A Chat With Carleton Varney

This spring I attended the Dorothy Draper Design Weekend, which was the opportunity of a lifetime. Hosted by the legendary Carleton Varney and his team, I cannot more highly recommend this unforgettable decorating experience! It was incredible to be able to spend time with Mr. Varney, one of the world’s most celebrated interior designers, and I am delighted to welcome him to The Glam Pad today for a Q&A.

Carleton Varney (aka Mr. Color) is one of America’s best-known interior designers and the president/owner of Dorothy Draper & Co. Inc. As Dorothy Draper’s protégé, his work serves as a continuation of her legacy. Mr. Varney has decorated the residences of the entertainment, fashion, and business elite, and he is associated with the restoration and decoration of countless hotels and resorts worldwide. He has decorated various Governor’s Mansions and the U.S Ambassador’s Residences in Tokyo and Dublin. He restored and redecorated the Official Vice President’s Residence in Washington D.C. during the George H.W. Bush administration, and was a consultant for the Carter Presidential Library and various White House events during the Carter administration. He also redesigned and decorated the Carter residences in Plains and Ellijay, Georgia.

Mr. Varney’s versatility in design can be seen in the wide range of products that bear his mark, ranging from dinnerware, crystal, eye wear, home accessories, to scarves, including the 2017 Newbridge Silverware of Ireland home collection that bears his name. He has designed furniture collections for the Romweber and Kindel Furniture companies as well as for Ficks Reed. Since 1962, he has been creating designs for Dorothy Draper Fabric & Wallcoverings, which grace the rooms of some of America’s and the world’s most beautiful resorts and residences. Mr. Varney also writes a weekly decorating column, “Your Family Decorator,” in the Palm Beach Daily News, also known as ‘The Shiny Sheet’.

In 2005, Architectural Digest named him as one of the 30 “Deans of American Design.” In 2015, the Las Vegas International Market awarded him the Design Icon of 2015. He is a member of the Interior Design magazine Hall of Fame, and he has been awarded countless interior design awards. Welcome Carleton Varney!

Carleton Varney for Frontgate

Q:  With a career that spans over five decades, what is your secret to remaining timeless and fresh?

A:  I always have a sense of color and new spirit from all the things I see around the world and the different things other people are doing. They affect me because nothing is stagnant… decorating is never finished! I am always traveling and seeing new things, liking new things, and soaking in as much as I can of every beautiful thing I see. We shouldn’t lock ourselves away from change. I am in constant change improving color, changing pictures, lighting, table cloths, curtains. It is something that makes me feel alive and fresh in the world. You have a wardrobe filled with many things, and you don’t stop buying clothes, so why should you stop decorating your home? It’s never over until the fat lady sings.

Q:  What role does the past play with interior design?

A:  People want to know their roots. In order to be secure in your home, there has to be something rooted there… where you came from, an old photograph, memories from the past. Every home has to have a past, present, and a future.

Q:  In today’s world of disposable furniture and design, how do you create interiors with a sense of permanence that will last?

A:  Classics will always last, trendy designs tend to disappear. Go to a flea market to find treasures to combine with the latest trends.

Q:  What are the essential classic pieces that you recommend investing in?


  • A drop leaf table… they are so versatile.
  • Nesting tables (any type whether modern or prairie style).
  • A comfortable and well-made chair and ottoman that can travel with you forever.
  • A beautiful rug, not a cheap thing but woven, maybe Indian or Pakistani, or a tapestry.
  • Chinese lamps – export and figural lamps made from jade or crystal.

Q:  Do you have a favorite project or one you are most proud of?

A:  My favorite project is always the one I’m working on right now!

Q:  Where are your favorite places to travel, and how do they inspire you?

A:  I love to spend time in Ireland. Inspiration comes to me from the Far East, Bali, and Bora Bora.

Q:  Are there any items you love to collect? How do you incorporate collections within your designs?

A:  I collect Staffordshire dogs and glass vases, you can never have enough vases in all sizes for flowers.

Q:  What are the key elements within a Carleton Varney-designed room?

A:  Color, color, and more color and not be afraid to mix them. Plus Carleton Blue as my favorite background color.

Q:  Your client Joan Crawford once told you, “You remember one thing: I invented me and you can do the same.” What impact did these words have on your career?

A:  I carried it through my entire career and I am still reinventing and will do so until I pass into heaven where I hope I’ll settle in a sky blue and white cloud atmosphere.

Q:  What were the key lessons you learned from Dorothy Draper?

A:  The importance of scale and it can be larger than life, use no colors that look like gravy, and black and white is always right.

Q:  How did the Dorothy Draper School of Decorating come about?

A:  It started with my original school, the Carleton Varney School of Art and Design at the University of Charleston in West Virginia. People asked if I could teach at other locations so now I can travel around and teach in our beautiful hotels.

Q:  What is in store for the future of the interior design industry? And what does the future hold for Dorothy Draper & Company?

A:  More combinations of new and old, new ways of buying, a future in hospitality, new restaurants. Perhaps an online store and retail shops in resort hotels.

Carleton Varney is the author of numerous books including The Draper Touch, a biography of Dorothy Draper and two novels, Kiss the Hibiscus Good Night and The Decorator. He also published In The Pink – Dorothy Draper, America’s Most Fabulous Decorator and Houses in My Heart, a book that features his favorite design projects during the course of his career. Mr. Varney is often referred to in the media as Mr. Color, hence the title of his book, Mr. Color – The Greenbrier & Other Decorating Adventures. His latest book, Decorating on the Waterfront richly illustrates his work across the waters of the world.

Such an honor to have Mr. Varney join us today! Please visit www.carletonvarney.com to shop for exclusive designs from the Carleton Varney and Dorothy Draper collection, and to read his not-to-be-missed weekly decorating blog.  You can also follow @carletonvarney on Instagram for ongoing inspiration.  A Dorothy Draper School of Decorating workshop is scheduled for June 21-23 at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, and for additional information on upcoming Dorothy Draper Design Weekends at The Greenbrier, please follow @the_greenbrier on Instagram.


  1. Wow Andrea! He is fabulous and so charming! Have you noticed how often the Colony in Palm Beach pops up in blogs/instagram shots? Particularly the guest room hallways and pool? Without his colors and design it’s just a very ordinary small hotel. But he’s made it quintessentially Palm Beach and it’s own destination. That’s the power of color and decorating.

    Xo Elizabeth

  2. Having my daughter Bridget and I take his decorating class at Grand Hotel last summer, was a gift of a lifetime. He spoke so genuinely and warmly with us after class and applauded our evening gowns hours later. A giant for all to emulate.

  3. Andrea, I have total respect and admiration for all the Interior Designers and Architects you present to us BUT Mr. Carlton Varney is my personal true hero! Love, love him and his colorful design aesthetics.

    • Hi Lynn,

      I completely agree!! Meeting Mr. Varney in person was a dream come true! He is my hero too! 🙂

      The Glam Pad

  4. Carleton Varney Knows NO stranger and is so Kind and Sweet to Everyone ,that you feel you are his only personal close friend. A gift few people have. Let alone a BIG Named decorator as Mr.Varney. God Bless Him for All the people he has helped Personally and Professionally .. Carleton truly is ONE of a Kind!!!!


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