July 15, 2006

The High Style of Dorothy Draper

"Draperize" your summer and take a trip back to the 1930's and 40's with a visit to the Museum of the City of New York's current exhibition "The High Style of Dorothy Draper". The Museum, under the superb curatorship of Donald Albrecht, pays homage to this doyenne of style, the proto-Martha Stewart of her time, with a show that captures the flair and theatricality of this larger than life character.

Dorothy Tuckerman was born in 1889 to an excedingly wealthy and well connected family in Tuxedo Park, NY. In 1912 she married Dr. George (Dan) Draper and began to settle into a traditional, if priviledged, role as wife and homemaker. She was active in decorating her own homes, and she was often consulted by friends who sought her advice in home decor.

In the 1920's she contracted with the real estate magnate Douglas Elliman to design the lobbies of several exclusive Park and Fifth Avenue apartment buildings. One thing led to another and by the next decade she was decorating major public spaces like the reception area of the new and ultra chic Carlyle Hotel in New York City. As her reputation grew, her commissions expanded and she went on to design large commercial interiors such as the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, The Drake Hotel in Chicago, and her ultimate project, the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV. In every case, Dorothy Draper created a signature look of luxury and glamour down to the smallest detail.

By the 1940's the Dorothy Draper name had become so famous that she expanded her empire to making interior design more available to the public. In an effort to educate and liberate the Post World War II generation of American housewives, she published books like "Decorating is Fun!", created a line of household products, and designed the "Hawaiian Islands" group of wallpaper, textiles and furniture for F. Schumacher & Co, and Macy's Department Store. She wrote a syndicated decorating advice column entitled "Ask Dorothy Draper" that ran in 70 newspapers, 3 times a week. She decorated a fleet of airplanes and a Packard car.

Dorothy Draper was large in stature both physically and in her reputation. With no formal business or design education, but a formidable drive and imagination, she created a legend that is recognized to this day as the epitome of high style. Although upper crust in her upbringing, she democratized the rarefied world of interior design and gave ordinary people the confidence and the desire to "use decoration as a form of self-actualization". This wonderful exhibition highlights both her brilliant public spaces and her contribution to the American middle class home. It is a tribute to a true Original.

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