In celebration of the the Second Annual Elle Women in Design Awards and the designers they honored, we thought it only fitting to look back and recognize the first lady and founder of interior design, Dorothy Draper. Draper was born in 1889 in the exclusive community of Tuxedo Park NY. She was a student of the world, never receiving any formal education but rather spending her early days studying until she married President FDR’s personal physician Dr. George Draper in 1912. In 1923 she established America’s first interior design firm, Dorothy Draper and Company, Inc; no small feat for a woman of that time. During Draper’s hay-day she designed hotels like New York’s Carlyle Hotel, The Drake Hotel in Chicago, The Greenbrier Hotel in West Virgina and restaurants like the one at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is also the author of Decorating Is Fun and In The Pink.
Draper’s protege Carleton Varney now overseas the firm and has written her biography, The Draper Touch. Her company’s online biography writes:
To Dorothy, public space represented a place for people to come and feel elevated in the presence of great beauty, where the senses could look and feel and absorb the meaning of a quality life. She used vibrant, “splashy” colors in never-before-seen combinations, such as aubergine and pink with a “splash” of chartreuse and a touch of turquoise blue, or, one of her favorite combinations – “dull” white and “shiny” black. Her signature “cabbage rose” chintz, paired with bold stripes; her elaborate and ornate plaster designs and moldings – over doors, on walls and ceilings; her black and white checkered floors (The Quitandinah Palace; Casino Resort, Petropolis, Brazil); her massive, paneled, lacquered doors (Arrowhead Springs Hotel, California), some framed with bolection (Hampshire House, New York) or with elaborate plaster or intricate mirror frames (Camellia House, Drake Hotel, Chicago) – all contributed to dramatic design often referred to as “the Draper touch”.
She was famous for her meticulous design and for holding her own on male dominated construction sites. Dorothy Draper has forever shaped this design world we all live and work in; her love for the beauty and joy in life resonated in her work and thanks to her mentorship of Varney, it lives on today.