Monday, January 15, 2018

Legends of Design: Billy Haines

In 1928, actor William "Billy" Haines was one of the most famous, top-draw stars in silent films. And in 1930, the Quigley Poll, a survey of film exhibitors, listed Haines as the top box office attraction in the country starring is such films as "Brown of Harvard," "Tell It To The Marines," and "Alias Jimmy Valentine." But there was one little problem...Haines was openly gay (at least to those in Hollywood) at a time when such information had to be kept secret. But the real problem was Haines was unrepentantly gay.

So in 1933, Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM where Haines was under contract, gave Haines an ultimatum: give up his long-term relationship with his partner Jimmie Shields and submit to a sham marriage with a starlet chosen by the studio (these secret arrangements were called "lavender marriages" in Hollywood) or be fired, blacklisted, and forfeit his career. In 2017, such behavior is sexual harassment and extortion but then, Haines had no real legal recourse.

But he did have his human dignity. And he chose to remain an authentic human being and remain with his partner Shields. Indeed, they were together for the next 40 years until Haines death in 1973. They were even dubbed "the happiest married couple in Hollywood."

But Haines had always been interested in homes and what goes into them and during his last few years in pictures, he had opened up--as a hobby--a furniture and antique shop in Los Angeles. After being forced from his very successful acting career, he concentrated on the shop full time. Soon he began furnishing rooms and then designing whole interiors for some of his movie star pals, including his good friend Joan Crawford for whom he created a daring design statement: an all-white house.

Billy Haines and Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford

In 1939, he designed a show room at the Golden Gate International Exposition Worlds' Fair in San Francisco to illustrate the new American Modern aesthetic in which pieces of many different styles and time periods could exist in harmony. He chose to create a desert-themed space with textured walls made of California Joshua wood panels, a fireplace surround of silver and turquoise, a buckeye-burl and rawhide coffee table, and leather and parchment flooring, all topped off with a skull painting by legendary artist Georgia O'Keefe. This easy blend of modern and traditional silhouettes has come to be known as Hollywood Regency. Haines' taste spread like wildfire and influenced set design for motion pictures in Hollywood. Just take a look at Katharine Hepburn's luxurious apartment in "Woman of the Year."

Desert Room by William Haines
Detail of Desert Room by William Haines
Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in "Woman of the Year"

He also designed homes for other Hollywood legends such as Gloria Swanson, Carole Lombard, Marion Davies, Frank Sinatra, and George Cukor as well as jet-setters, socialites, and politicians like Betsy Bloomingdale and and Ronald and Nancy Reagan when Reagan was governor of California. Haines' work proved to be so in demand that he hired two other designers, Michael Morrison and Ted Graber. Graber and Haines designed the interiors for Walter and Leonore Annenberg's fabled "Sunnylands" estate (stay tuned for a future blog posting about this famous home) in Rancho Mirage, California. And Graber went on to design the White House for then-President Ronald Reagan.

Sunnylands by William Haines
Sunnylands by William Haines
Sunnylands by William Haines
The West Sitting Hall used as a living room by the Reagans in the White House
Nancy and Ronald Reagan in their master bedroom at the White House

And finally, he contributed greatly to the interior vernacular of the day with bespoke seating and objects of his own design. His chairs have certainly stood the test of time: he invented a new, lower style of seating for hostesses to perch on at parties, leaning an elbow on the back and chatting to guests. The Elbow Chair showed up in nearly every interior Haines ever created!

His Pull Up Chair was based on the same idea...

...while his gorgeous Brentwood Chair is the refined version with an exposed wood back and tufted seat.

These pieces and more are still in production at the Los Angeles design studio Haines himself started, William Haines Designs.

If you are interested in obtaining any of Haines' furniture, or adding some Hollywood Regency glamour to your home, please do give me a call.
Happy designing!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Engaging Entries, Part 5

These Engaging Entries are a continuation of previous posts in which I remarked that every house should have an entryway that announces the personality of the homeowner... an entryway that is playful, engaging, welcoming, or dazzling.

As usual, I hope this has inspired you to create your own engaging entry!
Happy designing!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year 2018!

Wow, it's hard to believe it's already 2018...and nearly four and half years since the inception of this blog as an adjunct to my interior design business.

I wish all of my followers and regular readers a very happy, prosperous, and peaceful new year. Stay tuned for lots more interesting and inspiring content.

Happy designing!

Fiorito Interior Design Press Update, January 2017

I'd like to thank the wonderful resource website Houzz for featuring my work in their article "Celebrate! And 5 More Ways to Make the Most of This Weekend" about ways to observe and honor the New Year. Tonight is the last night of Kwanzaa and Houzz writer Laura Gaskill chose to feature a photo from my African Holiday Tree I created for Homes For The Holidays!

Happy designing and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Happy Winter Solstice and Happy Holidays 2017!

This year, the Winter Solstice happens on Thursday, December 21st. I am wishing everyone a Happy Winter Solstice and a beautiful and joyous Holiday Season!

Happy designing and I will see you next year!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Know Your Chairs: The Pedro Friedeberg Hand Chair

Mexican surrealist Pedro Friedeberg created his now-iconic Hand Chair on a whim. His mentor, the artist Mathias Goeritz told Friedeberg to throw some work to a favorite local carpenter. Thinking he was being funny, Friedeberg told the carpenter to carve a hand...big enough to sit on. But the moment Manhattan art dealer Georges Keller saw the hand sculpture/seat, he immediately put in orders...and the Hand Chair was born.

The Biography section of Friedeberg's official site is delightful:

"I was born in Italy during the era of Mussolini, who made all trains run on time. Immediately thereafter, I moved to México where the trains are never on time, but where once they start moving they pass pyramids.

My education was first entrusted to a Zapotec governess and later to brilliant mentors such as Mathias Goeritz, who taught me morals, José González, who taught me carpentry, and Gerry Morris, who taught me to play bridge.

I have invented several styles of architecture, as well as one new religion and two salads. I am particularly fond of social problems and cloud formations. My work is profoundly profound.

I admire everything that is useless, frivolous and whimsical. I hate functionalism, post modernism and almost everything else. I do not agree with the dictum that houses are supposed to be ‘machines to live in’. For me, the house and it’s objects is supposed to be some crazy place that make you laugh.

Americans do not understand Mexicans and viceversa. Americans find Mexicans unpunctual, they eat funny things and act like old-fashioned Chinese. When André Breton came to Mexico he said it was the chosen Country of surrealism. Breton saw all kinds of surrealist things happen here every day. The surrealists are more into dreaming, into the absurd and into the ridiculous uselesness of things. My work is always criticizing the absurdity of things. I am an idealist. I am certain that very soon now humanity will arrive at a marvelous epoch totally devoid of Knoll chairs, jogging pants, tennis shoes and baseball caps sideway use, and the obscenity of Japanese rock gardens five thousand miles from Kyoto.

I get up at the crack of noon and, after watering my pirañas, I breakfast off things Corinthian. Later in the day I partake in an Ionic lunch followed by a Doric nap. On Tuesdays I sketch a volute or two, and perhaps a pediment, if the mood overtakes me. Wednesday I have set aside for anti-meditation. On Thursdays I usually relax whereas on Friday I write autobiographies”

The Hand goes well in contemporary settings... much as it does traditional spaces, as a sculptural element.

Legendary designer Kelly Wearstler has championed The Hand seen here in the entryway to her home (while she poses with her two sons)...

...and in her office.

Original Friedeberg Hand Chairs can go at auction for up to 5 figures.

Happy designing!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Gondola Wallpaper by Cole & Son

Regular readers will know of my love for unique wallpaper and I can't stand it anymore...I have to share with you Cole & Son's gorgeous Gondola pattern, available in several different colorways. Of course my favorite is the dark navy background (because it looks the most like a romantic, inky-deep night sky) with lanterns illuminated in pink or orange.

But the colorway with a green ground is handsome...

...and the white ground with a black and gold design, seen here in a powder room of the home of Jane Scott Hodges, is also striking.

Happy designing!

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Sculptural Furniture of Rick Owens

I follow fashion not as a "fashionista" (whatever that means) but the way some people follow art or artists, and I think fashion designers at the highest level are indeed creating conceptual art. And one of my favorite conceptual fashion designers is the incomparable Rick Owens who has been creating wearable sculpture for some time.

But aside from clothing for men and women, he also designs furniture. Starting out as more of an accident by designing pieces for his own home and stores, his furniture designs (which are created in collaboration with his French wife Michele Lamy) are naturally reflective of his clothing. Simple, monolithic shapes dominate. His seating and objects have an ancient, Neolithic sense to them--tables seem like altars, stools and seats seem like ritual objects. This sense is highlighted by rough or elemental materials like alabaster, cement, marble, cast bronze, and plywood. To add interest, he uses hair-on-hide, leather, and moose antlers...

This is his double recamier, below, made of raw plywood and leather...

...and here it is in the living room at the Hamptons home of Dominique Lévy and Dorothy Berwin.

A Rizzoli book about Rick Owens' furniture designs called, appropriately enough, RICK OWENS: FURNITURE was released earlier this year and he and Lamy signed copies at the opening of his newest store in Manhattan in May.

To see more of Owens' work, visit his site here.

Happy designing!