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Decorating madness from Carleton Varney, 'Mr. Color'

November 12, 2011 |  5:59 am

In “Mr. Color,” his lavish new 232-page coffee table book, Carleton Varney provides plenty of proof to back up his nickname. The book, subtitled "The Greenbrier and Other Decorating Adventures," takes readers on a tour of the greatest hotel projects of Dorothy Draper, the midcentury Manhattan decorator (and Varney mentor) whose style could be called Park Avenue Rococo. Varney, now president of Dorothy Draper and Co., updated the venerable interiors of the Greenbrier in West Virginia and the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan, and his book lovingly describes the method to his colorful madness.


"Mr. Color" also serves as a guide through Varney's clients’ homes, which run the gamut from Christmas-colored lake house to Moroccan casbah. Sometimes, as in the case of carousel horses marching around the pink and white cove above a Moorish kitchen equipped with Tiffany lamps, they boggle the mind. By contrast, Varney throws open the doors to his own Palm Beach “villa,” a three-bedroom 1950s condo, to reveal a restrained palette of navy blue and white.

Those who love exuberant rooms can’t help but be charmed by this collection of interiors. Unlike so many decorators who barely annotate their books, Varney actually tells you what he used and why it works.

PHOTO GALLERY: Carleton Varney's "Mr. Color"

“I use color to define the architecture of a space, to connect one room to another. I use it in fabrics, carpets, draperies and accessories to add glamour and vibrancy to a room," he writes, adding, "Living with color changes your life."

"Mr. Color" is produced by Rooster Books for Shannongrove Press. The suggested retail is $95 but at last check was selling for under $60 on Amazon.

-- David A. Keeps


Photos, from top: The drawing room of a home near Lake Charlevoix in Michigan, where the blue, pink and red furnishings feel contemporary despite the abundance of antiques; a client's pink dining room with Staffordshire dogs; the green lobby of the Grand Hotel. Credit for all: Michel Arnaud


Side-by-side small houses by legendary Rudolph Schindler

California Midcentury meets Latin American Modern

Joshua Tree shack remade into vintage retreat