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Monday, August 29, 2011

The World According to Dottie D

A few months ago, MoS Charlotte gifted me with a book I'd been dying to read for ages- Decorating is Fun! by the one and only Dorothy Draper. Though I'd had my eye on this book for ages, I'd never gotten around to purchasing be honest, I was a little skeptical about how interesting or entertaining a decorating book from the 1920's would be. Life has changed a lot since then...and I equate Draper's work with grand, over-the-top spaces like the Greenbrier. So whether she could bring any real advice to an apartment-dweller in 2011, I wasn't quite sure...

Long story short, once I started reading this, I couldn't put it down! I found it equal parts hilarious and helpful. The book is meant to be a practical guide to decorating and it's really just that- all sorts of tips about scale, furniture arrangement, paint colors, etc. Also, many of the spaces she pictures/discusses are apartments, so she does have a surprisingly good perspective on working with smaller spaces.

I also got a huge kick out of how much life has changed since the book came out 70 years ago. Certain things that were de rigueur then just don't seem to factor into the equation now (i.e., she keeps singing the praises of leatherette..just the name "leatherette" sort of cracks me up). Her "case studies," while a bit overdramatic and old-fashioned, definitely help get her point across. For example, in Dorothy Draper's world, all a single gal in the city needs to snare a man are miles of chintz, a bottle of sherry, and some artfully placed candles. Oh, and if your husband makes you stay in the city all summer long rather than taking a house at the beach (gasp!) then your rooftop terrace can serve as a pleasurable outdoor space with a few artfully placed plants.

A few of the many tips in the book that hold true, despite the passage of so many years:

  • Don't pay too much for your rugs or carpets unless you really have money to burn...Personally, I belong to the group of people who like to look up rather than down, and would much rather be extravagant about the objects I put on my rugs rather than the rugs themselves. 

  • It doesn't economize too stringently on upholstered furniture. The very cheapest pieces won't stand up.

  • Lamp shades are like hats- they go in and out of style. And they are probably one of the few things in your whole house that I believe should be kept in the fashion. 

And a few things that definitely reflect that the times they are a-changin':

  • On your coffee are going to want one or two ash trays. Make them something special...Be sure the cigarette box you place there is an attractive one, and always filled. [Oh yeah, and don't forget to use lead paint and asbestos!]
  • Linoleum is another substance that is so practical that the designers have really been forced to produce it in beautiful colors and designs. [Really??? Am I missing something?]
  • Chintz usually looks best with a wide ruffle at the bottom. [Gag!]

And of course the whole time I was reading this book, I kept thinking about how it could give rise to a great new drinking game for design afficianados...take a sip of your drink every time the word "chintz" is mentioned...I think things might get kinda crazy by the second chapter! Let's just say she looooves her some chintz!

Have you read Decorating is Fun!? Any comments/thoughts I missed? I'd definitely put this on your must-read can pick up vintage copies for a song on eBay and Alibris.


traci zeller designs said...

Love that book ... and MoS Washington's commentary!

ArchitectDesign™ said...

I've never read it but I may check it out now! I was at the westchester condos here in DC on Sunday for 2 open houses and get this - the lobbies were decorated by Dorothy Draper in the 1950s!!! I'm not sure what is there now is much of an indication of her work -but they are pretty grand and have incredible murals.

Ashley said...

I've always been hesitant to pick it up on account of when it was written but it seems like there is a lot of content to enjoy and (at times) giggle at. Thank you for the review!

Kerry said...

Hilarious! I got the book for my birthday in June and love it. I'm up for the "chintz" game just need someone to play with. Hahaha

Pigtown-Design said...

It's a great book, and you can gather some goodies from what she says... including linoneum! It's very eco-friendly and is being produced in brilliant colours and patterns. It's a a classic... she's not talking about that cheezy armstrong rollout stuff with faux stone, but real linoleum. you should check it out.


Debbie said...

I LOVE this book. It's one of the ones I reread whenever I find myself floundering.

@ArchitectDesign, one of my best friends lives in the Westchester and they recently (within the past year) refreshed the lobby. So there are some pieces that are still DD's and the style is still hers, but it's not actually Dorothy Draper anymore.

I kept meaning to take pictures of the lobby pre-renovation, but all I managed to get were some crappy shots on my phone.

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