A Studio Exec Goes from the Corner Office to Decorating One
Former Universal vp Eric Hughes is now a top interior designer who speaks a language that industry clients like Stacey Snider understand.
Hughes may be the hottest designer you've never heard of. Though he has a client roster that reads like an entertainment industry who's who (Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Hank Azaria, Lauren Graham, Andy Cohen, Lynn Harris, Stacey Snider and real estate developer husband Gary Jones, Blair and David Kohan, Marci Klein and Adam Shankman), he doesn't have business cards, he only just created a website (because friends pressured him to) and, for many years, he didn't even have a cellphone. "The only social media I like is Instagram," he says, "because it's pretty pictures and people are friendly."
A former studio exec, Hughes was vp production at Universal (shepherding Bring It On, among other films) before he did a career about-face. "I loved my job, but at the end of the day, I didn't feel like I could be in the film business for the rest of my life," he says of his aha moment in 2000. "So I decided to move on to the next. Even though I had no idea what 'the next' would actually be."
The 6-foot-7 Newport Beach-bred Hughes unwittingly already had sowed the seeds for his second act in the early 1990s when his friend Parker asked him to pitch in on her first Manhattan pad. "My own places were always very turned out," he says. "So when she moved to New York and got a place on 10th Street, I helped her decorate."
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Cut to 2001, and Parker, then three years into Sex and the City and pregnant with her first child, again called on Hughes, this time to work on her 1865 Bridgehampton farmhouse. "I was terrified at the beginning," says Hughes, who lived in the house on his own for seven months while executing a top-to-bottom redo. "But then I realized, 'Oh, this is like making a movie.' You make a story or a visual idea of what's on a page, and it's a combination of big picture and details, just like a movie."
From there, Hughes moved to New York City and worked with a steady succession of East Coast clients, including Katie Couric and Tony-winning composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. These days, he's back in L.A. focusing on a handful of projects, mostly for industry execs. "The irony of getting out of the industry is that now I only work with people in the industry," says Hughes, who lives in Malibu with partner and fellow top designer Nathan Turner. "I speak that language and understand their quirks." Fox co-chairman Snider tapped Hughes last fall to design her office on the lot. "Here's what's incredible," says Snider. "I started at Fox on Nov. 2 of last year, and by the end of the first week of January, he was finished. He made it cozy, inviting and chic."
Hughes currently is at work on Snider and Jones' home on Martha's Vineyard. "The best thing you can have with anyone you work with is a shorthand, and that's something very subjective," says Snider. "When I say to Eric I want the front porch to feel beat-up boho chic but not hippie, he understands." For Parker, who has tapped Hughes to handle five homes in the past 15 years, his authentic, hustle-free approach is the draw: "There's nothing trendy or cool about him, and he doesn't make fast decisions."
His high-profile projects easily could set Hughes up for decorating brand-name status. But a product line — and the attendant army of staff? Not in his plans. His La Cienega studio is more hardworking HQ than photo-ready design atelier. "Eric wants to have a full, rich life, and he also wants to take his time with his work," says Parker. Says Hughes: "If I get too big and hire a lot of bodies, then I have more mouths to feed, then I'll need to take on more projects to keep it all going. And if I need to take on lots of projects, then I can't be as discerning about who I choose to work with. Which means that I'll have to work with crazy people again. And that's why I left Hollywood in the first place — to not have to work with crazy people."
This story first appeared in the Oct. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.