Dorothy Draper


Designer We Love 

Dorothy Draper


Dorothy Draper/Carleton Varney

Quotable Quote

"Have you ever considered how much pure stuff and nonsense surrounds this subject of interior decoration? Probably not. Almost everyone believes that there is something deep and mysterious about it or that you have to know all sorts of complicated details about periods before you can lift a finger. Well, you don't. Decorating is just sheer fun: a delight in color, an awareness of balance, a feeling for lighting, a sense of style, a zest for life and an amused enjoyment of the smart accessories of the moment."


 Born 1889 and passed on in 1969, to the great loss of the design community. Started out in life as Dorothy Tuckerman in Tuxedo Park, New York. Old money upbringing. John Singer Sargent drew her. Her niece was noted White House social secretary to Jackie Kennedy. She "came from the right people," she always said. Married Dr. George Draper, FDR's polio doctor, at age 23. Three children, two boys and a girl. Unusual for the time, she yearned for her own business. She and the good doctor later divorced.

She decorated their first family home. Big hit, and after decorating sold it and everything in it to new owners. She started another home for the family, and got the decorating bug in the process. Victorian era drabness was the norm, but her style of lightness and color ("mischievous style" it's been dubbed) made her a magnet for those seeking decorating help. All this led to 1925 opening of the Architectural Clearing House, perhaps the first official interior design business. Became one of the first women to break into the all-male construction world.

By the end of the 1930s, "DD" was THE style maker in America. Martha Stewart of her time. Her big hit book in 1939 gave all women the urge to Do It Yourself: Decorating Is Fun! How to Be Your Own Decorator.

Dorothy%20Book.jpgHer redesign of old townhouses renovated Sutton Place in New York City. Became the chicest, toniest part of town with her flair. She painted all the building black with white trim, adding colored doors.

Decorated many hotels and lived in two of her projects: Hampshire House on Central Park South and The Carlyle. Signature look at Hampshire House bloomed with flowered chintzes, bold and striking. San Francisco hotel jobs The Fairmont and the Mark Hopkins. Arrowhead Springs in Redlands, CA. Pinacle project was The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, WV, earning the highest fee ever paid a decorator.

Had a secretary named Brooke Marshall. She was fired from House & Garden and needed a job. Later she became Brooke Astor.

Decorator Carleton Varney started working for DD when he was 22 and bought her company after Draper died. "She was the movie star of the decorators," he said.

She put up with no nonsense from clients. "If I like it, it's right. If I don't, it isn't." If a client suggested a change, she would reply, "Perhaps you don't really want us to do this job?"

Draper became her own brand, long before that was ever done. She put out newspaper and magazine columns, how-to books, and even holiday wrapping paper. She was on the covers of Time and Life magazines. Interiors she did were widely described as "draperized." Not always loved, one noted designer called her an "inferior desecrator." She sold her business in 1960 and died nine years later.

What We Love 

This woman made a huge statement, turned interior design into Big Business, and inspired people to throw off the shackles of the Victorian era and design something fresh and different at home. She shunned beige and embraced bright colors, oversized scale, and a mix of styles.

Consider how much pioneering work she did. She was born 20 years before the Model T was introduced. She became the first woman ever to design the interior of a jet.

We love someone with the courage to mix colonial revival, Chinese, neo-classicism, and Arabian nights in an eclectic design blender and come up with a unique, bold look.

We love the space she designed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1954, the cafeteria that had giant birdcage-inspired chandeliers, sprites and flying fish, and reflecting pools. The space was officially called the "Roman Court," but folks called it the "Dorotheum" after Draper.

We love how she turned interiors into theatrical spaces, and furniture was treated like stage props.

The Greenbrier Hotel project she made was amazing, mixing reds, greens, and corals in oversized stripes and flowers, splashing glossy white paint and mounds of white ornamental plasterwork. Sensational. Over the top. and memorable.

Dorothy Draper Sampler







Photo Credits: Canadian Interior Design, Carleton Varney By the Yard, Design Public, New York Home Design, Surroundings.