Dorothy Draper Style

Carleton Varney looks back at the perennial style of American interior design icon Dorothy Draper
Dorothy Draper style at home

Dorothy Draper in 1958. Photo by Peter Vitale

Dorothy Draper, the decorator credited with having turned the art of interior design into a profession (way back in the early 1900’s when no one ever heard of a school of interior design), loved flowers, particularly roses. She was forever filling hotels and resorts around the world with floral chintzes for curtains, bed skirts, lobby upholstery, and table covers.

The Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, as well as the famous Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island sing the Dorothy Draper song…flowers, flowers, everywhere.

“Why live in a drab world, when you can fill your room with the colors of a summer garden?” Mrs. Draper would often say. Dorothy Draper’s neutral colors were not gray or beige, but rather soft jonquil yellow, cosmos pink, light lavender, mint green and Jefferson blue. These were the neutrals she used as background colors for her never-to-be-forgotten rooms.

Carleton Varney, Dorothy Draper style

A private residence decorated by Carleton Varney. Carleton was inspired by Dorothy Draper’s belief that the garden and its colors should be brought inside the house with the liberal use of flowery chintz in upholstery.

The “Draper Touch” has been sweeping America through the decades. For those of you who want to brush up on your Dorothy Draper history, pick up a copy of In the Pink: Dorothy Draper—America’s Most Fabulous Decorator or the re-issued Decorating Is Fun by Mrs. Draper herself (from Pointed Leaf Press). Both books highlight the style that made Dorothy Draper an American legend.

Dorothy Draper Style for Your Home

  1. Install a black-and-white marble floor—18-inch squares, please—in your foyer, living room, dining room, wherever. Make sure the black and white tiles are very clean and free of veining as much as possible. Definitely make certain that they are laid on the diagonal.
  2. Install a white-painted dado and a white-painted chair rail, a requirement in a room with the Dorothy Draper look. Use the “snowiest” white paint you can find.
  3. Paint the ceilings a Thomas Jefferson pale aqua blue. Mrs. Draper liked people to look up and see the sky in her interiors.
  4. Above the chair rail, use a clear Dorothy Draper color, like her favorite aqua blue, soft yellow, or neutral pale pink. Or, as she often did, choose striped wallpaper in a rich hunter green and white of a 3- or 5-inch width. Sometimes in really large spaces, she would use stripes 15 inches wide.
  5. Find happy, full-blown, flowery chintz for the draperies and upholstery in a room that features stripes. Mrs. Draper believed stripes were the common denominator in decorating and that stripes and flowery chintz were a romantic combination. Don’t think that green and white stripes belong only on Ascot awnings; Mrs. Draper used stripes on window shades as well.
  6. A Dorothy Draper room always required some touches of black. These could be lampshades, a Chinese-style coffee table, a pair of black-lacquer or porcelain end tables, or simply a black-lacquer box.
  7. Put braided trim on comfortable chairs and sofas (Mrs. Draper loved fringe). Don’t hang a single curtain without giving it an edge or two of handsome braiding or long bullion fringe, maybe 6 to 8 inches long. Big braided tie backs are also a must.

Carleton Varney, Dorothy Draper style

Carleton’s liberal use of flowery chintz in upholstery and even in the wall covering in the entrance hall of this home was inspired by Draper.

By Carleton Varney