contributed by Sheree Schold [ASID & IIDA student member / ID journalism dabbler / owner, Haberdash Designs]
EDITOR’S NOTE: In our February issue, Sheree Schold filled PLiNTH & CHiNTZ readers in on the “extreme makeover” that has been underway at one of America’s oldest, largest, and most beloved resort hotels: The Greenbrier in West Virginia. After imparting tidbits about the property’s historical significance and presenting images of its famous, long-time Dorothy Draper décor, as well as those of its new design direction, we asked for readers’ opinions on the sensitive matter. Should the owners be tinkering, thinking of the future, or preserving, in deference to the past” See if any of their responses sway you.
First of all thank you for your article on this wonderful historic landmark and for bringing to the attention of the design profession the travesty that is taking place there right now. I am a native West Virginian and have spent numerous vacations, holidays, and part of my honeymoon there.
I am appalled by the renovations planned by the Carlton Varney team. Dorothy Draper’s designs are indelibly linked to the Greenbrier and should not be disregarded. It is so refreshing to step into the Main Lobby and be greeted by her beautiful color scheme and furnishings; it is a unique look. Why does the Greenbrier management want to throw away its unique flavor and history to become just another generic-looking spa resort” I cry every time I think of the Old White Club being turned into something so plebian; I spent many hours dancing in that beautiful room.
We need more places like the Greenbrier with its rich history and reputation of gracious service and beautiful spaces. What can be done to stop this”
With deepest concern,
Martha Riggs Lowry
North Carolina, USA
While I am a proponent of contemporary design, I feel that some things should be preserved. I have been to the Greenbrier, and it is such a great resource of Dorothy Draper’s fantastic trend setting decoration. I think it would be a disaster to lose it in favor of a "themed" Las Vegas remodel.
However, Carlton Varney should be sensitive to her design intent. He is also helping with the penthouse remodel in The Stoneleigh Hotel in Dallas that Dorothy Draper designed. [In the 1930s – and then again in the 1950s – Dorothy Draper redesigned the lobby and penthouse.] His book In The Pink is a must read for anyone interested in interior design history and Dorothy Draper.
I can’t help think that Dorothy would not care, though. Apparently, when she was hired to do the original remodel she caused quite a stir by discarding all of the existing antiques and historical murals and had no qualms about sawing off the legs of an antique table and painting it "dead white". I would be interested in reading what other designers think about this.
Curtis B. Medford, TRI-KES Wallcovering Source
It is a shame that our history is so easily destroyed without consideration to our shrinking heritage. It’s not often that you can see and feel the grandeur of our own history in your back yard; why would anyone think remodeling it so drastically could be an improvement” The architectural details and flooring and paint techniques are reason enough to save this precious gem. Why would anyone take a historical design and think they could make it better by such alterations”
The proposed design is interesting, and I’m very curious to see how it turns out. I hope the designer doesn’t stray too far from his design – it could go either way. There’s a whole lot of things going on here; large open spaces are tricky, and I hope he pulls it off. I’ll be watching in hopes they can preserve the essences of the original building without destroying it completely.
Kelly Garcia, Kellcia Designs
Thanks for sharing these photos and information. I have known about The Greenbrier for a long time, and I had an idea of its size, but seeing these pictures is a revelation.
Draper is a little bit "foo-foo and fluff" sometimes for me, but at the same time I think she shows an awesome command with her use of bright color. She seems to pick any and all colors with high vibration and then grounds them with strong neutrals – especially black. In my opinion, it is her strong point.
I do not like the bows, and I’m not wild about the black-looking walls in the other areas. I do love the colors in the palette she chose, though – there’s always an interesting correlation between the carpets and the wall settings. Overall, it’s very grand.
The new designer [Varney] not only is not following with favor for her work, but he is the "anti-Draper". His palette is mostly dark and without warmth. We will see how he pulls it off. Funny – I choose colors palettes of golds, browns, and reds all the time, and I never realized how it’s possible to make them be cold. He could fool me though.
When I was a small child living in rural Vest Virginia I would hear grown-ups talking about the beautiful White Sulphur Springs and The Greenbrier Hotel. I could imagine myself someday all dressed up and going to the Greenbrier, mingling with movie stars, Presidents, handsome men and the wealthy people from abroad. I wasn’t sure what it all meant, but I knew someday I would go there. What I didn’t know was how many years it would take me to get there.
In 2006 I finally walked through the doors of the famous Greenbrier Hotel. I was captivated and as giddy as a child as I partook of High Tea in the great hall and mingled with the guests. They were friendly and also excited to be in the colorful history-filled Greenbrier. I didn’t see movie stars, nor did I see the President, but I could feel their presence as I walked the same halls, sat in the same dinning room, climbed the same stairs, and stood in the ballroom where they had danced. All the things I had heard about the noted decorator Dorothy Draper were true. The decoration, drapes, rugs and china danced with color, imagination and a feel of the Old South. The Greenbrier was everything I had dreamed it would be.
Now, at long last I could come to the Greenbrier. So you can see why I was devastated when I learned it was to be renovated. I read Sheree’s comments and looked at her pictures over and over. And I asked myself these questions: Why would anyone want change a piece of West Virginia history” Redo the dining room where stars like John Wayne, Lana Turner, and Heddy Lamar dined” Or renovate a hotel where the great golfers like Sam Snead made their home away from home”
When I told a 90-year-old friend of mine that The Greenbrier Hotel was being renovated and changed, he said, "Why do they want to ‘chop up’ history” That is what I want to know. Why” I sure hope that the history of West Virginia is not being ‘chopped-up’ so some aspiring person can get a feather in their Decorating Cap.”
Than you for bringing this renovation of the Greenbrier Hotel to our attention picture by picture. One question: Can it be stopped”
West Virginia, USA
[Draper’s work] is truly amazing, and it would be nice if they were to retain some of her original decoration. It’s gigantic – in every sense. Now I know why I’m a minimalist! It is quite a building, and it would be a shame if it were to become just another resort. Wouldn’t you just love that challenge, though”
Martina MacGreevy, Sablon Interiors
West Sussex, England
The following comments are in response to individual photos in the album. The comments in bold are Sheree’s photo captions.
A Tribute To Draper And Her Bold Color Choices – Draper-Designed Hotel China
I appreciate the grandness of the building and the brave colour combinations, and I like very much these stripes accenting the elegant arches – all of them are so modern! But this type of decoration is too outdated, especially some of the textiles. And those big bows – all that needs to be replaced. I cannot discuss the new project because very little can be seen from the photos, but for a building to be more than a monument to any great name, it has to be updated with new design ideas of the time being. As a foreigner – and a foreigner from Europe – I can sense something very American in her style; while in the new project, as far as can be seen from the photos, I notice a little more international influence. This may be to a certain extent a reason for not accepting his designs from the wide audience.
Temenouzhka Zaharieva, Trend Office
Massive Spaces for an Old Hotel
[The huge black and white checked marble floor is] an endless play of chess! I guess this interior makes one feel like just like stepping into the Alice in Wonderland story. Draper’s imagination and taste are exquisite. I feel sad to know it will disappear for good in few months from now, if not already.
Some final observations from the author:
The ceiling height is unbelievable in those public spaces. I have read some of the history and Dorothy Draper described it as "cavernous" when she first saw it.
When she was asked to redo the place, it had been closed down during World War II and was used to house foreign dignitaries. There was an operating suite in one of the ballrooms and none of the huge rooms were heated. However, the manager of the times was still there and many of the folks who worked at the hotel stayed on during that period. It has quite a history and dates back to pre-American Civil War.
It is hard to describe actually walking through those spaces – what a challenge to a designer! You can see from one large space to another. I can’t wait to see how Varney handles it all. The place will close from January 2, 2007, to April 2, 2007, for the first renovation phase, and then again next year for another phase.
The property is a gem regardless of what happens to the interiors. There are a couple thousand acres that go with the building, along with many golf courses, horseback riding, tennis, skeet shooting… quite a resort of the old wealthy kind. I hope they don’t destroy that feeling, because there are not many of these old things left in the world.