The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia has all the requisite elements of legend:  great age (it was founded in the late 1700s), great ghosts (Robert E. Lee has been known to take a cantor on his favorite horse while post mortem), and great drama. The latter is provided courtesy of one Dorothy Draper, mother of modern interior design. If you're doubting her credentials, pick up Caleton Varney's biography of her life, The Draper Touch, and you'll quickly realize she touched everything, right down to how the public (i.e. us) interacts with design, beginning the first interior and life design correspondence courses, and a wildly popular Good Housekeeping column on the same subject. She beat the bloggers to democratizing design! Not being shy of colors and patterns myself, I've long dreamed of visiting her masterwork at the Greenbrier, and I finally went for a wonderful weekend. It more than exceeded expectations. It also nearly exceeded my memory card, so, I'll be doing several posts on DD's designs. I hope you enjoy them!

 Oh, the views! DD once bragged that there wasn't a hallway in the Greenbrier that failed to end in an inspiring vista. She succeeded, and, as we say in the South, "It ain't bragging if you done it."

It's hard to capture in pictures how truly shocking the force of DD's colors are - she did not use green, but jungle green. Her reds are, for lack of a better word - RED. And all of these Christmas colors are shot through with an entire painter's palette of aquamarines, yellows, pinks, corals, blues, and blacks. More than 60 years later, the space feels audacious, and every corner still yields a surprise.

Pictured above and below is the Victorian Writing Room, one of the smallest spaces in the public rooms - it sure doesn't seem so tiny, does it?

Victorian Writing Room, Hall View

When DD set out to redesign the Greenbrier, the board of directors at the owning company, the C&O, had conniptions (that is what distinguished gentlemen had in those days). She was painting their antiques, using outrageous colors, and pitching out (quite literally) years of tradition onto the rubbish heap. After several unsuccessful attempts to fire her, they were forced to accept what everyone always got with DD:  her way. And a huge public success. 

Seating Area, Victorian Writing Room. The Founding Fathers would feel quite cozy with that mirror; DD felt quite cozy with the outsized floral chintz.

Carleton Varney, DD's protege cum heir, inherited both her design business, and the curatorship of the Greenbrier. While some areas of the hotel I'll write about in future posts have been completely designed by Varney, he has kept the public areas if not a copy, then a spirited tribute, to DD's original design.

It's difficult to convey in an image how vast the rooms are - DD herself admitted to being a bit flummoxed at the size. But she was a big women (tall), with big ideas, and she knew just what to do in a big space:  be gigantic.

The world's largest window valence. The massive shell pediment is another DD speciality:  plasterwork. She was the inventor of "modern baroque" and she looked at walls and ceilings the way a baker might look at a cake:  always needing a dollop of frosting.

Her color choices were as unexpected as her proportions; aqua is a repeated theme. Here, in the Upper Lobby, antiques and federal style mingle with chinoiserie, jungle plants, big patterns, and a healthy dose of black and white, anchored by a kidney sofa of her own design.

Her famous birdcage chandelier - used to great effect in the "Dorotheum" at the Met. Museum of Art - makes a grand statement in the Greenbrier foyer, as do her favorite reds and greens. In the carpet is a rendering of the famous Spring House, where for centuries guests would take a glass of sulphur water, thought to have healing properties. Nowadays, the chic thing is to bathe in it, at the Greenbrier's 5-star spa.
/Images/ Horse and Carriage, The Greenbrier Resort/ All other images, my own. Please attribute./

Hope you enjoyed the tour - more to come!


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