Sister Parish

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The Yellow Oval Room at the White House during the administration of President John F. Kennedy, as decorated by Sister Parish.

Sister Parish (born Dorothy May Kinnicutt; July 15, 1910 – September 8, 1994) was an American interior decorator and socialite. She was the first interior designer brought in to decorate the Kennedy White House, a position soon usurped by French interior designer Stéphane Boudin. Despite Boudin's growing influence, Parish's influence can still be seen at the White House, particularly in the Yellow Oval Room.

A stately and occasionally eccentric white-haired lady, Parish was the design partner of Albert Hadley, a Tennessee-born decorator, with whom she co-founded Parish-Hadley Associates (1962–1999). Both were equally influential, Parish for her homey, cluttered traditionalism and passion for patchwork quilts, painted furniture, and red-lacquer secretaries and Hadley for his clean-cut take on modernism. Hadley described Parish's designs as "baroque" and "freewheeling". It was Parish's custom at the start of each project to roll a tea cart through the house, getting rid of anything she deemed unnecessary, often intimidating clients with her frank approach.

She was partial to the understated English country house look, and her combinations of Colefax and Fowler chintzes, overstuffed armchairs, and brocade sofas with such unexpected items as patchwork quilts, four-poster beds, knitted throws, and rag rugs led to her being credited with ushering in what became known as American country style during the 1960s.

In 1962, Sister hired Albert Hadley and the firm Parish-Hadley was born. "Parish-Hadley influenced a whole generation of decorators and many of the top New York decorators went through the firm at some point in their careers," stated Harold Simmons. Hadley added an academic approach to the practice, while the partnership gave them both a confidence which became evident in their rooms. Albert Hadley: "The decorators who came to work for Parish-Hadley learned a lot about out basic point of view, and the philosophy that both sis and I had. We knew that rooms are for people, and that you want to make them as attractive and comfortable as possible."[1]

As the only daughter in a five child family, Parish acquired the nickname "Sister," which led to her being mistaken in the press as a nun with a talent for arranging furniture.

Parish grew up in New York, where she attended the Chapin School and then the Foxcroft School. [2]

Parish decorated her first country house after moving with her family from Manhattan to Far Hills, New Jersey. The house was a hit with the community and soon she began decorating her neighbors' homes. One neighbor, senator Joseph S. Frelinghuysen, asked her to decorate a new restaurant, "Howard Johnson's", in the nearby town of Somerville. Married in 1930 to Henry Parish II, an investment banker with whom she had three children, Parish opened her firm in suburban New Jersey in 1933 as part of a plan to help the family finances during the Great Depression. Briefly, she worked as the American business partner of London-based tastemaker Nancy Lancaster, the Virginia-born owner of the eminent British textile firm Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler.

In addition to the White House, Parish's clients included the philanthropist Jane Engelhard and the socialite and art collector Betsey Cushing Roosevelt Whitney, Annette de la Renta, Alice Rogers, Mrs. Charles Percy, were also clients.

Sister Parish wrote of her design philosophy, "As a child, I discovered the happy feelings that familiar things can bring -- an old apple tree, a favorite garden, the smell of a fresh-clipped hedge, simply knowing that when you round the corner, nothing will be changed, nothing will be gone. I try to instill the lucky part of my life in each house that I do. Some think a decorator should change a house. I try to give permanence to a house, to bring out the experiences, the memories, the feelings that make it a home."

"She had her favorite way of doing things. A single number of kick pleats, edges on pillows. The fact that she said that curtains always have to have edging on them; they can't just end. And the same thing -- she hated stripes that just stopped on a corner, as opposed to having a piece of molding to finish them properly.

She had lots of tricks that she liked to use. Trimmings...she like to mix it all up."[3]

One of Parish's cousins was another influential 20th-century interior decorator, Dorothy Draper.

See also[edit]

  • The Great Lady Decorators: The Women Who Defined Interior Design, 1870-1955 by Adam Lewis (2010), Rizzoli, New York. ISBN 978-0-8478-3336-8


  1. ^ bartlett, apple (2000). sister the life of legendary american interior decorator Mrs. Henry Prish II. new york: st. martin's press. pp. 114–133, 134–158. ISBN 0-312-24240-9. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ bartlett, apple (2000). sister the life of legendary american interior decorator Mrs. Henry Prish II. new york: st. martin's press. pp. 114–133, 134–158. ISBN 0-312-24240-9. 
  • Abbott James A., and Elaine M. Rice. Designing Camelot: The Kennedy White House Restoration. Van Nostrand Reinhold: 1998. ISBN 0-442-02532-7.
  • Monkman, Betty C. The White House: The Historic Furnishing & First Families. Abbeville Press: 2000. ISBN 0-7892-0624-2.
  • The White House: An Historic Guide. White House Historical Association and the National Geographic Society: 2001. ISBN 0-912308-79-6.
  • West, J.B. with Mary Lynn Kotz. Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies. Coward, McCann & Geoghegan: 1973. SBN 698-10546-X.
  • "Sister Parish." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 21 May. 2008
  • Bartlett, Apple., "Sister: the life of legendary American interior decorator Mrs. Henry Parish II." 2000. St. martin's press. New York. ISBN 0-312-24240-9 pages 114–133, 134-158

External links[edit]

Architectural Digest. (2000). [2] New York Times. (2000). Slide show of the life and works of Sister Parish. Retrieved December 17, 2006. New York Times. (2000)[3]