5 Throwback Event Decor Tips from Edith Wharton’s “The Decoration of Houses”

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The Mount

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Edith Wharton wrote her first book, “The Decoration of Houses,” in 1897 with her friend Ogden Codman Jr.

Very different than the novels she would later write, the book pioneered the interior design movement and is still regarded as one of the most influential interior design books of all time. Written towards the end of the Victorian era, Wharton encourages a shift from the elaborate decor of that time to a more simplistic approach. Here are five throwback decor tips that still ring true today—and can be applied to event spaces.


The first few chapters of Wharton’s book focus on the importance of balance and symmetry. Meeting planners can use this same approach when setting up F&B stations or decor throughout a space. A balanced meeting room provides a more welcoming environment as well as a more functional one.

Less Is More

Wharton preferred simplicity and order to decoration, which was a new approach for the Victorian times when ornate designs and furniture were commonplace. The same rule of thumb applies to a meeting space. Using only a few flashy decor elements will emphasize their importance or help attendees focus on the subject matter at hand.

Stick to a Muted Palette

Similar to the less-is-more approach, Wharton believed that the fewer colors used in a room, the more relaxing the space would be. With a more restricted palette, colors take a seat in the background, allowing the furnishings, accessories and even event programming to take center stage.

Use Books (or Other Themed Objects)

Wharton’s house, The Mount in Lenox, Mass., served as a key example of her interior design philosophy. As a fan of literature, Wharton had several books that she actually used as the primary decoration in her library. Similarly, meeting planners can design an event space around a common theme for attendees—whether it’s books, records or telescopes.

Take It Outside

Wharton’s garden at The Mount was seen as an extension of the house, with seating, walkways and fountains used to create a space for entertaining guests. If meeting planners have the option, they should take the group outside and make sure the exterior space gets equal consideration when it comes to creating social spaces and a comfortable environment.

For more artful tips on how to handle some of the finer details of event planning, check out “3 Crucial Contract Clauses Explained With Leonard Cohen Lyrics.”

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