Ruby Ross Wood: A Pioneer in Interior Design

Categories: Interior design


The early 1900s marked a transformative era for women, as they transitioned from traditional homemaker roles to becoming influential members of society. Ruby Ross Wood, a prominent figure in the world of interior design, emerged during this epoch, leaving an indelible mark on the industry. This essay delves into the extraordinary life and design style of Ruby Ross Wood, exploring her journey to greatness, the challenges she faced as a trailblazing designer, and her lasting legacy.

Road to Greatness

Ruby Ross Wood was born on October 26, 1881, in Monticello, Georgia, into a family with a rich history dating back to Colonial times.

As the eldest daughter of a successful cotton broker, Wood's destiny seemed intertwined with greatness from an early age. Her first marriage to Wallace Field Goodnow, an engineer from a notable family, resulted in the birth of a son, albeit a tragic loss as the infant passed away. Subsequently, Wood married Chalmers Wood, a well-connected stockbroker, and together they resided at the opulent estate, Little Ipswich, in Syosset, New York, designed by architect William Adams Delano.

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Wood's journalistic career took flight after her relocation to New York, where she served as a ghostwriter under the guidance of Theodore Dreiser, the editor-in-chief. Her writings encompassed a wide array of topics, including poems, articles, and fiction centered around interior design. Notably, her contributions to "The Delineator," a popular women's magazine, laid the foundation for Elsie de Wolfe's decorating manual, "The House in Good Taste."

Despite facing setbacks with the founding of Modernist Studios in 1914, Wood discovered her true passion while working at the John Wanamaker store in New York City.

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Her decorating division, Belmaison, flourished, attracting notable clients such as Alfred Vanderbilt, Rodman Wanamaker, and Brooke Astor. In the 1920s, Wood established her own decorating firm, leaving an indelible mark on the industry. Notably, her collaboration with interior designer Billy Baldwin, known as "the dean of American decorating," further solidified her influence.

The Design Genius

Ruby Ross Wood's design style was a harmonious blend of Elsie de Wolfe's European flair and the reserved, less precious American aesthetic of Elsie Cobb Wilson. While her early work showcased a bold and interesting writing style, it was in later years that her use of colors and daring concepts truly captivated audiences. Wood's journey to design greatness was multifaceted, characterized by the fusion of cultural designs and a preference for old-world intent over modern trends.

Her legacy extends beyond individual projects, as she broke ground with her firm belief that "The final judgment in decorating is not the logic of the mind, but the logic of the eye," as quoted by her protege, Billy Baldwin. Embracing diverse cultural influences, Wood's designs were a testament to her visionary approach, challenging the norms of her time.

Her Death and Legacy

Ruby Ross Wood's life was tragically cut short by lung cancer in 1950. Described by many as eccentric, Wood stood out among her contemporaries as a true "working girl" who defied societal expectations. Mitchell Owens aptly captures her essence: "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 divorcee, like Dorothy Draper."

Wood's legacy endures through her groundbreaking designs, documented in books, articles, and even in the homes that continue to showcase her revolutionary concepts. Her spirit, characterized by resilience and an unwavering pursuit of passion, sets her apart as an inspirational figure for generations of designers who followed in her footsteps. Ruby Ross Wood not only reshaped the landscape of interior design but also opened doors for future innovators, leaving an indelible mark on the industry she passionately adorned.


In conclusion, Ruby Ross Wood's life and design style exemplify a pivotal era in the evolution of women's roles and the field of interior design. From her early days as a ghostwriter to her groundbreaking designs that challenged the status quo, Wood's journey to greatness was marked by resilience and innovation. Despite facing personal and professional challenges, her legacy lives on, inspiring designers to embrace creativity, defy norms, and pursue their passions with unwavering determination. Ruby Ross Wood, a true pioneer in interior design, has left an enduring imprint that continues to shape the world of design today.

Updated: Dec 01, 2023
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Ruby Ross Wood: A Pioneer in Interior Design. (2016, Sep 27). Retrieved from

Ruby Ross Wood: A Pioneer in Interior Design essay
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