Jane Dagmi's Carleton Crush

What a treat to have Carleton Varney in the hood!


When an interior design legend comes to town, you’d better show up. And you better bring your 1969 copy of his first book The Family Decorates a Home so he can sign it even though he’s got a slew of other more current reads ready to sell (This vintage book has been in my personal design library for years). Hello, Carleton Varney! Thanks for coming to town.

Carleton Varney added much cred to the Winter Design Market at DCOTA earlier this month. Hosted at the John Rosselli showroom which represents Dorothy Draper Fabric and Wallcoverings, the event included a most heartwarming conversation, book signing, and lunch. Carleton shared stories from his personal design history as well as wisdom he’s accrued over his 53 year career.

Two Dorothy Draper & Co. fabrics: Shannon Grove Floral and Pacific.

Two Dorothy Draper & Co. fabrics: Shannon Grove Floral and Pacific.

While I knew that he reigned at the helm of Dorothy Draper & Co., I was under-educated in his achievements. Carleton Varney has earned a B.A., Masters and Doctorate (and I think I’m forgetting one more). He originally wanted to be a Hollywood/Broadway set decorator. He has 3 sons and is a garden enthusiast. He was Joan Crawford’s decorator for 21 years, Judy Garland’s and Ethel Merman’s too. Carleton decorated the White House in the Jimmy Carter era. He believes that color is magical, often wonders where the glamour has gone, and wears red socks in fond memory of actor Van Johnson.

He relayed an anecdote about Joan Crawford that I completely adored. He said that whenever Joan was scheduled to be a presenter at an awards gala, she would bring 3 different gowns -- a red one, a black one and a white. She would choose her gown once she knew what the presenter ahead of her was wearing. Always calculating her public image, Joan told Carleton, “I invented me.” And that has always stuck. This celebrated design hero was charming and smooth. I could have sat and listened to him for hours, and If I have my druthers, will get the chance  someday ... perhaps in the 80’ x 40’ addition he built onto his home in Ireland, his new favorite “at home” place to be, that includes a kitchen, hearth, and large seating bay, or maybe at a sit-down at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach where I welcome a personal tour.

Until then, here are 7 Carleton’s sound-bites that delighted me:

1. “The very first room that you remember is the foundation of your taste. Not good or bad. Just taste.”

2. “Have something identifiable that is always you.”

3. “If you show children beauty at an early age, they seek it forever.”

4. “What I have learned from clients is to always incorporate something that they identify with and makes them happy.”

5. “Flowers are part of the total environment and make the world a wonderful place to live in.”

6. “A room should look ready without any furniture.”

7. “It’s a wonderful world of decorating. I’ve lived a most fantastic life and done it all!”

Sandy HughesComment