Born in New York, Chalfin began his studies at Harvard University. After two years he left Harvard to study painting at the Art Students League of New York, where he graduated in 1898. Upon graduation he left for France to study at the École des Beaux-Arts, and spent five years in Paris before returning to the U.S. to work as a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In 1905 Chalfin again returned to Europe, this time to study mural painting in Italy on a Lazarus Scholarship. His studies took him to Paris, Florence, Venice and Rome, where he was a Fellow of the American Academy in 1909. After returning to the U.S. he was employed as an antique and decorative arts expert by Elsie de Wolfe, who introduced him to industrialist John Deering. Soon thereafter he became the artistic advisor for Deering’s new Miami estate, Villa Vizcaya. Inspired by his travels to Europe with Deering and his previous experience abroad, Chalfin oversaw the design of the entire estate, including the interior and exterior of the house and the elaborate gardens. Vizcaya was completed in 1923, but Chalfin continued to consult on it until he retired in 1940. His career was recognized by the American Institute of Architects and the American Institute of Decorators which made him an honorary member.
Paul Chalfin, ca. 1920. Historic Photographs Collection. Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Archives.