A Brief History Of Interior Decorating


Historically, the first interior decorators were probably the people who did cave painting. As civilization developed, people wanted their shelters to look nice. Tribal groups throughout the world created their own interior designs for their dwellings.

Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans decorated their homes with murals, vases and other artwork. They set the foundation for architecture and interior decorating in the western world. The Middle East and Asian countries developed their artistic styles that extended into their homes.

The industrial revolution in America resulted in the development of a middle class that aspired to homes with nice furniture and some art objects. Furniture was mass-produced and more accessible. But interior decorating was not an established profession in the United States until the last century.

The term “interior decorating” or decoration was used professionally for the first time in 1904 at the New York School of Applied and Fine Arts. This was the first program for people who wanted to be professional interior designers.

Most of the interior work was commercial for hotels and resorts although wealthy homeowners did employ professional designers for their homes. Much of the interior decorating was done by architects and builders working for rich clients.

Designing women

Elise de Wolfe is considered to be the first interior decorator to actually get a commissioned job in 1905. She moved on to publish “The House in Good Taste” in 1913. This set a standard for the well-furnished and finished home. She was the Martha Stewart of her day.

Dorothy Draper became the first woman known to work on commercial interiors in 1925. She started the Architectural Clearing House. She was best known for the use of bright colors and the expression “if it looks right, it is right.” The Arrowhead Springs Hotel in California was one of her famous projects.

Francis Elkins designed the Yerba Buena Club at the Golden Gate International Exposition and  the Cypress Point Clubhouse in 1930, among other projects. She was known for her use of bold patterns.

Elsie Cobb Wilson, Ruby Ross Wood, Rose Cumming, Britishers Syrie Maughn and Sybil Colefax were contemporaries. They created individual interior design styles popular in the 1920’s and 30’s.

There have been many women in the field of interior design over the last century who have created outstanding residential and commercial projects. There are over 87,000 licensed interior designers in the U.S. and approximately 69% are women, according to 2013 study by Interior Design.


The American Institute of Interior Decorators (AIID) was established in 1931. The name was changed to the American Institute of Decorators in 1936. The National Society of Interior Designers was formed in New York in 1957. It merged with the American Society of Interior Designers and the AIID in 1975.

The National Council for Interior Design Qualification was formed in 1974 to give a qualifying exam to designers. The purpose was to separate the professionals from the amateurs. The eligibility requirements for taking the exam are very exact. Interior decorating institutes teach classes based on NCID recommendations. This includes sketching, rendering and architectural drafting, understanding fabrics and furnishings along with the best use of space. The history of design is also covered in detail.

Work experience is also important for qualifying for the exam. A designer with a NCIDQ certification is consider to be a professional.

Interior designers with the credentials necessary for custom commercial and residential buildings should be the first people you consult for any project. Qualified designers will show you their credentials and professional memberships along with portfolios of their work.