Getty Images/Caitlin Choi
With Women’s History Month well underway—today is International Women’s Day, after all—it’s only fitting that we honor the women who paved a path in design history. And that’s not just interior designers by trade—although our list certainly includes a few, these women influenced the course of design history in numerous ways. From preservationists to urban planners to landscape designers, art collectors, and more, here are 26 women who made a mark on the course of design history.
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Fans of Dorothy Draper know her best for designing The Greenbrier—a historic resort located in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia—in the 1940s. She was paid $4.2 million to renovate the property, the highest fee ever paid to a decorator. In just 16 months, she revamped more than 600 guestrooms and all public parts of the resort, using 45,000 yards of fabric, 40,000 gallons of paint, and 15,000 rolls of wallpaper.
Anne Spencer was an American poet, a civil rights activist, teacher, librarian, and gardener. Today, her de ella Lynchburg, Virginia home is the Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum, a time capsule of her de ella unique style—and an ode to the people she hosted in the home. Spencer welcomed guests including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., WEB Du Bois, George Washington Carver, and Thurgood Marshall.
Elsie de Wolfe
Known as America’s first interior designer, Elsie de Wolfe’s client list included Oscar Wilde, Condé Nast, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and members of the Frick, Morgan, and Vanderbilt families. Today, you can find the charming tea house and dressing rooms she designed at Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park in Oyster Bay, New York.
Landscape architect Beatrix Farrand—Edith Wharton’s childhood—designed numerous gardens throughout her life, including one at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC and the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.
Much like Jackie Kennedy, Doris Duke was a historic preservationist, saving more than 83 sites through the Newport Restoration Foundation, which Duke founded. Kennedy, who was a friend of Duke’s her, was the Vice President of the Foundation.
Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize, which she was presented in 2004. She designed numerous modern buildings in cities around the world, including 520 West 28th Street in New York City (once home to Ariana Grande !).
American-Canadian journalist, author, activist, and theorist Jane Jacobs fought to protect neighborhoods from urban renewal and slum clearance. One famous example is her pushback against Robert Moses’s plan to overtake the Greenwich Village neighborhood she lived in.
While many of us think of Lee Radziwill as a well-dressed socialite in the high society world, she was also an interior decorator, sourcing inspiration from Italian stage designer Lorenzo Mongiardino, who designed two of her residences.
British horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll designed many gardens throughout her life, including ones at Munstead Wood, Hestercombe House, and Woolverstone House. (Fun fact: Her brother, Walter Jekyll, was friends with Robert Louis Stevenson, who incorporated the family’s last name in his iconic novella, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.)
English author and garden designer Vita Sackville-West designed the Sissinghurst Castle Garden in England—and she also served as the inspiration for the protagonist in her lover Virginia Woolf’s bookOrlando: A Biography.
American interior designer Sister Parish decorated part of the White House during the Kennedy administration, including the Yellow Oval Room, which, to this day, still bars many of her own design elements. Today, her family de ella is continuing her legacy de ella through Sister Parish Design.
If you’re a fan of all-white interiors, you have Syrie Maugham to thank, as she was the decorator who made this popular aesthetic. It served as a stark contrast to heavy, Victorian interiors.
American horticulturist Bunny Mellon, who was a friend to Jackie Kennedy, designed the White House Rose Garden during the Kennedy administration. Though she was fiercely private, she exercised a keen design eye in her own homes, driven by a comfortable personal style and an appreciation for employing artists and artisans.
The English country house look would not exist today if it weren’t for American tastemaker Nancy Lancaster, who owned the British decorating firm Colefax & Fowler.
Much like many other women on this list, French antiques dealer and interior designer Madeleine Castaing was a staunch maximalist. Floral wallpapers and antique furnishings were some of her staples from her.
Marjorie Merriweather Post
American businesswoman Marjorie Merriweather Post had quite the impressive art collection, including Imperial-era Russian items, many of which are now on display at her former home-turned-museum, Hillwood, located in Washington, DC
Marian Cruger Coffin
American landscape architect Marian Cruger Coffin designed many scenic gardens that still exist today, including ones at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn, New York (pictured), as well as Winterthur in Delaware and the Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve in Lloyd Harbor, New York, to name a few. She was one of four women in the architecture and landscape design program at MIT during here time there, from 1901-1904.
Often called the “mother of interior design,” Candace Wheeler was one of America’s first female interior and textile designers. She co-founded the Society of Decorative Arts in New York in 1877, alongside Louis Comfort Tiffany, John LaFarge, and Elizabeth Custer.
American architect Julia Morgan’s most notable creation is Hearst Castle, publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst’s home in San Simeon, California.
Ellen Biddle Shipman
One of American landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman’s remaining creations is the Sarah P. Duke Gardens at Duke University, which has been deemed one of the most beautiful college campuses in America. Throughout her career, her gardens were featured in numerous magazines, including House Beautiful. Pictured is the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida.
Norma Merrick Sklarek
Norma Merrick Sklarek was the first African American woman to become a licensed architect in New York and in California. Her creations of hers include the Pacific Design Center (pictured), the Embassy of the United States in Tokyo, and Fox Plaza.
In what was often a boys club of midcentury modern design, Perriand made a name for herself with work centered around her belief that better designs help to form a better society.
American architect, interior designer, furniture designer, and entrepreneur Florence Knoll is credited with revolutionizing office interiors by incorporating colorful, modernist furnishings. With her husband de ella, she founded Knoll, which continues to produce some of the world’s most iconic designs today.
One-half of the furniture duo that birthed the famous Eames Lounge Chair, Ray Eames and her husband Charles were relentlessly innovative designers, experimenting with then-unconventional materials like plastic and plywood to find new ways of producing furniture for the masses. Though the couple was very much a creative team, Charles received much more credit for their creations until recently.
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