Celebrated designer Dan Carithers retired last fall. And while the shuttered doors of his firm’s headquarters in the tony enclave at 2300 Peachtree Road is a physical reminder that one of the country’s leading design talents has handed the baton to a new generation of talent that he helped nurture, the closure is symbolic of the sea change taking place within the design community at large; the type of personal decorating that Carithers defined over a 50-year career is the last of an era.
The boy who grew up in small town Jefferson, Georgia, first gained notoriety as the design director for home furnishings at Rich’s Department Store. Along with the job came international travel, which allowed Carithers to expose generations of Atlantans to the latest home fashions and antiques from London and Paris and beyond. Decorated room vignettes, much like a room in any home, were changed twice a year at the downtown location and were events in themselves as shoppers flocked to see the latest trends.
After launching his own firm, Carithers also established a long-time consulting position with Baker Furniture, and created an eponymous high-end upholstery line with Sherrill Furniture that’s still in production.
As much as decorating was his first and foremost job, Carithers also served as a pseudo-educator to his clients. As their families (and, often, wealth) grew, Carithers was at the ready to take them to the next level appropriate to their lifestyles—whether that was starting from scratch with a new house design, adding an art collection or aiding in the purchase of a fine antique or two.
His matter-of-fact demeanor with clients seems simplistic in its approach, but in the age of super-star designers and architects looking to make their own statements at the risk of unsatisfied clients, Carithers never waned in his client-first approach.
“The first thing I always asked a client was ‘what do you want,’” says Carithers during a recent interview. “And when some clients said they didn’t want clutter, I’d ask them to define the word. After all, some rooms deserve clutter.” The timeless, elegant rooms (and galas and yachts) that Carithers created for clients across the world captured the keen eyes of editors of design magazines such as Veranda, House Beautiful, Traditional Home and Southern Accents. In 2003, Carithers was named one of House Beautiful’s “Giants of Design”—the highest honor bestowed by the magazine; it’s only been given to a handful of honorees during its 100-year history.
“We were fortunate to feature Dan’s work many times over Southern Accents’ 32 years,” says author and journalist Karen Carroll, the magazine’s former Editor in Chief. “One of my first assignments as a very junior—and very green—editor was to produce a story on Dan and Nancy’s wedding reception. It was an intimate luncheon at the home of a friend and all the tables were decorated with Dan’s signature beige-and-white striped linen cloths, casual garden flowers and objects that had special significance for the couple. It perfectly summed up Dan’s approach to decorating and living a beautiful life: to always surround yourself with the people and the things that have meaning. The day remains a favorite memory for me.
“Years and many houses photographed later, I recall another designer begging me to move one of her projects from a particular issue, as she knew Dan was also to be included and she feared she would have no shot at being on the cover. She was right.”
DAN CARITHERS’ Signature Style
Brown & white
Detailed table settings
Excellent mixture of old & new
Round skirted tables for dining
White orchids or flowers (no rosebuds or other flowers with a bud)
Detailed lampshades and window treatments
Natural fabrics, especially linens
Michelle Erickson Pottery
Stone figures in gardens
Boxwoods—his greatest passion is gardening
ALL ABOUT CARITHERS, from those who know him best
“Dan’s knowledge of antiques is unparalleled. Compromise is not in his vocabulary. As a result, his clients have incredible collections of antiques.” —Barry Hutner, owner of Parc Monceau Antiques
“Dan was thinking about leaving Rich’s and I had to encourage him to lease his first space; obviously, it was a great decision.” —Jane Marsden, owner of Jane Marsden Antiques
“Dan has more talent in his little finger than most people have in their whole body.” —Hal Ainsworth and Winton Noah, owners of Ainsworth-Noah & Associates
“Dan is a master of furniture placement; he creates the unexpected without it feeling forced. He is a genius of the art of the eclectic interior, creating rooms that feel like they have been collected over a number of years, blending contemporary paintings, antiques and local craft. Plus, he is the only man I know who can carry off an ascot in Atlanta, Georgia.” —D. Stanley Dixon, architect
“Dan has exquisite taste and tremendous style, which is evident both in his personal life and his design projects. His legendary wit and ability to spin a wonderful story, his love of family and friends, his passion for books, travel, museums and life clearly define his being. It is a privilege to call him my friend.” —Elizabeth Allen, client
“To work with the extraordinarily talented Dan Carithers is not only an honor, but a fun and wonderful learning experience full of laughter, thousands of anecdotes and great friendship. An amazing adventure!” —Elizabeth Holt, client
“Dan’s work is like a piano sonata. One hand is architecture, the other decorating. Together, beautiful music is made.” —Norman Askins, architect
“In 1966, a tall, skinny Southern gentleman walked into my shop and thus began my ‘charmed’ relationship with one of the masters of great taste.” —Herbie Schinderman, owner Ann-Morris Antiques, New York
“Dan Carithers is a true genius in the field of design and a great inspiration to designers nationwide.” —Tom Hayes and Toby West, owners of Tom Hayes/Toby West Ltd.
“When I think of Dan Caithers, I think of a giant panda of talent, but most of all I think of the beauty and friendship he has brought to my life.” —Mary B. Schwab, client
“He put Atlanta and the South on the map as a Decorative World. I love his quick wit and fast, creative mind; plus, he can walk and talk faster than anyone!” —Judy Bentley, former client and colleague of nine years
“Dan’s work is simply magical. What we cherish most is the friendship and camaraderie that has evolved over 16 years. Dan is a real treasure and we are blessed to have him in our lives.” —Tommy Spinosa, client
“The first time my mother mentioned Dan to me, I was pregnant with my first child. My husband and I had started building our dream home and I soon realized I could not do it alone. Ten years and four children later, Dan was there for all the milestones: moving into our ‘grown up’ house, planning the nurseries that would gradually become ‘big boy’ or ‘big girl’ rooms, the huge stuffed moose he gave my son for Christmas, the delicate china plates that hang in my baby daughter’s room he found for her, teaching me fabulous ways to entertain, suggesting the perfect place for the Christmas tree, and on and on. Creating this wonderful nest for our family is one of the greatest gifts one could give. Dan did it and does it with such ease, grace and humor. Every single room in our home has happy memories of Dan. He even expressed the importance of a good-looking garage! ‘After all, it is the way you come in every day and should be beautiful!’ he said. I am honored to have worked with him for so many years and during such pivotal times in our lives. He is ingrained into our house, our family and my heart forever.” —Melissa Allen, client
ABOVE Recently, Dan, joined by his wife, Nancy, was saluted by 20 of his former assistants who worked for him over the years. Many have gone on to establish their own successful design businesses. FRONT ROW, left to right Angela Bromenschenkel, Heather Dewberry, Lee Kleinhelter, Margaret Kirkland, Susan Joy McElheney, Susan Dowhower, Karen Raymer MIDDLE ROW Nancy Carithers, Dan Carithers, Judy Bentley, Nora Miller, Kelley Riddle BACK ROW, left to right Annabeth Tidwell, Will Huff, Amy Spivey, Elizabeth Bennett, Elizabeth Smith, Austin Mann, Lori Tippins, Caroline Willis, Maryanna Marks, Susan Brad