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
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.
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.
One 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.
Hollywood’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!