Hollywood Interior Designer Madeline Stuart Talks New Book

Courtesy of Trevor Tondro
A room in the Cedric Gibbons House designed by Madeline Stuart

"I want to reinvent the wheel every time and I want everything to be completely unique," says Stuart (who counts Larry David, Gary and Jeanne Newman, Lisa Henson, John Goldwyn and Jeff Klein as clients) of her approach.

Madeline Stuart is a true child of Hollywood. If there’s any doubt, look no further than the title of the interior designer’s new monograph No Place Like Home: Interiors by Madeline Stuart (Rizzoli, $55)which echoes the universal sentiment voiced by Dorothy in that ultimate musical fantasy, The Wizard of Oz, from Tinseltown’s golden age.

Though she flies somewhat under the radar, Stuart is a longtime go-to for an extensive list of starry and high-net clients in Los Angeles and beyond, most of whom prefer not to be singled out.  Among them are boldface names, such as former Fox TV Group co-head Gary Newman and his wife, entertainment attorney Jeanne Newman; Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David; producer John Goldwyn and hotelier Jeff Klein; and producer Lisa Henson. (Past patrons include Jason Alexander, Stacey Snider, Lindsey Buckingham and the late Nora Ephron.)

If there is a signature project in the book, it is Stuart’s sensitive and yet luxe redecoration of the famed Steamline residence originally built by MGM’s legendary production designer Cedric Gibbons for his bride, actress Delores Del Rio, in 1930. Though the marriage was short-lived, the house is a Hollywood lodestar and Stuart initially hesitated to take on the project. But assent she did and the house is now a tour-de-force, with the ambiance of the original updated with modern comforts. That involved duplicating the home’s original gleaming black floors (which entailed pulling up the new furnishings and polishing them a second time to achieve just the right Art Deco shine) and replicating a suite of French dining chairs to more generous, modern proportions.

“You know, I was so lucky to work on that Cedric Gibbons House,” she says over a well-earned tequila (approvingly noting the single large, square ice cube, “perfect, like glass,” in her drink) after a day of shopping for furniture with some clients in Manhattan. “He created the interiors for Pride and Prejudice and Wizard of Oz, and also Singin' in the Rain," she adds, marveling that when star Debbie Reynolds “comes out of the cake dancing in that first number, she's in a Spanish Revival house because he was one of the first to insist on environments that felt right for the characters and the story and that time and place.”

While born in New York, Stuart (the daughter of director Mel Stuart, best-known for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) and his wife Harriet (a noted hostess and decorator in her own right) was raised in Los Angeles, so knows her movie history well. In the introduction, she paints an indelible picture of growing up in a house with frescos on the ceiling and patterned wood floors in the Spanish Revival style — classic old-school Hollywood — in a floral-patterned bedroom she didn’t particularly care for. But it gave her an eye for interiors that “feel authentic and somewhat undecorated,” she writes.

Thus, Stuart approaches each assignment much like a director begins a movie, and so none of the eight residences spotlighted in the book look the same. Unlike many designers who repeat signature elements over and over in their interiors, Stuart and her team begin each project with a period of intense research to create a home that reflects both the people who will live there and the architectural style of their particular house.

“I want to reinvent the wheel every time and I want everything to be completely unique,” she says. “That may not be a good business strategy, but that's the only way I wanted to do it, in a way that was interesting to me. There are so many beautiful things in the world, why do the same thing over and over?”

Stuart accumulates what seems like an inexhaustible well of inspiration for each project, whether it’s a Hispano-Moresque beach house where the Moroccan-inspired detail extends to the 13 bathrooms (each one unique) or a Wyoming mountaintop retreat not furnished with plaid or antler chandeliers but rather with pieces from modernist greats like Paul McCobb and Milo Baughman. But even with all the detail, her rooms look ordered, spacious and comfortable.

“Like it might not be your style, right? People might say, ‘I don’t like Arts and Crafts’ or ‘That house is too fancy,’” she says. “But so much of it is also making sure that the chair is really comfortable or that they have a place to watch TV.”

Updated Sept. 3 at 2:50 p.m.