Born in the extravagant tradition of classic big-screen set design, Hollywood Regency popularized the sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and flamboyant lifestyle of the stars. The style’s leading lights drew on a range of influences to create striking contrast and the opportunity for uncompromising self-expression in the realm of interior decoration.
Origins in Art Deco Set Design
The Hollywood Golden Age began with the first talking pictures in the late 1920s, on the heels of the explosion of Art Deco in the worlds of design and architecture. This can be seen in the set design of the era, which appropriated Art Deco motifs–its geometric shapes, its tasteful excess, its mélange of cultural influences, its celebratory, almost manic rebuff of Depression-era pessimism.
Hollywood Regency emerged in this context through the serendipitous stewardship of a former actor named William Haines. Haines, an openly gay man, was a star leading man for MGM in the 1920s and early 1930s, but fell foul of the studio when he refused to end his relationship with long-time partner Jimmy Shields, and enter into a sham marriage.
Fortunately, as much for the history of design as for Haines, the man had other talents. He and Shields opened an antique store, and Haines began decorating the homes of his old friends in the Hollywood crowd. Heavily influenced by the elaborate sets he had worked on in his acting career, as well as by British Regency and neoclassical styles, Haines spent the next ten years developing what would become known as Hollywood Regency.
Hollywood Regency in its Big, Bold Heyday
Characterized by its grandeur and daring mix of themes, Hollywood Regency was meant to create a kind of theatrical backdrop for the household dramas of the rich and famous–the fabulous marriages, the glamorous soirées. Haines’ early clients were stars like Joan Crawford and Gloria Swanson, and he designed tables and other furniture low to the ground, to accentuate the larger-than-life quality of their owners.
Another pioneer of the style was the decorator Dorothy Draper, whose work was executed with such minuteness of detail that it was also known as “Modern Baroque.” Draper favored big contrast when it came to colors and motifs. A wall-to-wall rug, in a shade somewhere between a royal red and hot pink, might be paired with sea-blue fauteuils and lime lampshades. The rigidity of a black and white tile floor might be offset by the profound curves of tables and ottomans. Rooms were often accented with ornate floral curtains and upholstery.
If Draper and Haines founded Hollywood Regency, David Hicks carried its torch into maturity. Working in the 1960s and 70s, the English designer used a wider array of patterns than Draper, but harbored a more limited taste for contrast. Floors might be tiled in zebra-like stripes or intricate geometrics, but a room’s aesthetics would stem from a relatively uniform color palette.
It might seem like a throwback to a long-gone era of excess, but Hollywood Regency will always enjoy a select popularity among those aiming to combine refined sophistication with bold expression of their own individual taste.
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