I recently found a copy of Betty Pepis’ 1965 book Interior Decorating A to Z at a used bookshop. It’s a great publication filled with lots of pictures illustrating various design terms alphabetically beginning with “Accessories” and ending with “Wall Treatments” (apparently Betty ran out of designer terms when she got to ‘W’). I hadn’t heard of Betty Pepis before but according to the book she was a well-known interior designer in the ’60s. She also wrote a popular advice column titled “Homemakers’ Queries” and another column titled “Betty Pepis’ Diary” for the McClure Newspaper Syndicate while lecturing at the New York School of Interior Design.
Her other jobs included being the home section editor for The New York Times for 7 years, the assistant editor for Look magazine for 3 years and a one-time features editor for House and Garden. As a struggling freelance writer myself, I was incredibly impressed by Betty’s list of credentials. Her resume’s even more astonishing when you consider the fact that she was a single working woman writer during the ’50s & ’60s. Go Betty! Here’s a blurb about her swiped from Interior Decorating A to Z:
Betty Pepis was born in New York City, raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and now lives with her daughter in a pre-war Fifth Avenue apartment in New York City. Because people always ask her, Miss Pepis adds that her apartment is all white, filled with what she describes as “contemporary clutter, ” lots of books, objects picked up from around the world, and a small, eclectic art collection.
While researching Betty Pepis I wasn’t surprised to discover that MAD MEN Set designer, Claudette Didul, credited Betty’s books in a Los Angeles Times article for helping to inspire her design for Don Draper’s new and oh so stylish Manhattan apartment. Other than that blurb and a few random blog posts about her book there seems to be very little information about Betty Pepis online so I decided to compile a post about her in an effort to share more info about Betty. Below you’ll find copies of two of her newspaper columns:
Interior decoration is the mid-twentieth century’s contribution to the arts of living. For only in our own time has the planning, placement, and selection of furnishings been dignified by being deemed a profession.
Indeed the oldest professional organization of decorators in the United States (who today prefer to be called designers in the belief that this latter word is more all-encompasssing) dates back to 1931. And Elsie de Wolfe, later Lady Mendl, who, perhaps somewhat inaccurately, has been called the first interior decorator, turned to this vocation around the turn of the century and did her most important work in the years just proceeding 1920.
Prior to this period and to a certain extent even up to the 1930s, decorating per se, was for the rich who relied for help, guidance, and instruction upon architects or a superior breed of craftsmen: cabinet-makers of the caliber of Chippendale and Hepplewhite in England and in our own country, Duncan Phyfe.
Men such s these set fashions, created a certain over-all look. But it was not one which the average householder could aspire. The style-oriented furniture stores, both catering to the many rather than the few, are of reasonably recent vintage and it is these along with the growing number of individual decorators who have evolved the pattern of making fashion important in the home.
In line with this development a whole new vocabulary has come into being. Because practitioners of this very contemporary profession compile as well as create, words have been borrowed from adjacent arts (painting and architecture, to name only two) and given new application and meanings. Other words and phrases have been manufactured to suit situations peculiar to modern residential design. ‘Open floor plan’ is one example. Room divider and clerestory are others.
Modern technology and engineering have contributed too. Cantilevered chests and molded chairs are among contemporary additions to the elements of interior design – and not in name only but in concept as well.
. . .
This book is designed as a visual guide through the maze of words from many sources that make up the vocabulary of modern interior design. A perusal of it will inevitably result in recognition of the trends of the times (a much more complex matter than any period of the past), for the words simply define the increasingly varied elements that contribute to contemporary decoration.
I love her “everyman” approach to design! She wrote for regular folks like yours truly who wanted their homes to look as good as possible even when working within a limited budget. If you’d like to see more images from Betty Pepis’ book you can find them in my Flickr gallery.
Note: All images are reproduced from the out-of-print book in order to celebrate the work of Betty Pepis and review its contents. If you are a copyright holder and would like me to remove these images please contact me and I will do so ASAP.