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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Design in Economic Downturn

While watching the chaotic roller coaster ride of stock markets these days, I wondered how past prominent designers dealt with difficult economic times. I immediately thought of the
legendary Dorothy Draper. I recently enjoyed reading "In the Pink: Dorothy Draper, America's Most Fabulous Decorator" by Carleton Varney, who studied under Ms. Draper. The book was featured in the Fall 2008 O At Home's article on The Most Inspiring Design Books of All Time, and I was thrilled to pick up an autographed copy of

it during a summer jaunt to Mackinaw Island in Northern Michigan at a tour of the famous Grand Hotel, decorated by Mr. Varney in the Draper style. Ms. Draper was a socialite-turned decorator who became a design doyenne in the 1930's and as a writer for Good Housekeeping, a designer of wallpaper for Schumacher and furniture designer for Ficks & Reed, her household noteriety would have rivaled Martha Stewart and Oprah.

Photo Viceroy Hotel courtesy Kor Hotel Group

How coincidental is it that during our current economic state, new age Drapers like Kelly Wearstler have squeezed the minimalist look out of the limelight and given us the urge to use bold colour, drama, and grand scale?

Hampshire House (done by Dorothy Draper) courtesy CBS

Are you attracted to the decor of Draper? Here is New York Magazine's list of key elements Dorothy Draper used in her design:

1. intense use of colour

2. florals/greenery -'as much a part of a decorative scheme as beautiful curtains,'she said

3. textured carpet -thick tactile rugs

4. striking details - a few bold accessories, not clutter

5. a fireplace

6. bold prints - oversized patterned wallpaper, fabrics

7.chessboard floors -black and white large tiles

8. large mirrors - the more ornate the better

9. romantic furniture- curves and some whimsy

10. colour contrasts - opposites on the colour wheel ie. red with green

Kelly Wearstler Design / Photo courtesy of Viceroy Hotel
In her 1939 book, "Decorating is Fun!" Ms. Draper encourages the public to embrace do-it-yourself decorating. In a wartime economy, Draper advocated conservation, with a column published in 1943 ' Whether you had a million or a mite when this war started, you are now discovering that it's smart and patriotic to find a use for everything.' Her ideas included reinventing furniture and floors by painting them, and using bedding for draperies.
In our current state of economic uncertainty, no doubt we're going to be seeing more DIY
and more of Dorothy Draper's fearless influences from almost 70 years ago!

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