Why Lenny Kravitz Agreed to Design His First TV Show Set

Douglas Friedman
"I do what feels right organically," says Kravitz, photographed Aug. 22 by Douglas Friedman at the Kravitz Design studio in New York.

The rocker talks about his inspiration for "The Queen Latifah Show" set and his final, bloody scene in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire."

This story first appeared in the Sept. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

Lenny Kravitz's career defies any categorization. A musician with four Grammys who has collaborated with diverse artists from Jay Z to country singer Jason Aldean and an actor who next appears in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, he's emerging as a force in the design world with a sexy rock-star sensibility that still manages to be welcoming.

"I do what feels right organically," says Kravitz, who established his own firm, Kravitz Design Inc., in 2003 after his own homes were featured in Vogue and Metropolis. His portfolio has hit critical mass, with luxury hotel suites, a recording studio at the Setai Miami Beach hotel and products that include an upcoming line of sunglasses for Brazilian company Chilli Beans and collaborations with Swarovski chandeliers and with Philippe Starck on his iconic Mademoiselle chair for Kartell.

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In 2014, he'll launch a collaboration with L.A. retailer Fred Segal. "I keep forgetting he's all of these things," says director Lee Daniels, who cast him in Precious and The Butler. "He performed at Robert De Niro's 70th [birthday]. I hadn't seen him perform in a while, and it was mind-blowing. I forgot he's a rock star. I know him as an actor."

Kravitz's well-honed design sensibility is about to get a national audience with the Sept. 16 premiere of Queen Latifah's daytime talk show. It is the first TV show set for Kravitz, 49. "If I scan through daytime talk-show sets, I don't find much inspiring design," he says. The sets he likes hail from the 1960s and '70s -- the bachelor-pad cool of Playboy After Dark and the mod apartments of classic sitcoms like The Jeffersons, which featured his mother, Roxie Roker, as the Jeffersons' neighbor Helen.

Just before THR's photo shoot in New York, Kravitz spent more than six hours at a Lower East Side tattoo parlor having a 1969 photo of his mom, who died of breast cancer in 1995, re-created on his forearm. "I think she'd dig it. It's a tribute." His Jewish dad, Sy, who died in 2005 at 80, was an NBC News producer. "In junior high, I was like a cross between Woody Allen and Richard Pryor," says Kravitz, who was raised in New York and L.A.

While his design inspirations include Frank Lloyd Wright, Karl Springer and Zaha Hadid, he took his cues from Latifah in decorating her set. "Latifah is soulful, elegant, sophisticated yet still street. She's a woman for all seasons," says Kravitz.

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A dramatic staircase dominates the modern set with its neutral tones and bold lines on the Sony lot in Culver City. The central interview area is flanked by a DJ booth and a more intimate interview area. Latifah has dubbed the space "the Michelle Obama room" in an aspirational nod to a highly desired guest.

It was Jada Pinkett Smith -- an executive producer on the show with husband Will Smith who got her start on The Cosby Show spinoff A Different World (her co-star was Lisa Bonet, Kravitz's ex-wife and mother of his daughter, actress Zoe Kravitz, 24) -- who floated the idea of tapping Kravitz after seeing two luxury penthouses he designed at the SLS Hotel South Beach. "We didn't want something too new so that it would be outside of what would be relatable for the audience," says Pinkett Smith.

But Kravitz, whose firm has a staff of about 10, is not a dabbler, says Sam Nazarian, CEO of hospitality group SBE, which owns the SLS. "We've had a lot of celebrities come to us and say, 'I want to design the next nightclub.' A lot of people are excited about design, but not too many people are good at it."

Kravitz and his team worked with Starck, who created the hotel's interiors, on the suites. The lairs were inspired by Kravitz's status as a world traveler; steamer trunks are used as wardrobes, while vintage photos crowd the walls in what Nazarian describes as Kravitz's "controlled chaos" style.

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The single Kravitz has designed his homes in Paris and the West Village (sold in 2010 for close to $15 million) as well as a recording studio at his house in the Bahamas -- though he sleeps in a silver Airstream trailer on the beach. "I love going from this big, opulent house to a trailer. I feel just as comfortable in both."

He continues to toggle between singing and acting as well. In Catching Fire, out Nov. 22, his fashion-designer character, Cinna, will meet a violent end. "After my death scene, everyone's like, 'Oh shit, you're not coming back!' But you move on," he laughs. "It was fun while it lasted." While filming, he also was recording a new album, due out in the spring, at night. "Basically, I didn't sleep for about a month. But I was high off of the creativity," he says. "That sustained me."