The Francis Files
The Notebook: Dorothy Draper's Optimistic Legacy
MARCH 2, 2023 - Written by Kevin O'Gara
Dorothy Draper was a truly trailblazing interior designer who revolutionized the way Americans thought about decorating both public and private spaces. Her distinctive style, characterized by bold colors, striking patterns, and theatrical Modern Baroque flourishes, and was one of the first to professionalize interior design and establish it as a legitimate career path for women.
During the Great Depression, Draper honed her signature style at hotels, resorts, restaurants, and nightclubs across the country, transforming them into stylish, slightly surreal stage sets. She eschewed the pastels and neutrals that were popular at the time, instead opting for saturated colors like chartreuse, crimson, and sky blue. Her designs were bright and optimistic, the perfect antidote to the economic and social challenges of the era, utilizing oversized mirrors, chandeliers, and ornate plaster mouldings.
Draper's success at the Carlyle Hotel in New York led to a series of high-profile commissions at other hotels and resorts. She put her stamp on the deco café at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Hampshire House Hotel, and the iconic Greenbrier Hotel, among others. Her designs were characterized by massive black-and-white checkerboard floors, elaborate moldings, wide stripes, and her trademark cabbage rose chintz.
Draper's impact on American interior design cannot be overstated. She was the first to professionalize the field and establish it as a legitimate career path for women. She proved that decorating public spaces could be just as exciting and rewarding as decorating private homes. Her bold and theatrical style paved the way for designers like Jonathan Adler and Kelly Wearstler, who continue to push the boundaries of interior design today.
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