Patrick Dragonette feels ambivalent about the term “Hollywood Regency,” which he says has become a catchall more often than not applied to kitsch from the 1960s and ‘70s. So a moment, please, to correct misconceptions.
“There’s a certain theatricality, which is what most people associate with the style,” says Dragonette, who co-owns a namesake gallery on La Cienega Boulevard that carries many objects and furnishings authentically related to the design style, including the work of William Haines, one of its principal proponents.
Authenticity is any antiques dealer’s primary concern, but it took on special relevance as Dragonette and his partner in both life and work, Charles Tucker, set out to create their dream home. The house they purchased was in Palm Desert’s Marrakesh Country Club, designed by John Elgin Woolf late in his career. Like Haines, Woolf was a master of the Hollywood Regency style, having created homes for the likes of Lillian Gish, Bob Hope, Cary Grant, Barbara Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. And though this residence was built in 1978, the last stage of the club’s development, the men still wanted to honor Woolf’s legacy.
Dragonette and Tucker had what they called “some non-negotiables,” which they hired builder Larry Deason III to implement. Tucker’s list included a matte finish for the floors and plush carpet in the bedrooms. Additionally, most Woolf homes boast Pullman doors, but in this case the house “had a single door that looked like a pair,” says Dragonette. “I really insisted that we have the total Woolf Pullman door experience, and so we replaced the single with a pair of 2-foot-wide doors and new vintage hardware.”
Additional tweaks were made to the structure. “There was a tendency to close off rooms in the 1960s,” says Deason, “so anywhere we could, we pushed soffits higher and put doorways in, which really helped open it up and let in more light. And there was a little niche in the garage, probably for golf cart parking, that was odd.” That area was appropriated to enlarge the guest suite. The couple also asked Deason to expand a wall in the entry to create a grander sense of arrival. Giving it Hollywood Regency theatricality, they swathed it in a wallcovering that simulated black patent leather and created an arresting vignette from a striking contemporary gold-leaf wall-hung console, a turn-of-the-century stool upholstered in a tiger pattern, Hervé Van der Straeten sconces, and objects that wittily juxtaposed periods. This set the tone for the entire residence.
“Our main goal was that we and our guests be comfortable,” says Dragonette. “We didn’t tie it down to one simple style. There are nods to Grand Tour, Maison Jansen midcentury pieces, Billy Haines, Moorish influences”—in other words, a free-wheeling mix that, like the Hollywood Regency of Woolf (and Haines and Dorothy Draper), implies a sense of relaxed opulence and pairs period and modern objects with drollness and style.
There is a lot of white, though, says Dragonette, adding that it’s a shade “with just enough gray to make it warmer and contrast with the white trim and floor.” Because the dining room is visible from the enormous 18-by-28-foot living room, a wallcovering in a deeper shade of gray was deployed to acknowledge its separate identity while still harmonizing with the larger space. Bolder color infusions were mostly reserved for art and some upholstery.
The couple had a treasure trove of inventory from which to draw for furnishings. Some carried distinguished pedigrees, such as the Serge Mouille chandelier in the dining room and the modernist iron-and-calcite table lamp designed by William Haines for Sidney and Frances Brody’s legendary home in Holmby Hills. “I have always said that the criteria I use at the store is, ‘If I had to live with it, could I?’ and so in some ways this house is proof. There are things that seem to have waited to find their place here,” Dragonette says. There are also custom pieces, such as the agate kitchen chandelier and a blue sheep in the living room that pays homage to Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne.
But, Dragonette says, he also shopped more popular resources such as West Elm—for the mirrors in the master bathroom retrofitted to hang from the ceiling—and RH—for the klismos chairs in the dining room for their classical reference. The point was not to create a paint-by-numbers version of Hollywood Regency but to imbue rooms with the spirit of the period in a way that works for today.
Naturally, as collectors themselves, Dragonette and Tucker were uniquely positioned to achieve that spirit, and the results would likely please Woolf immensely. Yet like all collectors, there is another, arguably more primal, impulse informing the couple’s personal, pitch-perfect twist on Hollywood Regency: “I have always said I only buy what I love,” says Dragonette. “So, basically, I am a man of my word.”
—Jorge S. Arango