them as just beautiful rooms, but in returning to these images again and again, I realized how these spaces and the women living in them have shaped the way we look at rooms today. For Evangeline Bruce it was decorating with yards of silk ribbon, using their lengths to hang her beloved paintings. This seemingly discreet decorating choice not only was beautiful in effect but also served to weave a personal touch through the austere spaces of the ambassadorial residences in which she lived – in essence, putting her stamp on these rooms.

How They Decorated looks at sixteen women defined by four distinct decorating styles. Some of the women had the ability to inhabit several categories while others were strongly indicative of one particular style. How They Decorated explores these four categories: Legacy Style, In the Grand Manner, Fashionably Chic, and Unconventional Eye. Some of the rooms are well documented – having been photographed in different guises and over time – while other rooms, minimally documented and only glimpsed briefly, give us mere hints of their splendor.

Diana Olivia Winifred Maud Manners (1892-1986), born to the Marquess and Marchioness of Granby (later the 8th Duke and Duchess of Rutland), was reared to be a king’s consort, but her storied life took her from her ancestral home, Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, to her first home in Bloomsbury as a newlywed, then to many years abroad as a diplomat’s wife and finally back to England. Cecil Beaton photographed Lady Diana in repose on Pauline Borghese’s Empire bed at the ambassadorial residence, while her husband served as ambassador after the Second World War.

Georgia O’Keeffe, great American artist and iconoclast, found an entirely new approach to her art in New Mexico. She witnesses the intrinsic complexities of the nature that surrounded her, all of which became part of her decoration. The placement and grouping of stones she collected in the desert were as meticulous and meaningful as the canvases that emerged from these and other objects found in the landscape.

Wherever Babe Paley was at any moment, she was sure to be surrounded by stylish rooms – the habitat of the Fashionably Chic. Billy Baldwin created a tented fantasy for Paley and her husband at their New York pied-a-terre by shirring a printed cotton on the walls of the room.