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Portraits: In & Out

Artists who use our walls and furniture as canvasses for their trailblazing imaginations, over the past century these stars of the interior design world thought outside the box to revolutionise the world we live in

[Karim Rashid]

Born in Egypt but raised in Canada, it follows that Karim Rashid’s industrial approach marries Arab and Western influences, in designs as bold as his preferred pink-and-white personal wardrobe. Form meets functionality in iconic pieces such as his Garbo trash can, which sold two million units in a year after its creation in 1996, injecting flair into ordinarily utilitarian objects.

[Philippe Starck]

With Gallic grandiosity, French designer Philippe Starck says: “My job is like that of a film director: I tell stories.”

Those tactile tales fill a storied CV, in his influential range of chairs to designing hotels, restaurants and then-French president François Mitterrand’s apartment interior. His influence extends to projects in more than 25 countries.

[Dorothy Draper]

Draper was once described as being “to decorating what Chanel was to fashion”. Ahead of her time, she opened the proto interior design firm Architectural Clearing House back in 1925, and maintained that “decorating is just sheer fun”.

[Thierry W. Despont]

Having reconditioned the Statue of Liberty in the mid-1980s, French designer, architect and artist Thierry W. Despont soon became the go-to man of society’s one per centers. Landmark renovations of the Ritz Paris, New York’s Woolworth Building and London hotel Claridge’s followed. “They come to me because they know I will give shape to their dreams,” he told Vanity Fair.

[Billy Baldwin ]

The title “interior designer” was almost a profanity to Billy Baldwin, who preferred to be referred to as simply a “decorator”. That term hardly does justice to his celebrated work for the likes of Cole Porter and Jackie O, however, with an aesthetic that was as immaculate as his tailored suits. Many of his ideas still ring true today, including that you don’t need to throw out existing pieces to create a look, and, as he’s been quoted saying, “First and foremost, furniture must be comfortable.”

[Sister Parish]

Famously a design partner alongside Albert Hadley, Sister Parish pioneered the American country aesthetic in the 1960s, perhaps in reaction to the dark furniture favoured by her antique collector father. She would mercilessly discard any items of which she didn’t approve when assessing clients’ spaces, but that single-mindedness catalysed work that lives on to this day in the White House’s interiors, which she redesigned for the Kennedys.

[Elsie de Wolfe]

Moving from stage to shaking up American interior design in the early 20th century, sometime professional actress Elsie de Wolfe rose to fame in her best-known field after cutting through Victorian gloom in revitalising her own New York City home. Her bright, airy ethos quickly made her the most popular decorator of her time, adding her feminine touch to the homes of the elite from coast to coast. 

[Albert Hadley]

If you were anyone of any standing in mid-20th-century America, your abode probably benefitted from Albert Hadley’s modern stylings: Rockefeller, Astor, Getty. Not that Hadley, who died in 2012 at 91, had much time for the cult of celebrity. “Names really are not the point,” he told New York magazine in 2004. “It’s what you can achieve for the simplest person.”

[Patricia Urquiola]

Contemporary Italian-based Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola takes futuristic themes combined with nature to create decor described as “playful and poetic, yet pragmatic and functional”. That has led her to be named as a designer of the year and even of the decade by a variety of publications around the world, including influential magazine Wallpaper.

[David Hicks]

English designer David Hicks’ breakout moment sounded inauspicious — a makeover of his mother’s home — but it was a predictive pointer to a predilection for spicing up the stuffy interiors that had characterised his home country’s dwellings. It catapulted him to the pinnacle of British society and beyond, working on royal rooms, a nightclub on the QE2 (now a hotel moored in Dubai) and a yacht for Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd.

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