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BG Dispatch: Greenbrier

Carleton Varney gives us a behind-the-scenes look at famed American resort, The Greenbrier

6 28 2012

BG Dispatch: Greenbrier

For the June cover story we went to Greenbrier, the famed resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.  Originally designed by Dorothy Draper, the iconic interior designer, Carleton Varney, is now the Greenbrier’s curator.  In a recent interview, he details the history of a legend in its own time.


The Greenbrier represents one of the last bastion of the glamour resorts in the world. It’s American Baroque at its best. No one has been able to imitate it. Many people have tried to do the color schematics Dorothy Draper did, but they always miss.

Mrs. Draper believed that doorways were the most important thing to walk through. So if you go through the Greenbrier, you’ll notice that many of the doors have big plaster shells over them. So every door is important. A room never looked right, unless it was finished. And that meant a crown molding, a detail, an applique for the chandelier. This kind of thing, swags and plaster baroque, I mean you couldn’t get the craftsmen to do it anymore!

Mrs. Draper had a line in her contract, which we still carry out today, and it says ‘Thank you very much for wanting to use the Dorothy Draper company—we shall do it based on the following conditions. Number one: Dorothy Draper and company shall be the sole arbiter of the taste of the interior.’ We don’t sit here and discuss whether you like green or blue or yellow or pink!

We always say to our designers and when they’re working on a project, ‘show me nothing that looks like gravy, we don’t sell gravy.’ Rooms aren’t pretty anymore. We’re into pretty. And we’re into color and magic. I think in many ways, that color changes peoples’ moods, and changes people how they think. You know, a woman feels good when she’s dressed up, and she looks pretty in color.

I am the curator, in perpetuity, of the hotel. I have an office on the premises, a big office with a boardroom and so forth and so on. And nothing in the hotel gets changed, a menu cover, even the flower gardens, come under our umbrella. I’m there all the time. I was there last weekend.”

BG Dispatch: Greenbrier - The Casino

The Casino

The casino is very interesting, you know it’s underground. Because it’s southern, remember, West Virginia is the most northern of the southern states. And during the Civil War, this property was not bombed or fired upon or burned, because the Northerners regarded it as the most southern of the northern states, and the Southerners regarded it as the most northern of the southern states. So there was a certain sense of propriety, in that each one wanted it.

BG Dispatch: Greenbrier - The Presidential Suite

The Presidential Suite

The reason I haven’t updated that, is that was the kitchen the way the duke and duchess of Windsor had it. So it shows a time that the butler actually went and served them from that kitchen.


BG Dispatch: Greenbrier - Duchess's Bedroom

The Duchess’s Bedroom

This is the duchess’s bedroom—that pink orchid, she loved orchids. And he loved this color—the color of her eyes, was the reason they gave her all those grey green stones that he always gave her because it reminded him of her.


BG Dispatch: Greenbrier - The Lobby


This is of course a picture of Hamilton right near, you can get your ATM by the first treasury of the United States, and all of that wall covering is scenic America, and this wall covering, each one of those sections of panel cost sixty-thousand dollars, and it has to be put on, it’s all hand-painted.


BG Dispatch: Greenbrier - China

The Greenbrier China

Before Jim Justice would buy the hotel, they were moving out this china to put in what the chefs like, everything white. All that white china, it looked like a cafeteria. We have thrown all that out, and we’re back to the rhododendron china, and having beautiful pink borders. I never understood why chefs didn’t want to have a pink border, or a pretty border on their china. It’s sad! They’ve minimized everything to show a bunch of hard meat on it, and a lot of gravy. That is the fact.


BG Dispatch: Greenbrier - Doorway to the Bunker

 The Doorway to the Bunker

There was a fallout shelter and you could house the entire federal government underneath there. It had one room that has two hundred urinals against the wall, and every one of them, all those years, flushed every day. The beds were kept ready.


BG Dispatch: Greenbrier - XXXX

 Princess Grace

This photograph of Princess Grace I had done by Ralph Wolfe Cowan. There are two of those paintings in existence. One is in the royal palace, the pink palace in Monte Carlo, and the other one is in the Greenbrier. It was Prince Rainier’s favorite portrait of her. I wanted some current American royalty on the walls. Why shouldn’t Grace be there, she was pretty!


BG Dispatch: Greenbrier - The Crystal Room

The Crystal Room

This was one of the first rooms that I did at the hotel, that was done in the 60s.  This watercolor of Edward, I hung it on a wall covering, it’s an orchid wall covering that goes up that grand staircase, up going into Wallace’s bedroom.



Click to view more of our June Magazine
View more of our June Magazine