Dorothy Draper: Maestra of Maximalism

Interior design is one of those areas of artistry that most people think that they can master. Since everyone who has ever owned a house/flat has had a hand in choosing colour schemes, matching furniture decor etc. If one thinks that they can decorate their own home, why not turn it into a career? However the ability of the take a blank space and be able create an ambience is harder than just copying what is in an interior design magazine. Most modern interior style I find to be too minimalist. Rather cold and impersonal, What looks good in an architecture magazine does not always translate into what makes a good home. If I had to choose between minimalist or maximalist, I would lean slightly toward maximalism. While not too cluttered, a feeling of a home being ‘lived in’ and have personal touches creates a warm atmosphere. A maximalist advocate who I believe found a comfortable balance, mixed with innovation. Meet Dorothy Draper.

Born on 22nd November 1889 in Tuxedo Park in New York State. A comfortable upbringing (her great-grandfather Oliver Wolcott signed the Declaration of Independence), furthered by her marriage in 1912. To Dr George Draper, personal physician to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, continuing her luxurious lifestyle. Most women would have been content to be a Dr’s wife and live in cosy obscurity. However Draper would become so much more than a housewife. After receiving copious compliments after she decorated her own home. Draper decided do try her hand at designing for others. Thought it maybe difficult to imagine but Draper was the first set up professionally as an interior designer. Before Draper, the well heeled would not think to deviate from the traditional decor. So when Draper set up her own company in 1923 she was trailblazing both as a decorater and as a career for a woman. Her big break came when she was asked to redecorate the Carlyle hotel in Manhatten. Following on the heels of her New York success, Draper was commissioned to doctorate for more hotels (which appears to have been her canvas of choice). The Camelia House in the Drake hotel in Chicago, Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C and Arrowhead Springs hotel in Hollywood. Draper even designed internationally; the famous Palacio Quintandinha in Rio, Brazil. Draper’s most famous designs can be found at the Greenbriers hotel in White Sulphur Hills, West Virginia. Even designing the uniforms for the staff. Her official reopening after WWII was a huge social event, guests including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Bing Crosby and members of the Kennedy family.

What Draper did was create ‘Modern Baroque’ mixing bold colours with cabbage rose chintz. Rococo scrollwork with black and white tiles. On paper this sounds flashy and gaudy. Sure if anyone else tried to copy Draper’s work it would be a disaster. But if you see the images below, there is a cohesion. Why did Draper choose such a bright colours? Simply she believed that such vivid colours brought happiness those who would be enjoining such an interior. An rather unique reasoning. Most designers would be thinking about their own vision rather than what the user would feel emboldened by. Maybe this part of Draper’s enduring legacy.

In addition to her interior design, Draper collaborated with Packard motors to create a pink polka dot car. My dream car! Making packaging for Dorothy Grey’s cosmetics and in a masterstroke in commissioning fabrics based in her Greenbriers. So others can have piece of her famous style with going to West Virginia.

Draper died on 11th March 1969, aged 79. Fear not for her legacy is still strong. 2006 the Museum of the City of New York held an exhibition for her. Draper’s 1941 book ‘Entertaining is Fun! How to be a Popular Hostess’ was reissued in 2004. From 2006-07 the Women’s Museum in Dallas, Texas held a special exhibition for Draper ‘In the Pink’.

In my opinion, to style any space in a minimalist style is easy. Just make sure that there is plenty storage compartments. To style a room with a maximal flare is far trickier. To create the right balance between a comfy ambience but not too cluttered. Draper is frankly the only person to have found such niche style that can never be duplicated again.


DD lush

DD maybe Greenbrier

DD grand hotel Michigan

dorothy draper hotel lounge


One comment

  1. Not something for my own home, but something fun to see in a hotel. Very large, very graphic!

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