Edith Wharton: Interior Designer

· 08/15/2017 · Michael Schmitt

Five years before publishing her first novel and eight years before The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton -- along with architect Ogden Codman -- published an interior design guide called "The Decoration of Houses."

Within the book, Wharton attacked the excesses so common in Gilded Age design, calling overdecorated rooms "tiresome" and flashy patterns "unbearable." It's an attitude that would show up later in her fiction where she would attack what she called "an irresponsible, grasping and morally corrupt upper class."

"It is one of the misfortunes of the present time that the most preposterously bad things often posses the powerful allurement of being expensive... design, not substance, is needed to make the one superior to the other."

The work was "an immediate success, and encouraged the emergence of professional decorators in the new style." Architectural historian Richard Guy Wilson has described it as "the most influential book ever published by an American on interior decoration and design."

"There are but two ways of dealing with a room which is fundamentally ugly: one is to accept it, and the other is courageously to correct its ugliness."

Lapham's Quarterly has more quotes from the manual.

Further reading:

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