How 15 Famous Interior Designers Got Their Start
Famous interior designers have set home decor standards for over 100 years. While each popular designer has a unique style, they’ve all influenced trends worldwide.
Our list of famous interior designers combines current and past designers and decorators. Learn how each got their start and what they’re best known for.
Top 15 Famous Interior Designers
These 15 famous designers have made their mark, set trends, and blazed the way for the future generation.
- Interior Design Style: Hollywood Regency
Born in 1889, Dorothy Draper was the first to turn interior design into a recognized profession. Dorothy was married in 1912, and soon after, she and her husband began buying and selling homes for profit. Dorothy decorated these houses and gained a reputation among her high-society friends.
Dorothy’s style was anti-minimalist. Instead, she used bright colors, large prints, black and white tiles, and very decorative elements, indicative of the Hollywood Regency style.
She established her design firm, Dorothy Draper and Company, in 1925. Even though Dorothy passed away in 1969, her design firm is still in practice, led by now-president Carleton Varney.
- Interior Design Style: American Country
Sister Parish, born Dorothy May Kinnicutt in 1910, is one of the most famous American interior designers known for American country style. As a debutante, Parish was married in 1930. She and her husband moved to a farmhouse in Far Hills, New Jersey, where she developed her design style. Rather than decorating with the high society look at the time, Parish painted furniture white, experimented with printed fabrics, and painted her floors.
In the hope of bringing in more money, Parish opened her decorating business in 1933 without any training or previous experience. After making a reputation for herself, she earned work through friends and was the first designer invited to decorate the White House during the Kennedy era.
Parish went on to work with many more prominent clients before passing away in 1994. You can still see her designs in the Yellow Oval Room at the White House.
Elsie De Wolfe
- Interior Design Style: Simple, uncluttered, anti-Victorian
Elsie De Wolfe, also known as Lady Mendl, was an American actress and interior designer born in 1859. Wolfe was anti-Victorian, preferring simple, uncluttered interior design. At the suggestion of her friends, she began work as an interior decorator. Many historians believe she was the first female interior decorator in an otherwise masculine line of work.
Wolfe quickly made a name for herself in the design world, working with wealthy clients, transforming their dark Victorian homes into light, bright spaces. In 1930, Wolfe authored the book, The House in Good Taste.
Wolfe passed away in 1950, but her legacy left a lasting mark on fresh design and helped pave the way for female designers.
- Interior Design Style: A mix of modern and antique with geometric patterns and bright colors
David Nightingale Hicks, born in 1929, was an English interior designer. David’s career began at an advertising agency, where he worked drawing cereal boxes. His interior design career didn’t take off until the British Magazine, House & Garden, published a spread of the home he decorated for himself and his mother.
He was later introduced to restaurateur Peter Evans, who commissioned Hicks to design his restaurants. He then took on many types of upscale clients, including aristocracy and those in the fashion and media sector. Hicks’s designs incorporated a mix of modern and antique furnishes, bold colors, contemporary prints, and artwork.
Hicks went on to set trends for years, with his designs featured in movies and by major brands. He passed away in 1998.
- Interior Design Style: Classic, Modern, and Clean Cut
William Baldwin Jr., known as Billy Baldwin or Billy B., was an American interior designer born in 1903. Baldwin studied architecture at Princeton but dropped out after only two years.
In 1935, Baldwin began working for New York City interior decorator Ruby Ross Wood. When she passed away in 1950, he took over her firm. Two years later, he started his design firm with partner Edward Martin, called Baldwin and Martin. John F. Kennedy invited Baldwin and Martin to decorate the White House. After that, they took on many other residential and commercial jobs.
Baldwin wrote many books on interior design and was added to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1974. Baldwin passed away in November 1983.
- Interior Design Style: Minimalism
Axel Vervoordt is a Belgian designer famous for his minimalist designs. He got his start at age 21 when he purchased 11 homes from the 15th and 16th centuries that were in desperate need of repair. It took him several years, but he restored the homes one by one.
He started the Axel Vervoordt Co., an art gallery, antique trading company, and interior design service serving clients worldwide. Vervoordt has many prominent clients and designed the home that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West shared.
While minimal, many view Vervoordt’s designs as “living art.” Vervoordt has published several interior design books.
- Interior Design Style: Fluid style, on a case-by-case basis
Phillipe Starck, born in Paris in 1949, is a famous French interior designer. Aside from a career in interior design, Starck is also an architect and designs watches, boats, and household objects.
Starck’s career began when he formed a company that made inflatables. He further pursued his interest in interior design by creating interiors for two Paris nightclubs. After designing private apartments in Elysee Palace in Paris, he gained international design recognition.
While most famous for his industrial designs, Starck is fluid, applying different styles to different client needs. Many museums across Europe and America showcase Starck’s furniture designs.
- Interior Design Style: Known for his use of chintz, similar to the grandmillennial style
Mario Buatta, born in 1935, was a famous American interior decorator known as the “Prince of Chintz” and “King of Clutter.” Buatta had an extensive education in architecture and interior design, studying at Wagner College, Pratt Institute, and Parsons School of Design.
Buatta got his start by working for NYC interior decorator Elisabeth Draper. Then, in 1963, he started his own practice taking on famous clients like Mariah Carey, Billy Joel, Barbara Walters, and Malcolm Forbes.
Buatta’s style featured many floral prints and is akin to today’s grandmillennial style. He drew a lot of inspiration from English country-style homes. Buatta died in 2018 at the age of 82.
Frank Lloyd Wright
- Interior Design Style: Holistic, Mid-Century Modern, Minimal
Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Wisconsin in 1867. Wright is most famous for his architectural designs. Wright had a turbulent childhood but decided he wanted to become an architect and attended the University of Wisconsin in 1886. After graduating college, he moved to Chicago, where he found work.
Wright believed in “organic architecture,” in which a home blends with its surroundings. He created the famous Prairie-style home that influenced architects worldwide. While many think that Wright was only an architect, his goal was to design complete buildings, which included interior design.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s interior design encompassed bringing the outdoors inside with large windows, minimal decor, and modern furniture. Frank Lloyd Wright passed away in 1957, but his architectural and interior design styles are still popular today.
- Interior Design Style: Swanky, Mid-Century Modern Glamour
Jonathan Adler was born in New Jersey in 1966. He is a famous American potter, interior designer, and author. Adler got his start after selling a collection of pots to Barneys. Five years later, he opened his first store.
Adler became famous for his unique designs that combine mid-century modern and glam. His rooms balance playful and sophisticated. He designs swanky pieces like pill-shaped sculptures, animal-shaped objects, and beaded artwork.
Adler designs furniture, accessories, and decor, all available on his website or one of his retail locations. He is also the author of multiple books.
- Interior Design Style: Modern Farmhouse
Joanna Gaines was born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1978. She is a famous interior designer well known for her show Fixer Upper, her farmhouse style, and her prevalent use of shiplap.
Gaines is a self-taught interior designer who started decorating houses in 2003 as she and her husband, Chip Gaines, began flipping houses. Shortly after, the couple opened their first retail store, Magnolia Market, which is still in business today.
In 2013, Chip and Joanna Gaines got a deal with HGTV, and their show Fixer Upper became an overnight success. Since then, the couple has launched many businesses and has a strong influence in the interior design community.
- Interior Design Style: Refined combination of modern and traditional
Nate Berkus was born in Orange County, CA, in 1971. He is a famous American interior designer, tv host, and author.
Berkus got started in design at an early age, interning in Paris and then Chicago. In 1995, he started his own firm Nate Berkus Associates. Berkus drew national fame as a frequent guest on the Oprah Winfrey show, providing design advice and room makeovers. He went on to host a talk show, The Nate Berkus Show, and a reality design series with his husband titled Nate & Jeremiah by Design.
Berkus’s design firm is still going strong with New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles locations.
- Interior Design Style: Modern, Maximalism
Kelly Wearstler was born in Myrtle Beach, SC, in 1967. She is an American interior designer most famous for her hotel designs but now provides high-end design services in the residential and commercial sectors.
Wearstler’s mother influenced her interest in interior design from an early age. In her mid-twenties, she moved from Myrtle Beach to Los Angeles to work as a film set decorator. In 1995, she opened her design firm and met real estate developer Brad Korzen who hired her to decorate his Hollywood Hills home and other residential properties.
Wearstler went on to decorate many boutique hotels in a mid-century modern motif, which helped establish her as a famous interior designer. She now has her own line of furniture and products and is a course instructor on Master Class.
Martyn Lawrence Bullard
- Interior Design Style: Exotic Chic, Luxurious, Modern
Martyn Lawrence Bullard was born in the UK in 1967. He is a famous English interior designer and TV personality residing in Los Angeles.
Bullard got his start at an early age when his father encouraged him to set up a booth at the local antique market, where he sold “oddments.” During this time, he learned to analyze antiques and had accrued a client list by the time he was 16. Bullard moved to Los Angeles in 1994, where he landed many acting roles. One director invited Bullard to decorate his office, which led to many more interior decorating jobs.
Bullard has starred in numerous design television shows and has decorated for celebrities like Khloe Kardashian, Cher, Tommy Hilfiger, Kendall Jenner, and more. In addition, he has a line of furniture, wallpaper, hardwood flooring, and accessories available for purchase.
- Interior Design Style: Bohemian
Justina Blakeney was born in Berkeley, CA, in 1979. She is a famous American interior designer, product designer, speaker, and author.
Blakeney graduated from UCLA in 2001 and later moved to Italy and enrolled in the fashion school Polimoda. Blakeney started her interior design career through her blog, Jungalow. On the blog, she showcased her boho interior design style. She later worked with several companies designing shaggy rugs, wallpaper, lighting, and the Justina Blakeney Home Collection through Anthropologie.
Blakeney is the author of two books: The New Bohemians: The Cool and Collected Home and The New Bohemians: Come Home to Good Vibes. Her website showcases her current furniture and accessory collections.