Dezignare Interior Design Collective Vol. 9.8

DOROTHY DRAPER (1889 - 1969)


by Janet Ramin with The Sheffield School of Interior Design

  Dorothy Draper may not have been the first high society interior decorator, but she was the first successful female commercial interior decorator. In an era where most female interior decorators gravitated to their rich friends' homes for design jobs and architects were chosen to work on commercial projects, Draper broke the mold and pursued public commissions as well as residential jobs.

Born into a wealthy family in exclusive Tuxedo Park, New York, Dorothy Tuckerman did not have to lift a finger to make a living. She married well-connected Dr. George Draper and eventually bore him three children.

Most women of this Edwardian era would consider their life complete, but Dorothy Draper was no ordinary person. Dissatisfied with just being a housewife and society matron, Draper started designing her own home. Overwhelmed by compliments they soon received, the Drapers quickly sold their home and bought another one to design. Soon she was doing her family friends' homes and from there she took the plunge into commercial projects.

Helping her take the plunge was one of her close friends, real estate developer Douglas Elliman. Elliman provided Draper with contacts to land projects including large apartment houses and high-end public lobbies. Her first major project was the Carlyle Hotel in New York City in 1930. She designed the space in the current Art Deco style. Elegant friezes of stylized Greek maidens and athletes against dark walls looked down from the ceilings.



  Her next major project was the apartment house complex, Hampshire House, located at Central Park South. Draper envisioned a mixture of English and Italian baroque throughout the space. Oversized black and white doors line the marble tiled corridors. Plaster reliefs carved in the ornate style of Grinling Gibbons decorated the walls. Her signature style of large floral prints in bright colors against striped walls brightened up the rooms.

In 1939, Draper left for San Bernardino, California to design Arrowhead Springs Hotel and Spa. The space included public lobbies, restaurants, lounges, a theater and guest rooms.

Through this project, Draper popularized the "Hollywood Regency" style of design. Glamorous sets of luxurious materials, oversized furniture, and sparkling chandeliers became de rigueur in taste.

Draper's fame spread and in 1941, the Drake Hotel owner invited Draper to Chicago to design the Camellia House Supper Club. Draper wanted to design an escape from the dreary Chicago winters and created an indoor tropical paradise. She incorporated a pink camellia bush motif throughout the space and installed garden furniture in the lounge, creating an outside/inside mixture of space.

The most enduring project she designed was the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulpher Springs in West Virginia. Draper not only designed the space, she created furniture for the hotel — such as the "dresk" a combination dressing table and desk. She also designed the china, tableware, menus, right down to the matches. She was one of the first designers to approach a project and design the total environment — everything the client needed, she provided.

  Other projects Draper went on to design were the Mark Hopkins and Fairmont Hotels in San Francisco, the Roman court restaurant at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the International Hotel at Idlewild (now JFK) airport. She was so successful at promoting her grand style and producing for her commercial clients a healthy profit that her clients dubbed the positive effect "draperizing".
Draper added to her success by writing in 1939 a decorating manual called, Decorating is Fun! Later on, she launched a nationally syndicated advice column, "Ask Dorothy Draper". She was truly light years ahead of the do-it-yourself decorating craze when she offered the average housewife and husband the tools to transform their ordinary homes into a unique, creative expression of their personality.

The change of aesthetics from 1950s onward to a more minimalist austere style dimmed Draper's influence and she was almost forgotten. Her ornate and exuberant style were seen as garish and campy. Then as tastes changed in the 1980s, post-modernism made Draper's designs hip again. Her imaginative use of historical sources, lavish patterns and bold colors once again attract designers and clients today.

–Janet Ramin, Sheffield School of Interior Design

Additional Resources:

September 29, 2007 / Alexandria, Virginia -  The Potomack Company to Auction Historic Items from Dorothy Draper Era At The Greenbrier Resort


- Arrowhead Springs Resort: Hollywood "Golden Age"
- Canadian Interior Design: Dorothy Draper: Creating the Bold and Mischievous Style 1889-1969
- Downtown: Pair of Dorothy Draper Cabinets for Sale
- Eye Level: Presenting Dorothy Draper
- Flickr Photos - Dorothy Draper
- Harvard Design Magazine: Curtain Wars
- Homes Real Estate Guide: Dorothy Draper Design Revival: Still Astonishing
- Kindel Furniture Company, The Dorothy Draper Collection for Varney & Sons
- Museum of the City of New York: The High Style of Dorothy Draper
- New York Home Design: The Draper Effect

- Paul Ratchford Named President and Managing Director of The Greenbrier
- Retrospective at The Museum of the City of New York
- The Greenbrier Resort Celebrates 'The High Style of Dorothy Draper'
- The MIT Press: The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts 25
- Travelogue: The Greenbriar West Virginia
- Tuxedo Park Preferred Properties

"Good showmanship is the answer. The colour of your front door announces your personality to the world." - "Too much of anything is the beginning of a mess." - Dorothy (Tuckerman) Draper


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