Sibyl Colefax (1875 – 1950) British collector and interior designer

Sibyl Colefax and Rex Whistler, acclaimed portrait painter; Ashcombe, 1930s by Cecil Beaton
Sibyl Colefax and Rex Whistler, acclaimed portrait painter; Ashcombe, 1930s by Cecil Beaton

Sibyl Colefax (1875 – 1950) was a British collector and interior designer and was professionally active in London.

At Onslow Square and Argyll House, she opened salons. Lady Oxford, Lady Asquith, Lady Cunard, and Lady Ottoline Morrell were her rivals as hostess. She continued to entertain on a small scale at her house, Lord North Street, London, after her husband Arthur Colefax died in 1936.

She began cultivating the Bloomsbury group of artists in 1922, and they regarded her with contempt. She started working as an interior decorator in 1933. Virginia Woolf gave the paper “Am I a Snob?” at the Memoir Club in 1936, mocking Colefax’s social pretensions, though the two remained friends.

The library of Sibyl Colefax's house at Lord North Street
The library of Sibyl Colefax’s house at Lord North Street

She designed minutely detailed interiors in unusual colours as director of Colefax and Co, which she co-founded with John Fowler in 1934. Between the wars, Colefax worked as a “lady decorator” in London, “assisting” with decorating wealthy friends’ homes.

Before her association with Colefax, John Fowler, a prominent decorator, ran her shop on King’s Road in London, near Lady Colefax’s and Syrie Maugham’s homes. Both Maugham and Colefax had courted him to join their companies.

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Colefax, S. (2020, February 18). 1930s Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler. Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler. https://www.sibylcolefax.com/our-history/1930s/.

Additional Reading

Aslet, C., & Thomas, D. (2020). Old Homes, new life: The resurgence of the british country house. Triglyph Books.

Banham, J., & Shrimpton, L. (1997). Encyclopedia of interior design. Fitzroy Dearborn.

Mlinaric, D., & Moore, D. (2018). Great English interiors. Prestel Publishing.

Pimental-Reid, E., & Hogan, S. (2020). Bold British design modern living spaces to inspire fearlessness and creativity. Quadrille Publishing.

Piras, C., & Roetzel, B. (2001). British tradition and interior design: Town and Country Living in the British Isles. Kƶnemann.

Rose-Innes, J. (2020). British designers at home. Hardie Grant Books (UK).

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