Design: The Commodity Trap Part II

A lesson in exuberant aesthetics from Dorothy Draper

21Greenbrier Hotel designed by Dorothy Draper


What makes any designer, fashion, interiors or otherwise, a standout?  Well it’s simple and can be summed up in one single word. ORIGINALITY.  One such notable interior designer was Dorothy Draper.  In her day she was the most famous decorator in America.  She owed her celebrity to her serious work ethic and her ‘way out’ sense of style.  She was also lauded for her daring business sense.

Carlton Varney wrote in the Introduction to his book “In The Pink” about Draper.  This is what he had to say;

“She shocked the design world in 1937, when she was hired to decorate the Hampshire House apartment hotel on Central Park South in New York City.  She insisted on taking control of every aspect of the project – from the menus and matchbooks to the sliding-glass shower doors in the bathrooms to the buttons on the bellhop’ uniforms – and made sure her company was credited in the hotel’s advertising.  She created vivid, theatrical, and cheerful interiors that charmed, amused, and delighted residents, guests, and the press.

The look was dubbed ‘modern baroque’, and established Draper’s reputation for audaciousness.  “She uses logic in her own way and not as a limitation”, wrote Janet Flanner in Harper’s Bazaar in 1941.  “Mrs. Draper has fearlessly let herself go, has stood art, nature, history, and geography on their ears when necessary in order to obtain from them her special personal refreshing effects.”

This lady was a true force to be reckoned with.  Her aesthetic was superlative and unique.  So often she would have things ripped out and redone until they met with her satisfaction.  In fact, she hardly made a profit and in fact at times would put her business in jeopardy for playing out her fantasy for perfection.  All that said, she was a most talented designer and regardless of her compulsive behavior, she produced some of the most remarkable interiors ever witnessed.

You might be asking how this relates to you?  Let me shed some light here.

Here was a woman who dared to be creative, and not be led about by what was available in the marketplace.  Her most noted projects were those grand hotels where she might have easily made quick and more cost-effective choices, thrown her colorful and bold flair about and gone away with some change in her pocketbook.

However, this is not what she believed to be her role as a designer.  She created a movement, one that is still admired and looked to for inspiration.  I know I have looked to her work for inspiration many times and you would see the evidence in my own design work along with many others over the years.

001446 copyEntrance Hall Kips Bay Show House 2007 by Beale-Lana Interior Design inspired by Dorothy Draper


Dorothy Draper was not afraid to be original, and there is no harm in that.  Every designer owes it to him or her self to use their creative gift to create unique and stimulating environments for their clients. I have always considered those people who I work with as my patrons.  They support my efforts to not hold back – to not let limitations or a lack of curiosity water down the end result.

318628-33907A Mariette Himes Gomez sofa & Laura Kirar chairs in Wilhelmina’s living room on the set of television’s Ugly Betty – inspired by Dorothy Draper.   Photo courtesy Eric Laignel.


I believe the only enemy of great design is to underrate its potential.


Written by Carl Lana