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The Draper Effect

The lobby of the Hampshire House, completed in 1937.  

Although her commissions were mostly commercial, Draper infiltrated the nation’s domestic sphere as well, positioning herself as an expert on home decorating and entertaining through briskly opinionated newspaper and magazine columns. Her 1941 book, Entertaining Is Fun! How to Be a Popular Hostess—with its hot-pink, polka-dot cover—was a massive best seller.

“It is just as disastrous to have the wrong accessories in your room as it is to wear sport shoes with an evening dress.”

Donald Albrecht, the curator of architecture and design at the Museum of the City of New York, who is curating the show, sees Draper’s influence everywhere from Frank Gehry’s architectural forms to Philippe Starck’s Ghost chair. “Taking an eighteenth-century chair normally done in wood and making it in clear plastic is a Dorothy Draper kind of thing,” he says. “And she is a fascinating person. All of her tips must have been really great for housewives in the fifties. To have this woman telling them, ‘Don’t be afraid! Paint the door green!’ ”

“The sense of play in her interiors is infectious,” says Wearstler.

Some of Draper’s New York interiors remain intact, like the crisply Art Deco lobby of 770 Park Avenue. But getting the Draper feeling at home is fairly simple. New slipcovers, some rococo scrollwork, and a few black and white floor tiles are all you need.

Next: The Elements of Draperism