I spent years researching my new book, , because I'm fascinated by how trailblazing women expressed themselves at home — from Georgia O'Keeffe, who never would have dreamed of hiring a designer, to Babe Paley, who went through a string of them.
They all wanted rooms they could be comfortable in. As Gloria Vanderbilt put it, "Decorating is autobiography."
Louise de Vilmorin
Blue and white is a very French way to treat a room that goes back centuries, but the way heiress de Vilmorin used this Georges Le Manach chintz in the salon of her château — everywhere! — makes it work. This was a family home, and everything in it was sacred to her — the inherited furniture, the Chinese pieces. She united it all with that fabric.
Paley was a known perfectionist, but in Jamaica, she could let her hair down. The hat rack isn't hidden away in a closet. This was all about embracing functional outdoor living — rattan pieces and red cushions say relax.
A true original, O'Keeffe didn't bring antiques to Santa Fe, she worked with what she had, mixing modern and adobe. The patent-leather blackout curtains in her bedroom are a flash of her New York days. The Buddha hand, in mudra pose, means "fear not."
The British author and nomad had a caravan of things from far-flung journeys that became her rooms. She threw down rugs and fabulous needlepoint pillows she made; it was all very spontaneous but created instant ambience. It was her genuine lifestyle — she didn't go online and buy 25 pillows just for show. She could pitch her tent anywhere!
In the hostess's library, the colors of the wall and cabinet fabric came from a 17th-century painting of Pocahontas in Jacobean dress. If there's ever a way to create a memorable room, it's using one fabric from head to toe.
This story appeared in the May 2017 issue of CQ.