Decorating is Sheer Fun: A Look at Dorothy Draper and Her Five Principles of Design

“Decorating is just sheer fun: a delight in color, an awareness of balance, a feeling for lighting, a sense of style, a zest for life, and an amused enjoyment of the smart accessories of the moment.” ~ Dorothy Draper

Dorothy Draper, 1942

In 1925, design icon Dorothy Draper opened America’s first professional decorating firm, the Architectural Clearing House, setting the standards that transformed interior decorating from a hobby or avocational service into a full-fledged profession. Draper revolutionized the concept of design by breaking away from the dark color schemes used throughout the Victorian style and introducing bold, bright color palettes in vibrant hues.  Extremely confident and driven purely by her own idiosyncratic taste, Dorothy Draper was famous for the dictum “if it looks right, it is right.”

Benjamin Moore Draper color palette
Benjamin Moore issued a Dorothy Draper Color Collection of 15 signature shades.

Draper’s style was very anti-minimalist, encompassing exuberant colors, big florals, bold stripes, impressive mirrors, and ornate details such as rococo scrollwork and baroque plaster work. The looks Draper created with combinations of flamboyant colors, big, bold patterns, and interesting textures are referred to as the “the Draper touch,” and the classically modern style she created is known as “Modern Baroque.”

Decorating is Fun coverDraper’s 1939 book, Decorating Is Fun!: How to Be Your Own Decorator, is a timeless how-to full of practical dos and don’ts in decorating. In the introductory chapter, “How to Get Started,” Draper explains the book is about how to have a good time decorating: “If you want to be grim and serious about it, don’t read another word, for what I have to say is not for you.”

Draper was firm in her belief that nothing is as satisfying and friendly as a house that “seems graciously filled with the definite aura of its owner’s personality,” and promises that a home that is “just what we really want” is within reach for everyone. Draper firmly believed there was nothing “deep and mysterious” about interior decorating, but she acknowledged we need to understand some fundamental design principles. These principles are “our five most powerful friends to guide us” – and they are as on-target today as they were in 1939.

1. Courage
“You need courage to experiment, courage to seek out your own taste and express it, courage to disregard stereotyped ideas and try out your own. But courage doesn’t mean recklessness. Before you become your decorator, you must first become a critic. Before you make any decisions, look the field over carefully. Take inventory of what the market has to offer, and above all, explore your own taste.”
2. Color
“The Drab Age is over. Color is coming into its own again. Until very recently, people were literally scared out of their wits by color. Perhaps this was a hangover from our Puritan ancestors. But whatever the reason, brown, grays and neutrals were the only shades considered ‘safe.’ Now we know that lovely, clear colors have a vital effect on our mental happiness.”
3. Balance or Size
“The proportions of your room, the balance of your arrangements, and the size of your furniture and accessories all are most desperately important. Many people have sensitive eyes when it comes to color, but so many are unawake when it comes to line.”
4. Smart Accessories and Details
“It is just as disastrous to have the wrong accessories in your room as it is to wear sport shoes with an evening dress. It will always be these details of a room that will give it distinction.”
5. Comfort
“No room can be called perfect unless it has real comfort. It must be livable for you. It must meet graciously every requirement you make of it. Plan your room for the people who live in it. Think of their habits as you rearrange your furniture. There are a few hard-and-fast rules about this arrangement, which should be obeyed for the sake of balance. But they are very few, and otherwise you are free to experiment.”

“In the Pink” by Carleton Varney captures Dorothy Draper’s iconic style, indomitable spirit, and original inventive designs which have become an enduring legend.

Draper revolutionized the way we look at interior design by trying new things and pushing people to think outside the beige box. Though she died in 1969, the exuberance and confidence that permeates her work still inspires designers today, and Dorothy Draper & Company is still going strong with accomplished designer and author Carleton Varney at the helm.

Check out our Pinterest Board to enter vibrantly colored world of Dorothy Draper!

When it comes to countertops, Prestige Marble & Granite is here to help you think outside the beige box with a vast selection of unique, exotic and rare natural stones from around the world. Our knowledgeable staff will guide you through selection, layout, design and installation. We welcome homeowners, designers, and contractors to browse our showroom any time!