Dorothy Draper’s Greenbrier

Greenbriar Feature

I FULLY BELIEVE Dorothy Draper, the grande dame of décor, would turn in her undoubtedly well-appointed grave to hear me refer to one of her greatest decorating achievements as gaudy. But that’s exactly what the Greenbrier is: gloriously gaudy, riotously colorful, explosively floral, and decadently, deliciously enjoyable.

It’s why I love this resort so much. The overdone opulence feels of another time. Its ageless comfort is a bit like a favorite aunt who was just a teensy bit plump, lived in a cloud of Caleche, and honed her wry sense of humor over a late-afternoon cocktail. She indulged you, too, with witty lessons in decorum and, if no one was looking, a sip of her Manhattan. Perfect schooling to prepare you for the Greenbrier.

I don’t know if Dorothy Draper was fond of Manhattans, but clearly, she was fond of other forms of indulgence when in 1946, she was contracted by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway to redecorate the venerable hotel. She took a building that had most recently served as a military hospital and brought it back to colorful life with 30 miles of carpeting, 45,000 yards of fabric, and 15,000 rolls of wallpaper all blooming. She overlooked nothing, and in a mere 18 months, Draper and her staff redesigned 600 guest rooms, lobbies, sports facilities, offices, and even the employees’ uniforms, according to Greenbrier historian Robert S. Conte.

What surprises me most about her style is how all these fabrics, wallpapers, and paints that couldn’t possibly go together somehow do. It’s a girly pleasure to spend a night in a Draper-designed bedroom where roses climb the walls and cover the duvet. Ruffles and tassels are everywhere. In the midst of such femininity, my husband goes to sleep in fear he will wake to find he has grown bosoms.

I wake up with two things in mind—shopping and the spa. The Greenbrier’s history begins in the late 1700s when people first began visiting the mineral springs there. Guests today can still take the waters but in a far more luxurious setting. Even before disrobing I begin to relax. The full-body deep-tissue Swedish massage is heaven. And the hour-long pedicure leaves my feet soft and lovely.

It’s a shame to walk on such pampered feet, but the diversity of shops at the Greenbrier provides inviting possibilities—designer apparel, home furnishings, art, and jewelry. On this most recent visit, I bought a jacket, two necklaces, and gifts for three friends. Draper-inspired wallpaper is available for purchase as well.

The variety of activities offered at the resort goes on and on—skeet shooting, tennis, golf, hiking, falconry, biking, riding, croquet, swimming, bowling, dancing, and the casino; the list seems endless. The countryside is beautiful, the grounds and gardens superb. Yet I didn’t even bother going outside for two days, choosing instead to take the interior tour, the Bunker tour (secretly commissioned to house Congress in case of a nuclear holocaust but never used for any emergency), afternoon tea, the shops, the spa, restaurants and aimless wandering through the halls and lobbies taking in Mrs. Draper’s handiwork.

I never tire of the Greenbrier, this elegant resort that holds court in West Virginia’s rustic mountains. I’ll go back again and again. The Greenbrier makes it easy. While a visit there can be an expensive proposition—rates can range from a few hundred a night to thousands—the resort offers a variety of packages and special rates. Go to the Greenbrier’s website and register to receive notifications of special offers.

Dorothy Draper died in 1969, leaving her Greenbrier legacy in the capably colorful hands of her protégé and successor, interior designer Carleton Varney. It is Varney who refreshed the hotel some years ago and decorated the new casino addition. You can gamble the night away or stroll with a drink in hand while paying homage to Draper’s optimistic spirit and Varney’s opulent continuation of her work.

I can’t wait to go back.

–Kathy Legg

The Greenbrier,  300 West Main Street, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia; 855-453-4858;

Check Out Our Photo Gallery:

The bedroom was occupied by the Duchess of Windsor when she and the Duke visited the Greenbrier. / Photo by Kathy Legg.
If the eye-popping complexity of Draper’s interiors becomes too much, there’s always the restful simplicity of the terrace. / Photo by Kathy Legg.
One of the most delicious breakfast buffets you will ever encounter is offered each morning in the main dining room. Unlike at dinner, coats and ties for the gentlemen are not required at breakfast. / Photo by Kathy Legg.
A Carleton Varney-designed carpet leads past the historic French Zuber panoramic wallpaper in the Greenbrier resort’s registration lobby upstairs to the main lobby. / Photo courtesy of the Greenbrier.
Dorothy Draper’s Victorian Writing Room at the Greenbrier has remained unchanged over the years. I want a writing room of my own! / Photo courtesy of the Greenbrier.
Dorothy Draper’s mixing of vibrant color and pattern is on display throughout the hotel, here in a seating area just off the main dining room. / Photo by Kathy Legg.
A view of the Trellis Lobby with Dorothy Draper’s signature touches. / Photo courtesy of the Greenbrier.
Mrs. Draper never met a chintz she didn’t like. This print appears in abundance in the Writing Room. / Photo by Kathy Legg.
Pattern upon pattern, color upon color, flows freely through the public areas. / Photo by Kathy Legg.
My rosier-than-rosy bedroom. One of Mrs. Draper’s less-flamboyant rooms. / Photo by Kathy Legg.
Dorothy Draper had the walls of the President’s Parlor painted mint green. Her successor, Carleton Varney, while respecting Draper’s love of color, refreshed the room by turning the walls canteloupe melon. Varney commissioned the portrait of Princess Grace of Monaco. The Princess and her husband, Prince Rainier, had been guests at the hotel. There are only two of these portraits in existence. The second portrait is at the Royal Palace in Monaco. / Photo by Kathy Legg.
A detail of the upholstery, rug, and needlepoint pillows in the President’s Parlor. / Photo by Kathy Legg.
The curving stairway in the Presidential Suite. Rather than dealing with the stairs, however, President Eisenhower chose to occupy a ground-floor bedroom while staying in the suite. Draper’s choice of orchid-flocked wallpaper and curtains is used throughout the suite. / Photo by Kathy Legg.


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