The staying power of color. I’m a collector by heart and some of my favorite things to covet are vintage interior design books. From the kitschy to the classic, there’s a lot of creative inspiration to be drawn from what’s come before. A recent flea market find (and one of my current favorites) is Decorating with Color by Carleton Varney. This 1972 decorating guide provides practical solutions for using color. Organized by room and framed in a Q&A format, the book offers a practical guide to the reader’s biggest design dilemmas. The best aspect though is its artwork. Rather than using photography, the book features striking, hand-colored room sketches throughout. With just a few exceptions, most all still feel surprisingly modern.
Design Legend. These are not words to use lightly, but they definitely apply to the focus of this Inspired Spaces post. Designer and prolific author Carleton Varney has spent the past 50+ years creating color-filled interiors for everyone from golden era Hollywood stars like Joan Crawford and Fay Wray to suites for the Plaza Hotel and Mackinaw Island’s Grand Hotel. He also headed up a 2007 refurbishment of the Greenbrier, the West Virginia resort originally designed by one of his mentors – the iconic Dorothy Draper. Varney eventually took over her eponymously named studio in the 1960s, which he still presides over today.
Enduring Style. Mr Color, as one of his 20+ design books refers to him, has kept alive the “modern baroque” style alive that was also Draper’s signature. By pairing classic European shapes with a fearless use of color and patterned fabrics, they created something uniquely American. This dramatic style still resonates with many designers today including Kelly Wearstler – who incorporates similar elements in some of her most memorable hotel and residential projects.
I’ve selected some favorites sketches below. While some may feel slightly dated, most looks would be right at home in any fashionable, 21st century living space. It’s just further proof that good design is truly timeless. Check out even more examples of Carleton Varney’s work and colorful room concepts at HouseBlended on Pinterest.