04 September 2008

The First Lady of Interior Design: Dorothy Draper

Dorothy Draper

In his book, "In the Pink: Dorothy Draper -- America's Most Fabulous Decorator", Carleton Varney explores the life and design style of Dorothy Draper. Has there ever been an American decorator as famous as Dorothy Draper? Like Martha Stewart, Draper was a preacher and teacher whose how-to books and Good Housekeeping columns provided middle-class housewives with affordable ideas for making their homes more functional and comfortable.Thanks to her originality as a stylist and her daring as a businesswoman, she became one of the most respected career women in the United States. She shocked the design world in 1937 when she decorated the thirty-seven-story Hampshire House apartment hotel on Central Park South in New York City, delivering a project that became indicative of her signature touch - 'baroque fantasy'.

"In the Pink: Dorothy Draper, America's Most Fabulous Decorator", Carleton Varney, lavishly illustrates for the first time Draper's most important projects. From the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia and Quitandinha in Brazil to her important fabrics for F. Schumacher & Co. and her automobile and airplane interiors of the 1950s

While Dorothy Draper's style may not be synonymous with mine, it is difficult not to appreciate her influence on the interior design industry and all she did to promote the design profession.

Born to a wealthy and privileged family in 1889, in one of the most exclusive communities in American history, Tuxedo Park, Dorothy Draper was the first to “professionalize” the interior design industry by establishing, in 1923, the first interior design company in the United States, something that until then was unheard of, and also at a time when it was considered daring for a woman to go into business for herself.

In her day, Dorothy was the prima donna of the decorating business – her name was synonymous with decorating. She gave decorating advice in her regular column for Good Housekeeping Magazine, designed fabric lines for Schumacher, furniture for Ficks Reed, Heritage and, other than her hotel and restaurant decors, she also designed theaters, department stores, commercial establishments, private corporate offices, the interiors of jet planes (Convair & TWA) , automobiles (she did a “line” for Packard and Chrysler in the 1950’s – including a pink polka dot truck!) – even packaging for the cosmetics firm of Dorothy Gray – on top of her residential designs for the houses and apartments of prominent and very wealthy society figures. She also designed her very own exclusive fabrics for her clients – such as her Romance & Rhododendrons and Fudge Apron which she used at the Greenbrier. Much of her work survives to this day, in the lobbies of apartment buildings, hotels (The Carlyle in New York and Hampshire House until recently) and of course, the legendary Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, specifically in The Victorian Writing Room – once called the most photographed room in the United States).

This is a short list of some of the prestigious projects completed by Draper:


The Greenbrier (White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia)
The Carlyle (New York City).
Hampshire House,New York City)
The Essex House (New York City)
The Quitandinha (Petropolis, Brazil).
The Fairmont (San Francisco, California)
The Mark Hopkins (San Francisco, California)
The Arrowhead Springs (California)
The Beverly Hills Hotel (California)
The Drake Hotel (The Camellia House, Chicago, Illinois).
St. Anthony Hotel (San Antonio, Texas).
The Plaza Hotel (New York City)
International Airport Hotel (Idlewild – now JFK ) (New York City)
Gideon Putnam, (Saratoga Springs, New York)
Hotel Utah (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Barclay Hotel (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Cherry Hill Inn (Haddonfield, New Jersey)
Mayflower Hotel (Washington D.C.)
Robert Treat Hotel (Newark, New Jersey)


The Duke and Duchess of Windsor
Mr and Mrs. Albert Lasker
Mr. and Mrs. Walter Winchell
Hope Hampton
Mr. Ben Sonnenberg
Frank Weil

The Greenbrier, West Virginia

The Dorothy Draper Style