McMillen, Inc. was founded in 1924 by Mrs. Drury McMillen, a young married woman from St. Louis who had moved to New York City.

She operated out of her townhouse at 148 East 55th Street, selling 18th century furniture sent to her from Europe by William Odom, who was then the head of the Paris Atelier of the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts.

Drury McMillen
First Commissions cover image

First Commissions

By the late 1920's McMillen, Inc. had become a full-service decorating business with an independently-staffed drafting department as well as a business office. Jobs completed by McMillen before the Great Depression included a Hunting Box in Southampton, New York, for Colonel H.H. Rogers of Standard Oil fortune, a suite of rooms on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston for Mrs. Louis A. Frothingham, and a Salon in the Restoration Style for a 1927 Exhibit at the Grand Central Palaces in New York City.

For the most part, these commissions might be described as 'historicist' in style, whether in the Americana vernacular, like the Port of Missing Men, or in the Louis XV taste, such as the Lorrillard's drawing room. In particular, Empire and Directoire motifs and furniture were frequently used by Mrs. McMillen during these years. Some of McMillen's rooms in the country, such as the house for Mrs. Hubert McDonnell in Greenwich, the house for Ambassador and Mrs. Sheldon Whitehouse in Newport, or the Studio on the beach in Southampton for Archibald Manning Brown, were treated in a more casual, modern and eclectic manner.

View Gallery

Great Depression cover image

Great Depression

Although times were hard during the years of the Great Depression, and salaries were reduced frequently, Mrs. McMillen managed to sustain her firm of twenty-some employees, and by the end of World War II she had ensured that McMillen emerged as the most well-known residential decorating firm in America. In addition to designing and decorating the interiors of such wealthy Americans as Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Field, Millicent Rogers, Doris Duke, and Mabel Choate, McMillen undertook the design and decoration of the Steuben Showroom and the newly built Cosmopolitan Club, both in New York City.

McMillen's Miniature Rooms Exhibition, "Interiors of Tomorrow," toured the country between 1932 and 1935 to great acclaim, and a McMillen Gallery was opened in Houston in 1939. Of particular importance to McMillen from 1926 until her retirement in the early 1960's, was Grace Fakes, a teacher of Mrs. McMillen's at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts. Miss Fakes was responsible for creating architectural interiors, furniture layout and design. She worked in tandem with Mrs. McMillen (by then Mrs. Archibald Brown) on the oversight of all projects.

View Gallery

Post War cover image

Post War

In 1946 Mrs. Brown opened the McMillen townhouse for a sale of the furniture of her professor, mentor, and partner, William Odom, who had died during the Second World War. In 1952, she again used the McMillen townhouse for an exhibition entitled "Paris 52," which displayed the work of young French designers of the post-war era, including Poillerat, Adnet and Pinchon, Jouve, Noll, and Dunand, all of whom were mostly unknown in America at this time.

Also during this period McMillen undertook two large and prestigious commissions, the restoration of the Rosedown Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana, and a house for Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford II in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, which was fully furnished with museum-quality French furniture and art, set against a background of 18th-century paneling and window treatments.

View Gallery

60's and 70's cover image

60's and 70's

During the 1960's and 1970's Mrs. Brown began to allow individual designers at McMillen, such as Ethel Smith and Marion Morgan, to promote their names and to receive credit for published work. Joining them and coming into prominence during these years were Nathalie Davenport, who had worked at McMillen on and off during the war years, and Betty Sherrill, who came in 1952 to help with the Paris '52 exhibit. Grace Fakes continued to run the design department until her retirement in the early 1960's, after which it was headed by her assistant, Tom Buckley.

Also trained at McMillen in the 1960's and 70's were Albert Hadley, Mark Hampton, and Kevin McNamara, who went on to become important designers of the late 20th century. A number of iconic McMillen rooms were photographed at this time, as well those that were typical of design in the 1960's, such as the porch overlooking the ocean, or the apartment of Mr. and Mrs. J. Frederic Byers.

View Gallery