Making Memories with Carleton Varney

Lisa Stewart Design Carlton Varney 2

“Decorating is about making memories,” claimed Carleton Varney.

“What is your first memory? Can you remember where you were and what the place looked like?”  “Yes, I can remember,” I replied, “As a 2-year-old, I was in the hospital having my tonsils out!”  After the laughter subsided he encouraged me to pick a different and more pleasant memory. How exactly am I supposed to reboot my old brain with a “new” first memory?

And how exactly does decorating make memories? Somehow memories help us connect the dots of our life from one significant moment to another. Being able to store snapshots of life makes us mindful of how precious each moment is. We can capture the twinkle of someone’s eyes as they laugh. We can freeze-frame a child’s smile. All while subconsciously connecting the surroundings and decorations with the happy memories.

Carleton affirmed what I’ve practiced for years. As I’m invited into homes I strive to create interior spaces that elicit positive emotional responses and imprint happy memories. How do I do this? I always ask my clients two questions, “How do you want the room to feel?” and “How do you want other people to feel while in the room?” Their responses usually lead to many more questions and the process can get very personal. I always take my client’s feelings very seriously. Based on their answers a decorating direction is formulated and decisions made.

So, next time you redecorate think about how you want the room to feel. Consciously purchase home furnishings and choose colors to create that mood. And decorate the memories of your future.


I’m thankful to have met Carleton Varney, president/owner of Dorothy Draper & Co. Inc., one of the oldest established interior design firms in the US. Varney’s design philosophy uses Dorothy Draper’s adventurous, vibrant colors, floral patterns, and bold contrasts. The photos here are from The Greenbrier, an award-winning National Historic Landmark hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

Read Honoring Carleton Varney Here

Lisa Stewart is an interior designer serving the Triangle area of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, NC.

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