Can Colourful Interior Design Actually Lift Your Spirits?
Brighten up your home for a vibrant mood.
Brighten up your home for a vibrant mood.
WHEN DOROTHY DRAPER, Gilded Age heiress turned famed decorator, was enlisted in 1946 to revitalize the storied Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia., she was met with its skeletal remains. Abandoned after its stint as an army hospital during World War II, it had been ravaged. There was no finery, no inkling its grounds had once been the playground of American aristocracy.
In a way, the state of the resort represented America. Many in Draper’s generation had lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. Everyone, regardless of status, had lost loved ones and watched stability evaporate. Draper had also been subject to a high-profile divorce from Dr. George Draper, President Franklin Roosevelt’s polio doctor, who left her on the eve of the stock market crash and ultimately married a woman 10 years her junior.
Everyone had stories. Everyone was battle-worn—not unlike the great fatigue we feel today, born of uncertainty that makes us either fold in fear or grasp for hope. Draper’s response was the latter. She believed deeply in the power of positive thought made manifest in the colourful decorating aesthetic she was known for.
By the time Draper’s train reached the White Sulphur Springs station, she had reanimated countless spaces. To New York City’s Hampshire House, she brought turquoise walls and cabbage-rose chintz. She transformed Brazil’s Quitandinha Resort with neo-baroque plasterwork and a brash palm-leaf print she called Brazilliance.
Colour ran counter to the prevailing interior decorating aesthetic c. 1890-1910, what might be called funeral-parlour chic. Draper, the daughter of iron heir Paul Tuckerman and shipping heiress Susan Minturn, had grown up in exclusive Tuxedo Park, N.Y., surrounded by antique furniture that was often stuffy, impractical and uncomfortable; and gravy colours such as wheat, slate and cream. The dreary neutrals Draper loathed were so beloved by the Gilded Age upper crust that Edith Wharton, in her 1897 decorating book, “The Decoration of Houses,” wrote “…the fewer the colours used in a room, the more pleasing and restful the result will be. A multiplicity of colours produces the same effect as a number of voices talking at the same time.”
Even before Draper’s first formal foray into decorating, her peers recognized the eye-catching beauty she cultivated in her own homes. Her opinion was so frequently sought that in the early ’20s, she did the unthinkable for a proper heiress and went into business, opening the Architectural Clearing House, a sort of matchmaking service between architects and clients. The firm evolved into Dorothy Draper & Company when it became clear that her real passion lay in decorating commercial spaces.
Draper chose what spoke to her, what she thought would make others joyful. Her husband, Dr. Draper, was a firm believer in the beneficial physical effect of positive thinking, and Draper carried the philosophy into her work. Bright shades and prints could influence not only the ambience of a space but also the mood of those occupying it. Her conviction resonated, and her clientele grew internationally. She deinstitutionalized patient rooms at the Delnor Hospital in St. Charles, Ill., with arm chairs, ottomans and window valences in floral chintz. In the cafeteria-style restaurant in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, 8-foot birdcage chandeliers and fluted columns surrounded a sculpture pool, and shocks of coral banquettes lined blackberry walls. All over the world, Draper replaced beige and sadness with wide stripes in splashy colours, lacquered furniture in striking black and white, and elaborate plaster mouldings. Eager to spread her message and style, she also wrote how-to books and a long-running column in Good Housekeeping.
The Greenbrier finally reopened in April of 1948, and it was Draper’s masterpiece. The first weekend boasted celebrities like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Bing Crosby and the Kennedys, but the true highlight was Draper’s design. The lobby was dressed in her signature black and white checkerboard marble floors, bright presidential-blue walls and rhododendron-print curtains. The ballroom, the social centre of the weekend, sported a hand-plastered cameo ceiling and an 1,800 pound, Czechoslovakian drop-crystal chandelier inspired by the one found in the winter palace of Catherine the Great. Even the matchbooks were lovely, a bright neon red ornamented with a rhododendron blossom. The ragged old hospital was a memory.
Draper once said, “You don’t sell a commodity. You sell joy, gaiety, excitement. You aim at people’s hearts, not their minds.” It’s clear that today, reeling from the pandemic, we are leaning toward interior design that aims at our hearts. Carlton Varney, president of Dorothy Draper & Company and author of a deluxe edition of “The Draper Touch” (Shannongrove Press, June 29), has been enlivening homes and resorts for 62 years. “Across the board we have seen an increase in people seeking more colour and pattern in their homes, fully embracing our interiors,” said Mr. Varney, who believes as Draper did, that colour doesn’t just transform our walls, it is a form of magic.
Three tips from Draper’s 1939 book, ‘Decorating is Fun!’
1. Before You Begin. Gather the samples of every colour you intend using in your room…first and ask yourself whether you would wear them all in one costume. If you wouldn’t, don’t ask your room to do it either.
2. Choose What You Like. [Don’t] be afraid of a colour combination because you think it is too extreme or hifalutin. It probably isn’t at all. And it won’t cost a
cent more than a dull one.
3. Be Open-Minded. Muddy-coloured walls are nothing but a blight. So are undecided colours that compromise between…two blues until they become neither sea, sky nor good old cornflower. There should never be any doubt about what your colour has to say.
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’
Concern about electric vehicles’ appeal is mounting as some customers show a reluctance to switch
Auto dealers across many parts of the country say electric vehicles are becoming too hard a sell for buyers worried about the range, reliability and price of these models.
When Paul LaRochelle heard Ford Motor was coming out with an electric pickup truck, the dealer was excited about the prospects for his business.
“We thought we could build a million of them and sell them,” said LaRochelle, a vice president at Sheehy Auto Stores, which sells vehicles from a dozen brands in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
The reality has been less positive. On Sheehy’s car lots, LaRochelle says there is a six- to 12-month supply of EVs, compared with a month of gasoline-powered vehicles.
With automakers set to release a barrage of new electric models in the coming years, concerns are mounting among auto retailers about whether the technology will have broader appeal given that many customers are still reluctant to make the switch.
Battery-powered models have been piling up on car lots, dealers say, as EV sales growth has slowed in the U.S. this year. Car companies have been offering a combination of discounts and lower interest-rate deals in an effort to juice demand. But it hasn’t been enough, because buyer reticence extends beyond the price tag, dealers say.
“I’m not hearing the consumer confidence in the technology,” said Mary Rice, dealer principal at Toyota of Greensboro in North Carolina. “People aren’t beating down the door to buy these things, and they all have a different excuse why they aren’t buying one.”
Customers cite concerns about vehicles burning through a battery charge faster in cold weather or not being able to travel as far as they expected on a single charge, dealers say. Potential buyers also worry that chargers aren’t as readily accessible as gas stations or might be broken.
Franchise dealerships fear that the push to roll out new models will inundate them with hard-to-sell vehicles. Research firm S&P Global Mobility said there are 56 EV models for sale in the U.S. this year, and the number is expected to nearly double to 100 next year.
“I start to think, you know maybe we should just all pump the brakes a little bit,” Rice said.
A group of dealers expressed their concerns about the government’s role in pushing electric vehicles in a letter last month to President Biden.
A Toyota Motor spokesman said the majority of dealers have become “increasingly more confident in their ability to sell Toyota EV products.”
At Ford, the company’s electric-vehicle sales are rising, including for its F-150 Lightning pickup, but demand isn’t evenly spread across the country, according to a spokesman.
Dealers say that after selling an EV, they sometimes hear complaints about charging and the vehicles not always meeting their advertised range. In some cases, customers seek to return them to the dealer shortly after buying them.
“We have a steady number of clients that have attempted to or flat out returned their car,” said Sheehy’s LaRochelle.
While EVs remain a small but rapidly expanding part of the new-car market, the pace of growth has slowed this year. Electric-vehicle sales increased 48% in the first 11 months, compared with a 69% jump during the same period in 2022, according to Motor Intelligence. Sales remain concentrated in a few states, with California accounting for the largest chunk, S&P Global Mobility data found.
The cooling growth has raised broader questions in the industry about whether car companies face a temporary hurdle or a longer-term demand challenge. Automakers have invested billions of dollars to bring more EV models to the market, and many analysts and car executives say they remain optimistic that sales will continue to expand.
“Although the rate of growth has slowed recently, EV demand is clearly moving in the right direction,” said General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra on a recent conference call with analysts. A combination of more affordable model options and better charging infrastructure would help encourage more people to buy electric vehicles, she said.
There are also varying views within the dealer community about how quickly buyers will adopt the technology.In hot spots for electric-vehicle demand, such as Los Angeles, dealers say their battery-powered models are some of their top sellers. Those popular EV markets also tend to have more mature public charging networks.
Selling an electric car or truck outside of those demand centres is proving more difficult.
Longtime EV owner Carmella Roehrig thought she was ready to go full-electric and sold her backup gasoline vehicle. But after the 62-year-old North Carolina resident found herself stranded last year in a rural area of South Carolina, she changed her mind. Roehrig’s Tesla Model S got a flat tire, but none of the stores in the area carried tires for a Tesla. She ended up paying a worker at a nearby shop to drive her home.
Roehrig still has her Tesla but bought a pickup truck for long road trips.
Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“I have these conversations with people who say we’ll all be in EVs in 15 years. I say: ‘I’m not so sure. I’ve tried to do it,’” Roehrig said. “I think you need a gas backup.”
Customers who want to ditch their gas vehicle for environmental reasons are sometimes hesitant, said Mickey Anderson, president of Baxter Auto Group, which owns dealerships in Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.
“We’re in the Colorado Springs market. If this is your sole mode of transportation, and you’re in a market in extremes of elevation and temperature, the actual range is very limited,” Anderson said. “It makes it extremely impractical.”
Dealers representing around 4,000 stores across the U.S. signed the letter in November addressed to Biden, saying the administration’s proposed auto-emissions regulations designed to promote electric-vehicle sales are unrealistic. The signatories ranged from stores owned by family businesses to publicly held giants such as AutoNation and Lithia Motors.
“Some customers are in the market for electric vehicles, and we are thrilled to sell them. But the majority of customers are simply not ready to make the change,” the letter said.
Some carmakers are pushing back EV-rollout plans. GM said in mid-October that it would delay the opening of an electric pickup plant by a year to late 2025. In response to weaker-than-expected consumer demand, Ford said in late October that it would defer $12 billion of planned spending on electric-vehicle investment.
Since September, dealers on average took more than two months to sell an EV, compared with 40 days for all vehicles, according to car-shopping website Edmunds.
While discounts have helped boost sales of some electric vehicles, they also have led to repercussions for some current owners because it reduces the value of their vehicles, dealers say.
“Most people don’t have the confidence to buy an EV and know what it will be worth in 10-15 years,” said Rice from the Toyota dealership.
It may take some time for the industry to adjust because it is still in an early stage of switching to electric vehicles, Sheehy’s LaRochelle said.
“We’re asking for this market to grow organically,” he said.
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’