Carleton Varney, Interior Designer Known as Mr. Color, Dies at 85 – The New York Times

Carleton Varney, the ebullient interior designer whose enthusiastic use of color in hotels, castles, palaces and the habitats of film and theater royalty — and one president — earned him the nickname Mr. Color, died on July 14 in Palm Beach, Fla. He was 85.

His son Sebastian confirmed the death, in a hospital, but did not specify the cause.

Mr. Varney was trained by the maximalist decorator Dorothy Draper, who was known for her Hollywood Regency flourishes — enormous stripes, hot colors and swirls of plaster relief — and whose company he ended up buying in the 1960s. (Describing Mrs. Draper’s style, columnists typically became entangled in hyperbole: “Close your eyes and imagine the most hanky-swanky movie set you’ve ever seen,” one wrote about the Palácio Quitandinha, a Brazilian hotel she designed in the 1940s. “Multiply by six and add ten.” Esquire magazine said of her work, “One inhales elegance, and after one straightens one’s tie, one exhales it, too.”)

From Mrs. Draper, Mr. Varney learned that every room needs a touch of black, and perhaps a mirrored wall. He learned to mix at least three or four prints and patterns per room; he also learned that vertical stripes make any space seem taller.

Mrs. Draper often declared, “Show me nothing that looks like gravy!” Mr. Varney inherited her aversion to the bland and the beige, which he thought was bad for the psyche.

“I once went to a hotel on my way back from Bora Bora, and the carpet was a knobby gray, and the walls were beige with white trim, and the curtains were gray-beige,” he told The Washington Post in 2020. “Even the art was beige. I went into the travertine bathroom, and when I came out, I thought I was naked in a bowl of oatmeal.”

Mr. Varney’s clients were as bold as his colors. For Ethel Merman, who displayed a fully decorated artificial Christmas tree all year round wherever she lived, Mr. Varney dressed an apartment in patriotic red, white and blue. Judy Garland’s color scheme was lime green and bright yellow. For an unnamed male client, he swathed a bedroom in peacock blue velvet and satin and designed a closet to fit the man’s collection of S&M equipment. (The room was featured in a French pornographic magazine.)

Joan Crawford liked yellow and orange; she also liked white walls, except in her bedrooms, which she always had painted a pale pink. She told Mr. Varney, he noted in “Houses in My Heart” (2008): “A pink bedroom never stripped a man of his masculinity. It only improved it.”

She also insisted that all her upholstered furniture be covered in easy-to-clean plastic. “Joan had more plastic on her furniture than was used at the meat counter at the A.&P. supermarket,” Mr. Varney said.

But he was fond of his eccentric client, who once asked him to be her permanent escort. (He declined.) He recalled her advising him, “I invented me, and you can invent you.” As a result, he said, he developed a signature look, favoring red socks and multicolored silk scarves, often by Hermès, that had been sliced in half by a …….



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