Hollywood Regency re-born

High shine and super sexy – furniture and fabrics with old-style film‑star glamour are making a triumphant comeback, says Helen Chislett

From top: Donghia Russian Roulette wallpaper, £1,136 per 7.3m roll; four Angelo wall mirrors, about £3,615 each; two mahogany-veneer and nickel Trammel tables, about £3,950 each; Beau sofa with chrome plinth feet, about £7,667, covered in cotton-mix Sweet Thing, £158 per m; Odeon Club chairs with polished-chrome base, about £3,452 each, covered in wool Camelot, £254 per m; and stainless-steel and glass Forma tables, about £10,998 for a set of six
From top: Donghia Russian Roulette wallpaper, £1,136 per 7.3m roll; four Angelo wall mirrors, about £3,615 each; two mahogany-veneer and nickel Trammel tables, about £3,950 each; Beau sofa with chrome plinth feet, about £7,667, covered in cotton-mix Sweet Thing, £158 per m; Odeon Club chairs with polished-chrome base, about £3,452 each, covered in wool Camelot, £254 per m; and stainless-steel and glass Forma tables, about £10,998 for a set of six

It is not just the economic climate that is feeling brighter, sharper and more optimistic. At every level of design, it is as though the restrained mood of neutrals and distressed surfaces is being replaced by a look that is sexier, shinier and more extrovert. In the hands of designers working at the super-prime end of property, the result is a more contemporary version of what was known as Hollywood Regency – a style championed by American decorators, most notably William (Billy) Haines back in the 1930s and 1940s. Tactile, glamorous and romantic, Hollywood Regency was a smörgåsbord of Georgian, rococo and Italianate influences, where bright gilding, jewel-toned colours, lacquered surfaces, lavish quantities of mirror and spectacular one-off pieces of furniture created a rich and exciting decorative palette. It was the perfect backdrop against which the great Hollywood stars of the day lived their lives. Haines’s clients included film legends Joan Crawford, Carole Lombard and Gloria Swanson.

Taher Chemirik for Galerie BSL brass Calligraphy screen, about £116,869
Taher Chemirik for Galerie BSL brass Calligraphy screen, about £116,869 | Image: Alain Cornu

Sara Cosgrove, head of design at The Studio at Harrods, says the change is long overdue: “People have had enough of taupe, wenge and plain linen. They have become tired of that muted look. It is inevitable that design is heading in the opposite direction now. This new aesthetic is super-glamorous and super-shiny – frankly, it is a breath of fresh air.”

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Laura Pratt, head of creative design at Candy & Candy, agrees: “The industrial minimalist style is waning, replaced by something much more luxurious and opulent. I wouldn’t confuse it with deco, though, which is actually quite masculine – this appeals to both men and women.”

Haberdashery London for Katharine Pooley porcelain and gold-leaf Feuillage chandelier, about £70,000 for similar commissions
Haberdashery London for Katharine Pooley porcelain and gold-leaf Feuillage chandelier, about £70,000 for similar commissions | Image: Haberdasherylondon Ltd.

Ken Bolan, founder of Talisman, an emporium that encompasses decorative furniture and objects spanning three centuries, points out that this Hollywood trend has as much to do with the 1970s as the 1930s – design being, of course, cyclical. He, too, can see a confidence in customers: “A few years ago, there was a definite resistance to the brave new world of bling. People wanted things that were aged, toned-down, with patina – shabby chic, in other words. However, this did not sit well with the renewed interest in collecting late-20th-century pieces. The fact is that many designs from the 1960s and 1970s were originally created to be shiny; ageing just made them appear dowdy. Obviously, when I buy from this period, I am trying to find pieces that are in an untouched condition, particularly by star designers such as Karl Springer, Tommi Parzinger and Paul Evans [brass and chrome cabinet from his Cityscape collection, c1975, £46,000]. However, if I find something without that sort of provenance that is tired but can be reworked for contemporary tastes, I see no harm in doing so.”

Nest Design timber and high-gloss-lacquer Red Writing Desk, about £7,846
Nest Design timber and high-gloss-lacquer Red Writing Desk, about £7,846

That is why Bolan launched Talisman Editions – late‑20th-century pieces that are intrinsically of good design, but that he has had refashioned in Talisman’s own workshops, often encasing the original cabinetry in metal or lacquer. “You have to look at something,” he says, “and think, ‘That is gorgeous and I am so glad to have it in my life.’ A star piece of furniture shouldn’t be bought as an investment, but to give the sort of pleasure that owning a Ferrari might.”

Donghia Angelo wing chair, about £3,890, covered in Rubelli silk Lady Hamilton, £207 per m
Donghia Angelo wing chair, about £3,890, covered in Rubelli silk Lady Hamilton, £207 per m

Reflective surfaces are key to the Hollywood look – hence, highly polished metals as opposed to dull ones; fabrics with sheen such as satin and silk; sparkling crystal for lighting and door fixtures; mirror-clad walls and lacquered furniture. The latter, in particular, is undeniably on message with this new vibe. Nest Design, the furniture atelier in southwest France run by husband-and-wife team Neil and Annabel McCarthy, makes the most beautifully lacquered pieces imaginable from the barn of their 12th-century farmhouse. The Nest Red Writing Desk, for example, is a limited edition of 20 (about £7,846); the first produced is owned by the National Museum of Ireland and another was bought by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire for the permanent collection at Chatsworth. Annabel McCarthy says, “We apply 15 to 20 coats of lacquer to achieve the depth of finish we are seeking – that gives a richness that is evident to the eye as well as to the touch.”

The Studio at Harrods “jewel-box” design for a transition area in a luxury Knightsbridge apartment, price on request for similar commissions.
The Studio at Harrods “jewel-box” design for a transition area in a luxury Knightsbridge apartment, price on request for similar commissions. | Image: Tom Sullam

Fameed Khalique, whose eponymous company is renowned for the breadth of exotic, innovative and rare surfaces it supplies to top interior designers, confirms that drama and theatre are at the core of the new Hollywood look. “That doesn’t mean you should overdo it,” he says. “Too many layers will appear kitsch. It is about choosing your palette of beautiful and interesting materials, but editing them carefully – think clean lines punctuated with really show-stopping embellishment.” In his own hand‑embroidered collection, he combines bead-, metal- and threadwork on silk, wool, lace and leather (from £777 per sq m). In the LcD collection by Belgian designer Luc Druez, for which he is the exclusive distributor in the UK, Khalique sells textiles that include weaves of copper and silver meshed into intricate designs (from about £300 per m). His extensive portfolio also includes tiles made from copper and aluminium by Canadian design studio DXU (aluminium from £79 per tile), pearl-studded wall treatments by Romanian designer Mihaela Damian (from £1,300 per sq m) and metallised weaves by Danish designer Annemette Beck (from about £167 per sq m). “Just one special fabric on an occasional chair can create that sense of theatre,” he explains, “but treat each piece as if it were a Hollywood star by highlighting it.”

DXU for Fameed Khalique recycled-aluminium Velvet tiles, from £79 per tile
DXU for Fameed Khalique recycled-aluminium Velvet tiles, from £79 per tile

Khalique points out that the original Hollywood Regency look was about people wishing to entertain lavishly in their own houses: “It was about having a home you could show off and about how your guests interacted with the space. People are doing that again in a big way, so it is no surprise this style is relevant to how we live our lives today.”

Paul Evans brass and chrome cabinet from his Cityscape collection, £46,000
Paul Evans brass and chrome cabinet from his Cityscape collection, £46,000

Interior decorator Chuck Chewning agrees wholeheartedly. Chewning heads up the new interior design practice Studio Rubelli in New York and Milan. He is also creative director of Donghia. “This look is going back to the days when people dressed for dinner and threw cocktail parties, when their whole life was infused with taste and glamour,” he explains. “People used to be scared of ‘shiny’ and ‘bright’, but in recent years they have been exposed to it in fashion, in retail environments and in hospitality design. It is all about theatre – one star piece can be enough to really lift a room.”

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In Donghia’s latest furniture collections, Chewning has taken inspiration from founder Angelo Donghia’s luxuriously layered designs of the 1970s – as enjoyed by a clientele that included Ralph Lauren, Diana Ross and Liza Minnelli: “Angelo brought a glamour that was based on his celebrity clientele. Again, it was about achieving a sense of elegance in the home, but married with comfort – just like the days of Dorothy Draper and Billy Haines a generation previously. We have returned to Angelo’s 1970s era in the latest Donghia furniture collection (from £2,000), with very-high-shine finishes of black lacquer, metallic leaves and polished metals. Every season we add more and more metallics to our fabric and wallpaper ranges [from £150 per m], our latest being Matador Mystique, and they are among our bestsellers now. They look so wonderful at night, making that transition from day to evening so seamless.”

Donghia’s umbrella company, Rubelli, has also embraced high-glamour metallic weaves in its latest collection, A Stiller Life, which includes Vague, a design first shown at the Milan Triennale in 1940 (£176 per m), Venier in shimmering gold (£143 per m), the extravagant silk-brocade Sagredo (£207 per m) and the rococo-inspired Lady Hamilton (£207 per m, on a Donghia Angelo chair, about £3,890).

One ingredient above all stands out in Hollywood style: gold. Not “old”, brushed or muted tones, but shiny, sparkling gold. Designers such as Taher Chemirik have been opting to use highly polished brass that emulates the colour of gold to dynamic effect in recent collections. His Calligraphy screen for Galerie BSL (about £116,869) was a highlight of the PAD fair in London last autumn; measuring more than 4m in width, it mesmerised with its elegant brass swirls and curves. Gallery owner Béatrice Saint‑Laurent adds: “Nothing makes more of a statement than gold. It is important for galleries to present pieces that are strong and dramatic, and the fact is this is the sort of optimistic and confident design that people want in their homes now.”

Interior designer Katharine Pooley commissioned a Feuillage chandelier, made by design atelier Haberdashery London, for her Doha showroom that comprises 200 handmade porcelain leaves fired with 24ct-gold lustre (about £70,000 for similar bespoke commissions). What she loves about the piece is the way it manages to be both super‑glamorous and super-contemporary: “Like anything, it is a question of how you wear it. Gold is not just about money, but about confidence, too. It is Hollywood glamour at its best.”

What many designers stress is that it can be enough to have just one or two spectacular pieces in a scheme. Arguably, there is nothing more eye-catching than the collection of exceptional furniture by Kam Tin, a brand bought by gallery owner Philippe Rapin of Paris in 2008. Typically, these unique pieces feature not just highly polished brass legs and trims, but surfaces encrusted with semiprecious gemstones, including agate, amber, turquoise, emerald and rock crystal. As a guide price, the agate console table is about £23,372.

All the designers interviewed are at pains to point out that this new bold look demands a gentle touch. “Don’t try too hard,” warns Chewning. “When Angelo designed an interior, he would finish it and then begin to take things away – to edit. If you overdo ‘Hollywood’, everything in the room will end up competing with everything else. Like any composition, it needs to be balanced.” Pratt also cautions restraint: “Finishes can clash in the same way that colours do. It is best not to over-mix metals for this reason. When we recently sourced a vintage Willy Rizzo dining-room table in brass and smoked glass, we wanted suitably mid-century-modern chairs. The ones we found had silver legs, so we had them replated in a polished-brass finish.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Cosgrove says that the smallest spaces in a house give the greatest opportunity to add layers with bravado: “When we did a large, lateral apartment recently, we wanted to create a division between the living and sleeping spaces, so we devised a ‘jewel-box’ concept for the transition area [price on request for similar commissions] – very glamorous and sexy with mirrors not just on the walls, but up the columns and over the ceiling. In a space like that, you don’t have to hold back.” Pooley agrees, citing the example of a lift she recently designed for a development in Singapore with an eye-poppingly shiny gold interior: “Very Great Gatsby!”

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