Inside an Iconic Decorator’s Never-Before-Seen Personal Scrapbook

Elsie de Wolfe’s photographs, magazine cutouts, and more.

Photo: Wendy Goodman/Courtesy of Hutton Wilkinson
Photo: Wendy Goodman/Courtesy of Hutton Wilkinson

Designer and author Hutton Wilkinson recently showed me a gift he was given: one of Elsie de Wolfe’s personal albums on interiors, which the late iconic decorator presented to an American GI in gratitude for guarding her beloved Villa Trianon after the Nazis had vacated it at the end of World War II. I took photographs of the contents, some of which are seen here.

The album (given to Hutton Wilkinson by John Margolis, the son of the American GI) contains pages of photographs Elsie took, as well pasted-down magazine photos and articles of rooms she decorated, and rooms that she admired, plus objects and treasures that caught her eye. She created many visual diaries over the years documenting her houses, furniture, paintings, and jewelry. Photo: Wendy Goodman/Courtesy of Hutton Wilkinson
One of the exciting discoveries: pages of snapshots of the London apartment belonging to Elsie’s good friend John McMullin. Elsie thought of McMullin as an adopted son, and decorated his “flat,” as she notes here on the page. “He was Vogue’s most prolific forgotten editor,” author Charlie Scheips wrote me when I emailed him about the album. Scheips’s extraordinary book Elsie de Wolfe’s Paris captures Elsie’s life and friendships at around the same time as this album was created, in the 1940s. Photo: Wendy Goodman/Courtesy of Hutton Wilkinson
The photograph (top) of couturier Jean Patou’s house has been cut out from a magazine, as has the aerial photo of the Chateau de l’Horizon below, built for the actress Maxine Elliott in the early 1930s on the Côte d’Azur and designed by American architect Barry Dierks. The villa was sold to Prince Aly Khan after Elliott’s death in 1940, and it was where he married the actress Rita Hayworth in 1949. Photo: Wendy Goodman/Courtesy of Hutton Wilkinson
Elsie made many albums over the years, including one that was bound in white leather. It contained original prints by every photographer who took a portrait of her, including Baron de Meyer. This album has been made with the same care she took with the others. Here, the photos of the finished bouquets of a floral artisan, who appears to be working in paper, have been cut out and arranged in a graphic fashion. Photo: Wendy Goodman/Courtesy of Hutton Wilkinson
A page in the album has been devoted to these obelisk-shaped floral arrangements, which may have been done by the paper artist on the preceding page, or perhaps by the British floral designer Constance Spry, who provided all the flowers for Elsie’s famous Circus Ball at her Villa Trianon in Versailles in 1939 — or none of the above! Elsie does not give any clues. Photo: Wendy Goodman/Courtesy of Hutton Wilkinson
This spread, taken out of a magazine, shows the renovation of a house in the Forest of Ermenonville by the French 1930s fashion photographer M. André Durst. The story illustrates how he followed his watercolor to a T, and created a fantastical interior complete with fireplace within the glass wall that looks out over the forest (lower left). Photo: Wendy Goodman/Courtesy of Hutton Wilkinson
Another page, cut out from a French magazine, shows Cole Porter’s music room in the Paris apartment he shared with his wife, Linda. The text credits furniture designs by Jean-Michel Frank, noting that the couch and chair were covered in white leather, the curtains were cream, and the walls were black lacquer intersected by smoked mirrors. It also notes that the plans for the room were conceived by Armand-Albert Rateau and the lacquered frames by Jean Dunand. Photo: Wendy Goodman/Courtesy of Hutton Wilkinson
“Chez ‘Syrie’ à Londres,” written in Elsie’s handwriting, refers to the photos she cut out of a magazine of decorator Syrie Maugham’s London apartment where Maugham designed an all-white living room, as modern as can be, with mirrored screens and an unadorned fireplace. Photo: Wendy Goodman/Courtesy of Hutton Wilkinson
Elsie obviously admired the famously surreal Paris penthouse that Le Corbusier designed for the Spanish-Mexican millionaire Charles de Beistegui, with its glass-walled roof pavilion and much-copied spiral staircase within (not shown here). Photo: Wendy Goodman/Courtesy of Hutton Wilkinson
The album includes this page out of a magazine with a photograph of a set design by Oliver Messel, created at the beginning of his career. Photo: Wendy Goodman/Courtesy of Hutton Wilkinson
This photograph must have made Elsie proud, as the ballroom she designed for Paul-Louis Weiller in his house in Versailles was deemed “The Room of the Month” in a magazine that is not identified. The industrialist millionaire bought the Villa Trianon from Elsie when she was married to the British diplomat Sir Charles Mendl (and Elsie was addressed as Lady Mendl thereafter) but the stipulation of the sale was that Sir Charles and Lady Mendl could stay in the house until Elsie’s death. Once the war was over, she and Sir Charles left Beverly Hills, where they had lived for the duration, and returned to Elsie’s true love, her Villa Trianon, where she died in 1950. Photo: Wendy Goodman/Courtesy of Hutton Wilkinson
Inside an Iconic Decorator’s Personal Scrapbook