Sister Parish

Sister Parish (born on July 15, 1910 in Morristown, New Jersey and died in 1994, born Dorothy May Kinnicutt) was an American interior decorator and socialite. She was the first interior designer brought in to decorate the Kennedy White House, a position that was 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 Family Dining Room and 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.

Mrs. Parish's six decades of decorating epitomized the rise of women in her own and other professions in 20th-century America. The one-room business she founded in 1933 in Far Hills, N.J., evolved into the noted decorating firm of Parish-Hadley Associates, based in Manhattan, whose designs consistently exuded quality. 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.

As the only daughter in a five child family, Parish acquired the nickname "Sister," which lead to her being mistaken in the press as a nun with a talent for arranging furniture. 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.She was a young woman who had, in her own words, 'never opened a window or poured a glass of water myself,' and she decided to take her fate into her own hands, Briefly, she worked as the American business partner of London-based tastemaker Nancy Lancaster, the Virginia-born owner of the eminent British textile firm Sybil Colefax & John Fowler.

Although Mrs. Parish was adamant she didn't have a 'look', she was consistent in certain areas, such as her use of color. Color gave her rooms charm, imagination and a 'lived in look'. Her basic tenet was to be unafraid in picking bold colors and always try to put things together because you like them -- not because they 'match'. She used bright colors fearlessly with her materials and she loved painted furniture most of all. The Sister Parish Design collection reflects Sister's love of color and harks back to many of the rooms she decorated for herself and family.

In addition to the White House, Parish's clients included the philanthropist Jane Engelhard and the socialite and art collector Betsey Whitney.

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


  • 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

External links

New York Times. (2000). Slide show of the life and works of Sister Parish Retrieved December 17, 2006.

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