“Draper was to decorating what Chanel was to fashion; she brought colour into a world which was sad and dreary”, so said Carleton Varney, President of Dorothy Draper & co. Inc.
It is perhaps for this reason that Dorothy Draper acquired the reputation of being America’s leading trend setter and a revolutionary in the interior decorating business, not to mention one of MBDS’s greatest inspirations.
Born into a prominent WASP family in 1889, Dorothy Draper spent her early years surrounded by the grandiose houses of New York’s famous private gated estate, Tuxedo Park. No doubt the young Draper was influenced by the aesthetics of these homes and the families who resided in them and sought to recreate this look, but with her own twist.
Launching her career in 1918, Draper worked on the design of her own home, incorporating her soon-to-be signature bold pattern work and colour palette. On receiving complements from friends, Draper was encouraged to take a leap of faith and joined the decorating business.
By 1925 she had started her first business venture, Architectural Clearing House, which she operated from her home. Sutton Place was originally a drab and dreary area of New York, it was an undesirable place to settle for many, however under Draper’s lead the neighbourhood was transformed and is now considered one of Manhattan’s chicest addresses. Through painting all the buildings black and adding a white trim and coloured doors, Sutton Place was transformed into the neighbourhood it is now, reminiscent of Dublin’s traditional terraced houses. From here she went on to work on the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, one of America’s most famous hotels.
Draper continued to work on high profile projects, including the lobby of the Carlyle on Maddison Avenue in 1930 where she designed the iconic air balloon light fitting. With numerous projects under her belt she went on to shock the world when she was employed to decorate the thirty-seven-storey Hampshire House apartment hotel on Central Park South in New York. Now modelled on the English country home, complete with flowered chintzes, Hampshire House became a vivid, theatrical and cheerful home for New Yorkers.
Most famous of all though is Draper’s design for The Greenbrier Hotel in West Sulphur Springs, Virginia. Having almost burnt to the ground during the civil war, the building bears a rich history. After being used as a military hospital during the Second World War, the house was bought by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway company to be made into a hotel once again. Draper was employed as the designer and introduced her iconic bold style to this traditional American town. She redesigned the entire resort, designing everything from matchbook covers to menus to staff uniform. This consummate attention to detail revealed how she took control in all design aspects and completely transformed everything about the spaces she designed.
Draper’s artistic flair also extended to designing her own range of fabrics and working in partnership with Lester Grundy and the Cinquinni Family in creating wood carvings which would form the basis to her signature scroll and shell designs.
Draper’s legacy lives on today because she crafted an original identifiable look. “American Baroque” as it’s aptly named, takes a modern stance on a classical style. Her use of dramatically colourful scenes and trademark chintz prints ensured she single-handedly revolutionised the interior design industry. And for that we owe her so much.