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


The Seven Elements of Hollywood Regency Style

These in my mind are the seven big ideas to take away when you think about how to achieve a Hollywood Regency look. Don’t feel like you have to do all seven of these, but some combination of them will get you there. You’ll probably notice that in most cases the images I have selected exhibit multiple elements. That is the beauty of Hollywood Regency – it allows the “promiscuous mix” of design elements we talked about in my blog posts titled An Introduction to Hollywood Regency Design. If you have not seen them, here are the links to Part I and Part II. In addition, I am developing a series of Instagram posts with additional images selected to illustrate the best of this style. You can follow along on Instagram by following me — social links are embedded in this page.  Note that I cannot take credit for most of the images shown here. I identified the sources wherever possible, and for the most part found them through simple Google searches.  There is a lot of design porn here and out there on the internet for your enjoyment and creative inspiration.  My goal is to provide you with examples so you can see what to look for and what works with this style of interior design.

  1. Play With Scale. Scale in this context refers to the size or level of something in comparison to what is average. When thinking about Hollywood Regency interior design, we could have furnishings, architectural details or other design elements that are larger or smaller than average. For example in a room with higher than average ceilings, you might have larger than average doors or decorative panels. When it comes to furnishings, you might have items that are lower to the ground. My beloved Brentwood chair as an example has a seat height of 15” which is a bit lower than average, while a canopy chair with its very tall back which provides additional visual height. Note the slideshow  images here from Kelly Wearstler’s 2006 book titled  Domicilium Decoratus which provides rich interior design eye candy with a mix of scales (and super elegant interiors). Mixtures of scales that are appropriate for your space are the first element of the Hollywood Regency style.

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  1. Don’t Be Bashful — Color Boldly! Bold pops of color are used freely in these interiors. It may be used on an accent wall, key pieces of furniture, art or accessories. The options are almost endless. Just be careful to know when enough is enough (or not). In addition to the Domicilium Decoratus images above with that beautiful bright orange, here are two additional examples. The first is an image from Jonathan Adler that features a kelly green sofa against a creamy background with pops of black (yes, black can pop). The second image takes an entirely different approach by using a black background and the color pops come from the white sofa and accessories as well as the Kelly green patterned rug. The key is a bold jolt of color, and when used against a black background even white can be a bold choice.
  1. Use Patterns With Impact. Hollywood Regency interiors often get big impact through the use of pattern. If you look back at the black room from point two above you’ll notice the neo-classically patterned floor rug and side chairs combined with the subtle damask like wall covering.  The image below also shows the use of a large bold geometric pattern on the floor combined with a smaller scale geometric print on the chairs at left. Note also the bold pops of turquoise blue on the campaign chair and accessories combined with the deeper ocean blue on the sofa.  This is all set within a mid-century interior (the fireplace is a dead giveaway).  Notice also in the adjacent space the bold, complementary orange accent wall.


  1. Accent With Chinoiserie. I will confess, I am deeply fond of Chinoiserie. Although my home décor doesn’t adhere to enough of the elements here to be considered Hollywood Regency, there is a place for Chinoiserie in many different interior styles. There are a number of ways to incorporate Chinoiserie elements. For example, you can use decorative items like ginger jars, lantern styled lighting fixtures, Chinese Chippendale chairs or beautiful hand painted wallcoverings. Here are some beautiful examples. Note the bedroom scene uses a couple of panels which are a lower cost way to introduce more expensive hand painted papers.  Notice also the pair of turquoise foo dogs on the bench.

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  1. Bring On The Gloss. Glossy lacquered furnishings are so appropriate to the Hollywood Regency style. The little apple green chest in the slideshow above is a “three-fer”.  Not only does it have a glossy lacquer finish, but it features Chinoiserie motifs and a bold pop of color.  These are the types of pieces which really “bring it” from a style point of view.  Some of my favorite lacquered pieces at the moment are from Jonathan Adler a few of which are in the slideshow below. I love that he has a number of different pieces that have great hardware and can be made to order in as many as five different colors. He also offers lacquered Chinese Chippendale chairs which would give you a “twofer”.  Another approach is to use a high gloss paint on walls, old furniture or woodwork which is an inexpensive way to go. Yet another option would be a piece of furniture with a more exotic hardwood finish.   Naturally, there are many decorative accessories you can choose from to bring a bit of gloss into the room.

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  1. Touchable Tactile Textures. There are a lot of ways to bring textured textiles into the room and delight the senses– textured wallcoverings, plush velvets on the sofa, silk pillows, leather, and fur throws are just a few. If you scroll back through the images you’ll find these in many of the previous examples in addition to the ones shown below.lisa-gilmore-interior-design-hollywood-regency-bold-decor-living-room-dining-room-new-york


  1. Pretty Shinny Things.  Bring additional sparkle into the room with items like mirrors (may include mirrored furniture), lighting fixtures and reflective surfaces.  These items add instant glamor and drama, especially when the room is lit.  Don’t forget to create layers of lighting as they are needed in every room design regardless of the design style.  The four basic layers are ambient, decorative, task, and accent — I look forward to explaining these further in an upcoming post.  Your biggest bang (from a “sparkle” point of view) is likely to come from effective decorative and accent lighting.  This is very important, however with Hollywood Regency as these interiors are meant to be dramatic and glamorous.  If you look back at the previous images, you will see examples in addition to the ones shown below.