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Why classic design never goes out of style


Carleton Varney’s Caning dinnerware is classic, with a twist. It’s available at Frontgate.com. 
COURTESY PHOTO Carleton Varney’s Caning dinnerware is classic, with a twist. It’s available at Frontgate.com. COURTESY PHOTO If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it is this: Well-designed objects have a way of going together.

Perhaps that’s why an Eames chair really doesn’t look out of place in a Victorian house. (I know, I know. The words “Victorian” and “design” really do not go together).

But how else could you explain Charles and Rae Eames’ use of antique toys and trunks in their iconic California house?

That brings me to my next point: Classics never go out of style.

I was thinking about that as I read Amy Woods’ cover story on Carleton Varney, who’s 80 years old and shows no sign of slowing down — heck, he published a coffee-table book in March.

I’ve seen him around town sporting camouflage-print shorts, bandbox-fresh oxford cloth dress shirt, ascot and measuring tape suspenders.


SIMMONS SIMMONS Yes, he’s truly an original, but he has learned from the best.

As a young man, he worked with a pioneer of design, Dorothy Draper, who created the first interior design firm in America.

She looked beyond period designs to mix antique and modern items in a style dubbed “Modern Baroque.”

There are elements of the Draper look — stark use of black and white, splashes of color — that make her work timeless. You still can see it at the Greenbrier Inn in West Virginia, where The Victorian Writing Room once was called the most photographed room in the United States because of her inspired design.

Mr. Varney also spoke of working with actress Joan Crawford and how she inspired him to find his own design voice.

You can see that in his work at The Colony Hotel in Palm Beach, which underwent a mammoth and very colorful redesign a few years ago.

That’s the hotel’s lobby on the cover.

“I wanted The Colony to be like a private home,” Mr. Varney said. “No two rooms are alike.”

That’s for sure. There’s nothing shy about his bold patterns and colors.

It’s all very original, and it’s all very Varney. ¦

— Scott Simmons, Editor

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