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If you’ve ever been to The Greenbrier or seen numerous photographs, the first thing that you notice is color. It abounds in every room from the guest rooms, to the dining rooms to the hallways and walkways.

You will also notice that it flows. From one area to the next, the colors, textures and fixtures continue to pull color after color from the previous area. No colors, accessories or furniture detract from the other areas. It’s a show place, one that has stood the test of time and like our decorating should, reinvents itself time and time again.

When I attended the Dorothy Draper Decorating weekend at The Greenbrier last month, my goal was to come home with tips and suggestions anyone could use to create a showplace in their own home regardless of their budget. I was eager to hear from Carleton Varney, the head decorator of The Greenbrier for the past 60 years and author of the recently released, “Romance & Rhododendrons: My Love Affair With America’s Resort, The Greenbrier.”

The first thing that struck me during Varney’s presentation was a story he told about his grandmother who had all these nice things in her house that were wrapped up in brown paper and stored away. He asked her once what they were. Her answer was, those were the things saved for good, but as Varney said, “When is good? Good should be every day. Nice things shouldn’t be left to sit on shelves in an attic and only brought down for events or holidays.”

Every day should be good and every day your home can be alive with things that mean something to you or your family.

When you design your home, you don’t think black, white, beige or empty. What you want to see is the lifestyle that was before, never do you want to see empty. So how do you get to the place where you’re ready to start remaking a room or to begin designing one from the beginning?

Varney said home decorators should write an essay about the very first room they remember. Is it a kitchen? A childhood bedroom? Their mother’s room? Write down everything it had in it along with the colors and the size of it.

Then draw the room — it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. Just draw it. Varney believes what you will find is that the foundation of your taste and style can be found in that room. When it comes to taste, Varney believes there is no good or bad taste.

Other tips he offered:

  • When you plan your decorating, there has to be a core from which everything springs, like a front room with a patterned wallpaper which can then be used to spring off into the other rooms. A light yellow in the kitchen from one of the patterns or designs in the wallpaper. Even chandeliers or light fixtures can be updated by adding colored beads, drapes can be updated and changed by adding new tie-backs or tassels.
  • Color is a necessity of decorating and browns, creams and whites are no longer the only acceptable neutral colors. Light blue, soft melon, soft yellow and light pink are perfect as neutrals.
  • Happy yellow colors like daffodil will awaken a room and will work with most other colors to create the perfect color scheme.
  • If you must have neutral colors on the walls like browns, creams and whites, you can still brighten the room by changing out a lamp shade for a brighter, more colorful one, or by adding a colorful vase.
  • A change of accessories can always change up a room and make it look refreshed. Something as simple as changing the mat of a picture frame or adding a throw to a dark-colored couch. On tables and mantles, candlesticks of various height with white candles are one of Varney’s personal favorites.
  • Decorating is never finished and it should be carried forward, paying attention to use things in the design that have a story, as well as acquiring new accessories over the years. These will become a part of the story for future generations.
  • Don’t ignore your ceilings. These can also be given a colorful makeover.
  • Wing chairs should never be solo and should always be done in pairs.
  • When a decorator says this lamp needs to go, this table needs to go, it’s really the decorator that needs to go. Would it surprise you to know that at The Greenbrier nothing is ever thrown out or disposed of? It’s kept in storage to await its rebirth, to be used in a different area of the resort, to be updated with a new coat of paint or a new glass top.

For those who want to bring some actual Dorothy Draper decor home with them, The Greenbrier recently opened the Dorothy Draper Home store. The store has a colorful array of dishes, linens, pillows, clothing and jewelry designed to be focal points wherever they are.

With decorating, the only limit really is your imagination, but with The Greenbrier and Mr. Varney for inspiration, your imagination is sure to never reach its limit. So, sit down, write that essay, step back, look at your rooms and find your focal point and let the designing begin.

Amy Deal is a resident of Huntington, West Virginia. She blogs about her literary experiences at and can be reached by email at

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