The Magic of Carleton Varney

B Matthews
20 Jul , 2022

   While there is still a huge sense of shock resonating from Carleton’s passing last Thursday, the vividness of this world resounds and there are remembrances of him everywhere. There is never a good time to go, but mid-July, with all its natural glory, would be a choice month. 

   Yesterday, I planted a hibiscus plant at our entrance. I choose it for its color and discovered its name was Summer Carnival – how apt. It bursts with blooms in a pink-to-red color. Carleton would love it. 


   “He who believes in a garden believes in a tomorrow” is often said, and Carleton believed that with all his heart. He loved tending to his gardens. As he wrote in his weekly Palm Beach Daily News column: “Planting and kneeling is like praying.” 

   Carleton was a deeply spiritual person who believed in the afterlife. He knew and sang every hymn. There were so many impromptu singalongs across the world, sometimes with Linda Walls, the par-excellence pianist of Greenbrier fame beside him. His charm and sense of humor never failed, nor did his ability to understand someone’s mojo in a nanosecond. 

   Last week, he asked his gardener, Sinead Floey to plant gladioli in his Irish garden and wrote a compelling story about the flowers for his final “Your Family Decorator” newspaper column. Truth be told, he was never the biggest fan of gladioli – rather, I was. He knew that I recalled many happy days when I was a little boy making arrangements with them. 

   Last night I reached out to Sinead to express my thanks for adding so much joy to his life. It was then that she informed me of Carleton’s gesture, as he knew that I would enjoy the gladioli. I know many of you remember being so touched by his endless kindness too, be it personal or professional. His friendships spanned worldwide and across all bridges. 

To offer me comfort, my young nephew, Maxwell, flew in from Ireland last Sunday evening. Over dinner that night he asked me if I had seen the new pictures from NASA’s James Webb telescope. A wary “No” was my reply. Excitedly, he explained they showed stars, planets and galaxies stretching back more than 13 billion years. “Oh, you have to see them!” he told me and whipped out his phone. 


                               And there I saw Carleton’s new home. 

  Carleton would be tickled pink. The images show the endless play and wide variety of dancing colors in perfect and contrasting harmony amid limitless space. No olive greens or “empty-refrigerator-decorating” colors there, thank goodness! It’s all color and space, with constant movement and fascinating depth – just like Carleton’s decorating. 

   Carleton was a true professional – an innovator, an original, the best colorist in the USA – and a person of the highest standards. He dreamed rooms. Decorating was his passion, 100 percent. Creating a visual melody with charm and interest was his forte, whether in an embassy or a cabin. 

   When meeting with new clients, he would always want to learn how and where they lived currently and previously. Understanding the personality of his clients was everything to him, for he would celebrate it in their newly created interiors. But Carleton also was all about helping open up their world, introducing them to the best of life and living. 

   “It is never about the things” he would often say. It was instead about the story and connections expressed through a sense of place. 

   “Home is the most important place,” was one of his mantras. Another was: “Decorating never ends.” 

   He worked to his last day. And I know he would tell us: Don’t stop the carnival! His legacy will live on, as will his friendships and love for all. 

   Carleton, thank you for filling our hearts. 

Written By:
Brinsley Matthews
VP of Dorothy Draper Company

Leave a Reply

  • Posted On October 01, 2022 by Jacqueline Ward

    I had the privilege of meeting and talking to Mr. Varney on numerous occasions at our beloved Greenbrier. No matter your station in life, Mr. Varney took the time to speak to you and inquire about your life. He was always cordial, friendly, and professional. I have visited the Greenbrier since his passing and I sensed the absence of his presence there. He is deeply missed and was greatly loved and respected. Until we meet again…

  • Posted On August 05, 2022 by Paula Fogarty

    What a beautiful tribute and so poetically composed, as only you, Brinsley, could craft. It inspires me to know that CV believed the afterlife and may we all see him in the wonders of nature filled with color and glimpses of magic; even in the human realm, where he made us all feel like superstars. He forever changed my life as a mentor and a personal friend. Cheers in Heaven to CV. XOXOXO P.

  • Posted On August 05, 2022 by Michele Barocas

    I never had the honor of meeting Carleton Varney , he sounds like such wonderful man, his creativity speaks for itself, his legacy will live on.

  • Posted On August 03, 2022 by Harriette Fogarty

    Brinsley, We are all so sad about this. He will be sorely missed by SOOO many people. Especially the Fogarty family!! He was most special to our family and our business! He was a wise man and had such a great sense for people, for color and OH SO Many other things. My husband thought the world of him and they had a great friendship as well as mutual respect! I pray that they are up in heaven now discussing OH SO MANY THINGS as only they could do!! I will miss his sense of color,
    his sense of humor and loving ways, as well his friendship. My best to you and I hope he will remain in everyone’s heart! Harriette Fogarty

  • Posted On August 03, 2022 by Bruce Frank

    Brinsley – thanks for your touching tribute to Carleton – beautifully written, and a comfort as well.

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