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A grand entrance: Take 2

After decades of derision, Hollywood Regency glam is back. Today's style devotees have embraced it and given it new savvy, mixing pedigreed pieces with no-name finds.

June 12, 2003|Adamo DiGregorio and David A. Keeps | Special to The Times

Standing in his living-dining room between a late-'60s Lucite bar cart and a Federal period gilt mirror crowned by an American eagle, Scott Mangan describes his design aesthetic. "People tell me I shouldn't say it, but it's really Modernism meets Old Lady," says the decorator, who lives in a 1957 Carl Maston house in Pasadena.

What he could say, but stops short of, is that his style places him unmistakably among a group of young trendsetters who have embraced the highly glamorous, decorator-driven mid-century look known as Hollywood Regency. As far as Mangan is concerned, he's simply "working in a tradition of beautiful design that you can live with."

Once derided as an outdated form of country club chic, Hollywood Regency is staging a major comeback, now appearing as the latest trend in home decor. The signs are popping up all over: in shelter magazines, in Versace's fall 2000 ad campaign, in independent films such as 1998's "Gods and Monsters" and last year's "Far From Heaven." Next year, the German coffee-table book publisher Taschen will publish a tome on Hollywood Regency by former Wallpaper editor Jake Klein.

Some early proponents of the revival were maverick decorator-retailers such as Mangan, owner of Rubbish 20th Century Furnishings in Silver Lake, and Diane Rosenstein, owner of Russell Simpson in West Hollywood. Commercial designers are also at the forefront of the Regency rage. The influence can be felt at retailers large and small, from Barneys New York in Beverly Hills to Trina Turk in Palm Springs. It is the style du jour for boutique hotels, as illustrated by the Viceroy in Santa Monica, Maison 140 in Beverly Hills and the Estrella in Palm Springs -- all glitzily designed by Kelly Wearstler of the design firm KWID.

But this is Hollywood Regency with a twist: a hybrid style that mixes pedigreed furnishings with anonymous vintage and contemporary designs -- most often incorporated into floor plans that have little to do with classic Regency architecture -- giving the style a fresh, invigorated look.

"Pieces of furniture are like guests at a party; they must have personality and create an interesting dialogue," Mangan says. "A Knoll sofa may seem boxy, but if you flank it with a pair of decorative end tables, the whole room can be made interesting again."

With an emphasis on decoration and aspirations to grandeur, Hollywood Regency, which began in the 1930s with an elite film colony clientele, was a California purebred -- a form of contemporary design that made knowing references to 19th century English and French design, peppered with touches of neoclassicism. Through exposure in movies and magazines, it reached its pinnacle in the late '50s as Los Angelenos built imposing European facades over modest Mediterranean homes.

"There was a desire to incorporate references to a cultivated past," says John Chase, author of "Exterior Decoration," the 1982 book that coined the term "Hollywood Regency." By the time Chase had identified its key elements -- French-inspired mansard roof lines, exaggerated doorways and shuttered windows -- they had already become a cliche of the suburban landscape. Over the last 10 years, however, Hollywood Regency interiors and custom furnishings -- particularly those from the 1930s to 1960s -- have been gaining a passionate following, especially with mid-century furniture collectors on both coasts. Works by designers such as Tommi Parzinger and silent-film star Billy Haines, who became Hollywood's first celebrity decorator, have rocketed in popularity, in large measure because "they evoke the glamour associated with a period of grand homes and great parties," says Jason Stein, vice president and specialist of 20th century decorative arts at Christie's, Los Angeles.

In 1992, David Geffen acquired the Haines-designed Jack Warner estate and put up for auction the entire Haines collection. According to Rosenstein, the appeal of owning pieces with such a provenance from "an era where people lived lives of civilized glamour" proved irresistible to designers and their status-hungry clients in the entertainment industry.

Prices of custom pieces have escalated to an impressive degree. A set of eight dining chairs by Chicago architect Samuel Marx established a benchmark hammer price of $54,000 at Christie's in 2000. At Modern One in Los Angeles, a pair of T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings mahogany and burled-walnut nightstands from his greatest interior design commission, Casa Encantada in Bel-Air, are tagged at $35,000.

Awareness of certain Hollywood Regency architects, particularly John Woolf, has also been steadily increasing. A Woolf-designed house with the original interiors intact could add a premium of 20% to its market value, says Crosby Doe, a partner in the real estate firm Mossler, Deasy & Doe, specialists in architecturally significant properties.

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