Remembering Carleton Varney the Decorator

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Written By Jim J Neal

Patrick McMullanGetty ImagesAbove – Decorator Carleton Varney at the book party in his honour in 2017.
Carleton Varney, interior design legend and best-known for his client list of Jimmy Carter and Joan Crawford, died last night while on vacation in Europe. He was 85.
Yesterday, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice stated that Carleton Varney “is an icon across the nation and around the world for his incredible decorating insight and expertise.” “Another great and great American that we will always miss.”
In large part, Varney’s legacy can be attributed to Dorothy Draper who was a pioneer in American decorating and welcomed Varney to the Dorothy Draper & Co. design group on East 57th Street, Manhattan in the early 60s. Varney was born in Massachusetts. He had started his career in teaching, and hoped to become the American ambassador for Spain. But, a chance friendship with Leon Hegwood, former Dorothy Draper & Co. proprietor, led him to his true calling in decorating.

The Greenbrier is a room in the hotel, which was first designed by Dorothy Draper in West Virginia. Varney took the Draper style and transformed it into iconic furniture, wallcoverings, and fabrics. He was the White House’s design consultant under the Carter administration. He organized events for First Lady Rosalyn Carter and decorated the White House for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He also left an indelible impression in Michigan, at Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel, and again in Washington, D.C., where he was the vice president residence at U.S. During the George H.W. Bush administration. And, perhaps most importantly, in West Virginia on a landmark project that he managed for 53 years following Draper’s lead, the Greenbrier.
Varney called his style “happy”, referring to his West Highland Terrier, Varney. His keen eye for color was not subtle. Mark D. Sikes says that Varney’s work was “all-American” and has taken up a job in the White House to redecorate First Lady Jill Biden’s East Wing office. His design sensibilities and bright patterns and optimism were so positive, happy and fresh.
Varney is the author of 37 books including Kiss the Hibiscus Good NightThe DecoratorMr. Color: The Greenbrier & Other Decorating Adventuresand a tribute to Dorothy Draper Editor’s note: This story is still in development and will be updated.

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