Dorothy Draper: The Glamorous Legend

Dorothy Draper is one of the most well regarded interior designers in history.  Born in 1889 to an exceedingly wealthy family living in Tuxedo Park, she began to play with interior design in her own homes.  After getting married in 1912 to George Draper (personal doctor to FDR), she was quick to redesign their new abodes and soon received acclaim from family, friends, and other members of high society.  

In 1925 she started the Architectural Clearing House, which is often regarded as the original Interior Design Company.  After a few successful parlor renovations she changed the name to Dorothy Draper & Company in 1929.  While there were other female designers Draper stood out as one who not only had her own company and worked for herself, but also because she worked beyond the realm of residential homes.  She had no interest in home renovation.  She regularly worked with commercial interiors, collaborating with architects and real estate developers.


Her first big break was Carlyle Hotel on Madison Avenue in New York City.  When this design was met with significant esteem she soon worked on several different exclusive Manhattan addresses such as: Sutton Place (a row of tenements on East 57th street), Hampshire House, Essex House, and Coty Cosmetics Salon.  Other notable works include: the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, Arrowhead Springs Hotel in San Bernardino, the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs West Virginia, and finally the Roman Court Dining Room of the Met which has lovingly been nicknamed “The Dorotheum ''. 

In addition to having her own company Draper had her own design column “Ask Dorothy Draper” in Good Housekeeping magazine.  She was one of the first to license her name and routinely sold fabrics, paint, and more with her name attached to the product.  Draper was a glamorous woman almost as famous for her capes and pristine white gloves as she was for staying true to her own beliefs.  If she liked something it stayed, if she didn’t it was gone.  If clients ever tried to make suggestions she would simply ask if they really thought she was the best person for the assignment and that would be the end of it.  


Draper’s style is usually categorized as “Modern Baroque”.  Her style was modern and exciting as she routinely broke the mold on traditional and historic methods of interior design.  Not to mention her use of color was unmatched.  She was particularly fond of black ceilings, cherry red floors, dramatic color schemes with heavy contrast, and cabbage rose chintz.  She once stated, “Lovely, clear colors have a vital effect on our mental happiness.”