Women’s History Month – Dorothy Draper
By: Breann Jeffords
Dorothy Draper was the first individual to start an interior design business. She grew up in a very wealthy community in New York: Tuxedo Park. This was one of the first gated communities in the United States. Draper was educated mostly by homeschool tutors, and her family took yearly educational trips to Europe. These factors are said to have contributed to her style and work. Her wealthy upbringing gave her a strong list of clientele and a strong confidence in her work. While the trips to Europe exposed her to unique art forms upon which she could interpret and then they influenced her work.
In 1923 she established the first interior design company in the United States, Dorothy Draper & Company. Interior design companies were unheard of and a bold move, but it was also seen as too bold for a woman to go into business by herself. She had a very modern style, which differentiated her from others in the business. She created “Modern Baroque”, a style that she believed applied mostly to large public spaces and modern architecture. Dorothy believed that public spaces were areas in which people could come and appreciate the beauty. Her interior designs became known as “the Draper touch.” These designs included vibrant colors, black and white checkered floors, elaborate mirror frames, colorful patterns, and etc.
Dorothy got her first big job in 1930 from Douglas Elliman. She was hired to redecorate the Carlyle Hotel in New York City. This job led to many others and she started to become very well known. She gave decorating advice in a column for Good Housekeeping Magazine. She also designed fabric lines for Schumacher, between 1930-1940 Schumacher sold over a million yards of her cabbage rose chintz fabric design. She also designed theaters, department stores, commercial establishments, private corporate offices, and the interiors of jet planes. She even helped design a car line while working for Packard and Chrysler in the 1950’s, and one of her designs was a pink polka dot truck.
Her designs were becoming well known and largely appreciated by suburban housewives. One of her most well-known jobs was the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. She redesigned the entire resort in 16 months, which included redesigning 600 plus rooms with 45,000 yards of fabric, 15,000 rolls of wallpaper and 40,000 gallons of paint. At one point the Victorian Writing Room in this hotel was named the most photographed room in the United States.
Dorothy Draper was the first to enter the interior design business and is seen as one of the most influential interior designers to this day. Her work broke boundaries and social norms of what design should be. Her use of bright colors and vibrant patterns was unheard of. Her confidence in her designs and her passion for her works led to her success. In the words of Dorothy Draper herself: “I believe in doing the thing you feel is right. If it looks right, it is right.”