There are many grande dames from history who I wish I could have met. One, who I stumbled across recently, I think would have been particularly amazing to talk to. Her name was Dorothy Draper and she was the most famous decorator in America, had a monthly column in Good Housekeeping magazine and decorated some of America’s most luxurious hotels, along with apartment buildings, shops, even car interiors. Her style was exuberant and staunchly anti-minimalist and, in the forties and fifties when it was all about “being a homemaker and a good wife”, she was a feminist and a rule breaker. I love this quote from her in 1941: “A great deal of superfluous nonsense is talked about women combining careers with a normal home life. The way to combine the two is to combine the two and not dramatize them.”
When it came to interior decorating she had a real lightness of touch, and much of what she said is still very much relevant today. “Color is the rock on which your house is built,” she would say. “Muddy-colored walls are nothing but a blight. There should never be any doubt what your color has to say.… It may be chalk blue, watermelon pink, lemon yellow, grass green, chocolate brown, café au lait, warm gray―anything on earth you like, just as long as it knows its own mind."
As Dorothy Draper famously said ‘Have you ever considered how much pure stuff and nonsense surrounds this subject of interior decoration? Probably not.’
Draper may have had some very definite views on interior decoration, but she believed in a no-rules approach, "If it looks right, it is right" was her mantra. As she once famously said, “Have you ever considered how much pure stuff and nonsense surrounds this subject of interior decoration? Probably not. Almost everyone believes that there is something deep and mysterious about it or that you have to know all sorts of complicated details about periods before you can lift a finger. Well, you don’t. Decorating is just sheer fun: a delight in color, an awareness of balance, a feeling for lighting, a sense of style, a zest for life and an amused enjoyment of the smart accessories of the moment.”
I’m with Draper on this; so much rubbish is written about what you should and shouldn’t do in your home – white walls for small rooms, no carpets in bathrooms bla bla bla – and I do think we all need to worry less when it comes to doing up our homes and follow our hearts more. Draper’s signature style was big florals, super-bright colours ceiling-to-floor mock baroque, but if you don’t fancy dipping head-long into this, you can still channel the great lady and break a few rules of your own. Here are a few to bear in mind:
PINK ISN’T JUST FOR BEDROOMS
It looks great in a sitting room, even a kitchen. Farrow & Ball has some great pinks for all rooms.
BIG BOLD PATTERNS AND DARK COLOURS ARE YES-YES, NOT A NO-NO, IN SMALL SPACES
And while I’m at it, let’s chuck the clashing prints myth out of the door, too.
YOU CAN MIX YOUR METALS
Copper, rose gold and silver looks great together. The same applies to kitchens and not having to match your taps with your cupboard handles.
YOU DON’T NEED A SOFA IN YOUR SITTING ROOM
Convention dictates that you “need” one, but if you’re trying to cram one into a small sitting room, why bother when there are so many great love seats and roomy armchairs around?
Deep Dream armchair and footstool, £557, Graham and Green
ART DOESN’T HAVE TO HANG ON WALLS
Forget the hammer and nails – art that is propped up on a floor or sideboard looks just as good.
OUTDOOR FURNITURE LOOKS GREAT INDOORS TOO
Rubbish, wicker and cane can look really cool in a sitting room sitting next to something super-modern. Plus, outdoor furniture tends to be cheaper.
AND FINALLY, GET THE PHRASE OUT OF YOUR HEAD “WILL IT AFFECT RESALE VALUE?”
OK, I’m not suggesting you install a swimming pool in your front room, that would probably be a bit rash, but if you really want to paint a sitting room the dark smokey grey, paint your sitting room dark smokey grey – what is a couple of afternoons painting it back to buyer-friendly magnolia when you come to sell after you’ve enjoyed it in the colour you wanted for much longer?