Hollywood Homeowners Moving Away From Mid-Century Modern Decor to Artisanal Furnishings

Jessica Sample
Michelle Monaghan (left) and Carly Jo Morgan were photographed Oct. 3 in Santa Monica with Moon Snake Chairs commissioned for the star’s Hollywood Hills home. "They took a lot of time to make," she says. "They're unique to Carly."

L.A.'s industry insiders are finally shifting from the ubiquitous, spare aesthetic and toward contemporary, studio-made items with "wabi-sabi like imperfection" and uniqueness: "People just generally don't want to have anything that's off the shelf."

The status symbols that make up the Los Angeles luxury home are changing. Where once design-conscious people in the entertainment industry would give pride of place to minimalist vintage pieces by such masters as Jean Prouve, George Nakashima, Charlotte Perriand and Hans Wegner, interiors are being pulled out of the midcentury modern past and into the present. For Discovery Group president Rich Ross, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, actor Clark Duke and Wendi Murdoch, the home decor game is now about collector-worthy contemporary design. While vintage is by no means totally passe, there's a growing excitement centered on commissioning one-of-a-kind or limited-edition pieces by today's artisans, including a clutch of ascendant designers based right in L.A. "There is a cachet about having something that's only one of five ever made," says Ross' interior designer Jamie Bush.

"We went outside of our comfort zone and just fell in love with the pieces," says Imagine co-chairman Michael Rosenberg of the contemporary furnishings he, his wife and their designer Oliver Furth commissioned for the couple's Wilshire Corridor condo. They include a Prussian blue-glazed, handmade porcelain chandelier by Brooklyn-based designer Katie Stout; a shell-shaped light fixture in white lacquer and brass by Jason Koharik; and a black powder-coated metal mobile chandelier by David Weeks. "Most people stop and look. So it becomes a conversation the minute they get off the elevator," says Rosenberg.

While the aesthetics of this wave of furniture and lighting makers vary widely, a few motifs tie them together. The look is more maximalist than minimalist. There's often a handmade quality. Many pieces have organic shapes inspired by nature. Elements of surrealism and kitsch creep in. The craftsmanship is impeccable and the materials are expensive. Among the hottest L.A.-based designers right now are the UTA- repped Haas brothers, whose quirky Jim Henson-meets-Maurice Sendak pieces are owned by Ross and his husband, Adam Sanderson (the former head of Disney's D23), as well as actor Tobey Maguire. Another is David Wiseman, who created a bas-relief ceiling sculpture of gingko leaves and branches in plaster for Murdoch in the dining room of her New York co-op. For her new house in the Hollywood Hills, The Path star Michelle Monaghan recently commissioned designer Carly Jo Morgan to create a pair of terrazzo chairs with serpent designs on them that each weigh nearly 350 pounds. "Her pieces are very feminine and maybe Gaudi-esque as well," says Monaghan. "I'm really drawn to the fact that one person made them."

In the past year and a half, a host of gallery spaces have opened in Los Angeles selling limited-edition contemporary pieces, from design impresario Ralph Pucci's new 12,500-square-foot building in Hollywood to showrooms such as Furth Yashar & __ (which intentionally leaves a blank in its name as a welcome to a variety of collaborators); Twentieth's The New; an L.A. outpost of Paris' L'Eclaireur; Casa Perfect (the first West Coast foray of NYC's Future Perfect); and Not So General, opened by Paul Davidge, a former Relativity exec who presented a solo show of Morgan's work earlier this year. Even 1stdibs, founded in 2001 as a premium online marketplace for antiques and vintage dealers, added contemporary pieces in 2016. CEO David Rosenblatt says contemporary now accounts for 10 percent of the site's sales.

Anything that became as popular — and as copiously copied — as midcentury modern was bound to have an expiration date. "At some point, you've seen the best of the best in vintage, and now we're looking for something new," says Furth. On top of that, the choicest creations by top midcentury designers skyrocketed, with a Prouve table selling for $1.7 million at auction three years ago. "I don't want a medium example of a great designer's work. I would rather look at what a young person is doing. You are supporting culture existing right now," says Sean Yashar, co-founder of Furth Yashar & __.

Before L.A. got its own batch of contemporary design galleries, many collectors had been going to New York to shop at such spaces as Friedman Benda, Les Ateliers Courbet, R & Company, Patrick Parrish, Cristina Grajales and the original Ralph Pucci. The collectible design market, admits Wiseman, is "not as developed in L.A. as in New York, but it's growing here." Now prices for contemporary design also are hitting highs, with a table by Marc Newson gaveling for $3.7 million at Phillips two years ago — the most ever paid for an object by a living designer — and tables by the Haas brothers going for more than $100,000.

"It feels very personal and something you'll keep forever," says I'm Dying Up Here actor Duke, whose art-filled home in Hollywood, designed by Furth, includes a marble-and-sheet-metal console table by L.A.-based Memphis-style designer Peter Shire. "The whole process took a period of months. Peter came to the house. He drew up different designs. When it was ready, he drove it over himself in this crazy, multicolored pickup truck." The fact that being a patron of a living designer can lead to a personal connection rings true for Ross as well. The Discovery Channel chief says meeting the Haas brothers — Nikolai and Simon are younger brothers of actor Lukas Haas — at their studio was "the closest thing to visiting the Jim Henson workshop. You walk into an otherworldly experience, and the workmanship is stupefyingly complex." Earlier this year, NYC-based designer Samuel Amoia created three custom drum-like stools in plaster, white agate and blue opal for Kevin Huvane's office at CAA. "He tells me that everyone asks about them," says Amoia.

Many top L.A. interior designers are drawn to working with artisans because newer contemporary houses are so gargantuan, and very few off-the-shelf pieces come in big enough sizes. "I did a house in Malibu where we had the designer Stefan Bishop do a coffee table that was 9 feet long. You can't go into a store and find a 9-foot-long coffee table," says Bush, who adds that big contemporary houses can often turn out feeling and looking cold without special touches such as commissions. "We're also doing this house right now that's 19,000 square feet. At a certain point, what do you put in these houses? What's going to make the scale human? What's great about most of these makers is that they are using natural materials, there's an irregularity about their work, a wabi-sabi-like imperfection." Interior designer Don Stewart has faced the same challenge with the home he's finishing for Legend and Teigen in Beverly Hills, which he has solved by doing numerous commissions. "There are 30-foot ceilings," says Stewart. "I want to give it warmth and character and make it an experience. To do that, I like to have one beautiful, unique piece as a focal point in each room."

Additional reporting by Peter Kiefer

This story first appeared in the Oct. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.