Cultured Magazine

Summer 2013

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Frances Elkins' Loop chairs have had a resurgence in popularity. IN THE LOOP Frances Elkins had a flair for irreverence, a style she lent to interior projects from Los Angeles to Chicago. BY LINDA LEE ILLUSTRATION BY QUINN HARRELSON Consider the grande dames of design, a group that includes Syrie Maugham in London, Edith Wharton and Dorothy Draper in New York, Elsie de Wolfe in Los Angeles and Julia Morgan in San Francisco. They were all born between 1862 and 1889, had wealthy forebears, rebelled against Victorian design and exhibited strong personalities. They are the women who gilded the lilies of the richest families in America up through the Depression. Easily their match, and perhaps their better, was the California-based Frances Adler Elkins. "She was definitely bold," says Stephen M. Salny, whose 2005 biography "Frances Elkins: Interior Design" cemented her reputation. "There were no shades of gray with Frances." Born in Milwaukee in 1889 into a wealthy family, Elkins grew up in a home filled with servants on Prospect Avenue, Milwaukee's Gold Coast. Her older 106 CULTURED brother, the architect David Adler, went to Princeton and studied in France. Elkins picked up her passion for France, and French design, from him: she lived in France from age 17 to 19, and went again after World War I, at age 29, to work as a canteen "girl" for the Red Cross. Seemingly out of nowhere, this brother and sister developed the refined sensibility and effete taste that defined their work for the wealthy in Chicago and on the West Coast. While Frances Elkins did some of her most famous interiors with her brother, their personalities, even their tastes, often diverged. He was quiet; she, not so much. As Mitchell Owens put it in The New York Times, "What he so traditionally built, she often irreverently decorated." While her brother designed neoclassical palaces, Elkins became the sole U.S. distributor of Art Deco furniture by Jean-Michel Frank and the Giacometti

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