Q&A with Emma Jay Byfield, Great-Granddaughter of Iconic Decorator Dorothy Draper

Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel is known for its legendarily bold interior style (think: pinks, greens, turquoises, stripes, checks, and florals in one room). The Grand’s decorator, Carleton Varney, is appropriately called “Mr. Color.” He’s the president of Dorothy Draper & Co., a design firm founded in 1925 by style-icon Dorothy Draper.

Last summer, I had the chance to attend Mr. Varney’s annual school of decorating at Grand Hotel (this year’s event is July 6–8). While there, I was introduced to Emma Jay Byfield, the great-granddaughter of Dorothy Draper. For the full story about Carleton Varney and his colorful touch on Grand Hotel, get the July issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Enjoy this teaser Q&A with Emma and photos from the magazine below!

What did you think of the class?

When I made the trip to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island for the Dorothy Draper School of Decorating, I did not have any background in interior design or decorating. I simply had great admiration for my great-grandmother and her style, accomplishments, and personality.

I decided to attend so that I could meet the wonderful people of Dorothy Draper and Company, as well as to learn more about my beloved ancestor. I am interested in design, color, pattern, and all things creative, so I was excited for the class. It did not disappoint. The class was lovely. It provided an overview of the main elements of interior design and encouraged participants to trust themselves to take risks. It gave me the confidence to move forward and decorate my own home with pizazz!

Did you learn anything about Dorothy you hadn’t heard before?

The most surprising element of the class for me was the short video clip they showed of Dorothy Draper being interviewed by Edward R. Murrow. To see my great-grandmother in her own New York apartment providing a tour to television viewers was spectacular. The way she smiled, moved, and gesticulated gave me goosebumps and brought tears to my eyes. The similarity between us is very strong. We are clearly related.

What did you think of Grand Hotel?

It was my first, but certainly not last, visit to Grand Hotel. I had a delightful time. It is unlike any other hotel on earth. Beautiful scenery, architecture, and of course marvelous interiors! It was a dream come true to be enveloped in my great-grandmother’s design aesthetic. The food, service, and amenities were perfect. I highly encourage anyone who is curious about The Grand Hotel to go. It is a very special place.

Has your great-grandmother influenced your personal style?

My great-grandmother has undoubtedly influenced my personal style. I adore black and white marble floors, vertically striped wallpapers, fabulous colorful fabrics, etc. I am inspired by her and her life’s work on a daily basis. I often ask myself, “What would Dorothy do” when confronted with a design opportunity.

I was unhappy in my finance career when I attended the Dorothy Draper School of Decorating. I was so inspired by my time with Dorothy Draper & Co. and Grand Hotel that I knew I had to change careers and pursue something creative. I left the world of finance in January 2018 and have become an in-home design specialist for Rejuvenation, a vintage-inspired lighting and homewares retailer. I feel emboldened to help my clients make design decisions based on what they love, not what they think they “should” do. I always quote Dorothy Draper and say “If it looks right, it is right” and “Show me nothing that looks like gravy.” I aspire to build my own interior decorating business here in the greater Seattle area.

A preview of the July feature story!
Andrejka Photography