The Back Half
Monday 15th August 2005
From The New Statesman http://www.newstatesman.com/200508150028
The interior-design craze was fuelled by the publication of The Decoration of Houses, by Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman, in 1897. The book was a significant influence on Elsie de Wolfe, the inventor of the modern profession. A social-climbing lesbian, she is the spiritual ancestor of Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. With her cheerful motto "plenty of optimism and white paint", de Wolfe introduced new American money to old French furniture when, one day in 1913, she unloaded $3m-worth of cabriole-legged stuff on to Henry Clay Frick. For years afterwards, possession of French furniture was a token of status. In her novel The Custom of the Country (1913), Wharton parodied this affected Francophilia and coined the useful term "Looey". As late as 1950 - when, remember, the abstract expressionists were already at work - the decorator Billy Baldwin was still telling students at the Parsons School of Design in New York that all they really needed was a perfect pair of "Looey XVI" console tables and life, hitherto unsatisfactory, would be complete.