Legendary Hollywood Decorator
By Peter Schifando and Jean H. Mathison
Design / Lifestyle
Published November 2005
228 Pages / Over 300 Illustrations
The two facets of William Haines’ career: His star on the Hollywood Boulevard near La Brea Avenue and a detail of the Chinoiserie wallpaper he designed for the Bain house in London in the 1970s.
As distinguished as any of his rich and powerful clients, Haines was a success not only because of his innovative approach to residential design but also because of his incomparable charm and humor.
His 1954 drawing, right, of a variation of his famous Hostess Chair, that was originally designed for Tom and Anita May’s penthouse at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
Haines’ not-so-little black book from the late 1960’s listed his famous clients and friends; “A house is a shell,” he said. “The people who live in that house make it come alive and no designer in the world can do that for them.”
Haines’ break-the-rules creativity is evident in this bedroom where two twin beds share a single canopy. The custom silk fringe and tassels would become one of his trademarks, and he would use them thirty years later in his last major project, Winfield House, the U.S. ambassador’s residence in London.
Guests who got a full tour of George Cukor’s house were always awed by the director’s dressing room where Haines installed a pine-framed aquarium above the fireplace;
In an architecturally over-the-top drawing room, Haines had Chinese Chippendale mirrors mounted over Regency Chinoiserie commodes.
The Conference Chair was designed for comfort and was covered in polished tooled red leather. When Haines’ studio in Los Angeles opened in 1949, the conference room featured a sofa and a low coffee table with shiny brass legs; in 1954, Haines designed a mahogany table and the coordinating Conference Chairs.
Haines and architect A. Quincy Jones, collaborated in 1950 on a state-of-the-art home for an advertising heiress and her husband, a shopping-center developer; the house was designed to take advantage of Southern California’s enviable weather. Glass walls retract into the building, erasing the boundaries between house and garden.
The 1955 armchair #966, made for Mervyn and Kitty LeRoy, was also known as the Seniah (Haines spelled backwards) Chair #13; a partners desk with bamboo-like detailing was designed for Betsy Bloomingdale’s bedroom.
Haines earned his clients’ trust by running his business in an impeccable manner. This rendering for a residence in Palm Springs, California, is detailed in a sketch that shows the hand-painted wallpaper and low-slung furniture, as well as the mantel-less fireplace and gemutlich table.
The dramatic atrium-like living room that Haines designed for the Annenbergs had a marble floor and coffered ceiling and was decorated in a soft desert palette of celadon green and sunset rose. The restrained designs of the simple furniture served as a backdrop for the museum-quality collection of sculpture, rare porcelains, and precious objects.
The most breathtaking space in the Winfield House in London was arguably the Garden Room. While Haines had been using hand-painted wallpaper during his entire career, he chose an exceptional He eighteenth-century paper that came from an Irish castle; over the doorways Haines installed late-seventeenth-century English pine Chinoiserie architraves and pediments.
Playing both leading man and decorator to the most glamorous stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, William Haines had an unmistakably luxurious, modern style. From the silver screen to the White House, Class Act re-creates the life and career of a true American original with countless photographs, drawings, and personal mementos from Haines’ archives.
About the Author
As an assistant to William Haines and Ted Graber from 1955 to 1985, Jean Hayden Mathison worked closely and traveled with them on their major decorating projects. Mathison now lives in West Hollywood where she is very active in community affairs and is involved with Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, an animal rescue organization. – Peter Schifando maintains the line of succession from William Haines to Ted Graber, incorporating William Haines Inc. under his own name in 1989 and working with Ted Graber until his retirement.
Why We Published This
All we knew of William Haines was his status as a cult figure with a controversial acting career in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Jean Mathison’s first-hand reminiscences and cache of archival documents propelled us on the road of reconstructing this self-made designer’s extraordinary journey from movie actor to top society decorator.