It was the greyest and drizzliest of winter days at the Greenbrier, but the king of color, Carleton Varney, made everything rosier.
The famed decorator and author held court at the resort’s second annual Dorothy Draper Design Weekend where some 75 guests gathered to celebrate the “maximalist” style that Draper made so famous at the Greenbrier, and Varney has championed around the world.
Andrea Rhea, the creator of The Glam Pad, one of the hottest blogs and Instagram feeds on interior design, is one of Varney’s biggest fans, devoted to the Palm Beach chic he’s defIned.
Rhea made her first visit to the Greenbrier, a place that clings to its heritage, and its exuberant decor, like none other.
Bold stripes, cabbage rose chintz, green carpeting, and pink, lots of it, are Greenbrier signatures installed by Draper and they aren’t going anywhere, thank you very much.
“Mrs. D,” who died in 1969 as one of the country’s most influential decorators, “represented glamour. And that’s what the world is losing. Everybody wants a piece of it,” Varney explained.
When Draper conceptualized the new look for the Greenbrier after it was a rundown World War II hospital, she had two themes: roses and romance. It is still delivering.
I was fortunate to stay in the vintage girly Dorothy Draper suite. (There’s a Carleton Varney suite too, but, alas, it’s under repairs.) I had chinoiserie wing chairs, a canopy bed, and curtains so florally you’d think it was springtime in Paris.
The Greenbrier’s best throwbacks are its afternoon tea and champagne toast held every afternoon and evening, respectively, made even quainter by the “Greenbrier Waltz.”
You could spend a day just marveling at the endless display of Draper maximalism, sorely lacking in hotel culture today: oversized chandeliers, gargantuan portraits, marble floors, and, of course, the riots of color.
“We’re in a beige culture,” lamented Varney, at one of the weekend’s many sessions. “We’re going in a somber and unhappy direction. Mrs. Draper always told us to never show her anything that looks like gravy.”
In other words, no beige, please.
Varney went to work for Draper in the early 1960s, and became her protege and biographer. For several decades, he’s lent his visual genius to a wide array of commercial and residential projects, and sells his own products, like the silk scarves and iPhone cases proudly displayed by his acolytes at the weekend.
Now well into his eighties, he (and his brightly hued socks) are seen in Palm Beach, his summer house in Ireland, and at Trump Tower, where he’s lived a floor under “Donald,” for over two decades.
Last year, President Trump nominated Varney to the National Council on the Arts, and he’s awaiting Senate confirmation.
Over his favorite chicken pot pie at the Greenbrier’s Draper Cafe, Varney reflected on his clientele from Jimmy Carter to Joan Crawford, whose portrait hangs in the resort’s theater.
He didn’t elaborate much on her aversion to wire hangers, but something she told him summarizes his idea of decorating as an extension of one’s spirit.
“She told me that she invented herself, Joan Crawford. Now you have to invent you.”
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