John Loecke and Jason Oliver Nixon Head Back to Class at the Dorothy Draper School of Decorating
place to go for silks and ikat weaving. “It’s still a cottage industry: Some workshops weave, some dye, some finish, working together in this amazing dance.” He describes entering through a pair of gates to find people sitting on cushions on the ground, enjoying tea and dried fruit. The courtyards are piled with yarns, dyes, and battens. “The weaver will pull out the vodka because he has an excuse to drink with you; it’s that traditional hospitality.”
Robshaw returned last year and again came home full of ideas and vintage textiles, especially ikat. “India, Thailand, and Japan all of course have ikats, but Central Asia has its own traditions. The colors are rich and saturated, and the weavers create crazy combinations. I love the big ikat robes the men wear. Oscar de la Renta couldn’t get enough of them! If you’re into authentic tradition, there’s nowhere better than Uzbekistan.”
Slooks like gravy.” A natty, white-linen-clad Carleton Varney addresses our group of roughly 30 on a summer weekend in June, his colorful lessons peppered with quotables. “Umbrella stands are very important.” “I dream in rooms.” Of Joan Crawford’s penchant for plastic slipcovers, he deadpans, “Joan had more plastic in her home than the meat department at the A&P.”
My partner, John, and I [of North Carolina’s Madcap Cottage] are students of the
Varney’s lecture hall: his masterpiece on Michigan’s Mackinac Island. I’ve known the venerable decorator for nearly 20 years. He wrote the forward for our book,
and John and I have long been smitten with his work at the Greenbrier. Upon hearing of the weekend immersion into his highoctane world, we were buzzing up the highway north of Detroit like Thelma and Louise, except with batik pants and velvet slippers.
The day-long curriculum is an animated study of his almost 60 years at Dorothy Draper. There’s talk of Ethel Merman and Marlon Brando, Judy Garland and Margaret Thatcher. We watch a clip of Edward R. Murrow, cigarette in hand, interviewing Dorothy Draper at her apartment in New York’s Carlyle hotel. A lesson plan covers the art of seeing, creativity, and risk taking, with dinner itself a shining case study: In the main dining room, we sup on roast duck beside blowsy marigold-printed lambrequins (Google it; it’s decorator speak).
Throughout, he challenges us to embrace color and even write an essay about the first room we remember. I think of my parents’ Florida living room, with its Spanish furniture and rich green walls, jazz on the stereo and red tapers ablaze at dinner parties.
I’ll remember this world too. As John noted, “If only all classrooms featured umbrella chandeliers dripping with Chinese bells, black floral-print chintz curtains, and pink, azalea-hued walls.”
I second that. When diplomas are doled out at the end, we half expect them to be doused in cabana stripes.