I FULLY BELIEVE Dorothy Draper, the grande dame of décor, would turn in her undoubtedly well-appointed grave to hear me refer to one of her greatest decorating achievements as gaudy. But that’s exactly what the Greenbrier is: gloriously gaudy, riotously colorful, explosively floral and decadently, deliciously enjoyable.
It’s why I love this resort so much. The overdone opulence feels of another time. Its ageless comfort is a bit like a favorite aunt who was just a teensy bit plump, lived in a cloud of Caleche and honed her wry sense of humor over a late-afternoon cocktail. She was always beautifully dressed and perfectly coiffed and indulged her love of fine things. She indulged you, too, with witty lessons in decorum, the do’s and don’ts of acting a lady and, if no one was looking, with a sip of her Manhattan. Perfect schooling to prepare you for the Greenbrier.
I don’t know if Dorothy Draper was fond of Manhattans, but clearly she was fond of other forms of indulgence when in 1946 she was contracted by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway to redecorate the venerable hotel. She took a building that had most recently served as a military hospital and brought it back to colorful life with 30 miles of carpeting, 40,000 gallons of paint, 45,000 yards of fabric and 15,000 rolls of wallpaper all blooming with rhododendrons, roses and all the colors of the garden. She overlooked nothing and in a mere 18 months Draper and her staff redesigned 600 guest rooms, all the public lobbies, sports facilities, offices, even the employees’ uniforms, according to Greenbrier historian Robert S. Conte.
Personally, I would never decorate the way Draper did. My surroundings are far more subdued. What surprises me most about her style is how all these fabrics, wallpapers and paints that couldn’t possibly go together somehow do. And I’m surprised even more that I so enjoy staying in her cacophony of color. It’s a girly pleasure to spend a night in a Draper-designed bedroom where roses climb the walls and cover the duvet. Ruffles and tassels are everywhere. And it’s not uncommon to find a few stripes thrown in as well. In the midst of such femininity my husband goes to sleep in fear he will wake to find he’s grown bosoms.
I wake with two things in mind—shopping and the spa. The Greenbrier’s history begins in the late 1700s when people first began visiting the mineral springs there. Guests today can still take the waters but in a far more luxurious setting. Reaching the spa requires a stroll past the bowling alley, the aerobics studio and the romantically canopied indoor pool. The tropical heat of the pool area gives way to the fragrant, cool quiet of the spa. Even before disrobing I begin to relax. The full-body deep-tissue Swedish massage is heaven. And the hour-long pedicure leaves my feet soft and lovely.
It’s a shame to walk on such pampered feet, but the diversity of shops at the Greenbrier provides inviting possibilities—designer apparel, home furnishings, art, jewelry. On this most recent visit I bought a jacket, two necklaces and gifts for three friends. Draper-inspired wallpaper is available for purchase as well.
The variety of activities offered at the resort goes on and on—skeet shooting, tennis, golf, hiking, falconry, biking, riding, croquet, swimming, bowling, dancing, the casino; the list seems endless. The countryside is beautiful, the grounds and gardens superb. Yet, even though the rocking chairs on the terraces may have beckoned, I didn’t even bother going outside for two days, choosing instead to stay indoors and take advantage of the interior tour, the Bunker tour (secretly commissioned to house Congress in case of a nuclear holocaust but never used for any emergency), afternoon tea, the shops, the spa, restaurants and aimless wandering through the halls and lobbies taking in Mrs. Draper’s handiwork.
I never tire of the Greenbrier, this elegant resort that holds court in West Virginia’s rustic mountains. I’ll go back again and again. The Greenbrier makes it easy. While a visit there can be an expensive proposition—rates can range from a few hundred a night to thousands—the resort offers a variety of packages and special rates. Go to the Greenbrier’s website and register to receive notifications of special offers. My most recent visit was a spur-of-the-moment decision to take advantage of an unheard rate of $64 per night, an offer that played off the winning score of the just-played Greenbrier Classic golf tournament. In contrast, I’m going back in October and staying in a Windsor Club room where I’ll pay a cool $600 a night.
Draper had her way with the Virginia Wing as well. Located in this wing is the Windsor Club, so named after the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who visited the Greenbrier together and separately. Ask nicely and the staff will show you through the wing, which requires a special guest key. I admit to feeling a bit of a tingle when I was admitted into the bedroom the duchess would occupy on their visits. I’ve always admired her jewelry, you know. The rooms used by the pair are part of the presidential suite, which consists of seven bedrooms, sitting rooms, dining room and kitchen all outfitted a la Draper.
Dorothy Draper died in 1969 leaving her legacy at the Greenbrier in the capably colorful hands of her protégé and successor, interior designer Carleton Varney, president/owner of Dorothy Draper & Co. Inc. It is Varney who continued in the Draper tradition when he refreshed the hotel some years ago and decorated the new casino addition, which opened in 2010. You can gamble the night away or stroll with a drink in hand while paying homage to Draper’s optimistic spirit and Varney’s opulent continuation of her work.
I can’t wait to go back.
The Greenbrier, 300 West Main Street, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia; 855-453-4858; www.greenbrier.com