Even if design for you is only a hobby, surely you may have heard of the legendary decorator Dorothy Draper. Her exuberant, joyful interiors, like the lobby of the famous Greenbrier in West Virginia, mixed black-and-white checkerboard floors with wide-striped wallpapers, bright floral chintzes with sky-blue ceilings, all to fantastic and timeless effect. So much so that even now, eighty-five years after Draper opened her first decorating business in 1925, her style feels as fresh and relevant now as the day she started. Of course, such genius has not been without its imitators; however, that aside, there is one designer, Carleton Varney, a protégé of Draper's and the president of her company for over forty years, who has since carried on her great tradition, most notably in print. In the Pink and Houses in My Heart, both from Pointed Leaf Press, are two of my favorites he did himself, while two others, Entertaining Is Fun! and, more recently, Decorating is Fun! were Draper's that have been reissued. On a personal note, Carleton's son Sebastian I've known for years, ever since my days at House Beautiful magazine, sampling often from their gorgeous line of fabrics for my column Swatch Watch. Over the weekend, while organizing books here at the house, it's this last title that I couldn't help but spend some time revisiting.
So much of what Draper wrote here I love because despite her status as a high-profile decorator, she still made good design accessible to everyone. It was her advice on the few, basic elements that go into every home, from hanging pictures to choosing paint colors, that still hold true today. And best of all, some of her best work she did on a budget! It's a skill more useful now than ever before. Take this table she did, all from things bought at the five-and-ten-cent store.
I love how sophisticated and pulled together everything looks, despite the prices. And I especially like the way Draper describes the Problem: "To substitute good taste for money in such a way that charm will not suffer in the least and money will be saved for other more important expenditures." Um, car payments, anyone? As for the linens, "the cloth and napkins are of white organdy with green dots, bought by the yard and hemmed at home." Style without money, indeed.
Can you believe these classic, white plates were a dollar each? Glasses like these I've seen at on-line importers from France for far more than a buck! So the next time you're having a party and need some extra supplies, think about it: You can get 20 glasses and 20 plates, all for $40. That's even cheaper than rentals! And as for the linens, now that's it March, with spring (and St. Patrick's Day!) upon us, we thought a mix of green and white would not only make the perfect palette, but also pay full-color homage to Draper's vision. The fabric is a pretty painted dot pattern from Jo-Ann's, while the napkins are actually flour sack dish towels from the Dollar Tree. To enhance them, and to tie in the green, I used inexpensive grosgrain ribbon, adhered with Stitch Witchery.
Also at the Dollar Tree, while searching the aisles for inspiration, I found a bunch of these pretty plastic grapes. Like carnations, I think there's beauty in numbers with these things, and when I spray paint them, they're going to make a frosty fruit centerpiece reminiscent of glass.
Check out the finished table!
The fabric I cut in half, then used Stitch Witchery on each side to make a long, wide runner that I think brings a certain modernity to the mix. The banding on the napkins picks up the green in the palette for a more polished look. And the grapes I love because although they're painted, the undertones of green give them a cool, frosted feel. Come spring, mixing in real leaves could give them an even fresher look. And speaking of, this table, like so much of how I love to decorate and entertain, is all about the mix. Dollar-store plates, napkins, and water glasses mingle with vintage pieces from my own collection, including monogrammed wine glasses, milk glass candlesticks, and etched crystal bowls.
And so, the next time you're dressing the table for a party, a holiday, or even a wedding, remember this: It doesn't have to be expensive to be beautiful. With smart shopping, a good mix of new and old, and a bit of imagination, even the most inexpensive finds from the dollar store can look like a million bucks!