hollywood regency interior design: glamorous… and dusty


creamy vintage paris boudoir vanity chair

creamy vintage paris boudoir vanity chair

the glamor of the hollywood regency interior design style is a mimicry of the early movie heyday star’s lifestyles and tastes.  these people entertained lavishly, their homes were adorned with exotic furnishings and dramatic flair. they were adored almost as royalty.  hollywood regency furniture is a broad category difficult to define.  the look is not minimalist, but some pieces within the design can be.  it can include mid-century modern or older styles, asian pieces, blacks, whites, wood grains, just about any kind of color combination that suits your taste.  but heavily carved and heavily upholstered pieces are often included.  

designers william haines and dorothy draper lived this life and developed this look for others.  they were gutsy, wealthy, successful and admired.  these websites are worthwhile.  

haines interior

william haines interior


william haines
william haines, 1900-1973
The lobby of the Hampshire House, completed in 1937, Dorothy Draper

lobby of the hampshire house, completed in 1937, dorothy draper


dorothy draper 1889-1969

dorothy draper 1889-1969

we do not have to spend thousands to incorporate this style (just look like we did), thanks to online used furniture dealers. there is a large assortment of hollywood regency style furniture online, especially on ebay.  my favorite companies are ts and company and art collector-usa.  they offer an excellent blanket wrapped furniture moving service, tsc moving.

a regency is a substitute government or rulership.  they had them in europe when the royal heir was still a boy, for instance, or when there was no clear ruler for a time, or when the ruler was absent.  some would argue that hollywood movie stars are the royalty of america, substitutes because we don’t have anything else.  you don’t vote for or against the stars and argue endlessly about their ideas and actions.  the adored actors are just there.  wonderful, rich, envied.  this was especially true during and the decade after the second world war.  their world was a welcome escape.  it was a reminder that war and the hardships it created were not the only reality.  we welcome the same kind of refuge in these times.  when we mimic their style, we attempt to capture something of their lifestyle for ourselves, the ability to impress and offer the comfort and luxury to our friends as we entertain. 

but be warned: this style is dusty.  writing this piece i cannot help thinking about numerous vintage furniture items i have dealt with in the hollywood regency style.  you need a maid (or you are the maid).  these people had maids, believe me.  the tufted upholstery chairs are tricky to clean.  folds of fabric and those fabric covered buttons trap dirt and animal hair.  the buttons tend to go missing.  they are one of the most expensive re-upholstery jobs, the most time consuming if you attempt it yourself.  lots of carved woodwork, chandeliers, interesting ornaments sitting on coffee tables, all gathering dust.  do we honestly have time for this?  does the imagined serenity of the rich and famous really rule our desires?  maybe that ambition is also dusty.


globalization, interior design, and art nouveau

Tassel House, Brussels, 1893, Victor Horta, First floor landing with view toward staircase

tassel house, brussels, 1893, victor horta, first floor landing with view toward staircase

if i could be transported to another time and place, i would be fascinated to visit the few decades before the first world war.  ideally i would not be in one place. i would travel the world and the world would be traveling to me.  globalization on the rise.  

Orchid desk, Louis Majorelle and Daum Frères, mahogany, gilded bronze, and glass

orchid desk, louis majorelle and daum frères, mahogany, gilded bronze, and glass, france 1903

Vilmos Zsolnay Vase, 1899, Hungary

vilmos zsolnay, vase, 1899, hungary

a crazed group of 1910 british bankers sing a frenzied song at little micheal banks in mary poppins, trying to induce him to invest his tuppence  in railways through africa, dams across the nile, fleets of ocean greyhounds, majestic, self-amortizing canals, plantations of ripening tea. 

this economic globalization paralleled a radically changing europe’s outlook and lifestyle. interior design and furniture design would be forever changed. you can argue for or against globalization, but this seems to be a waste of time.  it just happens.  go with the flow.  

interior designers, especially in the art nouveau movement, began the modernist trend toward lighter more open rooms and furnishings. forms and techniques used in islamic and asian, especially japanese, art and architecture were incorporated. new materials and techniques were possible because of the industrial revolution.  ancient styles, materials and techniques were rediscovered.  

the result was a grand flourish of exotic possibilities, pushing design away from the heavy, stodgy forms of the past.  

for more info go to the art nouveau exhibit at the national gallery of art from which i borrowed these four images.

the ladies luncheon Room, ingram Street, glasgow, scotland, 1900, charles rennie mackintosh and margaret macdonald.

the ladies' luncheon room, ingram street, glasgow, scotland, 1900, charles rennie mackintosh and margaret macdonald.

furniture design – thonet’s lifestyle

how do you get from this….
The Battle of Trafalgar by J. M. W. Turner (oil on canvas, 1822–1824)

to this?

Thonets mass produced no.14 chair

Thonet's mass produced no.14 chair

you cannot separate great designers from their life and time.  case in point, michael thonet.  he was a cabinet maker by training.  interior design at that time was following the trends of architecture and that was inspired by royalty (and the church.)  see me, my great buildings, trust me and follow me (even though i am rather foolish), sort of thing (well, not the church entirely, nor all royalty, but lots of it).  but this was the beginning of the end for those that inherited moneyed upper classness.  along with the rise of british naval power was the beginning of the industrial revolution.  hard working innovators were the rising rich, first in britain and spreading to western europe and north america.  meanwhile, in prussia, and then austria, thonet and his four sons experimented with chairs.  

trade and war went hand in hand during the early industrial revolution, and the greatest need for both was fast ships.  the shipbuilders were the only ones bending wood.  lighter, stronger, sleeker, faster.  then sail to china, bomb their ports, trade your opium and tea, steal hong kong (1842). back to london for huge profits. (for example).

i was born and raised in hong kong and only the very old sat around there, much.  everyone worked hard to make the most of every opportunity — which was plentiful because of the hard work of the people that had built the place (and few regulations, low taxes, and good government).  factories were set up in tiny apartments, where whole families also lived, even in the shacks perched on the slippery hillsides.  little 3 year olds studied their characters to make it into the first year of school.  everyone studied english.  people were selling anything and everything wherever they could.

hong kong island, transformed from the 1800 fishing village

hong kong island, transformed from the fishing village of the early 1800s

but back to thonet and sons, whose story reminds me of hong kong.  he was born in 1796, apprenticed with a cabinet maker, was invited in 1842 to be the royal furniture designer for austria.  turned the offer down to keep his independence and vision of worldwide sales.  below is a excerpt from “Thonet 14,” by Giovanni Renzi.   bear in mind that there were no phones or emails, no cars or trucks.  steam ships and trains were only just getting under way.  there were no gas stations, no credit cards.  europe and north america were growing and changing rapidly, with every man for himself, more or less.  

The history, development and copies of the bestselling chair in the world 
Over a hundred and forty years ago, in 1859, a Thonet factory in Koritschan in Moravia, produced the first chair known as number 14 in the catalogues of the Viennese company. Since then several million chairs of this model have been manufactured and sold. 
According to various scholars of the Thonet phenomenon 
(1), it is possible to speak of fifty million examples manufactured and sold by 1930, whilst according to the advertising of Gebruder Thonet in its contemporary catalogues, fifty million chairs had been sold before 1914. This success was followed by extremely widespread competition from local, national and international firms, with several million (2) copies of the original built using the same bent beech-wood technique. Finally, the same model was reproduced using other materials; firstly iron, which was initially handcrafted and later worked using modern welding techniques, and then plastic. 
Such figures have never been repeated in the furniture sector, and although they have probably been inflated by advertising propaganda, they still represent the worldwide success of an extremely simple model: an archetype of the chair. 
Ever since the last quarter of the nineteenth century news papers and magazines and travel magazines have portrayed people of all races and ranks sitting on the number 14, firstly in drawings and later in photographs. 
The success of number 14 is the success of Michael Thonet and the final result of the stubborn conviction that beech-wood and the bending technique represented the future of chair making. Following twenty years of experimentation, marketing mistakes, technological intricacies and partial failures, Thonet managed to create the economic chair for mass consumption. 

michael thonet and sons, who started their own company in 1819

michael thonet and sons

more on thonet another time, but i am impressed by his story and his chairs.  we want things to be given to us today.  make it easy, make it fast.  but that is not how it happens.  get to work – or dream on and only see it on your dreams.

the uncluttered design style

i have been enjoying looking through the modern designs submitted from around the world to trendir magazine.  their interiors are beautifully uncluttered.  the colors, the lines of the furnishings, the open spaces make stunning statements.  the clean ordered rooms look inviting – if i sit there awhile, my life will become clean, calm, disciplined, ordered too…..  or because i live like this, you can all see that i am clean, calm, ordered, disciplined…..

Interior Design Inspiration from Paola Lenti - transparent living room

Interior Design Inspiration from Paola Lenti - transparent living room

but don’t you also wonder if anyone really lives there?  where is the random joy of life, where are the books, the children’s toys, the evidence of the last drinks and snacks while enjoying the stunning view? at least a laptop….

but i have noticed that people who focus on just a few things, allow just a few things to be predominant in their lives, their time, their living spaces, their work space, are calmer people, focused in their thoughts and goals and are usually very productive.  

are they happy?  that depends on their goals.  if order, calm, discipline, squeaky clean spaces and lack of clutter are the goal, you will never get there and will have a rather joyless life.  but if your goal is to be productive, to continue to focus on areas in your life that are really accomplishing something, building, changing things, changing people for the better, leaving something for the next generation, then the order, calm and discipline fall into place and there is also a wonderful exuberance to life.

“every man dies – not every man really lives.”  

william ross wallace, american poet, 1819-1881

the cluttered design style

what’s behind it?

possibility #1 – a hectic life, jumbled plans and ideas, time and thoughts unorganised, undisciplined (and confused?)

possibility #2 – a love of many things, people, places, interests, travel, collections. full rooms and closets, walls and floors.  all the colors, many details, often tired but happy (?).

possibility #3 — accumulated functional clutter, not really a style, but the result of the practical need to keep the books and papers, tools and equipment that makes things happen, that will or might be needed.  the lack of time to clean, declutter or organize (or the lack of care to?…..) 

possibility #4 – a combination of the above?

(also see the uncluttered sytle, next post……)