The Road to Good Taste.
The Design Life of Ruby Ross Wood.

Atlanta History Center is proud to present a new exhibition on the life and work of one of America’s most influential interior designers. From her early days as a journalist to opening her own firm, Ruby Ross Wood’s work was always characterized by eclectic combinations of furniture, bold color choices, and impeccable taste.

The exhibition will feature a selection of Wood’s most iconic designs, as well as photographs and never-before-displayed documents. Visitors will learn about Wood’s life and work; and come away with an appreciation of her unique vision and lasting contribution to American design.

Ruby Ross Wood at Her Desk, 1948

Ruby Ross Wood exemplifies the growth of the American businesswoman—a self-made success before she could vote and a pioneer in establishing interior design as a career in what is now a multi-billion-dollar business annually.

Black Punctuation, 1947

“In a plantation house bedroom, Ruby Ross Wood hangs green, white, and black patterned chintz curtains against salad green walls and uses black silhouettes above bed.” Known for her confident use of vibrant color, the green of this bedroom is reminiscent of the original green used in the Morning Room of Swan House. “The worst a house can be,” she believed, “is boring.”

Perplexing Problems in Using Color, 1947

“Ruby Ross Wood punctuates a white and gray upstairs sitting room with touches of purple, blue, and green.” In her book, The Honest House published in 1914, Wood wrote that color must be harmonious with the walls, furniture, and hangings chosen specially to match its character. Above all, she believed that everyone had the ability to appreciate “good taste.”

“… Beautiful – well, that is a word that holds its own meaning for each of us.” She wrote, “There isn’t a better word, if you apply it honestly.”

Record of Prints, Hentz, Reid & Adler, 1927

The record of prints index card for Hentz, Reid & Adler’s architectural job number 591 for the Inman residence, today’s Swan House, April 1927. The bottom line indicates a set of architectural floorplans and wall elevations for the main public rooms of the house. As noted on the line, the set was requested by the architect Philip Shutze to be sent to “Mrs. Wood for Interior Decorating.”

Living Room, Little Ipswich, Long Island, 1928

While Ruby Ross Wood was working with Emily Inman and Philip Shutze on the design of Swan House, she was working on her own house, Little Ipswich. Located on Long Island, the house was designed by architects Delano & Aldrich and completed in 1928—the same year as the Inman’s house. As with Swan House, Little Ipswich includes a round entrance foyer with a star motif on the floor and several representations of swans throughout the house. Importantly, the furnishings are similar to the Inman house, composed of Wood’s eclectic blend of antiques and contemporary furniture. Named for her husband’s childhood home in Massachusetts, the house was demolished in 1995.

Wolcott Blair House, Palm Beach, 1936

Mr. and Mrs. Wolcott Blair of Chicago asked Ruby Ross Wood to decorate their house in Palm Beach. Wood’s protégé Billy Baldwin later wrote: “The decoration was pared down to the essentials of beauty and comfort … any of the rooms could be published in a current magazine and never betray that they were designed and lived in in 1936. Mrs. Wood and the Blairs had an uncanny sense of classicism, and together they conspired to strike at the heart of timelessness.”

Walker Residence, New York, 1937

The Park Avenue apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Mercer Walker included Ruby Ross Wood touches, such as the upholstered Lawson slipper chairs and an eclectic mix of modern and antique furnishings. Wood also added Art Deco style with the clean lines of the mirrored mantel and the popular white-on-white colors of the 1930s.

Walker House, Palm Beach, 1940

After the successful realization of their New York apartment, Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Mercer Walker commissioned Ruby Ross Wood to decorate their Palm Beach house. Building on the New York installation, the beach house includes classic beige and white styling against pale-green walls with Wood’s blend of contemporary and antique furnishings.

Brooke Marshall Apartment, New York, 1947

New York philanthropist and socialite Brooke Astor was Mrs. Charles H. Marshall in the 1940s. During that decade, Brooke worked as a features editor at House & Garden magazine for eight years. There, she met and worked for a period of time with Ruby Ross Wood. It was at that time that Wood decorated the Marshalls’ Gracie Square apartment in “blue and white and French in an uncluttered way typical of Ruby Ross Wood.”

Born in Georgia, experienced in journalism, sharp, talented, and clever with a sense of adventure—especially in regard to color and pattern—Ruby Ross Wood made herself the preeminent decorator in the U.S. as she practically invented the profession of interior design.

Her career spanned more than 30 years as a businesswoman, columnist for Vogue and other publications, and the nation’s foremost interior design influencer—long before that word was known. Her power and that influence were considerable at the time, though her legacy has been lost. Her death in 1950 preceded many of today’s more well-known decorators—including her protégé, Billy Baldwin, the Dean of American decorators—yet recently her history is being recovered by many in the field.

As a native of the South, Wood was known to many in Atlanta and Georgia. She was a colleague of celebrated Atlanta architect Neel Reid, met with Philip Shutze on his return from his Prix de Rome studies in Italy, and was a personal friend of Mr. and Mrs. Edward H. Inman. As such, Wood decorated the two Atlanta homes of the Inmans, their 1909 Ansley Park residence and, notably, their Buckhead home, Swan House. It is significant that as taste alters and home ownership changes through time, Swan House remains the only Wood-decorated residence available today. With some slight modifications in color and textiles, the Inman house is exactly as Emily Inman, Philip Shutze, and Ruby Ross Wood opened it in 1928.


“Ruby Ross Wood was an anomaly when compared with the other prominent decorators of her day. She was not a charter member of the international social set, like Elsie de Wolfe. She was not a beautiful society divorcée, like Dorothy Draper. And she most decidedly was not a glamorous kept woman, like Rose Cumming. Instead, Ruby Ross Wood—chain-smoking, impatient, tart-tongued—was what used to be called a working girl.”

Mitchell Owens, “Ruby Ross Wood: An Idiosyncratic Eye that Brought New Verve to American Interiors,”, December 31, 1999.

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