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Carleton Varney's decorating memoir takes a 'Grand' tour

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A half-century of decorating private homes, exclusive resorts and even a castle provide a wealth of material for a book.

And Carleton Varney has done just that in "Decorating in the Grand Manor: A Design Memoir," his latest and 30th book, due out in December.

In one section on Southern hospitality, he writes about working with West Virginia first lady Shelley Moore in redecorating the Governor's Mansion. "I talk about how we did it. I think people in West Virginia will find it interesting," Varney said in a recent phone conversation from Palm Beach, Fla.

Varney is curator of The Greenbrier, a place he's been associated with since the early 1960s. He laughs, pointing out that he's been employed there longer than most of the resort's staff.

The White Sulphur Springs resort is included in the "grand" hotels Varney has decorated in his 50-plus years as a decorator. His work at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan, and the Brazilian Court in Palm Beach are remembered in his new memoir.

He was in Palm Beach earlier this month working on the redo of the 60-room Colony Hotel. "It's just charming," he said of the hotel built in the 1920s. It's where cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post lived for seven years and where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor stayed when they vacationed in Palm Beach.

"Decorating in the Grand Manor," Varney said, will showcase grand staircases, ballrooms and will offer ideas to readers for bringing a touch of grandeur into their own homes -- with a chandelier, perhaps.

"You hear the phrase, 'Isn't it grand?' But grand doesn't have to mean overkill," Varney said.

He said he wrote one chapter on the people who have helped him in his career, such as the Rex Scouten, chief usher at the White House when Varney worked with the Carters in decorating their new home.

"I have a chapter on my inspirations," he said, citing the hollyhocks and other flowers in his garden at his house in Ireland.

In a memoir, the writer looks to the past. That doesn't mean, however, that Varney isn't moving forward on many fronts.

He and his associate Brinsley Matthews have been deeply involved in the renovation of the historic Palácio Quitandinha hotel in Petrópolis, Brazil, for a reopening before the 2016 summer Olympics in nearby Rio de Janeiro.

He'll appear on television evangelist Pat Robertson's Christmas show, giving a tour of what Varney believes is a beautiful idea for the holiday.

Varney said his five-year stint on the Home Shopping Network has been very successful. And he'll be moving into another medium later this month when he'll open the first design/decorating retail shop online: shopcarletonvarney.com.

"It's a whole new world today," said Varney, who joined the Dorothy Draper decorating firm in the early 1960s.

Reach Rosalie Earle at earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.


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