Dorothy Draper, History’s First True Interior Designer
The actual profession of interior designer is credited to a woman named Dorothy Draper, who was commissioned to decorate all thirty-seven floors of the Hampshire House hotel in 1937 Manhattan. Even though renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright called her an “inferior desecrator,” Ms. Draper had decorated scores of offices, restaurants, hospitals, and even a car for Packard (in 1952) and an airplane interior for Convair (the 880) before she died in 1969.
Ms. Draper also left a legacy through a number of books, as well, including a string of books on entertaining etiquette, some of which have recently been reprinted to help modern socialites entertain guests and be the life of their parties. In a way, Dorothy Draper was the Martha Stewart of her day, offering tips on a wide variety of issues to her eager readers.
Although Dorothy Draper is no longer a household name, she had an enormous effect on American interior design ideas in her day, and though she had her detractors (like Frank Lloyd Wright and others), there’s no denying that she was the one who made the profession of interior designer possible for all those who came after her.
Much of Ms. Draper’s work hasn’t survived to the current day, but you can still see some of Ms. Draper’s work in various places around the country. For instance, there are still Dorothy Draper chandeliers hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. For a less prosaic look into Ms. Draper’s influence, just look for the blue-and-orange facades of the many Howard Johnson restaurants that still dot the countryside from coast to coast. Their color scheme was first suggested by Dorothy Draper.
The science of interior design has come a long way over the past seventy years. Today, it’s a multimillion dollar industry, and incorporates aspects of environmental psychology, and architecture, as well as product and furniture design to create spaces that work well and are esthetically pleasing to their owners.
Copyright © 2006 Jeanette J. Fisher
If you want to use some of Draper’s interior design ideas in your home decorating, here are her design practices:
- Forget Minimalism. Although Draper hated clutter, she loved over scaled elements like elaborate door frames and neo-Baroque, romantic furniture.
- Use strong colors, not weak white or pastels. Opt for intense colors on walls and plenty of color contrast.
- Lay flooring that supports tactile pleasure and doesn’t compete with accessories. Use 12 inch black and white checked tiles and dense, thick textured area rugs in neutral colors.
- Play with exuberant prints. Draper flourished space with enormous florals and fringe. She also loved statement wallpaper with big patterns. She fearlessly piled pattern upon pattern.
- Add bold accessories to attract attention. Think striking instead of boring rooms. Look for huge mirrors; the more flourishes, the better.
- Warm your rooms with fire. The fireplace “is the heart of any room and should be kindled on the slightest provocation,” Draper said.
- Complete with flowers and plant life. “They are as much a part of a decorative scheme as beautiful curtains,” Draper said.
Although you may feel like toning down Dorothy Draper’s interior design ideas, play with her sense of joie de decorating. Replace gaudy with tasteful fun and think exuberant!
There are many current designers (including me) who incorporate these philosophy into their projects.
Inspiration…classic glamour, Realization…infamous designer.