Dorothy Draper in 1942
November 22, 1889|
Tuxedo Park, New York
|Died||March 11, 1969(aged 79)|
Dorothy Draper (November 22, 1889 – March 11, 1969) was an American interior decorator. She helped inspire a generation of home improvement devotees with her 1939 book Decorating is Fun!, subtitled "How to Be Your Own Decorator". Stylistically very anti-minimalist, she would use bright, exuberant colors and large prints that would encompass whole walls. She incorporated black and white tiles, rococo scrollwork, and baroque plasterwork.
She was born into the aristocratic Tuckerman family in Tuxedo Park, a village in New York State. Her great-grandfather, Oliver Wolcott, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Dorothy stated later that she had "no schooling to speak of, except that I was brought up where I had the privilege of being constantly in touch with surroundings of pleasant good taste". Extensive travel in Europe added to her observations; after she married Dr. George Draper in 1912 and continued to live in glamour, she redecorated her homes in such style that other high society friends began to ask her to do the same for their homes. Her husband was the personal doctor to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt after he was diagnosed with polio. Eleanor Roosevelt and Dorothy were cousins and good friends growing up, so the relationship between the two families was already in existence. She was also the cousin of another influential interior designer, Sister Parish.
Dorothy Draper was quoted saying "Never look back, except for an occasional glance, look ahead and plan for the future. Success is not built on past laurels, but rather on a continuous activity. Keep busy searching out new ideas and, experimentally, keep ahead of the times, or at least up with them." Dorothy's work changed the concept of "period rooms" and provided an image of "design" that revolutionized the way we look at spaces today. Dorothy Draper is iconic because she created an original identifiable look - referred to as American Baroque. Using only bright clear colors coupled together with her bold prints she single handily revolutionized the interior design industry, indeed Mrs. Draper is credited with creating the industry. >
Draper created a new style known as "Modern Baroque", adding a modern flare to a classical style. She used ornate mouldings and plaster designs on almost every surface of a room, combined with flamboyant color combinations. She used dramatic interior color schemes, and trademark cabbage-rose chintz. The opposite of minimalism, her designs were incorporated in homes, hotels, restaurants, theaters, and department stores. The Dorothy Draper Collection is a collection of furniture and reproductions from her design work with Carleton Varney. “Draper was to decorating what Chanel was to fashion. She brought color into a world which was sad and dreary.These splashy vibrant colors were used to make the public spaces represent a place for people to come and feel elevated and where the dramatic design could absorb them in the interior. Today…everyone wants color around them again.” –Carleton Varney, President of Dorothy Draper & co. Inc.
Dorothy Draper believed the energy of beautiful and bright vivid colors would make people feel happier, so she led design away from the dark color schemes used throughout the Victorian style by introducing bright colorful color schemes. She also chose very dramatic and contrasting color schemes, such as black with white and adding in some bits of color. Along with using bright and extreme color schemes, she also employed bold textures and materials in her designs. She combined different colors, fabrics, and patterns together, combining stripes with floral patterns. She often used large, oversized details and numerous mirrors. All of the colors and patterns contributed to her dramatic design now referred to as "the Draper touch." 
In 1918, Draper started to decorate her house to her own tastes. From this redecorating she received several compliments from her friends who also encouraged her to go into the decorating business. This inspired Draper and in 1925 she started her first business venture called the Architectural Clearing House which she operated from inside her home.
Her first big break in the decorating business started when she redecorated Carlyle Hotel on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Dorothy was hired by Douglas Elliman to recreate New York's Sutton Place as people were not purchasing the homes. She painted all the buildings black with white trim and added colors to the doors. She then decorated the Fairmont and the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco. Draper's design work also included the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Hampshire House. Draper hired Lester Grundy to be her assistant. Steeped in art history, Grundy shared his passion for Baroque décor. He discovered the Cinquinni family (Italian Carvers), who helped translate his sketches of Draper’s ideas into wood carvings. These carvings were then used to make molds for the signature Dorothy Draper scroll and shell designs. With these molds, they fashioned chandeliers, urns, door surroundings, and ceiling décor. This helped further create the signature look of Dorothy Draper, Inc.
Soon hired by architects, Douglas Elliman then hired her to re-do New York's Hotel Carlyle. In 1930, after her divorce from Dr. Draper, she designed the lobby of the Carlyle, including the addition of a light fixture in the restaurant that looked like a hot air balloon. In 1933, Draper was asked by the Phipps family to renovate a row of tenements on Sutton Place, Manhattan. She also oversaw the redesign of the Hampshire House, ranging from the carpet, walls, restaurant, and everything in between. Over the years, she completed makeovers for World's Fair Terrace Club, and Maison Coty; Chicago's Drake Hotel's Camelia House, Washington, D.C.'s Mayflower Hotel; and Hollywood's Arrowhead Springs Hotel. Also, she designed the interiors of the famous Palácio Quitandinha in Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1944. Among decorators, it was said that these locations had been "Draperized".
One of Dorothy Draper's most famous designs was the The Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The resort had almost burned to the ground during the Civil War. It was brought back after the war ended and subsequently purchased by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway company, which hired Dorothy Draper to redecorate the entire resort. Draper designed everything from matchbook covers to menus to staff uniforms. This consummate attention to detail revealed how she took control in all design aspects and completely transformed everything about the spaces she designed. Its reopening and redecorating was the social event of the season and attracted multiple important figures of the period.
In the early 1950s, she designed special automotive interiors for Kaiser-Frazer Corporation and Packard Motor Car Company, making a pink polka-dot truck. In addition to interior design, she worked on packaging for the cosmetics firm of Dorothy Gray. She also designed her very own fabrics for her clients such as Romance & Rhododendrons and Fudge Apron which were used in her design of the Greenbrier.
In May 2006, the Museum of the City of New York held an exhibition of Draper's work, curated by Donald Albrecht and designed by the Manhattan studio Pure+Applied, called "The High Style of Dorothy Draper". He has said, “Taking an eighteenth-century chair normally done in wood and making it in clear plastic is a Dorothy Draper kind of thing. And she is a fascinating person. All of her tips must have been really great for housewives in the fifties. To have this woman telling them, ‘Don’t be afraid! Paint the door green!’” Draper-designed furniture was lent by The Greenbrier Hotel and The Arrowhead Springs resort—two of her best-known projects. A 9-foot-tall (2.7 m) white "bird-cage" chandelier that Draper designed for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Dorotheum cafe was also on display.
From December 2006 through July 2007, the Women's Museum in Dallas, Texas hosted "In the Pink: The Legendary Life of Dorothy Draper." It featured archival photographs of Draper's work from The Stoneleigh Hotel and the St. Anthony. The exhibition was designed by Pure+Applied of New York. The exhibition then moved to the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale from February through June 2008.
Her 1941 book Entertaining is Fun! How to Be a Popular Hostess, was reissued in 2004, which had a hot pink, polka-dotted cover and was a best seller. (ISBN 0-8478-2619-8)
In 2006, Dorothy Draper was featured in an exhibition done in her memory in the Museum of New York City. The exhibition moved from NYC to Texas, and then to Florida.
Much of her work survives today, in the lobbies of apartment buildings, hotels (The Carlyle in New York and Hampshire House until recently[when?]) 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.
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- Id., p238
- Id., p236-37
- See images of the exhibit here: .
- In The Pink by Carleton Varney, Shannongrove Press.
- Owens, Mitchell, "Living Large: The Brash, Bodacious Hotels of Dorothy Draper" in The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts, Issue 25, Spring 2005. Published by the Wolfsonian - Florida International University. 
- Varney, Carleton. The Draper Touch The High Life & High Style of Dorothy Draper, New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1988. (ISBN 0-13-219080-X)
- Lewis, Adam. The Great Lady Decorators. 1st ed. . New York, NY: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 2010. 88-111. Print.
- Goodman, Wendy, "The Draper Effect" in "New York Magazine", March 19, 2006.