Can Colourful Interior Design Actually Lift Your Spirits?
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Can Colourful Interior Design Actually Lift Your Spirits?

Brighten up your home for a vibrant mood.

By Joy Callaway
Fri, Jun 3, 2022 2:45pmGrey Clock 4 min

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.

Dorothy’s Edicts

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.


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Capri Coffer socks away $600 a month to help fund her travels. The Atlanta health-insurance account executive and her husband couldn’t justify a family vacation to the Dominican Republic this summer, though, given what she calls “astronomical” plane ticket prices of $800 each.

The price was too high for younger family members, even with Coffer defraying some of the costs.

Instead, the family of six will pile into a rented minivan come August and drive to Hilton Head Island, S.C., where Coffer booked a beach house for $650 a night. Her budget excluding food for the two-night trip is about $1,600, compared with the $6,000 price she was quoted for a three-night trip to Punta Cana.

“That way, everyone can still be together and we can still have that family time,” she says.

With hotel prices and airfares stubbornly high as the 2023 travel rush continues—and overall inflation squeezing household budgets—this summer is shaping up as the season of travel trade-offs for many of us.

Average daily hotel rates in the top 25 U.S. markets topped $180 year-to-date through April, increasing 9.9% from a year ago and 15.6% from 2019, according to hospitality-data firm STR.

Online travel sites report more steep increases for summer ticket prices, with Kayak pegging the increase at 35% based on traveler searches. (Perhaps there is no more solid evidence of higher ticket prices than airline executives’ repeated gushing about strong demand, which gives them pricing power.)

The high prices and economic concerns don’t mean we’ll all be bunking in hostels and flying Spirit Airlines with no luggage. Travellers who aren’t going all-out are compromising in a variety of ways to keep the summer vacation tradition alive, travel agents and analysts say.

“They’re still out there and traveling despite some pretty real economic headwinds,” says Mike Daher, Deloitte’s U.S. transportation, hospitality and services leader. “They’re just being more creative in how they spend their limited dollars.”

For some, that means a cheaper hotel. says global search interest in three-star hotels is up more than 20% globally. Booking app HotelTonight says nearly one in three bookings in the first quarter were for “basic” hotels, compared with 27% in the same period in 2019.

For other travellers, the trade-offs include a shorter trip, a different destination, passing on premium seat upgrades on full-service airlines or switching to no-frills airlines. Budget-airline executives have said on earnings calls that they see evidence of travellers trading down.

Deloitte’s 2023 summer travel survey, released Tuesday, found that average spending on “marquee” trips this year is expected to decline to $2,930 from $3,320 a year ago. Tighter budgets are a factor, he says.

Too much demand

Wendy Marley is no economics teacher, but says she’s spent a lot of time this year refreshing clients on the basics of supply and demand.

The AAA travel adviser, who works in the Boston area, says the lesson comes up every time a traveler with a set budget requests help planning a dreamy summer vacation in Europe.

“They’re just having complete sticker shock,” she says.

Marley has become a pro at Plan B destinations for this summer.

For one client celebrating a 25th wedding anniversary with a budget of $10,000 to $12,000 for a five-star June trip, she switched their attention from the pricey French Riviera or Amalfi Coast to a luxury resort on the Caribbean island of St. Barts.

To Yellowstone fans dismayed at ticket prices into Jackson, Wyo., and three-star lodges going for six-star prices, she recommends other national parks within driving distance of Massachusetts, including Acadia National Park in Maine.

For clients who love the all-inclusive nature of cruising but don’t want to shell out for plane tickets to Florida, she’s been booking cruises out of New York and New Jersey.

Not all of Marley’s clients are tweaking their plans this summer.

Michael McParland, a 78-year-old consultant in Needham, Mass., and his wife are treating their family to a luxury three-week Ireland getaway. They are flying business class on Aer Lingus and touring with Adventures by Disney. They initially booked the trip for 2020, so nothing was going to stand in the way this year.

McParland is most excited to take his teen grandsons up the mountain in Northern Ireland where his father tended sheep.

“We decided a number of years ago to give our grandsons memories,” he says. “Money is money. They don’t remember you for that.”

Fare first, then destination

Chima Enwere, a 28-year old piano teacher in Fayetteville, N.C., is also headed to the U.K., but not by design.

Enwere, who fell in love with Europe on trips the past few years, let airline ticket prices dictate his destination this summer to save money.

He was having a hard time finding reasonable flights out of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., so he asked for ideas in a Facebook travel group. One traveler found a round-trip flight on Delta to Scotland for $900 in late July with reasonable connections.

He was budgeting $1,500 for the entire trip—he stays in hostels to save money—but says he will have to spend more given the pricier-than-expected plane ticket.

“I saw that it was less than four digits and I just immediately booked it without even asking questions,” he says.

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