Decorating & Design - Inside Design

Inside design: Carleton Varney

Designer Carleton Varney shares his favourite decorating projects and tells us about his years as president of Dorothy Draper & Company.

Carleton Varney, designer and president of Dorothy Draper & Company, the oldest established interior design house in North America. He’s a charming southern gentleman (the kind who sings “Unforgettable” to you over the phone) who has filled epic shoes and continues to bring the world vibrant, voluminous and versatile designs with a nostalgia that’s always “now.”

The handcrafted Moroccan-inspired ceiling is a focal point of this sitting room. Photograpy by Michel Arnaud.

STYLE AT HOME Tell us about working with Dorothy Draper.
Carleton Varney Few have ever met her standard and few ever will. I worked with Dorothy for seven years when I was in my 20s. She was overwhelming in every way – a gladiator. She always wore white gloves and would gesture and say, “Show me nothing that looks like gravy.” Dark or light, if it looked like stuffing or gravy, she didn’t like it. To this day, I still decorate with magical colour, but I don’t resent people who’ve done their homes in all cream and beige.

SAH To each their own, right?
CV I always say that there’s no good taste or bad taste, just taste. Once, on the way back from Marlon Brando’s island in the South Pacific, I stayed in a hotel room that had cream vinyl walls, a woven creamy beige headboard, tan sheets, beige blankets, a beige-and-brown carpet and beige lacquered furniture. I remember walking into my room after taking a shower, thinking, “Here I am, naked in a bowl of oatmeal.” But many people live in a bowl of oatmeal and love it.

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