COTE DE TEXAS

To Dan Carithers–From an Old Friend

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The other day I got an interesting letter from a woman who had worked for Dan Carithers, the departed interior designer from Atlanta.  As I sat down to read her letter, I was so touched by her words describing her admiration for Mr. Carithers and how much he and his first wife, Libby,  had meant to her. 

I especially loved the way she described his work ethic and how his office “operated.”  I got a nice laugh at her words realizing I wasn’t the only designer who dreaded billing clients.  But, in the end it was her memories of the talented Dan Carithers that I felt you might want to read.   With her permission, I’m reprinting her letter, along with photos of the much missed Mr. Dan Carithers.



To those who don’t know Dan’s background, he was born in Jefferson, a small town in Georgia.  He first came to prominence at the department store, Rich’s, where he would create room vignettes twice a year which people would come in droves to see.  Then came collaborations with Althorp, Bakers, and Sherrill with his own furniture line.   His private design business followed as did legions of awards and accolades.  Known as a true southern gentleman, he was simply one of the best in the business.

  


Carithers and his family lived in this 1930s house, which he extensively remodeled over the years. 


 

Dan planted thousands of box out front and he created a lush garden in the back yard.   Throughout the house, he added French doors and windows and a large bay was built in order that his Knole sofa would fit inside of it.  Only a designer!

                          

The letter I received was written by Michele who, when young, worked for Dan and his first wife Libby.   When he remarried Nancy, they continued to live at the house until he got sick and they moved to a townhouse which was beautifully photographed for House Beautiful.

                           

The townhouse’s living room in soft blues – simply gorgeous.



The famous creamware collection.


The dining room in the new townhouse.  Much from the house was reused here, including the small corner pedestal that for years was in the foyer, stained dark brown!


And so, here is the letter from a long time, devoted friend of Dan’s that touched my heart so much.


"Hello Joni,

Last night I was on Pinterest and saw a caption that contained Dan's name. It was the photo of creamware and brown transfer ware decorating a stove area and perched atop the stove's hood.”


The photo of Dan’s kitchen that caught Michele’s eye.


“A click on that picture led me to your wonderful article explaining your process in giving Dan your number two position of favorite designers.

“I stayed up for hours reading and studying the photos you chose for that article HERE.  My interest is because I worked for Dan for almost two years in 1985 and 1986 in Atlanta.  The last time I saw him was the early 2000s when we had lunch in Atlanta, as I had moved to California from Atlanta in 1988.  A visit to Atlanta when I was in Knoxville, my hometown, brought about that last and wonderful lunch with a man I so greatly admire and love. 

“My time with Dan and his first wife Libby was colorful and eye opening.  Always having an interest in design, and a University of Tennessee graduate in textiles and interior design myself, this was at first a temporary position that became permanent.  I was pursuing an acting career and Dan and Libby were most helpful in letting me attend auditions and work days.

Michele continues:   “Seeing his work took me down an intimate memory lane.  I mainly kept the records of his purchases per client and created the billings and interacted with the clients by phone. Nailing him down so he could share what damage he had done at ADAC, and for whom, was not a laughing matter!  He was a genius who hated the paperwork!  When it came time to create a bill, a massive undertaking, Libby and I would go through the maze of papers in the client's folders and get mutually frustrated at not knowing what fabric had gone on what piece of furniture! All that trim!!  Libby was a good friend and kind person.  We had a good time.  I did not know Judy Bentley became a designer herself.  She was one of his wonderful clients when I worked for him.”


Dan Carithers, in the garden of his new townhouse, with Judy Bentley who designed his new home.  Judy was indeed an early client who then became a respected interior designer herself!



Michele writes:   “Dan was in and out of the house a lot, but when he was there, the atmosphere was active, friendly, warm, appreciative and fun.  In what is called the "long room" of his residence in Buckhead, there was a door on the far right wall in the corner nearest the main house that lead to the driveway.”



The Long Room, an early version.



The Long Room, later.  The animal print fabric was replaced with a neutral khaki.  On the walls hung horns and he extended the shelving units to house his extensive redware collection.


Michele says:   “The drive was entered from the street adjacent to the front of the house as the house sits on a corner.  That is where all the rolls of fabric were delivered and leaned against the wall.  You might not know that Dapper Dan drove a black 1965 Mustang that he adored.  It was noisy so you could always tell when he was back.”



And more:   “Seeing the long room in the earliest photo you posted brought some mist to my eyes because the straw Panama hat he wore all the time rests on an ottoman.” 


Dan’s straw hat as Michele remembers it.


Michele continued:  “That is also the room we all gathered in to watch the Challenger space rocket take off and then crash.  It sticks in my mind like it was yesterday.” 



An early version of the study.


Michele:   “Seeing the photos of his home was wonderful.  In the study, the desk used to be perpendicular to the map wall, and I don't believe the map was there at that time. It certainly wasn't an idea board! How funny of him.  I sat there for all of my work.”


Later, Carithers used the map as a sort of inspiration board.


  Michele remembers more:   “In the dining room, his black and white transferware plates used to be on the wall prior to the creamware.  I don't think the walls were yellow at that time.”



An early version of the dining room.


Later, Carithers used brown and beige checked fabrics, along with his creamware.


The last version of the dining room was blue check and yellow and blue striped fabric.   Carithers liked to use double tablecloths, probably so that the top could be easily removed and washed after parties.




The black and white transferware that Michele remembers being in the dining room was moved to the breakfast room and kitchen.

Note:  The Peak of Chic’s Jennifer Boles wrote a story for Southern Home magazine about creamware, crediting Dan Carithers for its resurgence.  She writes that Dan and Nancy went to a wedding in Norway, where at an antique shop, Dan bought a cache of over 200 pieces of creamware, which was the bulk of his collection.

This makes sense why Michele doesn’t remember the creamware in the dining room – he hadn’t yet bought the large portion of his collection when she worked for him!

Part of the creamware collection, bought in Norway – on display in the living room.


A later view.

                                                  

And before the Carithers moved, with the new blue decor.


Michele writes more:   The living room was awash in creams and woods.”

A view of the expanded bay window with the brown and cream living room.  So beautiful!


Michele continues:   “I do wish the article had covered his children's rooms, too.  The first time I saw their private bathrooms I was taken with his choice to have their names installed in the tile. I cannot remember, but I think their names were on the wall, but they might have been on the floor.  His son Will is in the photo of the kitchen.  He was in an academy school in the 80s and I didn't see him very often.  He looks so much like Dan it is uncanny.”


The kitchen with its large window overlooking the garden.  The beams were added by Dan – a detail he used in many of his designs.    I love the use of antiques in the kitchen with the fabulous wood chair and the bonnetiere.  As Michele said, this is Will,  Dan’s son and Haven, Nancy’s daughter.  Today Will and his wife run an upscale butcher shop, in a chic area of Knoxville, The shop specializes in fine cuts of meats.


Some photos of the children’s rooms were seen through the years.  I remember a few that I haven’t seen in ages and would love to see again.  This room was charming in green toile wallpaper and a wonderful chaise.


Later, with a change of pillows, the same bedroom was shown in the last photoshoot in the old house.


And there was this bedroom in pinks and reds.


The view across from the bed, overlooking the back garden.  Lovely!


Michele continues:  “Dan's clients would hardly make a decision without him.  I think I had a moment of clarity the day I saw an invoice for a yard of fabric for $285!  And that was in the 80s.  It was going on a client's powder room chair.  That was Dan.  Splashes of elegance tastefully placed to make a statement that said, "Look here, but just for a moment." 


An early powder room for a client, by Carithers.


Michele says: “As I look at what it is you cherish and find so appealing in his wonderful style, it reminds me of all he did, all rushing back into my head.  I never saw the final beauty of his designs. It occurred to me as I looked through the rooms in your post.  I never saw his work, except his own beautiful home.”


A beautiful vignette for a client.  Love!


More from Michele:   “Dan once told me that he was the largest, private (quantity) purchaser of Brunschwig and Fils fabric in the country.  Let that sink in.  He ordered from them most often then.”




 An example of Carither’s use of fabrics, he loved to use checks mixed with florals.  Oh, this is SOOOO pretty!!!!  Notice the use of beams along the edges of the walls.

 

Michele continues:  “I could best describe his work as that of a painter, yet with objects, filling a defined canvas; aware of balance as an instinct in that you need shiny surfaces, flat ones, alive things, compatible textures and scale of items and fabrics.  He wanted and shared a penchant for elegant comfort that wasn't fussy.”

 

 

One of Carither’s prettiest rooms.  This room fits the description of Michele’s from above, exactly.  It reminds me of an old world painting.


Michele:  “He thought, designed and created like lightning in his head, expecting us to keep up, and it wasn't easy.  His flurry of words and phrases poured out in an attempt to mirror the painting he was trying to convey, much like a vivid dream you are trying to relay to someone... it is just difficult to share the whole picture.


His mind worked lightning fast according to Michele, which makes the dementia all the more sad.  What an awful disease!


More:   “I was surprised to see his use of blues in later designs as I don't recall him using them much when I worked for him.  Not as a base color for the overall design, that is.  He did love those checks and linens.” 


Blues.  Nobody does plates on shelves as good as Dan did!  He had a wonderful sense of symmetry.  


And more:  “After leaving Atlanta, I did not keep up with his work, which obviously garnered more and more respect through the years. I had not seen the Veranda and Southern Accent articles.  When I worked for him, he was recognized by Town and Country as being in the country's top 100 designers.  I believe he received the accolade twice from them, but I'm not sure.” 


Kiawah House – gorgeous!!!!  One of my favorite rooms of his.  This was a real estate photo, not even from a photoshoot.  Years after he designed the house, look how great it still looked.  Just perfect. 


Michele said:  “I also read your post about the Kiawah properties.  Your detective work was fun to read!  Dan's sister-in-law lived in Kiawah and was a real estate agent when I worked for him, so they visited there at least a few times a year.  Those clients could possibly have come about through their visits to family there.”


The Kiawah House bedroom.


And more:  “Since you admire Dan's work and his Southern gentleman self, I felt I had to write you to share these things.  He was delightful and almost giddy at times, very energetic, and had a big heart.  I was treated like a family member and those were colorful days for me.”



“They came back from Kiawah one time and had seen one of my commercials on TV.  They were excited and funny, recanting their surprise upon realizing it was me. "That's Michele!"  They helped me more than either of them probably knew.”



“When Libby sadly passed, I visited Dan and we sat on the living room daybed in the window, cried a little bit, drank a glass of wine, and talked of old times.  I was pleased our friendship had not waned.  He was as dear as ever and a part of me felt like I was home.”



And Michele concludes:  “Thank you for writing about this wonderful man and his incredible body of work.  He is not quickly or easily forgotten and time will not tarnish the specialness of his gift.” 


Thank you Michele for sharing your memories of Mr. Dan Carithers.   I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your time spent with him and I’m so thrilled you let me publish your thoughts!  Your words are just further proof of why he was such a beloved figure in the design world and further.