Madly, Truly, Talented – Dorothy Draper does it right

Recovering from record snowfall in DC, with school and work canceled and being confined to my house for ten days, I’ve decided to rename my house and life to “The Little house on the Prairie”.  Shoveling and digging firewood from underneath snow piles is now a daily routine…Living only ten minutes from the nations capital it’s stunning how isolated and left to the elements you are where I live after several snow storms.  You can’t drive on the icy steep incline, cab’s wont come here, and when you do try to drive, you do it at your own risk, under broken trees hanging on suspicious power lines.

Sitting in my new unflattering wardrobe staple, fleece sweat pants, fearing another snowfall  might be detrimental to my health, one of my coffee table book’s headline grabbed me “IN THE PINK-Dorothy Draper  America’s most fabulous decorator”. Finally having time on my hands, I picked it up and actually read it (the pictures I’ve already studied endlessly).


I was shocked how inspired I felt about this woman. For you who might think I’m talking about Don Draper’s wife on Mad Men I’m not—Dorothy Draper is possibly Americas most wellknown decorator, or as the book says, the most fabulous.


In the 1930’s in Manhattan, when most women weren’t working she designed friend’s homes, started a design firm, then designed several building lobbies (The Carlyle, Hampshire House),  large hotels (Greenbrier, Fairmont), furniture, fabrics, hospitals even airlines.

While World War II was being fought she set out on a crusade to help middle class Americans live more graciously, stylishly and happily. She developed a correspondence course called “Learn to Live” also billed “finishing course in the privacy of your own home”. She promised to change your “dull, weary life into a miracle of charm, glamor and excitement”. She was speaking right to me!  Seems I should take the course!!


Greenbrier Resort

There was nothing timid about her designs. She was known for her bold use of colors and patterns, her work was the opposite of minimalism.   Here is what she said  €œThe drab age is over€¦  Until very recently people were literally scared out of their wits by color. Perhaps this was a hangover from our Puritan ancestors.  But whatever the reason, browns, grays, and neutrals were the only shades considered safe.  Now we know that lovely, clear colors have a vital effect on our mental happiness€¦ Modern doctors and psychiatrists are convinced of this!€

Therefore she designed hospital interiors with bold, cheerful colors to make the patients feel good instead of depressed.


She became a household name after writing her first book “Decorating is fun”.

Draper b and w

The lobby in The Hampshire House with one of her often used large plaster designs.


The Greenbrier Resort

Dorothy’s husband asked for a divorce when she was forty.  Wounded by her husband’s rejection she spent several years in therapy and in church.  Her new found point of view gave her artistic freedom, she no longer wanted earth tones, or washed-out colors. She now imagined the world in vivid, clear strong hues. The color blue was the optimistic color of a cloudless sky.


The famous and often copied Dorothy Draper chest. I need one.


Image of Dorothy Draper’s own living room with green striped walls (via Peak of chic ).

“Your home is the backdrop of your life, whether it is a palace or a one-room apartment, it should honestly be your own- an expression of your personality.  So many people stick timidly to often uninspired conventional ideas, or follow some expert€™s methods slavishly.  Either way they are more or less living in someone else€™s house.€

-Dorothy Draper. 1939

Yes, you need to Live Like You. Or, as Carleton Varney, who runs her company, says in true Dorothy Draper fashion  “Live Vividly”!

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3 thoughts on “Madly, Truly, Talented – Dorothy Draper does it right

  1. This is a great article. I love colour, and when i was decorating my clients new from the very beginning that would be my signature.
    I would love to visit The Greenbrier Resort – Stunning!

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