featured image from Greta Grossman’s ‘Hurley House’
March is Women’s History Month, and this year we wanted to break from our usual content for something a bit different. Here on the blog, we’re so proud to support, educate and lift up female designers on a daily basis. But today, we want to intentionally look back at some of the most influential women in design history. These are women who fearlessly paved the way for all of us, with boldness and talent that helped them break barriers of every kind. Without further ado, let’s meet these incredible women who’ve claimed their place in history.
If you’re researching women in design history, Dorothy Draper is probably the most likely name to come across. She’s credited with founding the first interior design company in the United States in the mid-1920s after discovering her innate talent for decorating homes. Up until this point, interior design wasn’t recognized as a professional industry. But Dorothy soon helped change that. Her signature style was all about the use of bright colors, bold prints, and she was also behind the ‘Modern Baroque’ movement. Fun fact: her namesake design studio still operates today, and you can even find them on the ‘gram.
You can’t talk about modern design without recognizing the contributions of Greta Grossman. This Swedish furniture designer, interior designer, and architect moved to the U.S. in the 1940s and built a career for herself in Los Angeles spanning forty years. She is recognized as one of the first designers to bring the minimalist Scandinavian aesthetic to California clients that still holds popularity to this day. Along with her design work, Greta was also a skilled architect. According to the Los Angeles Conservatory, she was the city’s only female architect to own an independent practice from the 1940s to the 1960s.
Cecil Hayes’ design career began in the 1970s when she decided to change career paths and enroll at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. At the time, Cecil was one of the only African American females in the South Florida design field, but she paved a path for herself nonetheless. After gaining experience at a local firm, Cecil went on to found her own design studio, Cecil’s Designers Unlimited. She’s since worked with many high-profile clients, including Wesley Snipes and Samuel L. Jackson. Cecil is also credited as one of the first Black designers featured in the pages of Architectural Digest.
As one of the first women in interior design, Elsie de Wolfe is an icon if we ever saw one. She began her career in the early 1900s in New York City, taking high-profile design commissions around the city. Elsie’s style was in stark contrast to the heavy, dark, wood-filled homes of the Victorian era. She preferred light, bright and more feminine spaces—all of which were virtually unheard of at the time. She wrote a book, The House in Good Taste, in 1913 that you can still shop today.
You’ve probably never heard of Norma Harvey, but this trailblazer of design deserves her place in history. As the daughter of “architect to the stars,” Paul R. Williams, Norma had the opportunity to work with her father’s celebrity clients as an interior decorator. She led the design of Frank Sinatra’s Bowmont Drive residence in the 1950s, and in this image she’s seen working with Frank Sinatra (left) and her father (right).
Have more women in design history worth a spotlight? Leave us a comment below and let us know who inspires your work as a female designer.
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