Sally Walsh, the interior designer credited with bringing modern design to Houston, was a trailblazer who not only made an impact locally but came to be known nationally as well. She was inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame in 1986, the first Houstonian to receive this honor.
Sally Walsh was born in Inspiration, Arizona, in 1926. She started college but dropped out due to boredom and moved to Chicago for an exciting change. Though she was not trained in architecture or design, Walsh learned from the renowned Hans Knoll, serving as his assistant and receiving training from him. Walsh went above and beyond as his assistant – from walking his dog to writing correspondences – but the opportunity to travel to meet with other firms and have access to the latest designs and fabrics allowed her to develop into a holistic designer.
Walsh arrived in Houston from New York in 1955 along with her husband, Bill, a lawyer, who had found work in the city. She had intended to open a Knoll showroom to bring the modern designs to a rapidly growing business scene, but Hans Knoll’s sudden death halted her plans. After honing her craft at other firms, Walsh eventually became a partner at S. I. Morris Architects, a prominent Houston firm in 1971. Some of her major contributions in Houston include the Transco offices, Lehman Brothers offices and the Jesse H. Jones Building of the Houston Public Library. Walsh began revolutionizing interiors in corporate Houston during the 1950s; developer magnate Gerald D. Hines is commonly credited as modernizing the Houston architectural scene during the 1970s.
Walsh was considered quick-witted and outspoken, refusing to hold back her individuality. Both her male and female colleagues took notice and many of her co-workers strove to emulate her. Walsh once said, “When I walk through the Houston buildings today and find good contemporary design, whether or not I had a hand in it, I find myself taking credit […] because on this specific turf it flourished with my help.” She was so intense that her fellow partner at S. I. Morris Architects, Seth Irvin Morris, called her the “toughest son of a bitch in the partnership.” Walsh’s design philosophy was to help the client “embrace modern design as a total concept.”
Walsh was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia but continued to work through the 1980s until her death on January 12, 1992, at the age of 65. Her innovative work continues to inspire architects and designers today.
Reprinted from the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Houston, a
project in cooperation with the Houston History Alliance. For more information,