‘Mr. Color’
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‘Mr. Color': Carleton Varney’s decorating madness

‘Mr. Color’
By David A. Keeps
In the drawing room of a home near Lake Charlevoix in Michigan, Varney created a thoroughly contemporary look, even though the space is loaded with antique furniture and Tiffany lamps. “I usually use eight colors in almost every project: red, black, yellow, green, purple, pink, blue and sky blue,” Varney writes in his new book, his 28th on design. “Then, as if I am looking through a kaleidoscope, I give a traditional, elegant point of view a colorful twist.” (Michel Arnaud)
‘Mr. Color’
Varney used brilliant red trim and shingles as a contrast to the fir green shingle siding and stone walls of the 17,500-square-foot Lake Charlevoix house, built by the designer Andre Poineau. “Some say I decorate with Christmas colors,” Varney writes. “But why do we only use color at holiday time? The sparkle of Christmas brings joy all year long.” (Michel Arnaud)
‘Mr. Color’
Another example of Varney’s red and green color scheme for a townhouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan incorporates purple. “Mixing a rich Venetian red wall color with apple green drapery and pale lavender furniture is not all that complicated if you are a lover of color and willing to take the plunge,” Varney writes. The room also features his elaborate draperies. “Window treatments are what decorating is all about,” he says. (Michel Arnaud)
‘Mr. Color’
Varney takes readers on a tour of Draper’s greatest hotel projects: the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., and the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Mich. Varney has updated these venerable interiors and lovingly describes the materials he used and the method to his colorful madness. The entry foyer of the Greenbrier’s Casino Club, pictured here, has a traditional black and white marble floor. “The 18-inch tiles are laid out on the diagonal, a Dorothy Draper design must,” Varney writes. To contrast cerulean and blue striped wallpaper on one side, Varney used Brazilliance, a banana leaf print reminiscent of the classic wallpaper seen in the Beverly Hills Hotel. (Michel Arnaud)
‘Mr. Color’
Draper first painted this part of the Greenbrier a mint green. Varney updated the look with a cantaloupe hue, which he writes is flattering at night and glows during the day. The wall color also provides a contrast to the Delft blue damask drapery and chair fabric. (Michel Arnaud)
‘Mr. Color’
The exterior of the Greenbrier: every bit as grand as its colorful interiors. (Michel Arnaud)
‘Mr. Color’
In the Geranium Bar of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Varney mixes geranium red chairs on a classic checkerboard floor in a room with fir green walls and an aqua blue ceiling. “Nature always provides us with the colors that are universal,” Varney writes. (Michel Arnaud)
‘Mr. Color’
“I love to sit in a room with rich palm tree green painted walls, feeling as though I am lounging in a hammock in a tropical garden,” Varney writes. Here in the lobby of the Grand Hotel, Varney coordinated the painted murals and the foliage in the carpeting pattern with the upholstery and live greenery. (Michel Arnaud)
‘Mr. Color’
The Grand Pavilion of the Grand Hotel has black and white umbrella chandeliers inspired by the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, England. Varney designed a floral pattern fabric called Baroque Bouquet for the window treatments. “It’s rare that I use vertical stripes horizontally,” he says of the curtains, “but in this case I broke the rules -- which I often do.” (Michel Arnaud)
‘Mr. Color’
“Pink is the most personal of colors,” Varney writes. “Pink can be used occasionally, on the back and side walls of a vitrine object case or in other prominent ways such as on the walls of a living room. Against pink, finer and bolder furnishings appear more subtle.” For the Musser family, who hired Varney to redecorate the Grand Hotel in 1976, he created a striking dining room bathed in azalea pink. The Staffordshire dogs are another Varney signature. (Michel Arnaud)
‘Mr. Color’
For a Palm Beach residence, black lamps and a vintage black lacquer Dorothy Draper table help ground the icy blue upholstery on the antique chairs and the vibrantly colored hibiscus fabric on the sofa. “Dorothy Draper once said, ‘Every room needs a touch of black perhaps in a vase, a lamp, a Chinese coffee table or a leather blotter on the top of a desk in a library,’ ” Varney writes. (Michel Arnaud)
‘Mr. Color’
In “Mr. Color,” Varney also throws open the doors to his own Palm Beach “villa,” a three-bedroom 1950s condo. He reveals a restrained palette of navy blue and white that sets the stage for a mix of antiques plus upholstery and curtains in a koi print. “I often paint furniture white and accent the pieces with blue trim for a touch of elegance. Painting old pieces of furniture white and adding a colorful trim can be quite effortless and have a brightening effect on a room,” he says. Note the obelisk-shaped etagere reflected in the mirror. (Michel Arnaud)
‘Mr. Color’
“I love the contrast of light furniture against a dark wall color,” Varney writes. The floor is covered in Mexican tiles, a unifying element used throughout the house. (Michel Arnaud)
‘Mr. Color’
Yellow represents happiness and freedom, Varney writes. “A yellow headboard, ceiling color and even a lamp shade open a room to rays of sun when they cast their warm glow.” In his nautically inspired Palm Beach bedroom, with 5-inch wide painted striped walls, Varney uses “a sunshine yellow so I can lie in bed and look up at the brightness.” A yellow upholstered chair and pineapple lamp coordinate with the ceiling. The contrast between stripes and florals, a white-painted antique chair and a midcentury wire chair by Harry Bertoia makes the traditional room look more modern.

“Mr. Color” is produced by Rooster Books for Shannongrove Press. You can read more of our on our L.A. at Home blog.

California design: Home and garden profiles in pictures (Michel Arnaud)
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