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William Sofield : Here and Now

A New York designer has turned his attention to two very California remodeling projects: a Craftsman home for himself and the Rodeo Drive Gucci store.

April 15, 1999|CONNIE KOENENN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

New York designer William Sofield has been occupied with two remodeling projects in Los Angeles, one looking forward and one drawing on the past, "a nice counterpoint," he said.

The first--the redesign of the Beverly Hills Gucci store on Rodeo Drive--is part of a project that has catapulted him into the international fashion limelight. Tapped by Gucci International creative director Tom Ford to design a 21st century look for his fired-up couturier empire, Sofield has been hopping around the globe revamping the flagship stores.

The Beverly Hills Gucci was relaunched earlier this year with a limestone facade and chaste interior, its black and gray walls and geometric stainless steel fixtures showing off the famous Gucci handbags, shoes and sexy dresses to best effect.

As if a schedule that rotates him from Tokyo to Milan to New York to Los Angeles weren't enough to keep him busy, Sofield, a bachelor who notes that "the only emotion I fear is boredom," is also reconstructing a sprawling 1910 Craftsman house in Laurel Canyon once owned by Douglas Fairbanks.

Not only will it be his Los Angeles residence ("To be able to open your window and smell orange blossoms or pick an orange off a tree is really a great experience"), it will also serve as a West Coast branch of his Studio Sofield. That's the Manhattan architecture and design business he established in 1996 to provide services for projects that range from two-room apartments to hotels and corporate offices.

Sofield, who, at 38, is being heralded in the design press as traveling "on fabulosity's fast track," is branching out and will divide his time between coasts. And he fits right in here. An amiable conversationalist with a jovial laugh who seems amazingly laid-back considering his hectic life, he relaxed over lunch recently at the Mondrian Hotel, after showing off the gleaming new Gucci store.

He was wearing head-to-toe black Gucci, his favorite label.

"I love the cut of this leather jacket," he said. "I think people design for themselves, and Tom and I are about the same age." And although he appeared in the February GQ wearing a white coarse cotton Gucci jacket and pants, he is no clotheshorse, reserving his passion for the design of buildings.

He Enjoys the

SoCal Lifestyle

Sofield was just back from Milan and headed for Tokyo, thriving on the global scope of the Gucci project, he said.

"I am really still very much a kid, and there are so many interesting, fabulous things," he said. "I love seeing those different cultures in juxtaposition."

And he loves returning to L.A. Like his friend Ford, who has dubbed Los Angeles "the next hot city to watch," the East Coast-born Sofield has long been attracted to Los Angeles.

"I adore New York, it's a stimulating city, but different than Los Angeles--you are so constantly thrown closely with people that you have a great regard for private space. In New York, you might nod to someone you know, seated at another table in a restaurant, but you would never pull up a chair and sit down!"

It's not only the casual lifestyle of Los Angeles that pleases him ("It's much less intimidating being here than it is being outside looking in"). As an artist and sensualist, he loves the light, the color and the general texture of the city. "You might find a Victorian cottage tucked between two office buildings."

As a homeowner, he is putting down roots, meeting the neighbors in Laurel Canyon ("Everybody has some story about this house and Fairbanks and Mary Pickford--she was like the Madonna of her day"), staging an impromptu luncheon for visiting New York friends with takeout from Greenblatt's and zipping around town in his black Mazda pickup, "finding antiques everywhere."

Antiques are often an important part of a Sofield mix. His press resume describes him as a "rigorous Modernist with the ability to draw both the relaxed elements of popular culture and the traditions of the fine arts."

Ford put it more succinctly: "It's hard to be modern and luxurious at the same time, but Bill manages to pull it off."

Typically, his own office, in the sleek Studio Sofield, is carpeted and mixes contemporary furniture with antiques.

"I have big upholstered chairs and furry draperies--there is definitely an unconventional feeling to the office."

Although Sofield said he doesn't have "a style," he does have a philosophy: "Interior design is about problem-solving and working with what you've got." He likes the notion of collaboration. "At the end of the day, I'm not living there. Some people are so terrorized by their designer they can't go to a flea market without picking up a phone."

A Style Borne of

Eclectic Influences

Sofield grew up in New Jersey and received his degree in architecture and urban planning from Princeton University. In the 1980s he received a Helena Rubinstein Fellowship from the Whitney Museum of American Art.

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