Sister Parish, the grand dame of American interior design, began her business as a young Depression-era mother. Despite having no formal design background, she went on to remodel the rooms of the White House with Jacqueline Kennedy after her husband was elected president.
Mrs. Parish extolled elegance, yet the furnishings she and her business partner Albert Hadley designed for Brooke Astor, Bunny Mellon, and Oscar de la Renta had a pleasant, lived-in atmosphere. She was the first to mix and combine furnishings from different ages, styles, and price points, with roots in traditional American decorative arts.
She was a devotee of chintz and ticking stripes and utilised brilliant colours in her decorating schemes; she painted floors, layered textiles, and placed a high value on selecting furniture that would give a house a sense of stability. She worked until she was in her 80s and died in 1994.
Mrs. Parish’s family is now focused on conveying her aesthetic views to a larger audience. Eliza Harris, 32, is the creative director of Sister Parish Design, a business that her mother, Susan Bartlett Crater, launched about 20 years ago that concentrates on reproduced fabric and wallpaper patterns from Mrs. Parish and Mr. Hadley’s archives.
Sister Parish Design is having its first retail pop-up at Montage Antiques in Millerton, N.Y., until Nov. 28 as part of this initiative. The pop-up is tented in a holiday version of the Parish Dolly fabric, a rose design that was in Caroline Kennedy’s White House bedroom.
The pop-up has a festive feel to it, set against a backdrop of Sister Parish memorabilia. Mrs. Parish loved Christmas and had special rituals, such as wrapping presents in pristine white shelf paper with bright red ribbon and pairing Rigaud Cypres candles with bouquets of paperwhites, according to Ms. Harris.
Aside from Christmas decorations, the collection also contains dishware, linens, and quilts in a range of styles. Mrs. Parish’s and the other ladies in her family’s antique collections are also for sale, as are collages of birds, butterflies, and wildlife created by Ms. Harris’s grandmother, Apple Bartlett.
Sister Parish Design products have been available exclusively to designers through the trade since its establishment. Ms. Crater, the company’s president, and Ms. Harris, who has been with the company since 2018 — she was previously an interior designer with the Manhattan firm Markham Roberts — re-evaluated their business strategy once Covid-19 hit.
“We witnessed showrooms close a year and a half ago, and the design industry evolved very quickly,” Ms. Harris explained. “We didn’t see any reason to exclude the retail customer any longer.” The full product line of the company, including its iconic fabrics and wallcoverings, is now available online and direct to the consumer. Each new pattern is based on one from Mrs. Parish’s archives.
Ms. Harris’s clientele remains primarily comprised of interior designers, but she is thrilled about reaching out to homes directly. “Not everyone can afford an interior designer,” she explained. “Some design lovers merely want to wallpaper a room, and we want to help them.”
She went on to say that providing customer service is different when working with an interior designer, who often turns to the company for requirements and samples. “The consumer wants more education,” Ms. Harris explained. “They want more lifestyle imagery and ideas for how to use our items.” Last year, the company launched the video series Tell a Sister,” which acts as a round table discussion in which Ms. Harris interviews female design professionals.
“My great-grandmother created the framework for female leadership in the design industry, and we want to carry it on,” she says.
Sister Parish Design also collaborates with other firms, including Artemis Design Company, a Boston-based workshop that creates shoes out of Kilim linens. The firm will cooperate with Tibetano in January on a series of handwoven flat weave and rag rugs based on some of its most prized motifs.
“The rugs are not only lovely, but also incredibly functional,” Ms. Harris explained. “Sister Parish was a firm believer in long-lasting craftsmanship and design that demonstrated the ‘work of the hand.'” The rugs are a lovely example of both.”
In addition, the company is dedicated to assisting local artisans and sellers. “During Covid, all of our items were created in New York,” Ms. Harris lamented. “Because the home sector was exploding, we collaborated with a city fashion workroom because fashion was so calm at the time.” They did an excellent job.”
Ms. Harris, who is down-to-earth and endearingly excited about her great-history, grandmother’s will stop by Montage Antiques, one of her favourite haunts, on an irregular basis for the course of the pop-up. While her great-grandmother catered to a mostly affluent clientele, Ms. Harris has a bevvy of money-saving design suggestions ready for the next generation of design enthusiasts.
“You absolutely can develop outstanding design on a budget,” Ms. Harris stated. “With just one dart of our fabric, you may build a headboard that will be passed down to the next generation.” She remembers Mrs. Parish making a linen velvet sofa for her parents when they married about 40 years ago.
“My parents still have the couch,” she explained. “It’s still lovely.”