” Draper was to decorating what Chanel was to fashion. She brought color into a world which was sad and dreary. Today…everyone wants color around them again.” –Carleton Varney

Dorothy Draper (1889-1969), was America’s first female interior designer. She was known for turning ‘the establishment’ on its ear with her outlandish use of color, texture and ornate fixtures. A forward thinker, Draper was the Grand Dame bright, bold color and texture combinations in her decorating of socialite homes, hotels, offices and hospitals.

The Queen of Color and Texture

One of the first people to believe that vivid, beautiful colors helped people to feel happier, she used wild and varied palettes, deviating from the typical dark color schemes of the dominant Victorian inspired style. She favored using such dramatic color combinations as green and red with coral, or black and white with bits of color thrown in for emphasis. It is said that she suggested the Howard Johnson’s orange and blue color scheme, which lasted to this day.

Draper also mixed different fabrics and textures to make a bold statement. She was the first to combine strong stripes with grand cabbage rose floral material. She loved oversized details, like huge mantels, ornate moldings, and lots of mirrors. One of her mottos was, “If it feels right, it’s right!” True to her words, her often theatrical combination of colors and props, such as a birdcage chandelier, somehow worked, leaving people with a larger-than-life feeling still loved today.

Her Achievements

Dorothy Draper was famed for many decorating achievements, not limited to the Hampshire House, the dining area in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the lobby of the Carlyle. She also decorated the entire Greenbriar Hotel in West Virginia and the Camilla Restaurant in the Drake Hotel in Chicago.

She authored two successful books about decor and decorating, and was invited to decorate airplane and automobile interiors. Not bad for a woman in an era when women were typically little more than homemakers!

Dorothy Drapers Influence Continues to this Day

  • While nearly half a decade has passed since Dorothy Draper actively designed and decorated, her influence can still be seen in interior design today. Modern decorators follow her belief that color is mentally beneficial as well as fun.
  • Benjamin Moore created a collection of colors reminiscent of Draper’s signature paint colors.
  • Even furniture makers and decorators are copying and promoting ‘the Draper Touch’Thomasville’s magazine, ‘Dream’, shows how to achieve a modern-day Draper sitting room. Teaming large-print cabbage rose upholstered furniture, bold paint schemes and over-scaled elements help to capture the unique flare for which Draper was famed.

New York magazine’s article, “The Draper Effect” by Wendy Goodman, lists six different points you’ll need to incorporate into your decor if you want to channel Draper’s vision.

  • Intense color
  • Plant life
  • Dense, textured carpet
  • Striking details
  • A roaring fire
  • Exuberant prints