Did Elsie De Wolfe influence my Grandmother's style of interior design?

by Sarah E. Mitchell

I recently had the opportunity to read Elsie de Wolfe's 1913 interior design book, The House in Good Taste. I was suprised at how familiar much of her advice was; my grandmother's home exhibited many of her design suggestions! Elsie's book was published before my Grandmother Reba Beaver's birth; I never saw a copy of the book in my Grandmother's library, and do not ever recall hearing Grandmother mentioning Elsie as being any influence on her aesthetic style. However, it seems that somehow my Grandparents followed many of Elsie's dictates.

Reba and Johnny Beaver built Boxwood Hill, their home in Chatham, Virginia in the mid-1960's, but much of the furnishings and general rules of style were moved or copied from their earlier home, Sunny Hill, at Dry Fork, Virginia.

Following is an exploration of the ways that Grandmother followed (or broke) Elsie's rules.


Dining Room

Dining Room. Sarah E. Mitchell (me) and my mother (Patricia B. Mitchell) celebrating my 3rd birthday in 1981. The mirror is visible over my head, with partially visible matching sconces on both sides of it. Though the chandelier was on, Grandmother also had lit the candles on the table (a custom she observed whenever we ate in the dining room), and my birthday cake had three candles on top, of course!

One of the dining room's two corner cupboards can be seen on the right. The walls are white, with white woodwork; the rug is light blue (can't be seen in the photo). Light blue seems dreadfully impractical, but the rugs lasted almost forty years, even with three grandchildren often visiting and frequent bridge parties, garden parties, etc.

Dining Room

Drawing Room. This photo shows the light blue, light rose, and white color scheme used in the most formal room in the house (Elsie's friend Miss Marbury favored white walls with dull blue carpet, and Elsie liked to use rose-red in moderation). You also may notice the wing-back armchairs, a piece of furniture favored by Elsie, and the arrangement of the chairs and sofa for easy conversation of those seated (something Elsie suggested).

The picture was taken at a Beaver Christmas family reunion in 1991. I'm very primly kneeling on the floor at the right (wearing the light colored dress; yes, it was December -- either it was a warm day or I decided that I HAD to wear that dress, whether the temperature cooperated or not!).

Grandmother's Secretary Grandmother's Secretary Grandmother's Secretary

Secretary. The first two photographs are of my Grandmother's secretary, the last photo is of Elsie de Wolfe's secretary. Like Elsie de Wolfe, Grandmother displayed objets d'art and photographs in and on her secretary.

Black and white photograph from Elsie de Wolfe, The House in Good Taste, The Century Company, 1913. All other photographs are Mitchell family photographs, presented courtesy Mitchells Publications.

Copyright © 2004 Sarah E. Mitchell