WHY ARE WE limited to just one definition of “midcentury” design? I’m talking, of course, about the modernist one. The era of discreet Scandinavian design. Natural wood furniture. Clean white walls. And, if you were lucky, a dot of color, like an Alexander Girard throw pillow, or your wife’s baby-blue pillbox hat. Think of the sober, reductive offices of today’s fictional midcentury antihero, Don Draper, the ad man of “Mad Men.” I’d keep liquor around, too.
But back in the ’50s, if you said Draper, you meant Dorothy, the decorator known for such Manhattan landmarks as the Carlyle Hotel and the former sculpture-court cafe at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, nicknamed the “Dorotheum.”
But Ms. Draper ’s true masterpiece, her Fallingwater, her Seagram Building, her Guggenheim Bilbao, is her mid-40s renovation of the Greenbrier, the West Virginia resort where she shrugged off the gray-scale elegance of her city vocabulary and let her true style out. Some people have called it American Baroque, but I like to call it Technicolor Colonial.
One winter a few years ago, I had an opportunity to visit it. At the time, I was more interested in the enormous, newly decommissioned and long-secret bunker built underneath the historic 19th-century resort during the Cold War. (It was large enough to house all of Congress in case of a nuclear attack.) The hotel is situated in what might seem an unlikely spot: the remote, coal-mining hills of southern West Virginia. ….