The Enduring Legacy of the Greenbrier, Dorothy Draper’s Famous Hotel
For decorating aficionados, the Greenbrier hotel needs no introduction. The postwar redesign of the historic resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, was famously led by Dorothy Draper, whose office has long been run by Carleton Varney. Ever since he started at the firm in the ’60s, he has been involved with the Greenbrier—the sprawling and still-popular hotel that, Varney explains, requires daily design maintenance work. (No surprise there: It has more than 900 guest rooms.)
Varney has nearly six decades of Greenbrier design stories and memories to share, so it’s only fitting that he would write a book about it all. Out this month, Romance and Rhododendrons: My Love Affair With America’s Resort is Varney’s 37th book, and is required reading for anyone enamored by the highly saturated Draper aesthetic. “There is a Greenbrier look, and a Greenbrier style,” Varney says. “I wanted everyone to understand what this place is all about.”
Below, the designer speaks with AD PRO about what surprises he uncovered while working on the book, and what the hotel’s upkeep looks like today.
AD PRO: What was it like working on this book? How did it differ from the experience of writing the others?
Carleton Varney: It was a longer time in creating [this book]. There’s so much involved with it. It’s 53 years of me working with this project. It’s so integrated in the photography, and it so involves Dorothy, and it so involves all the people who have worked with me to create this institution.
We have 14,000 acres. The property is really a little town in itself. There’s everything here: an indoor pool, outdoor pool, bowling alley, three golf courses. All the presidents that have been here. There’s so much here that it overwhelms the mind.