As part of my reading plan I often read biographies of writers. I like to find out how writers planned their writing, when they started to write, where they lived and who they knew. Also what it was like to live in the era in which they lived. I find this fascinating.
During this past few months I have read two very interesting biographies; one on the life of Edith Wharton and one on the Duchess of Newcastle both female writers. Edith Wharton is most famous for her novels. However her first book was ‘The Decoration of Houses’ written in 1897 with the architect Ogden Codman Jr.
It is interesting as I returned to the subject of Art Nouveau and Art Deco I was reading the life story of Edith who lived in the US and France in this very era. As I wrote about these eras I was again stuck by how the influence of new styles slowly gain acceptance. We can sometimes look at periods of design history in isolation forgetting they are only part of a bigger picture.
Ogden and Edith’s decorating book was very influential. Edith believed rooms should be simple in design, be symmetrical with classic proportions. The book was a great success and is important to us in the design profession. It led to the emergence of professional decorators such as Elsie de Wolfe.
Codman Jr re-introduced the classical design of the Federal period. The wall colours and architectural detailing he used and recommended were an attempt to overcome the fussy, over the top designs of the Victorian era. In 1913-1915 Ogden designed the building that now houses the National Academy Of Design.
Edith came from a very well to do New York family. She loved architecture, gardens and design. She travelled extensively and fell in love with Italian classical designs. Edith wrote about her passion in the book ‘Italian Villas and Their Gardens’. She also designed and oversaw the construction of her home The Mount. It was built in the Palladian style and the garden was designed by her niece Beatrix Ferrand. The Mount is now a national US landmark.
Besides writing about design and gardens Edith wrote short stories, articles for magazines, travel essays and poetry. She is most famous for her novels ‘The House of Mirth’ a 1905 best seller and ‘The Age of Innocence’ for which she won the Pulitzer Prize of 1920. She was the first women to win this prize.
I thought it would be an interesting exercise to look through Edith and Ogden’s book ‘The Decoration of Houses’ in a few blogs.