Carleton Varney: Is your head in the clouds?

Carleton Varney: Is your head in the clouds?
This Sky Umbrella, with its lining of clouds, is one of Carleton Varney’s favorite items in the gift store at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Designed by Tibor Kalman and Emanuela Frattini Magnusson, it’s available for $40 at the museum’s website, Photo courtesy of

By Carleton Varney

Special to the Daily News

Happy New Year! I’m hoping that 2016 will offer you lots of sunny skies – both the metaphorical kind and real ones, too.

Even in sunny Palm Beach, however, you’ll often see clouds in the sky. And I think they might also have a place in your home decorating schemes.

When you visit museums, cathedrals, chapels, elegant villas, embassies and castles across the globe, you’ll very often see ceilings painted with clouds. Sometimes, the clouds are brilliant white against a soft-blue sky; others take on a rosy tone when the background is pink.

I’ve often seen ceilings painted with clouds that seem to open into the heavens, perhaps with a plump cherub or two flying among them. Can you imagine how many of the world’s most renowned painters have been immersed, not in the water but in the clouds?

My late friend, the artist Diana Palaci, was a painter of clouds. Some of her work appears to have bright lights mixed among the clouds, while other images depict a cloudy, mysterious light. I believe Diana was one of the best painters of clouds I know.

If you are looking for clouds you can find them everywhere — on fabrics, on wall-coverings, on sheets and on bed coverings. Can you imagine sleeping on a cloud? Or in a room that has clouds painting on the ceiling?

I often paint ceilings yellow, pink or blue. But I was recently inspired to take a different approach, thanks to my son, Sebastian Varney, who has designed a new wall-covering for his line, Carleton V. Ltd. The pattern features clouds of white on aqua blue. I can imagine it — or something similar — on the ceiling of a bedroom or for bathroom.

Palm Beach artist Susan Kent is a very grounded woman, but has her head and hands in the clouds, as well. And those clouds are beautifully painted.

At her studio on South Dixie Highway at Colonial Road, she paints scenic murals of a quality that designers and decorators from all over the country seek out. With a delightful expressiveness, she can paint a tropical jungle, a French garden or an Italian landscape worthy of the Vila Medici. Susan has the genius touch when it comes to creating painted gardens to suit just about anyone’s taste.

I recently received a letter from a gentleman who was confused about how colors can be mixed in a room design. Specifically, he was worried about a proposed decorating scheme of pale blue and yellow melon that would also feature a multi-colored check pattern. He thought the mix would not be harmonious, and he wanted my assurances that multiple colors could indeed work in a room.

The gentleman was living under a cloud, of sorts, where he could see only one or two tones working in a room.

My suggestion to the gentleman would be this: Take a long walk in one of the gardens of Palm Beach and take note of the varieties of colorful hibiscus flowers. Imagine how they would look if mixed together in bouquet — some red blossoms, some melon, some white and some yellow. Then imagine putting that bouquet in a blue and-white porcelain vase of a Chinese design and placing the arrangement on a black-and-gold console against a pale yellow wall. What a wonderful mix of colors! And while we’re on the subject, I’d like to see pale blue drapery in that room to coordinate with a blue carpet or, perhaps, a rug in a rich tropical green.

One must open one’s eyes to enjoy the beautiful colors of Palm Beach and South Florida. And then be fearless in bringing those colors into your home!


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