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Frances Elkins Furniture

American, 1888-1953

Although she doesn’t have the name recognition of Syrie Maugham or Elsie de Wolfe (known as “the mother of interior decoration”), American designer Frances Elkins was one of the most prominent grand-dame decorators of the first half of the 20th century, and arguably the most influential on the West Coast.

Born into a prosperous Milwaukee family in the clothing business, Frances Elkins, née Adler, might never have ventured outside of Wisconsin were it not for her older brother David. After graduating from Princeton University, he decided to tour Europe and study architecture there, and he brought his teenage sister along. The experience was life-changing. Adler was deeply inspired by the classical architecture he saw, while his sister was captivated by the future-looking art they encountered.

After three years abroad, Elkins returned to the States. In 1917, she married Felton Broomall Elkins, a wealthy Philadelphia–born playwright and polo player who took her to live by the sea in Monterey, California, where many of their society friends were building houses in nearby Pebble Beach. The couple bought a derelict 19th-century adobe mansion, Casa Amesti, that Elkins planned to renovate with her brother, who had established an architecture practice in Chicago designing stately homes. Elkins insisted it would be the most attractive home in northern California when she and her brother were done.

Adler understood just how to mix architectural languages to create spaces of drama and interest. Elkins, meanwhile, enlivened the rooms with a decorative mélange of French and English period furnishings along with Chinoiserie, all within a brilliant color scheme of yellow, blue and white, and arranged in the symmetrical settings her brother favored. When they were finished, Elkins was proved right — Casa Amesti was unlike any other home in northern California. It was fresh and sophisticated, warm and inviting.

One of Elkins’s first commissions was decorating the Monterey Colonial of her good friend Hester Griffin. For the living room, Elkins selected Chippendale furniture, Queen Anne mirrors and Ming screens in a stylish palette of bone and black. To give the space a contemporary twist, she added very new and daring lamps by Jean-Michel Frank and covered the scoop-back sofa and armchairs with peach corduroy, a material which was plush yet utterly unconventional as a furniture covering. It started a trend.

A savvy businesswoman, Elkins recognized commercial opportunities when she saw them, and so eventually became the first American importer of French country antiques, as well as the sole distributor of the furnishings of Frank and Alberto Giacometti in the States. She collaborated with both of these major talents on several designs.

Throughout the 1920s, Elkins decorated a host of other houses around Pebble Beach. Her local work culminated with her design of what was to become the legendary golf club, Cypress Point. She decorated the clubhouse interior in tones of beige, yellow and melon and furnished the rooms with French Provincial pieces, creating spaces that were gracious yet informal.

Eventually, Elkins opened her own workshop, where a staff of artisans reproduced favorite furnishings, lighting and accessories, in addition to realizing her own designs. Ironically, the Loop chair for which she is best known is an 18th-century design, which she reproduced only twice for the “living porch” of Mrs. Marshall Field on Long Island and the living room of the Wheeler house in the Chicago suburbs.

By the 1930s, Elkins was working frequently in San Francisco, decorating interiors for some of the city’s most prominent families, as well as designing a number of commercial projects, including the Yerba Buena Club for Women. Again, her approach was eclectic and bold. She renewed the club’s waiting room and lounge, by covering the Victorian-style seating in audacious reds and blues. And while she paid tribute to Frank in the design of the minimalist dining room’s staircase, seating and torchieres, she also splashed it with color by covering the walls in yellow velvet.

Sadly, Elkins and her brother both died relatively young in their mid-sixties. Yet not before contributing significantly to what would become cosmopolitan American style.

Find vintage Frances Elkins furniture on 1stDibs.

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Creator: Frances Elkins
Pair of Frances Elkins Loop Arm Lounge Chairs
By Frances Elkins
Located in Opa Locka, FL
Pair of Frances Elkins loop lounge chairs, based on the 1930’s iconic models. The chairs have satin off-white lacquer finish and freshly upholstere...
Category

1980s American Hollywood Regency Vintage Frances Elkins Furniture

Materials

Fabric, Wood

Pair of Frances Elkins Wood Cane Seat Loop Backrest Beige Side Chairs Regency
By Frances Elkins
Located in Miami, FL
First Edition Pair of Loop Side or Dining Chairs designed by Frances Elkins and made in Spain circa 1965. Regency Period with hand-carved legs, Apron Decoration and both are with th...
Category

1960s Spanish Regency Vintage Frances Elkins Furniture

Materials

Cane, Wood, Paint

Set of Four Frances Elkins Loop Arm Chairs
By Frances Elkins
Located in Lambertville, NJ
A fabulous set of four Frances Elkins loop chairs. The armchairs are based on the 1930’s iconic models. This set of vintage chairs were made in the ...
Category

Mid-20th Century American Hollywood Regency Frances Elkins Furniture

Materials

Upholstery, Wood

Frances Elkins Benches
By Frances Elkins
Located in New York, NY
Pair of low benches by Frances Elkins. These iconic forms were created after a design by Jean Michel Frank, with whom Elkins shared a close friendship. ...
Category

1950s American Mid-Century Modern Vintage Frances Elkins Furniture

Materials

Leather, Wood

Custom Tree Form Lamp by Frances Elkins
By Frances Elkins
Located in Palm Desert, CA
This is a custom tree from floor lamp by Frances Elkins from the estate of Elkin's daughter, Katherine Elkins Boyd. This whimsical lamp is carved in wood and finished in Gesso. It is...
Category

1940s American Mid-Century Modern Vintage Frances Elkins Furniture

Materials

Gesso, Wood

Cast Plaster Console and Mirror by Francis Elkins
By Frances Elkins
Located in Palm Desert, CA
This is a strikingly artistic cast plaster console and mirror by important mid-century interior designer, Francis Elkins. The console and mirror are fro...
Category

1940s American Mid-Century Modern Vintage Frances Elkins Furniture

Materials

Mirror, Plaster

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Frances Elkins furniture for sale on 1stDibs.

Frances Elkins furniture are available for sale on 1stDibs. These distinctive items are frequently made of wood and are designed with extraordinary care. There are many options to choose from in our collection of Frances Elkins furniture, although brown editions of this piece are particularly popular. Many of the original furniture by Frances Elkins were created in the mid-century modern style in north america during the 20th century. If you’re looking for additional options, many customers also consider furniture by Edward Durell Stone, Richard Frinier, and Max Gottschalk. Prices for Frances Elkins furniture can differ depending upon size, time period and other attributes — on 1stDibs, these items begin at £3,084 and can go as high as £17,625, while a piece like these, on average, fetch £13,619.

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