'Professional Women Interior Decorators 1872 to 1899'
Central Saint Martins
This research recovers the hidden histories of the women working as professional interior decorators in the later years of the nineteenth century. It centres on case studies of three firms: those run by cousins Agnes (1845–1935) and Rhoda Garrett (1841–1882), Charlotte Robinson (1859–1901) and Caroline Crommelin (1854–1910). It examines how their businesses operate, looking at their motivations for starting in business, the types of training they were able to access, the professional spaces from which they worked, their stock, how they marketed their products, their engagement with the press, and what scale and variety of private commissions they undertook.
Throughout, this research suggests that these women were operating enterprises of a similar scale to their male competitors and, as such, aims to challenge the masculinized history of British interior design. It asserts that to gain a full understanding of the emergence of interior decoration as a distinct career, we must recognise that William Morris was not the only professional activities within the field. Through its examination of the professional lives of the Garretts, Robinson and Crommelin, this research explores the factors which enabled the emergence of the female professional interior decorator. It assesses the contribution of women to British interior design in the later nineteenth century and suggests that pioneering women, such as the Garretts, Robinson and Crommelin, were vitally important in shaping the profession during the years of its development.