CHANNELING DOROTHY DRAPER

Who is Dorothy Draper? Why is she important and why do you need to know about her? No, she is not Don Draper’s Grandmother! She was the first person to professionalize the business of interior design, establishing the first company of its kind, Dorothy Draper &Co., in 1923. Using unusual color combinations and mixing prints and stripes, she established what became known as the “Draper Touch”. Working with oversized scale, her designs were dramatic and ahead of their time. She designed entire hotels and hospitals as well as the residences of the rich and powerful. This was before the likes of Philippe Starck, who is now known for “designing through” public spaces, such as the Paramount Hotel in NYC, from the beds down to the cocktail napkins.  She predated them all, and she had a lot to say. She was radical and powerful and inspired many women who read her columns in Good Housekeeping Magazine. Finally, housewives could dream of color and design as a way to enliven their homes. In my “channeling blogs”, I endeavor to impart information from the great design icons of the past and also add my own point of view. Here is my imaginary conversation with Dorothy Draper.

 DD: It is just as disastrous to have the wrong accessories in a room, as it is to wear sports shoes with an evening dress.

MBID: Dorothy, you are so right! People just don’t appreciate how styling can MAKE a space and it takes a great eye and a great sense of editing. It is not just about putting family pictures on a mantle.

DD: Until very recently people were scared out of their wits by color. Perhaps this is a hangover from our Puritan ancestors.

MBID: The Pilgrims! All the fabrics were browns, blacks, whites and ivory. Life is rich and Mother Earth reflects it. I am all for being very adventurous with color and scale. And if you end up hating it, it’s only paint! Just change it!

DD: Never look back, except an occasional glance. Look ahead and plan for the future.

MBID: Spoken like a true business pioneer Dorothy. People are paralyzed with potential regrets. I have never had a client who regretted doing work on their home. The thing they say the most is why didn’t I do this sooner!

DD: I’ll always put in one controversial item. It makes people talk.

MBID: Talk is what we want to happen when people enter a room. An environment must inspire conversation, not necessarily about the room itself, but there needs to be a wonderful comfort level that will loosen the lips!

DD: Repetition is a form of emphasis.

MBID: Particularly when displaying collections. They are so much more powerful when grouped together, and not spread all over the home. Repetition is a very powerful design concept. Just like in music!

DD: In the bedroom, comfort should be supreme.

MBID: Absolutely! It is where we start the day and end the day and sometimes spend the entire day! I want to enter my bedroom and melt into a world that is totally mine and mine alone. The bedroom needs to be a sanctuary.

DD: Don’t buy a bedroom suite, but collect your pieces separately. It is generally cheaper and always the decorator’s way of furnishing.

MBID: The bedroom collection takes the magic out of the space. Yes, it is “easier” to shop this way. But other than end tables at the sofa or two club chairs, matching is highly over rated. This is where the eye of a designer can gather pieces and have them all work as if they were simply meant to be.

DD: Even in a formal dining room, you don’t want to be ponderous or gloomy. Eating is an indoor sport. We play three times a day and it’s well worthwhile to make the game as pleasant as possible.

MBID: Yes, the dining room must beckon. It is nice to feel that the table is used and that many spirited conversations have passed over it’s top. That is a sensation that permeates the room. You can just sense that the homeowners use the table day in and day out. And that is what it is meant for: Hearty, delicious food and good, lively conversation!

DD: You aim at people’s hearts, not their minds.

MBID: Correct. If designing was a mind game, it would be a science. It is a game of heart and soul. It is meant to make the heart quicken and warm the soul. Good design is exacting but also forgiving. It must be a passion for the designer, like music is for the musician. There is nothing else they want to do. There is nothing to be done about the relentless drive for beauty.

 

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