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  Issue 19-3

A Legendary Designer Drapes Palm Beach In Pattern, Color And Charisma


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Carleton Varney
Dorothy Draper & Co., Inc., New York, NY

Kim Mosley

Michel Arnaud


"MINE IS A WORLD OF REAL glamour,” the debonair interior designer Carleton Varney says, “one I was intro- duced to inthe early 1960s.” Honing his skills at the side of the pioneering grand dame of decorating, Dorothy Draper, Varney is now president and owner of the New York-based Dorothy Draper & Co., Inc., one of the oldest established interior design firms in the United States. “I started when I was so young,” he says, recalling how he entered the realm of true Hollywood glitz when he went to work with Draper while he was in his 20s. “With her ‘more is more’ philosophy, Draper made decorating a business,” Varney says. “She was America’s first professional interior decorator.”

And by recreating Draper’s signature furnishings and acquiring a lengthy list of design innovations to his own credit, Varney keeps the magic alive. He has decorated the interiors of houses, hotels, resorts and castles worldwide. It was during these international endeavors, from the Dromoland Castle in Ireland, the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, and The Grand Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island — a personal favorite of Varney’s — to his Florida design projects including The Breakers and his 1980s interior scheme of the Brazilian Court in Palm Beach, that he acquired his own personal collection of homes in Ireland, London, New York and Palm Beach.

“Black anchors the room and makes the colors pop,” Varney says.
“I thought it would have great impact here in this expansive area.”

Attaining legendary status with a bio that reads like a “Who’s Who” in the world of design, Varney says he was taught well by his mother. “She would tell me to ‘make the best use of my time — time is what we’re given,’” he says. “So, I don’t waste it.”

With the advice well taken, the designer boasts an impressive list of prominent clientele including presidents and well-known celebrities the likes of Ethel Merman, Fay Wray and Joan Crawford, whose inspiring words, “I invented me ... take your life and invent who you want to be,” still ring true to Varney today.

In addition to a syndicated newspaper column, his namesake school, the Carleton Varney School of Design at the University of Charleston in West Virginia, and his signature fabrics, sold through Carleton Varney by the Yard in West Palm Beach and Sarasota, Fla., he has laid his hand to authoring more than 20 books. His latest book, “Houses in My Heart: An International Decorator’s Colorful Journey,” is an illustrated memoir that offers rare behind-the-scene glimpses into not only his own personal life but the lives of his fabulous clients — many of whom became lifelong friends.

Enter James and Charlene Nederlander ... of Broadway fame. The Nederlanders own theaters throughout the country including New York’s Lunt-Fontanne and the Palace, the Broadway in Chicago and the Pantages in Los Angeles; and have collaborated on some of Broadway’s most unforgettable hits. Bringing this level of energy into their home in Palm Beach required the performance of a designer with a stage presence all his own — none other than Varney himself.

And perform he does with a trademark style that rivals any Broadway set and an individual mode that emphasizes “the fearless use of color and the rejection of all that is impractical, uncomfortable and drab,” Varney says. For a fresh approach each time, he insists that “homes should reflect the personalities of those who live in them ... each room should tell a story.”

Stepping through the white-colonnaded entrance of the Nederlanders’ Palm Beach villa, the story unfolds with a decor that includes hibiscus colors, floral fabrics, and zebra-and leopard-print rugs. Like an artist carefully stroking at his canvas, Varney believes “color should be applied in layers.”

Bold hues take center stage in the living room that holds several intimate groupings to tame its size and scale. Here, Varney’s huge painting of hibiscus hangs in full bloom above a Varney & Sons sofa from Kindel Furniture elegantly dressed in a summery overscaled madras plaid from Carleton V. Ltd.

Basic in black — a Varney antithesis — the fireplace wall makes a dramatic statement in the living room. “Black anchors the room and makes the colors pop,” Varney says. “I thought it would have great impact here in this expansive area.”

Nearby, a sinuous Dorothy Draper sofa fashioned in a Manuel Canovas’ bold hibiscus- patterned weave creates yet another comfortable seating area overlooking the pool and rear garden of the villa.

Beyond the foyer fashioned in everything vintage, objets d’art echo a different sensibility in the dining room dubbed the “Safari Room.” Chairs covered in Varney’s faux-leopard fabric provide excitement around a walnut dining table that once belonged to Charlene’s mother. Here, a pair of bronze lions stands guard on the wall-to-wall mirrored console that is original to the home.

And just outside, furnishings cushioned in Carleton V. Ltd.’s Robin and Jerry fabric provides poolside seating, while a long awning shades the terrace to allow the Nederlanders to sit outside, even on a sunny day. “All of my days are bright,” Varney says. “I can’t live in a gray-and-beige world ... I live in real color.” Providing the ideal amount of glitz and glam, this tour de force of pattern and color currently spends most of his time in Palm Beach and is now working on his new Home Shopping Network show titled “Carleton Varney Live Vividly.”



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