When in the Wall Street crash of 1929 both Parish’s stockbroker husband’s and father’s fortunes took hits, she opened her own interior design shop in Far Hills, New Jersey. Her style was a counterpoint to her antiques collector father’s heavy, dark, brown furniture—she favored ticking stripe, glazed chintz, quilts, hooked rugs, and overstuffed armchairs instead of formal antiques—and is credited with popularizing that American country aesthetic in the 1960s.
Her designs for clients such as Brooke Astor were romantic, warm, and elegant, but her tactics were precise and exacting: Her unforgiving assessment of a client’s space before she started any design project involved rolling a tea cart around the room, editing out any items that didn’t meet with her approval.
Parish’s design relationship with Albert Hadley lasted 30-plus years—until her death in 1994 at the age of 84—and is widely considered one of the most successful partnerships in the world of interiors.
Boldly colorful, elegant, cheerful, and full of life: These are the hallmarks of the “Draper touch.” If you’re ever feeling intimidated or overwhelmed by the world of interior design, take a page out of her 1939 book, Decorating Is Fun!:
“Almost everyone believes that there is something deep and mysterious about [interior decoration] or that you have to know all sorts of complicated details about periods before you can lift a finger. Well, you don’t. Decorating is just sheer fun: a delight in color, an awareness of balance, a feeling for lighting, a sense of style, a zest for life, and an amused enjoyment of the smart accessories of the moment.”
Draper—a cousin of Sister Parish—opened what is arguably the first official interior design business, Architectural Clearing House, in 1925. She extended her elegant “modern Baroque” style to many public buildings, including the cafeteria at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Fairmont and Mark Hopkins hotels in San Francisco, and, most famously, a total redesign of the Greenbrier in West Virginia. Some of her rooms have a restrained color palette of classic black and white, while others showcase a wild Technicolor mash-up of pinks with greens, turquoise, and orange.
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