By Mary Beth Klatt
It’s hard to believe that the Greenbrier, a destination resort opened in 1778 on 10,000 private acres in the foothills of West Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains, was briefly used as an army hospital during World War II. German, Japanese, and Italian diplomats were also housed there with their families for a time while awaiting return to their respective countries.
The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, which had owned the property prior to the war, reacquired the resort and hired interior designer Dorothy Draper to revamp the onsite, circa-1913 hotel. She gave the building a bold new personality, using color and oversized patterns to convey luxury, elegance, and a sense of history on everything from menus and matchbook covers to staff uniforms.
The Greenbrier’s reopening in 1948 was a social event of the season, attracting celebrities such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Bing Crosby, and members of the Kennedy family. The resort has also hosted several presidents (Dwight Eisenhower was the last sitting president to stay at the Greenbrier), vice presidents, and foreign dignitaries.
While Draper, who passed away in 1969, went on to design other projects, she may be best known for giving the 710-room Greenbrier hotel the feel of a private country estate. Draper’s protégé, Carleton Varney—now president of New York-based Dorothy Draper & Co.—upholds Draper’s design philosophy as interior designer and curator of the Greenbrier. He stresses the use of bright colors and the rejection of all that is impractical, uncomfortable, or drab. He considers Draper the brightest of her field. “Draper was to decorating what Chanel was to fashion,” he says. “She brought color into a world which was sad and dreary. These splashy vibrant colors were used to make the public spaces represent a place for people to come and feel elevated and where the dramatic design could absorb them in the interior. Today…everyone wants color around them again.”