An Insider Glimpse at the Dorothy Draper Decorating Weekend

Written by Natalie Aldridge.

The teasing is over. The moment has come to dive deeper into The Glam Pad’s visit to The Greenbrier for the annual Dorothy Draper Decorating Weekend. Embarking on a pilgrimage to The Greenbrier is practically a rite of passage for any interior design aficionado. Reflecting on days past, The Glam Pad recalls its previous invitation to partake in the weekend, a nostalgic jaunt back to 2019. Back then, the world held a different air, and the late Carleton Varney was still at the helm of Dorothy Draper. When asked once again to attend, revisiting the hotel was a no brainer, offering a chance to delve deeper into Draper’s legacy and witness the evolution of the design firm firsthand.

Day One: A Warm Welcome

The festivities kicked off bright and early Friday morning. Following a delightful breakfast in the resort’s Main Dining Room, we were swiftly whisked away to the on-site upholstery workshop for an exclusive peek behind the scenes. Here, amidst the whirring of machines, we gained insight into the meticulous care that goes into preserving the hotel’s furniture, drapery, and linens.

What truly struck a chord was the unwavering dedication of the talented artisans, many of whom have honed their craft within these workshop walls for decades. Each chair, every window treatment, and every inch of fabric adorning the hotel’s interior is meticulously tended to. From recovering worn upholstery to intricate repairs and fabric updates, it’s the tireless work behind the scenes that truly breathes life into the magic of this esteemed establishment.

A few of us then ventured to explore the President’s Cottage Museum. This charming abode serves as a remarkable time capsule, preserving The Greenbrier’s fascinating history. Named in homage to the array of U.S. Presidents who once stayed in its rooms, up to the era of Dwight D. Eisenhower, it offers a captivating look into the past. Built in 1835, each room narrates a different chapter of the resort’s past through carefully preserved memorabilia and photos. It’s like stepping into a scrapbook—minus the awkward family photos.

Later, we were treated to a captivating presentation on the history of Dorothy Draper, from its humble beginnings with Mrs. Draper to its evolution under the guidance of Carleton Varney. Led by the firm’s President of Dorothy Draper and son of Carleton Varney, Sebastian Varney and the newly appointed Design Director, Rudy Saunders, it was a poignant moment to reflect on the firm’s storied past. The day culminated in a delightful reception held in the Cameo Ballroom, the perfect end to an exciting day.

Day Two: Class is in Session!

Saturday morning commenced with a captivating lecture led by the dynamic design duo of Sebastian Varney and Rudy Saunders. The class began with a lively exercise to help attendees uncover their decorative styles, revealing that the majority fell into the categories of Maximalist and Classicist—no surprises there! With Sebastian and Rudy at the helm, the session delved into a fascinating and interactive exploration of color and pattern mixing, igniting our design senses. Next up was a delightful lesson on tablescaping, undoubtedly a highlight, followed by an engaging question and answer session addressing all of our burning design dilemmas.

After lunch the crew reconvened for a special tour of the resort. We were graciously guided through a couple of the resort’s cottages. Historically, many of the resort’s patrons came for an entire season making the cottages a desirable option. One of the highlights was explore the cottage Top Notch. Originally constructed in 1912, Top Notch was the private residence of George Stevens, President of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. Transitioning into an estate home in 1930, it became a beloved summer retreat for prominent families and guests at The Greenbrier. During World War II, it hosted distinguished generals, including General and Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The tour then continued with a look inside the North Terrace Suite, the South Terrace Suite and the State Suite where Princess Grace famously brought her family for a holiday Amidst the grandeur of the State Suite, I found myself bestowed with the rare privilege of engaging in an exclusive tête-à-tête with none other than Rudy and Sebastian. The duo offered insights on the importance of honoring the history of Dorothy Draper while moving towards a dynamic and robust future.

When queried about their vision for the company’s trajectory and the transformations they wish to see Sebastian articulated his belief, stating, “that Carlton’s best work was during the 1970s and 1980s when he was the most artistic. It was the least Draper-esque period of his career when he was expressing his internal affinity for evolving contemporary color.” This vibrant epoch of American history profoundly influenced Carlton’s creative output. Sebastian further elucidated that as Carleton’s career drew to a close he “very much harkened back to the origins of Dorothy Draper.”

With the firm set to turn 100 years old in 2025, he sees Carleton’s evolution as a designer as a vital reference of how they move forward. He states, “I think it is really important for us to cut our own path.” As admirers seek inspiration from Dorothy Draper’s iconic style and historical significance, they face a delicate balance in charting their own course forward, determining the extent and manner in which they innovate and challenge conventions.

Their strategy involves drawing inspiration from various epochs of Dorothy Draper’s legacy, ingeniously blending historical flair with contemporary ingenuity. Their mission? To concoct fresh designs, craft innovative products, and create new sumptuous fabrics, all while seamlessly melding the richness of history with the vibrancy of the modern era.

Another pivotal element contributing to the ongoing success Draper is relationship between Sebastian and Rudy. With the baton now firmly in Sebastian’s grasp as President and Rudy as Design Director following Carleton’s reign, their leadership marks a significant paradigm shift for the firm. When queried about his design philosophy and its departure from Carleton’s, Rudy eagerly shares his insights. Growing up adoring Dorothy Draper and being heavily inspired by Carleton Varney, he aims to honor him while “looking at things with a cleaner fresher approach” that is fitting for today. He aims to “take the best of his elements while looking ahead with a younger set of eyes”

With deep admiration for the legendary Dorothy Draper and Carleton Varney, Rudy strives to pay homage to the latter while embracing a “cleaner, fresher approach” befitting contemporary sensibilities. His goal is to embrace the timeless essence of Varney’s style, while infusing it with a forward-thinking perspective through the lens of youth.

The pair left with a tease, hinting at the impending celebration and the promising ventures ahead, all in homage to their illustrious 100-year history. Stay tuned!

The evening ended with a wonderful dinner in the main dinning with a menu honoring the a dinner that took place the very same evening in 1948.

The weekend concluded with mimosas in the newly opened Dorothy Draper Home shop followed by a quick look inside the Presidential Suite before departing. Inspiring and highly insightful, I left the Greenbrier with a smile on my face and excited for the future of Dorothy Draper.


The weekend concluded with mimosas in the newly opened Dorothy Draper Home shop followed by a quick look inside the Presidential Suite before departing. Inspiring and highly insightful, I left the Greenbrier with a smile on my face and excited for the future of Dorothy Draper.

To participate in a future Dorothy Draper Decorating weekend, please contact The Greenbrier, and visit their website to learn more about additional experiences available for the entire family throughout the year!

x Natalie

Follow TGP on Instagram: @theglampad

Follow Natalie on Instagram: @natalieealdridge


  1. It was a fantastic weekend! Thank you for sharing the pictures.
    Also I made new friends as a bonus!
    This is a weekend not to be missed!


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