President/owner, Dorothy Draper & Co, one of the oldest interior design firms in the U.S
Author, Decorating in the Grand Manor (2013)
BA, Oberlin College, Ohio and the University of Madrid, Spain
MA, New York University
Honorary Doctorate, University of Charleston, WV where he founded the Carleton Varney School of Design
Named by Architectural Digest, January 2005 as one of the 30 “Deans of American Design”
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Carleton Varney, one of America's best known interior designers, is the president/owner of Dorothy Draper & Co. Inc., located in New York City. It is one of the oldest established interior design firms in the United States and is named after the founder of the company, Dorothy Draper, a doyenne of interior design in the United States from the 1920's to the 1960's. The Varney design philosophy stresses…"the use of bright colors and the rejection of all that is impractical, uncomfortable and drab." In embracing this practice, Carleton continues the tradition of Dorothy Draper, by his adventurous use of vibrant colors, floral patterns and bold contrasts, large scale, and neo-baroque style. For these reasons, he’s affectionately known today as “Mr. Color.”
In Carleton’s newest book, Decorating in the Grand Manor, “grand” refers to something spectacular, eye-catching, and exuding quality. Grand also refers to a period of time—days gone by, or an era that has passed.
As a young boy, Carleton remembers how his mother collected antiques and always cared for their home with great pride. She paid attention to small details, like keeping candles lit in beautiful silver candleholders. Growing up in the New England seaside town of Nahant, Massachusetts, the beautiful summer mansions inspired him. He was raised in a white house with green shutters, and some of the upper windows overlooked the sea. To this day, green is his favorite color.
Carleton's impressive roster of clients includes superstars from the worlds of entertainment, fashion and business. Over the years he has decorated for Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Ethel Merman, Joe Namath, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, and the list goes on. He is a frequent guest on HSN, where he sells linens, fabrics, wallpaper, etc. A man of unique style, he is never without his signature scarf-worn-as-tie (the scarf designs are his as well!)
He is associated with the restoration and decoration of countless hotels and resorts in Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, and the United States. Among them, two of his favorites are highlighted in his new book: The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan and The Greenbrier & Casino in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
Some of his preferred “grand manor” work includes his interior design of the Governor's Mansion in West Virginia and a pink Savannah Plantation in Georgia. Carleton says, “I listen to my client’s ideas and go the full distance to make that person feel happy in his or her own environment.”
Recently, he’s enjoyed working on the 60-room Colony Hotel in Palm Beach. "It's just charming," Carleton said of the hotel built in the 1920s. The Colony is where cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post lived for seven years and where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor stayed when they vacationed in Palm Beach.
Among all the beautiful spaces he’s created, the home dearest to his heart is his personal residence, Shannongrove House in County Limerick, Ireland. Varney says, “Shannongrove keeps me very green grounded.”
In addition to the decoration of numerous private residences, Varney and his company have also been associated with the decoration of cruise ship and private plane interiors. Carleton was the curator of the former presidential yacht, the USS "Sequoia." In 2008, he also designed the Architectural Digest Green Room for the Academy Awards celebration at the Kodak Theatre, in Los Angeles.
In the future, he hopes to “decorate a Greenbrier Express railroad car or two (or sixteen!) that will cross the mountains from Washington, D.C., to its namesake in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.”
Carleton has three grown sons: Sebastian, who heads the design firm Carleton V Ltd., Nicholas, a jewelry designer, and Seamus, a Down’s Syndrome young man.
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