By Carleton Varney- Special to the Palm Beach Daily News
Who did what first? And who and what should get the credit for being the original?
Those questions, believe it or not, sometimes come into play in the decorating world, which recently has gone bananas over a tropical-theme wallcovering featuring big banana leaves on a white background.
There are several interpretations of the design, which was first popularized by hallway wallpaper at The Beverly Hills Hotel during World War II. Was the original design by my professional mentor, the late Dorothy Draper, or by the late Don Loper, who initially came to fame in the 1940s as a Hollywood costume designer? Here below is my take on the matter, as told to me some years ago when I first joined our firm in New York City.
In 1939, Draper was commissioned to decorate the fashionable Arrowhead Springs Hotel in San Bernardino, Calif. The hotel was Hollywood’s playground, a resort on the hill heading to Lake Arrowhead. The architect on the project was Paul Williams, often referred to as Paul Revere Williams, a young gentleman with whom Draper had a super working relationship.
In 1942, Williams was engaged by the owners of The Beverly Hills Hotel to bring the style of Arrowhead Springs to the bustling Hollywood scene. With Williams on the scene, Draper prepared some sketches in which the banana-leaf wallpaper was born, designed for the hallways of the hotel as well as for the staircase descending to the lower coffee shops. (The hotel’s Polo Lounge, in green, is reminiscent of Dorothy Draper decoration. In fact, the banquettes are upholstered in a fabric – known as Palm Beach Frond — by Dorothy Draper Fabrics & Wallcoverings.)
But alas! The hotel’s owners, who were friends of Loper, wished to have an in-town decorator on hand. So Loper became the man at the top, leaving Draper and her team on the East Coast to take on other adventures in hotel design (such as heading to Brazil to decorate at the Palácio Quitandinha in Rio de Janeiro and to Chicago at The Drake).
Which brings us to the question at hand: Should the credit for the banana-leaf design’s origin be given to Draper or Loper?
There are differences in the patterns they designed. The bright Dorothy Draper version, named Brazilliance, includes sea grapes amid the leaves, and it graces walls, furniture and windows in fine homes and establishments across the world. The more muted Don Loper version – minus the sea grapes but with the addition of bananas — is called Martinique.
Even with their differences in color and pattern, Martinique and Brazilliance sing charming notes about Hollywood glamour in the 1940s, and it’s a decorative tune that continues to resonate with decorators today.
And if you want to see the original Dorothy Draper version up close, just visit The Colony, where you will find Brazilliance used as upholstery for the lobby’s chairs and adorning walls in the entrance to Polo.