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The Draper Effect

Her eye-popping colors, oversize prints, and controlled flourishes once defined urban interior sophistication. Now the exuberantly anti-Minimalist Dorothy Draper is front and center again.


Bottom: The lobby of the Carlyle, circa 1930.  

If you’ve been feeling compelled lately to hang a giant, scroll-framed mirror over your coffee table, or wallpaper your dining room in Roman stripes and florals as big as your head, don’t be alarmed. You are just tuning in to the increasingly insistent Dorothy Draper vibrations currently making themselves felt. It makes sense, of course, that the pendulum is swinging away from mute, chilly Minimalism and toward Draper’s explosion-in-the-Pantone-factory colors, confidently oversize prints, and aristocratic flourishes like big, Baroque plasterwork and chessboard tiles. It doesn’t hurt that she’s got an influential young fan base furthering the message (Kelly Wearstler, Miles Redd, Jamie Drake, Diamond Baratta). This month, a new coffee-table book, In the Pink: Dorothy Draper, America’s Most Fabulous Decorator, is coming out, and a retrospective at the Museum of the City of New York called “The High Style of Dorothy Draper,” opening May 2, will further her influence.

A six-foot-tall debutante from Tuxedo Park, Draper (pictured) was an autodidact decorator. Her society friends admired her particular blend of French and English elements, the refined (fresh flowers, family portraits) and the humble (a roaring fireplace, overstuffed chintz chairs). Draper started a business in the twenties, but when her husband, a well-known doctor, asked for a divorce in 1930, her ambition went into high gear, and she scored huge, highly visible commissions. That same year, she did the lobby of the Carlyle; in 1933, the Phipps family enlisted her to renovate a row of tenements on Sutton Place. She oversaw every aspect of the Hampshire House’s visuals, from the carpet to the restaurant. She installed a reflecting pool topped by skipping sprites in the restaurant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and hung a hot-air-balloon light fixture inside the restaurant at the Carlyle, where she lived. She decorated the sprawling Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia and the Camellia House restaurant at the Drake Hotel in Chicago.


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