Friday, July 15, 2011

The Sisterhood

I'm a little obsessed with interior design. I must be, or I wouldn't have two blogs on the subject! But while I enjoy it and think I have a good eye and a natural talent for pulling things together, I'm not schooled in the art and history of design. I'm familiar with the big names of today—Jonathan Adler, Kelly Wearstler, John Derian, Windsor Smith. But the designers who came before them, the ones who influenced them, are little more than vaguely familiar names to me.

So it was with Sister Parish. I'd heard of her and knew she was influential in the world of design, but that was about it. So, on the occasion of what would be her 101st birthday, I set out to learn more about this woman with the unusual name.

Sister, a childhood nickname, was born into privilege in New Jersey in 1910. She began her career during the Depression as a way to earn extra money to keep her family in the style they were used to. With partner Albert Hadley, she formed influential firm Parish-Hadley.

Her collected English country style, while very traditional and a bit fussy from today's perspective, was modern in the sense that she like to mix prints and patterns. She wasn't one for matchy-matchy decor. Another modern concept she applied to her work was her belief that "rooms should be timeless and very personal."

Sister had worked with Jackie Kennedy and was chosen to decorate the White House when the Kennedys moved in. She soon had a falling out with the first lady, saying, "Jackie got along much better with men than with women."

This is the bright and cheerful White House Yellow Oval Room in 1962:

National Archive and Records Administration
Jackie's bedroom in the White House was feminine and quiet, much like the first lady herself:
Her granddaughter and a protege are keeping Sister's style alive with a line of fabrics, wallpaper and accessories.

Are you a fan of the Sister Parish look? Is there another iconic designer you've always wanted to learn more about? Tell us about it.

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