The Wall Street Journal, March 23 2018: "Interior Design That Will Let You Party Like A President"
August 5, 2017
The SoCal mix of opulence and ease in the legendary Sunnylands estate encouraged visiting world leaders to kick back. Designer Richard Mishaan shows how to create your own swanky space for high-level entertaining.
Richard Mishaan fancies himself more than a decorator. "I'm an anthropologist," the New York interior designer said. "I observe how people live and try to make them comfortable." For a pair of effervescent Tribeca parents, for example, he introduced 18K gold tiles into otherwise lackluster white-tiled bathroom walls; in the SoHo loft of a Texan and his Francophile wife, Mr. Mishaan set a toothy taxidermy crocodile below a gilded 18th-century French mirror.
Mr. Mishaan's anthropological bent may explain his obsession with Sunnylands, the very civilized 1966 estate that belonged to Walter and Leonore Annenberg in Rancho Mirage, California, where the billionaire couple (he published TV Guide and served as U.S. ambassador to the U.K.) famously feted presidents and dignitaries. Today, it function as a historical site, and a trust the pair left behind ensures it remains a meeting place for leaders of all sorts (they envisioned it as the "Camp David of the West").
The living room of the 20,000 square-foot-house (above) exemplifies the Annenbergs' tastes. In rigid symmetry, paintings by Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gaugin (today, reproductions stand in) flank the fireplace as does 18th-century Chinese cloisonne. Still, the spaces feels as relaxed as cocktail hour on the back lawn. "Coming from the east coast and settling there, the Annenbergs chose to have a life that was a lot more laid back," Mr. Mishaan said. Their designer, William "Billy" Haines, made low-seated furniture that practically demanded a looser arrangement of limbs. Color choices contributed to the restfulness as well. "Ms. Annenberg loved the palette of sherbet colors [in] the desert-- sunny, optimistic, soothing," said Anne Rowe, director of collections and exhibitions at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands. Here, how to pull off a world-class party place.
Introduce the East to the West
Blending chinoiserie and clean midcentury lines keeps either from becoming themey. "Mixing Asian sensibilities and modernism equals timelessness," Mr. Mishaan said.
"There's nothing garish in the room," said Mr. Mishaan. Haines embellished his sofas with monochrome trapunto, an Italian padded quilting technique, topped with pale-blue flatwork embroidery. This hand-embroidered cover adds similarly understated finish.
Sub-bleached hues are the paint-color equivalent of Gucci loafers. "Celadon is very elegant, in a relaxed way," said Mr. Mishaan of this room's wall color. It nicely compliments the blush floors of Portuguese and Romanian marble.
Not only did squat seating encourage even guests like Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip to crouch convivially, it assured uninterrupted views of the desert outside. These 1950s chairs with brass capped legs are also designed by Haines.
Mid Century Oversized Klismos Lounge Chairs by Bill Haines, $1,995 for the pair, chairish.com
Fake an Impression
"The works of art could stop your heart, but the setting wasn't junked up," said Mr. Mishaan. Let this hand-embellished giclee breathe, too.
Edouard Manet's Flowers in a Crystal Vase reproduction by Soicher Marin, $1,190, perigold.com
Be a Little Square
Placing the sofas symmetrically, Haines visually reinforced the grid of the floating-plaster ceiling-- an update of wood coffered versions that was a trademark of the building's architect, A. Quincy Jones. "It feels contemporary and traditional," said Mr. Mishaan, "classical but taking part in something new." This streamlined sofa from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams establishes a similar linearity.
Of the Qing Dynasty birds that flank the fireplace, Ms. Rowe said, "At the time it was believed cranes mated for life, which would not have escaped these two lovebirds." The Annenbergs were married more than 50 years.
His resume: Bogota-born Mr. Mishaan, 59, apprenticed "for, like five minutes:" with architect Philip Johnson. After a foray as a fashion designer (his namesake label is now the stuff of eBay), he armed himself with a real-estate development degree from Colombia University's Graduate School of Architecture as hung out his design shingle. He founded his namesake firm in New York in 1993 and has appeared in Architectural Digest's list of 100 best designers every year since 2012.
His clients: Sports stars, bankers and hedge fund wizards across the globe turn to Mr. Mishaan for his characteristic timeless modernism. Mr. Mishaan also decorated the Tcherassi Hotel + Spa, in Cartagena, Colombia, the lobby of which sits in a 16th-century house.
His goods: Mr. Mishaan designed a collection of hardware for SA Baxter, a foundry in New York's Hudson Valley, which took its cues from vintage cuff links and watches. He published "Artfully Modern: Interiors by Richard Mishaan" in 2014; his previous book, "Modern Luxury," hit coffee tables in 2009 (both are from The Monacelli Press).