Doesn’t it just figure. Hollywood Regency, that glammed-out mode of movie-set-inspired interior decorating that for years made Los Angeles the laughingstock of uppity shelter magazines, has developed a world-class pedigree. Suddenly, design mavens everywhere are having wet dreams about Cecil Beaton, Billy Haines, oversize doors, padded walls, pink poodles, and satin as the new cotton. That slightly larger-than-life cinematic sensibility that we take for granted is creeping into decorator-victim hallways from the Hamptons to Cap d’Antibe. Suddenly, the world can’t get enough of our glamorous funky look.
Of course, it’s happening just at the time that Los Angeles is beginning to develop a fresh new style of its own, and it ain’t about movie sets. We’ve ceased caring about how the rest of the world perceives us, and started thinking about how we see ourselves. We’ve stopped trying to be New York, London or Paris with palm trees — perhaps our multizillion-dollar subway to nowhere cured us of all that. We’re no longer striving for superhyped turquoise-, cocaine- and marijuana-colored versions of French chateaus and Tuscan villas. Publicly and privately, L.A. is finally coming around to the unique way we have of living — which makes us unique in who we are.
Perhaps the first glimmer of our newly celebrated identity occurred a few years ago with the opening of the Getty, a swellegant free tram ride to some of the most breathtaking aesthetic vantage points that L.A. has to offer. It’s not about the art — it’s simply about being there. What could be more L.A.? Then there’s Our Lady of the Angels, which may look like a deserted shopping mall when viewed from the 101, but once inside the experience is jaw-dropping, especially the Zen-like magnificence of the baptistery. Who’d have thought the Catholic Church could so stylishly segue into the 21st century?
Of course, focusing on L.A.’s true religion is the ArcLight Cinema, the remodel of the Cinerama Dome that’s established itself as a case study in film experience. Unlike the Hollywood & Highland project, which should be torn down pronto, and the Grove, L.A.’s laid-back answer to the ever-kinetic Universal CityWalk, the ArcLight has brought the magic back to going to the movies. The space not only thoughtfully embraces the old Cinerama Dome, it embraces the people who go there. From the sexy restaurant to the outdoor courtyard, which at night becomes a beautifully lit sci-fi promenade, it’s the one user-friendly place in town that fulfills the promise of the future made years ago by the Theme Restaurant at LAX. Frank Gehry’s thrilling new Disney Hall certainly responds to that promise, and we’ll soon find out if it’s as exciting to attend as it is to look at.
Style in the private sector is finally becoming unfettered from fashion. Cocooning has begun to ripen with a new sensibility, and Angelenos are re-defining space to personalize their private worlds. For instance, there’s the couple — a happening real estate agent and artist — who live in a ’50s modern apartment filled with a major international art collection, some soft squishy seating and two rectangles. The first rectangle is a huge dining table that easily seats 12, because they like to entertain; the second is a baroque lion-claw-footed pool table smack in the middle of their glassed-in space. Both are lit by otherworldly glowing white light fixtures made of African silk embedded with wide stripes of seashells on the bias. This house gets to the heart of L.A. entertaining: the mix of the intimate and the grand.
A pair of writers recently moved into the home of their dreams, a Craftsman cottage overlooking downtown. He, a sparkly-eyed curmudgeon, turned a guest room into a punked-out version of an author’s dungeon, complete with funky old desk, tons of literary memorabilia, and meaningful garnish: a world within a world where he couldn’t be more isolated or happier. She, a literary socialite who throws open her salon at the drop of a hat, refurbished the rest of the house with her collection of plushed-out and restored Victorian and Stickley furniture that conveys the wit of the 19th century with the comfort of the 21st. Her renowned parties are like summer retreats at the Algonquin by way of Musso & Frank.
And then there’s the makeup artist, a single man who turned a 10-year-old three-bedroom in the Hollywood foothills into a one-bedroom bachelor pad complete with a private studio and gym. Walls came down, light came in, terrazzo was poured everywhere, and this very ordinary house is now a spectacular two-story loft with a view, a pool, a Jacuzzi, fountains inside and out, and a lifestyle to die for — but not in a The Player sort of way.
Three different homes, three different worlds, but all these people share a few things: They know who they are and how they want to live. And they understand that living in Los Angeles isn’t supposed to be like living in, say, New York. They respect the geography of the city — its climate, its light, its city-life/country-life dichotomy, its multilingual/multiracial character. These common denominators are the very fabric of L.A.’s new style. By looking inward — rather than trying to emulate more established cities — we are finally discovering our own true character.
Recently, I spent an evening at Cheebo, a fairly new restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, due east of the Strip. The first thing I noticed was a smiling face and waving arms beckoning me to the door, then I noticed the absence of guards, goons or anybody with a list. I walked into a complex of rooms drenched in a vivid orange-creamsicle color that should have been sickeningly sweet but was in fact delicious and flattering. The walls were tall and covered in lots of L.A. art. The rooms were spacious and filled with lots of L.A. people, all of whom had left their attitude at the door. No flash, no decorator tricks, no lounges crammed with wannabes and no pink poodles. The food was fantastic, the music hot, and the people cool. A very modern, very public moment. An ordinary night with friends turned out to be all about what makes this city extraordinary: honesty, clarity and personal vision. The world can have our old movie sets. We’ve internalized our glamour. Welcome to L.A.