Historic Hotels

I fall in love with Dorothy Draper again and again. She is a wealth of inspiration, a free spirited, self-taught interior designer that defined the industry by starting her own design firm in 1923, which was unheard of at the time. She was an original thinker who revolutionized design by defying the period room style of the time and instead adopted her own "Modern Baroque". She combined vibrant, swaths of color and bold, graphic patterning: turquoise and red, aubergine and pink, dull white and shiny black, bold stripes, floral chintz and gigantic palm leaves. As she liked to say, "Just don't be dull." 

The Greenbrier: West Virginia

After spending some time studying her famous Greenbrier Hotel, I thought I would put together a post about a few of my favorite hotel designs from the early to mid-20th century. During the golden age of travel, these hotels sought to elevate travelers through their spectacular elegance and character. They served to create an unforgettable atmosphere. 

The Greenbrier Hotel located in West Virginia still carefully maintains Draper's original mid-1940s interior design, thanks to her protégé and biographer Carleton Varney. It is a time capsule of pure eye candy that still feels modern, optimistic, and exciting.

The oversized black and white checkerboard tiles reflect a spectacular view through the enfilade from the lobby. I love being able to visually take in her gutsy colors of red, turquoise, green, and pink all in one fell swoop. All images courtesy of the Greenbrier Hotel.

The lobby bar in her gutsy palette of green, red, pink, and white. Clearly fun over formality rules her design philosophy. 

Walking the main stairway doesn't leave your eyes a dull moment. 

A dramatic, symmetrical seating area in the upper lobby. Those bold turquoise and white stripes are as wide as one seat cushion on the sofa! 

The Virginia Room of the Windsor Room is enveloping in rich reds with a grey and beige atmospheric mural. 

One of seven bedrooms in the presidential suite. Swags, chintz, and an ornate headboard feel fresh and cheerful.

The grand staircase in the Presidential Suite.


The Carlyle: New York City

One can't talk about hotel greatness without mentioning the legendary art deco monument, The Carlyle. Built by banker and real estate developer Moses Ginsberg, who enlisted architect Sylvan Bien and Harry M. Prince, and decorator Dorothy Draper, the Carlyle first opened in the aftermath of the 1929 Wall Street crash. Draper’s touch can still be seen in the hotel’s rooms and suites, but they have all been updated through the years by design notables such as Mark Hampton, Thierry W. Despont, and Alexandra Champalimaud and others. It's a timeless destination where New York glamour lives on.  

Image courtesy of Bettman/Corbis

It's list of guests read like a who's who of the 20th Century, including Harry Truman, Truman Copote, Frank Sinatra, John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Marilyn Monroe, and Princess Diana.

Lobby of the Carlyle, circa 1930. Image courtesy of Dorothy Draper & Co. Inc., The Carleton Varney Design Group.

The lounge of the Carlyle Hotel in 1937. Photo by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., courtesy of The Museum of the City of New York

Image courtesy of The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel

The lobby as it is today, redesigned by architect, designer, and artist Thierry W. Despont with a refined and grand touch, inspired by Dorothy Drapers original design and paying homage to its art deco roots. His work fuses classicism with modernism, to a streamlined beautiful effect. The French-born Despont specializes in high end residential projects, hotels and museums, and historical renovations. His prolific list of projects include the Claridge’s and The Dorchester in London, The Ritz in Paris, and the Getty Center in Los Angeles to name a few. 

Lounge of the Carlyle. Image courtesy of The Office of Thierry W. Despont LTD.

Bemelmans Bar is named in honor of its murals, painted by children's book illustrator and author, Ludwig Bemelmans of Madeline fame. The bar maintains its art deco legacy with chocolate-brown tufted leather banquettes, nickel-trimmed black glass tabletops, a dramatic black granite bar and gold leaf-covered ceiling. It is also my favorite place to indulge in an extra-large martini (plus dividend) with the most sultry lighting in all of New York!

Image courtesy of The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel

Photography by Andrew Moore, Wall Street Journal

Many of the rooms and suites have been recently redesigned by Alexandra Champalimaud, the leading lady of contemporary hospitality design. Her rooms pay homage to the glossy black and white palette of Draper and the saturated spritely oranges of Despont in a gorgeous modern art deco mix. 

Image courtesy of Alexandra Champalimaud Design


The Grand Hotel: Rimini, Italy

The Grand Hotel, designed by the South American architect, Paolo Somazzi and inaugurated in 1908 has a long storied history, surviving a devastating fire in the 1920's and tragic bombings in the 1940's.

Overlooking the Adriatic Sea with its own private beach and elegant classic style is most famously associated with the Italian filmmaker, Federico Fellini. As a child growing up in Rimini, he loved the hotel so much that he immortalized in his film Amarcord (I remember) where the inimitable atmosphere of the Grand Hotel are the background to some of the most memorable scenes.

Film Still from Amarcord, Directed by Federico Fellini, 1973

Film Still from Amarcord, Directed by Federico Fellini, 1973

Film Still from Amarcord, Directed by Federico Fellini, 1973

The rooms are still decorated with Venetian and French antiques of the 18th century, and the original parquet and terrazzo floors and Venetian chandeliers have all been restored beautifully. The room's sprawling terraces overlook the Italian coastline and the Adriatic is so strikingly framed in the room's large windows by billowing sheers.

Image courtesy of the Grand Hotel Rimini

Image courtesy of the Grand Hotel Rimini

Photo by Francesco Lastrucci for The New York Times

Image courtesy of the Grand Hotel Rimini


Equally drawn to the hotel by my love for Fellini as the spectacular interiors and views, I got to have my little own cinematic moment walking down the stairs when I stayed at the hotel a couple of years ago. 

What other historic, famously decorated hotels fit the bill of spectacular? Let me know and we'll keep the post growing!


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