Rose Cumming’s living room circa 1960
Founded in 1917, the long history of Rose Cumming reflects the timelessness of its design approach.
The eldest daughter of English parents, Rose Cumming grew up on an Australian sheep ranch near Sydney. Strongly independent, she set out for Paris to get married, but wound up in New York, solo. As a young woman of extraordinary beauty, wit, and style, she was soon the toast of the town.
She revolutionized the decorating business when she opened her New York shop, offering decorating services and the merchandise to make it all happen. Setting up business in a street-level space with high ceilings and enormous windows on New York’s Upper East Side, she was the first to leave the shop lights on at night, recognizing the heightened visibility the practice provided. With a penchant for the unusual and the beautiful, she responded to eighteenth-century continental furniture of the highest quality, as well as all things chinoiserie.
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She brought color to chintz, which, contrary to popular belief, she relegated to the more informal rooms. She invented metallic wallpaper and with their highly polished surfaces of color and texture, her rooms glowed. She hated electricity with its ugly wires and largely did without in her spectacular New York townhouse.
Generous to the core, she was also extravagant in her behavior. Purple hair, enormous hats, decollete at all hours of the day, and an original wit and outspokenness made her a formidable and legendary New York presence. Her shop became a fabulous stopping point for other celebrated personalities including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Andy Warhol, Rudolph Nureyev, Jacqueline Onassis, and Babe Paley.
Today, her great-niece Sarah Cumming Cecil, President and Principal Designer at Rose Cumming, continues the family design tradition. Working with the client’s needs, she brings to her design work sophistication and warmth.
Sarah Cumming Cecil has vivid memories of her grandmother’s older sister and the days when the shop occupied the corner of Fifty-Ninth Street and Park Avenue. She is at work on a book on Rose Cumming. She has lectured extensively on the subject, including at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, the Worcester Art Museum, and the Portland Museum of Art, and is available for speaking engagements. Her presentation generally runs about an hour and includes almost 100 photographs of rooms, furniture, fabric, and personal photographs. She recalls her great aunt first hand and the lecture is peppered with family lore, interviews with Miss Cumming’s longtime assistants and friends, and quotes from Miss Cumming’s unpublished memoir.