The term “Hollywood Regency”, while originating in the 1920s with larger-than-life personality and designer Dorothy Draper (see January, 2018 blog), appears to continue to have no shortage of adopters and admirers. Becoming popular with the masses after the wind-down of the Great Depression, it has since been going strong, and its unbridled glamour has evolved with each ensuing decade. The enduring popularity of the style is seen in its mix in to other styles as diverse as Mid Century Modernism and Brutalism.
Named for the movie making industry of Southern California, Hollywood Regency, sometimes known as Regency Moderne, is typified by opulence, a bold use of color, dark and light contrasts, mirrors, lush textures, glass and metallic accents, and luscious curves. Its details are sumptuous and its intent is to bring to mind the glamorous estates of early Hollywood celebrities such as Carole Lombard, Clark Gable and Greta Garbo. During the “Golden Age” of filmmaking, producers endeavored to complement their larger-than-life stars with larger-than-life sets, an idea which carried over into the field of interior design. As Rochelle Greayer summed up: “Hollywood Regency is glitz and glamour covered in lacquer, chrome, and mirrored finishes. Every detail is meant to convey luxury and there is always the feeling that people should look good in the design— particularly if they are wearing satin bathrobes and sipping a cocktail.”
Low-slung furniture in traditional forms contrasts with luxuriously-detailed accessories in a contrasting mix. Key elements such as tufted sofas and modern Greek and Egyptian influenced silhouettes and furniture styles abound. Executed by a mix of bold statement pieces and delicate accents, Hollywood Regency combines lavish fabrics and finishes with traditional architectural elements. Think of the balance between positive and negative space on a canvas, and this concept quickly becomes clear. Art Deco touches, lacquered finishes (the shinier- the better), mirrored furniture, jewel tones, animal prints in cheetah, snakeskin and zebra, and black and white are all elements of the Hollywood Regency palette. Fabrics with glamorous textures channel the movie stars of the 1940s: velvet, suede, chenille, fur, silk and satin. Think of a designer gown worn by Rita Hayworth at the Oscars and you’re more than a little way there. When you think of Hollywood Regency, think drama. World travel was picking up in popularity as the style took off, so elements of collected worldly treasure became a part of the mix as well, including palm fronds, gilded bamboo and Chinoiserie.
Designers who have made this style part of their repertoire include the architect Paul R. Williams, Dorothy Draper, David Hicks, Kelly Wearstler and Billy Haines. Haines, one of the most important designers of the style, was originally an aspiring Hollywood actor. After winning a “New Faces” talent contest sponsored by Samuel Goldwyn, he came to Hollywood and appeared in more than 50 films before he was eventually ousted from the studios due to his refusal to deny his homosexuality and enter into a sham marriage. It was his friendships with Hollywood starlets, among them Joan Crawford and Gloria Swanson–who were impressed with his taste in design– that launched him into popularity as a decorator for the elite; many of his furniture designs are still much loved today. His work was characterized by oversized sculptures, bold colorways, deeply tufted seating, rich textiles and over-the-top feminine touches. One of Haines’ greatest contributions to twentieth century design was moving away from stiff and traditional earlier trends into a more playful aesthetic.
Dorothy Draper pushed the boundaries of the style, incorporating classic architectural elements with massive scale, bold patterns and the unabashed use of color. The popularity of her Greenbrier Hotel project made Draper a household name, and helped seed the aesthetic.
Jonathan Adler spent his early years on the East Coast, fostering an interest in pottery. He studied semiotics and art history at Brown University, and began teaching classes at Mud Sweat and Tears in New York city in exchange for studio time. Armed with samples of pots he had created, he cold-called Barney’s, received his first order and became a full time potter. He became inspired by South American textiles and added them, along with pillows and throws, to his inventory of the store SoHo Manhattan, which he opened in 1998, now 30 stores nationwide. In 2004 he received commissions for interiors, including a 27 million dollar remodel of the Parker Palm Springs Hotel and Givenchy Spa property. Adler’s aesthetic owes a great deal to the Hollywood Regency style.
Paul R. Williams was a noted Los Angeles architect of African American descent who represents the quintessential American rags-to-riches story. Shortly after his family moved to Los Angeles from Memphis, his father died, and then his mother. Separated from his sibling, he was placed into a foster home, and his new mother took a great interest in her son’s development and artistic talent. Discouraged by a teacher at Polytechnic High School from pursuing a career in architecture, he persisted, and while training as an architect worked for several Los Angeles design firms, eventually obtaining his building contractor’s certification in 1915, and his state certification as architect in 1921. Earning accolades from employers and entering and winning architectural competitions, he opened his own practice and became the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1923. His architectural practice grew to designing large revival style homes in the Hancock Park, Flintridge and Windsor Square areas of Los Angeles, and his interior designs became an important part of his practice, garnering him commissions to design homes for Lucy and Desi Arnaz, the Paleys, actress Jennifer Jones and Frank Sinatra. His sought-after aesthetic made him an important contributor to what became known as the Hollywood Regency style.
Although it has evolved far beyond its LA roots, Hollywood Regency’s enduring and intriguing allure remains timeless, and endures as an ode to the drama and glamour of its origins.