In honor of Women’s Equality Day, which took place last Thursday, we decided to shine a light on the most trailblazing female designers in the history of the interior design industry.
While there are endless inspirational women to choose from, we picked three designers from the past and the present, all with very different careers and approaches to aesthetics.
Candace Wheeler (1827-1923)
Candace, often called the “mother” of interior design, was a textile specialist and entrepreneur who championed women in professional design. In 1877, she co-founded the Society of Decorative Art in New York, whose focus was to educate women to become financially independent through selling their homemade handicrafts.
Two years later, Candace and Louis Comfort Tiffany, heir to the iconic “Tiffany” jewelry brand, co-founded the interior-decorating firm Tiffany & Wheeler. Together, they decorated the lavish interiors of Madison Square Theatre, the Union League Club, and even Mark Twain’s home.
Later on, in 1883, Candace started her own business called Associated Artists, a female-only textile house famous for shimmering color-changing fabrics. Candance's inspiration evolved from the decorative wallpaper designs of British artists William Morris and Walter Crane to Japanese-styled designs.
Her focus was to produce beautiful, free-flowing floral fabrics that were practical and affordable. A few years later, she founded an artist colony for either widowed or single female aspiring designers, artists, and writers.
The peak of her design career was in 1893 when she became the interior decorator of the Woman’s Building at the Chicago World’s Fair. She was both an entrepreneur and innovator who explored unusual printing and weaving techniques and invented new American textile styles still popular today.
Alongside being a world-renowned interior designer, Michelle is also a writer, author, and TV host. From a young age, she was creating her own design magazines awash with glue and glitter. After finishing architecture studies in London, she moved to New Your, kickstarting her career through work on design-related firms such as the legendary Skidmore Owings & Merrill.
In 2004, Michelle became the editor-in-chief of the prestigious interior design publication ELLE Decoration UK. During her 13 years there, the magazine hit record revenue. She also led the Equal Rights for Design campaign, which changed UK copyright laws in 2016 to make it illegal to produce forgeries of designer classics.
Aside from her thriving career, she managed to write the book “Happy Inside: How to Harness the Power of Home for Health and Happiness,” an Amazon bestseller on how to create a home that supports your wellbeing and inspires you to become your best self. Michelle describes herself as a “color nut.” Her design career peaked and a quick scroll through her Instagram feed confirms this – it’s a kaleidoscope of hot pink fuchsias, soft peaches, and emerald greens.
Her interior design policy "delves deeper than decor" means that the home can represent a healing sanctuary. Every element of interiors is carefully crafted around positivity and wellness, all the way down to her cutlery.
Last but not least – Lily Kwong. The “Forbes 2018 30 Under 30” sustainable landscape designer creates breath-taking indoor and outdoor botanical designs. She graduated from Urban Studies at Columbia University, where she became fascinated by reconnecting city dwellers with nature. She also uses her designs as a form of activism to promote sustainability and communal living.
In 2017, she founded her own design studio, SLK, where she’s created stunning natural scapes for hotels, spas, stores, and fashion brands such as H&M and Louis Vuitton. And that’s not all: Her portfolio includes designing a secret sculpture garden in New York’s Crosby Street Hotel and producing nine feet tall colorful orchid installations for the luxury shopping mall Bal Harbour in Miami.
Lily is a passionate advocate of bringing nature into the home to improve physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Lily’s cutting-edge career marries interior, landscape, and urban design with fashion, art, and sustainability, paving the way for the future generation of design. Here are some tips from the master herself:
Everlasting Impressions Of Interior Design
They all come from different places, generations, and even eras. Still, these women all have in common that they all use design as a springboard to shed light on important causes, whether it’s women’s independence, well-being, or sustainability.
So, what does your interior design story say about what matters most to you?