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Sister: The Life of the Legendary American Interior Decorator Mrs. Henry Parish II

Bartlett, Apple Parish and Crater, Susan Bartlett

42 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0312242409 / ISBN 13: 9780312242404
Published by St. Martin's, NY, 2000
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About this Item

8vo. 358 pp. Signed by the author: INSCRIBED by Crater (only) "For Daphne Best. Wishes Susan Crater" half title. 1/8" tear top spine dj. VG+/VG+ (book creaks a little as it's opened). Bookseller Inventory # MAIN007225I

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Sister: The Life of the Legendary American ...

Publisher: St. Martin's, NY

Publication Date: 2000

Binding: Hardcover

Dust Jacket Condition: Dust Jacket Included

Signed: Signed by Author(s)

Edition: 3rd ptg

About this title


This intimate portrait of Mrs. Henry Parish II-known to friends as Sister-chronicles one woman's remarkable life and groundbreaking career, painting a unique portrait of American high society and recounting the transformation of an art form.

Dorothy May Kinnicutt was born into a patrician New York family in 1910 and her privileged early life was one of the right schools, yacht clubs, coming out parties, and the Social Register. Compelled to work because of the lean years of the Depression, Sister combined her innate design ability and her high echelon social connections to create an extraordinarily successful interior decorating business. Her firm, Parish-Hadley, served a list of clients that comprised the crème de la crème of American aristocracy, among them Rockefellers, Astors, and Whitneys. To them, she was in indispensable presence, both in their salons and in designing them. Her style, influenced by her family's country house in Maine, came to be known as "American country" and was a reflection of Sister's deeply felt Yankee roots. It influenced an entire generation of American decorators. To the pubic at large, she was the visionary who helped transform Jacqueline Kennedy's White House from a fusty relic of the fifties into the international symbol of American elegance-Camelot.

To Apple Parish Bartlett and Susan Bartlett Crater, she was a mother and grandmother. Drawing upon Sister Parish's own unpublished memoirs, as well as hundreds of interviews with world-famous interior decorators and socialites, Bartlett and Crater take readers into the houses-and the lives-of the most famous and powerful people of Parish's time, telling the story of the enormously charismatic woman who redefined American design.


Born with the silverest of spoons in her mouth, Mrs. Henry Parish II went on to become, of all things, a working woman. Yet she couldn't have picked a métier more suited to her milieu. As a decorator, she drew upon both her blue-blood connections and the exquisite taste that was her birthright to become one of the foremost figures in American interior design. Not bad for a woman who never received a high school diploma, and who was known most often (and most endearingly) by her childhood nickname of Sister. (When she was hired to do over the White House for Jackie, the headlines read "Kennedys Pick Nun to Decorate White House.") In Sister, Parish's daughter and granddaughter lovingly chronicle this remarkable woman's life and work. She began adulthood as the wife and mother she had been expensively nurtured to become. But when the Depression hit and her husband's stockbroker salary plummeted, this Sister started doing it for herself. She hung out a shingle, literally, and soon upper-crust types from far and wide were clamoring for her untrained but decidedly stylish services. In narrating the illustrious career that followed, the book alternates interviews with past clients, coworkers, and friends with excerpts from Sister's never-completed autobiography--and with few exceptions, the most vivid passages are those in her own inimitable voice. Parish described her own style, quite correctly, as "timeless and personal," yet she actually innovated key elements of what we now take for granted as the "American country" look, including quilts, painted floors, and mattress ticking upholstery. But she never sacrificed a client's wishes to an inflexible ideal. For her, design was always about matching a house with the personality of those who lived inside it, making her work the truest extension of her love of family and home. More than just a tribute to a remarkable woman, Sister is also a fascinating portrait of a bygone world, almost Jamesian in its manners and morals. --Chloe Byrne

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