An Introduction to Hollywood Regency Design – Part I

The purpose of this post is to begin an exploration of the style we now refer to as Hollywood Regency.  We’ll start with its roots, the design principles, social environment, and interior designers who initially popularized the style during Hollywood’s golden age. We’ll then move on to look at current 21st century interpretations of the style as


A beautiful room setting from the Jonathan Adler website


demonstrated by design luminaries such as Jonathan Adler, Nate Berkus, and Kelly Wearstler.   Elements of the style are all around us in contemporary interiors.  Perhaps even in your own home.

Regency style – The Saloon at the Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton

One of the best definitions of Hollywood Regency style that I’ve seen was offered by Michael Berman in a 2006 interview published in California Homes magazine. Berman defined this mid-century period as one that was “essentially created by the movie industry and takes the best motifs and decorative ornaments from the Regency, Georgian and even oriental genres and exaggerates them for a new classic styling.”  When we think of the original Regency design style, we’re looking at a period from 1790 to 1837.  The style was based on classical design elements, formality, opulence, as well as Greek and Egyptian influences such as columns and cornices.  It is viewed as an extension or continuation of the Georgian style which preceded it.



The period known the “Golden Age” of Hollywood gave birth to Hollywood Regency and is the era from the introduction of sound in 1927 through 1949 when the motion picture industry was forever changed due to a 1948 Supreme Court ruling.  During this era, the industry was dominated by eight companies, which included 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, United Artists, and MGM.  Movie stars at the time were major celebrities with glamorous lifestyles that were in the public eye.  Famous actors of the era included Cecil B. De Mille, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, and Clark Gable to name a few.  Many movies from that historic era remain as classics today, including films such as Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Homepage-thumb6One of the first references to Hollywood Regency design that I discovered was a collaborative effort between Dorothy Draper who is thought of as a pioneer in the interior design world, and Paul Williams, a Los Angeles based African American architect to the stars.  Williams is a noteworthy design figure, and I’ll plan a post dedicated to his contributions to architecture and design in the near future.  In 1939, Williams was the architect of the Arrowhead Springs Hotel, and Draper was selected as the interior designer. The two were brought together on the project by Jay Paley.  Paley was a wealthy businessman who had previously hired Williams to design his Beverly Hills residence.  According to a 1940 article in Time, Paley recruited a number of his Hollywood pals, including Claudette Colbert and Al Jolson as investors in the hotel. Time describes the 69 room hotel as “late Californian with a Southern Georgian trace.”  The Draper Exhibition catalog from the Museum of the City of New York describes the project as:

“An informally laid-out complex of stucco-clad structures with flat or low hipped roofs, the buildings featured large windows, classical pilasters, and a semi circular colonnade, all decorated with delicate curvilinear ironwork. In its theatrical mix of modern and classical elements, this “Hollywood Regency” style was a Southern California version of the Draper Touch and thus the ideal setting for Draper’s equally fanciful approach …”

Given the Hollywood connection, there is no surprise that the grand opening featured a number of movie industry stars including the Marx Brothers and Judy Garland. Esther Williams was a frequent guest and several of her movies were filmed on-site. The hotel’s swimming pool was later named after her.

Prior to the 1949 court ruling, the studios were run using what was then known as the “studio system”.   As vertically integrated businesses, the studios controlled all aspects of film making, from production through distribution.   Film stars were under contract to the studios, and naturally, these contracts were written for the benefit of the studio, not the performer.  These contracts included “morals clauses” which would not be tolerated in our modern society.

151015_ymrt_gettyimages-3206752-crop-promovar-medium2Hollywood’s leading man in 1930, based on box office draw, fell victim to the studio system but went on to reinvent himself as an interior design legend. Enter stage left, William Haines, more commonly known as “Billy” who was forced out of acting at MGM by Louis B. Mayer in 1933 because of his openly gay lifestyle.  Haines later said that being forced out by Mayer was the greatest thing that was ever done for him.  We’ll chat more about Haines and his enormous design contributions, such as the Brentwood chair in Part II of this series.  Also on the blog, The Seven Elements of Hollywood Regency Style.  Be sure to sign up for e-mail notification of new posts so you don’t miss a thing!

The Brentwood Chair by legendary designer William Haines is a Hollywood Regency classic


An Introduction to Hollywood Regency Design – Part II

In Part I of this post, we discussed a definition of Hollywood Regency design and its history. A racier definition if you’ve not read Part I, was provided in a 2005 LA Times article where the author describes Hollywood Regency as a “promiscuous mix of Georgian, Federal, and Second Empire flourishes.” True or not, it sure sounds exciting, and these interiors really can be exciting. Speaking of, I will be sharing in a follow-on post what I believe are the seven key elements of the style for your consideration.  In addition, follow me on Instagram as I’ve posted a number of relevant images to illustrate the style with more to follow.  We left off at the rise of William (AKA Billy) Haines and his contributions to this style and to design history. The Haines legacy is an important one as evidenced by the recent auction at Christie’s of The Private Collection of President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan.

I was recently able to attend a panel discussion and preview of the Reagan collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).  A major focus of the event was Haines’ design career, his contributions to Hollywood Regency, and notable pieces of his in the Reagan collection.  Haines designed his furniture for comfort, and the Seniah chair pictured below is a great example.  It was a staple of his which he used in many projects, and it remains in the company’s product line today.  They were so comfortable and well made that his clients were known to simply re-upholster them — often remaining true to the original Haines design by using the same upholstery fabric.  By the way, if you’re wondering about the name Seniah, it is simply Haines spelled backwards.  My personal favorite piece of Haines furniture is the Brentwood chair which was featured in Part I of this post.

A common feature of Hollywood Regency is Chinoiserie design elements.  Haines truly loved Chinoiserie, as well as Chippendale and Georgian pieces which he combined with modern pieces of his own design. Chinoiserie is an important genre within the world of design and is often evident in current day interiors. Think of Chinoiserie as design elements which are clearly drawing on Asian influences and motifs, but originally designed for the European market going back as far as the 18th century. Examples might include foo dogs, ginger jars or cherry blossom motifs. A great example can be drawn from the Regan auction where I noted that there were 16 lots of lamps included in the auction which were designed by Haines or his business partner Ted Graber who had the lead on the Reagan project.  I have included six pairs of lamps below as examples.

lampsThese lamps were predominantly Chinoiserie in style (note the neoclassical exception top right) and sold for top dollar at auction. By my calculations, the 16 lots of lamps (all but two  lots were pairs), sold for just under $6 million. The lamps shown are timeless in their beauty and would fit happily included into just about any home today.

Floral Chinoiserie lamp from

I’ve also included a contemporary Floral Chinoiserie lamp from the John-Richard Collection for comparative purposes.  Notice that the lamp base has a more modern shape and the floral design is more abstract and modern.  Regardless, it would look fantastic paired with the bright yellow daybed shown below.

Haines designs included some gorgeous modern accessories using materials which were new at the time, such as lucite. The William Haines Company lives on today and continues to produce Haines’ designs for 21st-century consumers. You can see some of their work on Instagram @williamhainesla or on their website. Some of the aesthetics you’ll observe are the very modern design, low seating, tufted surfaces, metal arms and legs, and glass surfaces. Images below from the Haines website from the top are the Prism Vase, the Valentine Daybed, the Seniah Chair and the Angelo Chair.


Image Source William Haines Company website

If we consider that these furnishings were designed decades ago, it is amazing how timeless they really are. As an example, Haines designed the Warner mansion (Warner as in Warner Brothers Studios) in Beverly Hills. The mansion was constructed and designed from 1926-1937, so this is a project which concluded nine decades ago — it will be 80 years ago next year. The mansion was featured in a 2005 article in Architectural Digest.   If you look at the screening room as shown here, you really would not know that it wasn’t designed last year but for the many advances in home theater technology. I mean really — the screen was raised with a water driven pump.  You’ll notice that “promiscuous mix” where you see modern furniture design paired with Neoclassical architectural elements, a Budha’s head, and a Chinoiserie-styled wall covering.  There was a recent article in the New York Times titled “Why Won’t Midcentury Design Die?”.  When you look at Hollywood Regency, I think the secret to its success is that it draws upon multiple genres so that you see fresh, unexpected combinations.  The article quotes Jill Singer, a founder of the design magazine Sight Unseen “Nobody wants to see a room that’s all midcentury….But when you have a beautiful, interesting piece, it doesn’t seem tired.”  The pieces shown here from Haines’ collection are far from tired.

Image source Architectural Digest

Haines’ Hollywood network of friends and colleagues did serve him well. In addition to Warner and the Reagans, his client list included stars and influencers like Carole Lombard,

Image source Architectural Digest

Joan Crawford, the Annenbergs, and Betsy Bloomingdale. His biographer Jean Mathison described his style as “Hollywood Deluxe, a sumptuous amalgam of Deco Moderne and Regency Neo-classism” although others have simply described it as Hollywood Regency.

Another early Hollywood Regency architect was John Woolf. Credited with introducing the Mansard roof to southern California, and considered a master of scale, Woolf originally came to town from his native Georgia looking for a role in Gone with the Wind.  His design clients included John Wayne, Cary Grant, Judy Garland, and David O. Selznick to name a few.  It has been said that a Hollywood Regency revival began with a 2002 article in the New York Times written by restaurant and hotel entrepreneur Sean K. MacPherson. MacPherson purchased a home designed by Woolf in 1995 and wrote an entertaining article about the “livability” of Woolf’s architecture. He describes Woolf as someone who “brought pomp to a city of circumstance” The article included an amusing quote which compares Woolf to Le Corbusier:

“A house is a machine for living,” said Le Corbusier, whose mind was often on public housing. John Woolf, whose mind seemed to be on Marie Antoinette, designed machines for living well. Certainly the architect himself lived well. ”There was always a Baccarat tumbler with ice cubes and Scotch and a lit cigarette,” Woolf’s friend David Naylor recalls.

The MacPherson residence pictured below was listed for sale in 2013 with an asking price of $2.95 million.   At the time, the home was occupied as a rental by designer Nate Berkus and his then fiance Jeremiah Brent.  Harper’s Bazaar featured the couple and their home in July 2013 which was described as equal parts Mad Men and ultra modern.



Another Beverly Hills home designed by Woolf.  Image circa 1960 from Slim Aarons/Getty Images

The Hollywood Regency style fell out of favor in the 70’s, and as we fast forward to the present, a shared experience between several innovators of the original Hollywood Regency style and its current grande dame, Kelly Wearstler is working on Hollywood movie sets. The use of proportion and the grand scale theatrical bent of designers like Haines and  Dorothy Draper are carried forward in Wearstler’s interpretations.  Draper’s 1954 design of the restaurant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art shown at left has similarities with Wearstler’s more recent design work at Bergdorf Goodman’s New York City restaurant which is shown at right. Draper’s use of black and white accented with a bold lipstick red color, slick leather upholstery, dramatic light fixtures and columns would be perfectly appropriate for a current incarnation of Hollywood Regency style.


So now that we’ve covered the history of Hollywood Regency design, and some of its key contributors, it is time to explore what I think of as The Seven Elements of Hollywood Regency Style that you can apply to your interior design projects.  Thanks for taking the time to read these posts.  I hope you find the information useful and would love to hear your questions and comments, as well as ideas for future posts.  I anticipate a similar series of blog posts on Spanish Colonial Revival in the near future.  Be sure to subscribe so that you’ll be notified of new posts.