The High Style of Dorothy Draper

Merit Award

The first American interior designer to become a household name, Dorothy Draper was the mid-20th century's Martha Stewart. For a retrospective of her work at the Museum of the City of New York, Pure+Applied used dramatic overscaling and fresh interpretations of Draper's signature decorating techniques to illustrate her bold, brash, and sometimes grandiose style.

In the "rotunda" space, the Pure+Applied team exaggerated Draper's Manor Rose wallpaper pattern—typically featuring a 4-in. wide rose—into gargantuan 4-ft. wide flowers that are a backdrop to handpainted white silhouettes containing narrative about her work.

The hallway paired biographical information with a broad striped wall pattern made famous by Draper in the Greenbrier Hotel. Photographs were matted with onyx black matte and thin gold frames to reflect her use of chinoiserie furniture. The hallway framed a surprising vista of two pieces from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's former "Dorotheum" Café: an enormous 9-ft.-tall birdcage chandelier hanging above one of Draper's large sculptural sofas.

In the main gallery, an arcade of square-paneled black and white doors paired with oversized black and white floor tiles in a forced perspective recalls the grand, expansive spaces Draper frequently designed. Within each bay of the arcade and along a dividing wall, various photos and ephemera were displayed for each of six featured projects in the main gallery. The final section of the main gallery highlighted her career as the doyenne of domestic design.

Throughout the exhibition, Pure+Applied used the typeface Mrs. Eaves in black, white, and a dark Draper green. The playful elegance of the numerous ligatures evoked Draper's use of whimsical plaster shapes. The exhibit was a resounding success for the museum and if Draper could see it, she'd no doubt say, "It's all good."

Jury Comments: 

"What a subject: Dorothy Draper, queen of post-war high-society decorating! The exhibition beautifully captures her spirit, her exuberant approach, and her accomplishments. The designers themselves said it best: 'We intentionally resisted the temptation to recreate a Draper interior, choosing instead to offer glimpses of Draper's startling approach to color and scale.' This approach really works and provides a perfect backdrop of forms, colors, and patterns for the exhibit narrative. It all makes for an informative, amusing, memorable, and engaging exhibit."

Design Firm: 

Pure+Applied

Client: 

Museum of the City of New York

Location City: 

New York, New York

Project Area: 

N/A

Open Date: 

N/A

Project Budget: 

N/A

Photo Credits: 

Harry Zernike

Design Team: 

Urshula Barbour, Paul Carlos, Jennifer Turner

Consultants: 

Anita Jorgensen (lighting)

Fabricators: 

Steve Voll, Voll Inc. (wall, floor, platform, and door construction); Millree Hughes (murals and painted arches); Museum of the City of New York (shelves, cases, and installation)

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