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Most people can name an influential fashion designer or two. The names of Christian Dior, Coco Chanel and Hubert Givenchy live on in the houses they founded. Interior design is slightly different. While interior designers create spaces that are comfortable, inspiring and functional, they often work alone. Even those who leave companies behind them are mostly known to architects. Interior design just doesn’t resonate in the way personal items like clothing do.

Anyone who follows current design trends, however, should know that their favorites are standing on the shoulders of some design giants from the past. Today’s interiors may seem cut off from the past, but they’re either reacting against or channelling something that came before. Take, for example, Elsie de Wolfe. Born in 1865, de Wolfe became one of America’s first real interior designers. Known for her chic, unique personal style, she was eventually tapped by families including the Fricks. She was also responsible for the interior design of the Colony Club. Elsie de Wolfe’s style was seen as a breath of fresh air, with clean open spaces and simple window treatments. The Victorian era design that preceded her was often busy, cluttered and could feel claustrophobic.

In the 1930s, Jean-Michel Frank created truly unique interiors. The furniture pieces he designed was simple, but they were expensively finished with bronze, quartz, lambskin and other decadent materials. Frank’s use of simple lines and interesting texture prefigured much of what goes on in interior design today. Dorothy Draper worked in the same era as Frank, but her take on design was different. She was the first person to truly start an interior design business, with her landmark company Architectural Clearing House, formed in 1925. Draper wasn’t just a designer for the rich. She also wrote mass-market books like Decorating Is Fun!. She was in many ways the forerunner of today’s influencers, who in some ways work with both corporate clients and the public at large.

Seeing the design trends of the past offers a unique understanding of what’s going on in the present. Whether it’s Elsie de Wolfe reclaiming open space, Sister Parish bringing back prints, or Albert Hadley striving constantly for balance, interior design trends provide insight into human desires and needs.