Remembering Carleton B. Varney: A Colorful Legacy

Carleton B. Varney, the renowned interior decorator, designer, author, and publisher, passed away on July 14 at the age of 85. Known as "Mr. Color" in the world of interior design, Varney left an indelible...

Carleton B. Varney, the renowned interior decorator, designer, author, and publisher, passed away on July 14 at the age of 85. Known as "Mr. Color" in the world of interior design, Varney left an indelible mark on the industry with his vibrant and joyful designs, earning him a special place in the hearts of many.

A Pioneer of Caribbean Style

Carleton Varney at The Greenbrier in West Virginia Carleton Varney at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. (Photo courtesy of Sebastian Varney)

Varney's creative journey led him to the island of St. Croix, where he established his design office and retail space, Carleton Varney at The Mill. His sophisticated take on Caribbean style and striking use of colorful patterns in his designs at Villa Madeleine captivated both locals and tourists alike. Varney's designs extended beyond interiors - he even ventured into the world of fashion with two clothing lines, A Perfect Day in Paradise and Carleton Varney Cruzan Wear.

A Legacy of Design Excellence

Carleton Varney in his New York office Carleton Varney in his New York office. (Photo courtesy of Sebastian Varney)

For over five decades, Varney served as the owner and president of Dorothy Draper & Company, Inc., America's oldest and continuously operating interior design firm. He joined the company in 1958, initially as a draftsman, and later became its creative force. Varney embraced the Draper design philosophy of using bold colors and rejecting mundane and impractical elements. His daring use of vibrant colors, floral patterns, and his unwavering commitment to design excellence earned him the title of president of the company in 1966. He eventually purchased the firm and continued to uphold its legacy after Dorothy Draper's passing.

A Design Luminary Remembered

A private home interior by Carleton Varney A private home interior by Carleton Varney. (Photo courtesy of Sebastian Varney)

Carleton Varney left an indelible impact on both the design world and the people he encountered. His son, Sebastian Varney, shared that his father was not only a talented designer but also a loving family man who cherished his long-lasting friendships. Many of those who knew Varney, such as Rudy Saunders, an interior designer at Dorothy Draper & Company, Inc., considered him a role model, an inspiration, and a dear friend. Varney's colorful and iconic work continues to be celebrated as the team at Dorothy Draper & Company strives to carry on his legacy.

A Multifaceted Creative

Some of Carleton Varney’s work at the Greenbrier Carleton Varney Some of Carleton Varney’s work at the Greenbrier Carleton Varney. (Photo courtesy of Sebastian Varney)

Carleton Varney's creative endeavors extended far beyond interior design. In 1973, he co-founded the textile house Carleton V Ltd. and collaborated with various brands to create home collections. Varney's influence reached prestigious hotels, cruise ships, and even sporting events, where he designed uniforms for the Cleveland Browns. His notable clientele included royalty, dignitaries, celebrities, and athletes.

A Colorful Life and Legacy

Varney's impact was not limited to his design work alone. He authored 37 books on decorating, wrote the official biography of Dorothy Draper, and even opened his own publishing house, Shannongrove Press. Varney shared his vast knowledge through lectures around the world, inspiring design enthusiasts and professionals alike. He was a keynote speaker at universities, museums, and art, antique, and design fairs.

Varney's legacy transcended design and writing. He was also an accomplished artist whose artwork was showcased in galleries. Additionally, he passionately fundraised for neurological diseases and disorders, participating in numerous charity events.

Carleton Varney's memory will be cherished by all who knew him. His vibrant spirit and unparalleled creativity will continue to inspire future generations of designers. As we bid farewell to this design luminary, let us remember to live life with color and cheer, just as Carleton did.

Carleton Varney is survived by his sister Vivian Varney, three sons - Nicholas Varney, Seamus Varney, and Sebastian Varney - daughter-in-law Victoria Bratberg, grandson Bowie Varney, and many nieces and nephews.

1