Dorothy Draper is one of the best-known and most-loved decorators of the 20th century. With no formal design training, Draper decorated her own homes and those of her friends before opening her own design firm, Dorothy Draper & Co., in 1925. In 1939, she wrote Decorating Is Fun: How To Be Your Own Decorator, which inspired many housewives to spruce up their interiors. Draper stressed that the most important aspect of decorating was having courage: the courage to explore one’s own ideas.
Draper was raised in the affluent neighborhood of Tuxedo Park, New York, which was the first gated community established in the United States. The houses were grand with over-scaled architectural details. Gothic Victorians with turrets and domed towers were built down the road from immense Renaissance chateaux. These elaborate architectural styles were a prime source of Draper’s inspiration for the decoration of houses, hotels, and apartment buildings.
Her style was bold. Draper used vibrant colors in innovative combinations together with elaborate moldings and strong pieces of furniture. She reinvented the American hotel by creating large public spaces of great beauty where people wanted to be seen.
Draper designed the Rhododendron wallpaper for her renovation of the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, in 1948. The original Greenbrier opened in 1780 and, prior to World War II, was the preferred hotel of the Southern elite. Following its use by the military during the war, the Greenbrier commissioned Draper to decorate the hotel during its $4.2 million renovation. Draper used fifteen thousand rolls of Rhododendron wallpaper to line the halls.
Dorothy Draper & Co. continued to operate under after her death and, in 1973, was hired again to decorate the Greenbrier. Rhododendron was reprinted, and the Museum’s piece comes from this second printing.