A blog friend of The Aesthetic Omnivore recently posted a great article about the historic actor-slash-designer William Haines (1900-1973). She has personally provided us with a little introduction to this legendary designer to the stars:
It is no secret that style and Hollywood go hand in hand. Costume designers like Edith Head and Orry Kelly and set designers like Cedric Gibbons have influenced the very definition of visual beauty since the very advent of cinema. The role of actors in this "fashion play" is normally indirect-- influencing national trends by simply being photographed in a certain suit, for example. Yet, there is one movie star who had a very distinct and lasting effect on the world of design and the very notion of good taste. In fact, his performance in the world of interior decorating would be much more lasting than any he made on the silver screen.
William Haines was blessed with, among other things, a discerning eye. This, in conjunction with his well-informed aesthetic sensibilities and innovative imagination equipped him with many talents. In his acting, he was able to watch and learn, quickly transforming himself from a rebellious Virginian boy into a provocative silent film performer in Brown at Harvard, Tell It to the Marines, and Show People, etc. Though his career on film quickly plummetted after the rise of sound-- mostly due to an ongoing feud with Louis B. Mayer about his unapologetic homosexuality-- Billy did not go quietly into the fade out, While enjoying his fruitful acting career, he had been dabbling in a little side business; one that would eclipse his movie stardom.
Opening an antique shop on La Brea Ave across from Chaplin Studios in 1929, he quickly built up an illustrious clientele, including pals Joan Crawford and Constance Bennett. The beauty his self-designed home at 1712 N Stanley had brought enough gasps from visitors, including Irving G. Thalberg, that his wealthy friends started asking him for advice on how to decorate their own expansive abodes. And so, out of a few unpaid favors to friends like Carole Lombard, whose home he transformed for free, Billy rose to fame as the Hollywood hacienda favorite, responsible for the interior design of the homes of George Cukor, Jack Warner, and Betsy Bloomingdale to name a few. Moving offices to 8720 Sunset Blvd, where BLT Steak stands today, Billy's star as a style icon continued to rise without faltering over the next 47 years of his life. In time, with the help of assistant Ted Graber he began designing furniture as well, such as the "Seniah" chair (Haines backwards). No longer were homes a compilation of others' artistry with a hint of the Haines taste-- white on white, chinoiserie, and well-placed antiques being his token trends-- but his own clever inventions were also being bought, sold, and implied into the lush mansions of the Hollywood elite.
William Haines passed away in 1973 after making a landmark career in interior design from Los Angeles to the House of Windsor. Insinuating his own class, astute taste, and unprecedented eye for detail into every project he did, he changed the very idea of beauty from the clunky and over-extravagant, Spanish-style pleasure palaces so popular in his own day to the clean, precise, and communicative living spaces of the modern era. William Haines didn't decorate rooms, he translated the personalities of his clients into physical structures, giving them the homes they had always wanted, reflections of their own true selves-- very vain, and very, very Hollywood. His work is still available today, but perhaps more profound than his lasting pieces is the influence he had on the industry itself, which, like his film performances, has stood the test of time.
- Meredith Grau, Author L.A. La Land
photos via www.williamhaines.com