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Real Estate / Home + Design

The Private Retreats of the World’s Greatest Women

How Iconic Stars Decorated their Own Homes

BY // 04.26.17

Gaye Tapp has always been fascinated by such icons of style as Pauline de Rothschild, Elsa Schiaparelli, Bunny Mellon, and Babe Paley.

“I’ve had their names swirling around for so long in my memory, ever since I was a child looking at my mother’s stacks of Vogue magazines,” says Tapp, a North Carolina interior designer.

For years, she has written about the decorating style of these women and many others on her much-heralded blog, “Little Augury,” and this month, her first book was published by Rizzoli: How they Decorated: Inspiration from Great Women of the Twentieth Century.

Tapp narrowed the focus from 100 women to a taut 16. She and her editors at Rizzoli sought women whose splendid homes were not only well represented in photos, but whose personal stories were inspirational.

Georgia O’Keeffe and Dominique de Menil also made the cut, two unexpected inclusions that broaden the book’s appeal. Charlotte Moss penned the foreword, and Dallas’ Jimmie Henslee contributed fabulous illustrations and watercolored endpapers.

The book looks at each subject’s refined way of living, along with her lasting imprint on the current generation of designers. There’s not a single interior designer featured in the book, although many of these fashionable women worked with great ones of the time: John Fowler, Albert Hadley, Syrie Maugham, among them.

Instead, we delve into the women’s personal style and how they put their individual stamp on the rooms they inhabited. Legendary diplomatic hostess Baroness Pauline de Rothschild was known to leave her parquet de Versailles floors bare, except for a wall tapestry shot with gold threads that she sometimes draped underfoot.

And, with similar idiosyncratic style, Rothschild arranged irises in Ming vases on straw trays on the floor.

Lady Diana Cooper, who shocked polite London society when she married a diplomat and became an actress, spent her earnings on redecorating her London flat with drawings of trees, birds, and butterflies from tracings made from Belvoir, the Leicestershire castle where she grew up.

And Georgia O’Keeffe artfully placed stones gathered from the New Mexico desert as decoration, long before such a thing was fashionable.

Gaye Tapp will speak and sign her book Wednesday, May 17, 1 pm, at Found, as part of the first-ever Texas Design Week Houston. To buy tickets, go to texasdesignweek.com.

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