Whose Home Is It Anyway?
The sitting room of the Carlyle, a Rosewood Hotel
It’s just heaven.
I am standing in the sitting room of The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel, my reflection softly shadowed in the gleaming black marble floors rimmed with gold and white borders. The dark, oversize oil paintings flanking the fireplace portray rich scenes of a lavish, Old World life. The gilt mirror above it reflects a sparkling Venetian glass chandelier, black lacquer accent tables and gold velvet club chairs exuding plush, restrained opulence. Symmetry is the axiom and smart glamour is rendered on an intimate scale. Every detail of this Art Deco treasure is transporting. During a recent trip to the Upper East Side, I took an unexpected detour, deciding to dash into the storied lobby for a moment of inspiration. I’m so glad I did.
The legendary decorator and style icon Dorothy Draper originally designed this luxurious environment in the 1930s in her signature “high style,” incorporating classical elements while showcasing bold choices in materials. Although she came from a moneyed background, she did not pander to the establishment in her work. One of my favorite quotes from her, “If it looks right, it is right,” is a testament to her confidence and belief in the strength of your personal view.
As a true original and a proponent of the philosophy that “your home should be an expression of your personality,” I can’t help but wonder what her take would be on today’s culture of “branding.” Sure there are many star interior designers today — Kelly Wearstler, Philippe Starck and Jonathan Adler, to name a few. They each have namesake product lines available for purchase on their websites — and platforms that also show you exactly how to put it all together for a flawless look. Whose look? Is your home the backdrop of Adler’s life or yours? Interior Designers in the age of Instagram have become formulaic in their zeal to monetize their brands. Mid-Century + Global Glamour + Provocative Pottery = Jonathan Adler. Or Something Weird + Something Crazy + Metallic Accents = Kelly Wearstler.
What place does branding have in interior design anyway? Where is the sense of individual revelation? A designer’s job is to cultivate a client’s voice, not erase it. If I see one more coquettish photo of Wearstler luxuriating in her dressing room wearing her branded clothing, surrounded by her branded accessories and sitting on her branded furniture, so help me. Even in the lower echelons of more moderately priced design stores, the visual uniformity is deadening.
Draper went on to design grand and eye-popping resort spaces catering to a high-end and escapist clientele. However, her residential projects brought out a deeply personal side of her. She believed that decorating had a direct effect on your mood and outlook and that taking charge of your environment was tantamount to taking charge of your life. Although her clients’ tastes were frequently more timid than her own, she exhorted them “not to be a slave to tradition or to your mother-in-law’s taste. Fill the space with what you love.” Her first rule of home decorating was “courage,” followed by color and comfort. While Draper certainly had a look all her own, her branding statement would most certainly have conveyed the importance of thinking for yourself. She believed in the power of optimism and promoted it. That philosophy was itself infectious.
If she were posting a message herself on Twitter today, Draper might have said, “Be yourself and let everyone else catch up.” As others continue her iconic firm’s legacy today, her spirit of wonder and discovery endures, inspiring us all.