How They Decorated Reveals Essential Style Lessons for the New Year

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In her erudite book, How They Decorated, Gaye Tapp profiles sixteen, 20th century women, including such style setters as Babe Paley, Bunny Mellon, Pauline de Rothschild and Elsa Schiaparelli, who lived extraordinary lives with great flair.

You Will Want the Photos

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The book gathers many images from the style setters’  homes from a wide variety of well researched sources.  It’s packed with photos and renderings that I have not seen elsewhere.  Just a quick flip through How They Decorated clearly shows how all 16 women impact today’s views on tasteful interiors.   For that reason alone, it’s a must-have volume for anyone interested in design.

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It’s All In the Words

But How They Decorated deserves more time than a quick flip.  Please read every beautifully drafted word.  It’s in the essays where the most essential style lessons are revealed.

After I devoured the book, I realized that, while these women all had different expression of style, they shared two characteristics.  Each woman profiled had a remarkable sense of self coupled with an insatiable curiosity.

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They were always learning (books and art abound in the rooms).  There was no comparing themselves to others.  Certainly no copying.  They didn’t care who liked what they liked.  One suspects that they would never find themselves bound by social media’s shackles even if it was invented in their day.   If they found something they deemed lovely, they wore it, or decorated their homes with it. Period.  Most importantly, they discovered their treasures on their adventures around the world. No click and ship for them.

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Granted, great wealth helped.  None of the women profiled in How They Decorated were in the middle class. Yet, we can all take delight in Bunny Mellon’s adoration of flowers, Sybil Connolly’s affection for her heritage and the sea, and Georgia O’Keeffe’s respect for nature.

It is refreshing to learn how these tastemakers chose to live their lives.  Unlike today, where we can be so busy curating our Instagram feed (guilty!), the women profiled in How They Decorated never lost their focus.  Their enduring impact on style sprung from doing the activities they loved and deeply enjoying the objects that they found personally meaningful and beautiful.

Thank you Gaye for your fine book and for reminding me that perhaps the most tasteful thing of all might be to put down my phone.

Happy New Year everyone.

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All images courtesy of Rizzoli.