“There are many celebrated women who lived with great style but are lost to pages of old magazines or books, waiting to be rediscovered,” writes P. Gaye Tapp in the first line of her newly released book How They Decorated: Inspiration from Great Women of the Twentieth Century. There is a lengthy history of interior designers looking back at their predecessors with respect and admiration—a nod to the past as a way of showing us what we can learn from this backwards glance. Gaye P. Tapp, interior designer, author, and blogger, joins this legacy with her book, which is well-researched and quite stylish itself with introductory essays, photographs (some that have not been published before), and charming illustrations of interiors, also an aspect of interior decorating with a long history (the cover is a Cecil Beaton drawing that sets the tone of the book perfectly).
Tapp has selected thirteen tastemakers that she believes had striking and original style, and who viewed everyday living as art itself.
For some of us this is an introduction and for others a reminder of extremely creative women who elevated the domestic arts at a certain time in our history—that is designing and decorating homes and gardens of high society with inimitable chicness. Indeed, these women had the means (some inherited it, some married into it, and some were self-made). But for the average reader, much of what we see is not likely to fit into our ordinary lives, only, perhaps, our imaginations.
Still, I happen to be of the mindset that no matter how far removed we might be or feel from a certain lifestyle, there is always something to take away: an idea, an image, a mood, an attitude, a tiny detail, or a sweeping statement. In this case, it might be the way a table is set or a bed is made, or flowers are placed. Or it might be the way a dress is worn or hair is styled (or not styled) or glasses are worn. A flourish or a flair.
For me, summer is the perfect time to be drawn into these rooms and given a glimpse of these lives, if only a snippet, if only for a moment. And, yes, there is a sense of the inspiring here. Yet—what I experience is something closer to that feeling of visiting an old, eccentric great aunt: She might be bold and fearless and brash like Fleur Cowles, or shy and restrained and elegant like Bunny Mellon, or charming and romantic and fiercely loyal like Sybil Connelly, and whichever she is, she is fascinating and absolutely worth spending some time with. Not on the beach or poolside. This beautiful book is for a shaded porch or on a couch in a room with the curtains drawn.