COTE DE TEXAS

PART TWO: SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION FROM FRANCE TO CALIFORNIA TO SPAIN

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The last story set the scene for a destination wedding to end all destination weddings.  The ceremony took place at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild at Saint Jean Cap Ferrat or the South of France to you and me.   The wedding was so beautiful it was featured in Vogue. 



When I first saw the story I was so overwhelmed by the location with its iconic pink villa that I planned to write about it, but time got away from me.  While I like to think I follow the movers and shakers of our world – the bride & groom’s families were unknown to me.  Maybe it’s because unlike other very successful businessmen, the parents of the groom are more under the radar than most.  That’s admirable in these days of 24/7 news, Instagram and Instant Fame.   The bride is more well known, she works as a reporter on a major news channel.


But, my interest was piqued when I saw this photo in Vogue:



Michael S. Smith?  What was he doing at this wedding?  Smith, arguably the most talented interior designer working in America today, was obviously very close to the family, judging by the fact that he was giving a blessing to the new couple.  But what was the connection?



 

Some time later I stumbled across a story about a vacation home in Mallorca that Smith had designed for close friends, I realized it was the parents of the destination wedding couple.




And finally, this photo above on Instagram led me to yet another house Smith had designed for the same couple.    Oh, and there were more, many more.   Some were old favorites that all of us have loved for a long time. 


Here, the bride and new daughter-in-law poses in the Villa’s Petit Salon, the beautiful room with two banquettes in matching alcoves.  The dress is from Oscar de la Renta.   The bride is so beautiful, she looks as if she is the mistress of the villa.


  The bouquet was simple – but gorgeous!!!




The couple at the Villa’s front door. 



The area along the reflecting pool was decorated with ribbons of flowers.  The “chuppa” was the round fixture, three tiered – in the center.

Jewish couples marry under a chuppa, which is traditionally a tallit - the prayer shawl men wear in temple.  The chuppa represents the house that will bind the couple together.  Of course, some scholars have other views of what the chuppa stands for.


Here is the view of the ribbon strewn chuppa, seen with the Temple of Love in the background.  So beautiful!!!


No words.



The tablescapes were flowering trees!


And here, family friend, the debonair Michael S. Smith, dancing away – while the lights turned his hair a shade of pink!!!  Too cute!!!!

To see more photographs from the wedding, go HERE.


It’s very obvious from the Vogue photos that Michael Smith and the family are very close.  What I didn’t realize at the time was many of my favorite Smith designs were actually the family’s houses. 

The parents of the groom were so pleased with Smith’s aesthetic that they continued to let him design all their many houses.  I’m not sure which was their first collaboration, but in a 2009 interview, the owner said he and his wife had been working with Smith for 16 years which brings it back to 1993.  Fast forward today, that makes it 26 years that the couple has worked with Smith. 

AND, in that same interview, the owner said that by 2009, they had over 10 homes and offices under their belt.  Not sure what that total is today.  To work together for 26 years is an eternity, to be sure.   Their working arrangement led to them becoming very close friends, of course.   For each house, the threesome would decide on a style and then they would go abroad to different countries and look, learn, and buy.   Those trips over solidified their friendship.  Which leads us back to the Rothschild Villa.   Of course Michael Smith would be part of those festivities.


Early on in their collaboration, the owner asked Smith about his design “Are you sure you aren’t making it too grand?”   Today, such questions are not needed – the three speak the same language.  Smith knows what they want even before they do.

“Our owner” said about his designer and friend:  “To understand Michael, you have to realize he has a complete visual memory and he has a random-access memory: He keeps a lot of files, and he knows exactly what’s in there.”




Montecito

The first house that made me aware of Smith and made me fall in love with him was “our owners” house in Montecito.   The house was so beloved, it has inspired a host of designers.  The house was featured in a myriad of books and magazines and everyone loved it.

NOTE:  Fellow blogger Artie of Color Outside the Lines just did a great story on this house and others owned by this same family HERE.



The house was based on a Portuguese design, something completely different for Santa Barbara, but it proved to be a breath of fresh air.  Its tiled wainscot is still copied today and why not?  It’s fabulous!   White slipcovers.   I would move in today exactly as it was without changing a thing.  I think it’s one of Smith’s best works.

 

The bathroom.

  

We ALL loved this room – with the Indian bedspreads.   We could afford THIS!  Well, I guess we could all buy the bedspreads, but who would hang them so perfectly and what about the rest of the furniture and the architecture?  You need Michael for that.   But, just the fact that he used Indian bedspreads from Urban Outfitters so beautifully gave us all hope.



MICHAEL SAYS:   “Decorating’s become so formulaic, and people don’t even think there’s a problem with that, it’s become like fashion. But you need to build up enough complexity so that when you’re in the room for the fifth or the seventh time, there’s a new combination or element that reveals itself to you. It needs to have a slower burn.”



In 2002, the family tired of the long drive to Montecito and wanted a vacation house closer to Los Angeles.

Hence, the Malibu house was bought from the Herbal Life founder’s estate and extensively renovated.  The house was featured in this book by Smith.

Click on cover to order.




A Palladian Villa is how it was described. 



Filled with antiques plus other items without provenance, Smith called this the ultimate high-low house.



I loved this room!


The beautiful master bedroom.

The Palladian beach house made real estate news when it was sold for what was then a record amount.

Ten years after the property was bought,  Christie’s came and packaged it up, even the shell collections, and it was all auctioned off.



Not to be undone, there was an apartment in London filled with treasures from Aladdin’s cave.


Room after room after room of the finest there is.  And it’s all so English, although the antiques are from all over Europe.



The guest room is really Michael’s room.  A tiny space, that oversized desk makes the room live large, even though your eye is drawn to the wallpaper.



The other side of Michael’s room, i.e. the guest room in London.  This is a rare photo – I’ve never seen this area of the tiny room.


Last year Christie’s auctioned off everything from the London apartment.   Understanding the owner, the choice for the auction is more easily understood:

“I don’t get tired of looking at things—it’s my hobby.   I’m a junkie. I have my wife, my family, my work, my writing—and my shelter.”   

Michael Smith and his client have each met their match.

And so, our owner says, he doesn’t get bored of shopping.  He’s always looking for new items in catalogues.  He’s a junkie.  And he’s lucky he can afford his hobby.   I too have this same hobby. 

HELP ME!!!!!!!!   


The family house was once in Brentwood, it’s where their children grew up. 

Their dining room made the cover of Smith’s first book – Elements of Style.

You remember this photo of the gilt root console with pagodas and hand painted wallpaper in the back.

Smith started a few trends back then.  I credit him for the  handpainted paper revival.  Almost all his dining rooms were lined in them.

Another of his trends was suzanis.   All his beds had suzanis at the end of them – or else they hung on the walls.  Eventually, he designed fabrics like the Tree of Life pattern and he stopped using suzanis, although I have seen one recently.


MICHAEL SAYS:    “I don’t think you can delegate too much, I can say to my staff, ‘I’d love a rocking chair in green; can you find me five to choose from?’ But that’s it. I do it. I mean, there was a transfer of power with the new king of Spain, and James and I went to the reception. I was in a morning coat in the palace washroom talking to a Spanish client about a grout color they didn’t like. There’s no shortcut—you’re either in it or you’re not.”




From the Brentwood house, this room was shown on blogs for years?  I loved the silk curtains in yellow mixed with the red and white stripes.  I thought it was genius!


The red and white stripes with saffron.  I was obsessed with this!!!!!





The dining room – filled with pagodas.   Smith carried the saffron through to this room with the leather chairs.  The wallpaper was gorgeous.



Remember this bedroom?  Iconic!  

Another Christie’s sale last year included this bed, along with items from this house.


With children now living in NYC, the Brentwood house was sold and our owners moved to the East Coast.  There would be two main apartments that garnered enormous publicity in real estate blogs. 


The first NYC apartment (seen in Architectural Digest in 2011 HERE) where art work hangs on mirrored walls.

It’s hard to see but the Versailles parquet wood floor is covered in German silver which was constructed in India.  How does it hold up?  It gets better with age says our owner!!!


The dining room – that molding!!!!  LOVE!

This might be my favorite dining room Smith has done.  Maybe not – it’s hard to say since there are so many – but wow!!!!   It’s gorgeous.

Smith wanted this apartment to have a strict neoclassical feel with antiques from the Louis XVI period.

Smith called the apartment Versailles in the Sky and it stuck.   Almost every real estate story about this apartment used this moniker.



This sums it all up.  Talk about using what you have.   A 1710 antique by Andre-Charles Boulle is used to hold a library of design books!  

I mean, it’s meant to hold books, but maybe just tiny antique books from the 17th century, not huge coffee table books!!!  


                                      

This room is stunning.  Antique 18th century chinoiserie panels.  Two missing panels needed to be made.    Amazing.


Last year,  Christie’s came and bundled up three homes, including the smaller NYC apartment,  and the London apartment.   It was all auctioned off under Michael S. Smith’s name, titled “Rooms As Portraits.”

How does Smith feel about his clients auctioning off collections he has worked on amassing for years and years????  


MICHAEL SAYS:   “It has to do with timing…if it happens too fast, it bums you out.   There are so many easier ways to make money than this.  I don’t know anyone who is not emotionally involved in the process.  The pursuit of the stuff is really the fun thing, to be honest.  So you just become used to the idea:  Nothing is forever.”


WOW.   I love that!!!   There are some designers that when they hear their client is selling – they will buy it all back.  And why not?  It was their sweat and tears that found the one of a kind antique to begin with.  It’s fun, but it’s hard work.

And…  

MICHAEL SAYS:   “As collections, the lots have a certain vibration and voice, because I’m not a big one for filler from a showroom—that’s not decorating, that’s furnishing.”

Oh yes!!!!!!!!   So many designers “furnish” – it’s the easy way out.   That’s why his rooms look so original and unique.  They are filled with one of a kinds.



These houses were always published anonymously, no names attached.  Even the Christie’s auctions were anonymous.   But, some gossipy real estate blogs were in the know and always named the owners. 

It wasn’t until the wedding at the Rothschild Villa that I took notice of the name and started putting it all together.  I was overwhelmed by it – almost all my favorite Smith projects were for one couple. 

It’s fascinating to me.

The couple must have impeccable taste.  The wife must know how to sweet talk her husband…or not??????

I  loved reading this quote from the husband.   It turns out HE is the one who loves antiques and architecture and he is the driving force behind all these projects, not the wife.   She is busy with her clothing line and charities.   She leaves all the house business to her husband.

Read:

“Between my wife and me, she’s the client and I’m the designer. She’s not going to go through 100 auction catalogs, but I like to. I’d rather spend three hours walking through the Rive Gauche; she’d rather not. In the end, I show her choices, and she picks, say, 15 things she likes. Tramping around for art and antiques with Michael is probably my favorite leisure-time activity.  We always have fun. It’s not like it’s work.”

OMG!!!!!!!

Can I marry this man????!?!?!?!?

And he is so cute too!   Not in a muscle bound way, but in an intelligent, thoughtful way.  

I digress.

LOL 

So while the couple have sold off so many of their larger properties, Brentwood, Malibu, Santa Barbara, and, London.   Where are they now?



One only has to look at the papers for the answer.  With Versailles in the Sky sold, they needed a space in NYC for their permanent home.  This second apartment was larger and more grand than the Versailles.     The renovation took four years and the neighbors living beneath weren’t too happy.   The apartment was initially two that had been connected - but the flow was off.  By removing an original stairway – the two apartments finally lived as one.   To see the GORGEOUS apartment in Architectural Digest, go HERE.



The newly reworked foyer with the staircase in the next room.  Is this an art gallery?  Helen Frankenthaler and Henri Matisse.  Stunning.   The desk is as fabulous as the art.

Perfection entrance to a wonderful apartment.


The NYC living room.  



I love that Smith used linen slipcovers on the gorgeous antique chairs.   The bookcases are to die for.



Not the main dining room, but it still deserves a Picasso, right?



The lady’s dressing room with beautiful closet doors.

Be sure to look at all the photos at Architectural Digest. 






It was the following two projects that I initially linked with the wedding:

Harper’s Bazaar ran a piece on the wife in her new L.A. home, and WSJ ran a story about their Mallorca home.  For the first time, their names were used in both stories.

The more I researched, the more I realized that most of my favorite Michael S. Smith houses were all for this same couple.


Now living full time in NYC, a place in L.A. was needed since the family Brentwood house was sold, along with the Malibu house.   Here, a new smaller, more romantic house was bought and shown in Harper’s Bazaar – September, 2018.


BEFORE:   The house was built in the 1930s and since the 1960s Nick Vanoff and his wife have lived here.  Vanoff produced the iconic Sonny and Cher TV show.   Our couple bought the 1+ acre estate in 2015 and in 2017, they increased their property by buying the house next door.

 

BEFORE:   The romantic pergola laden with wisteria.  The pergola surrounds the lawn on three sides.


BEFORE:   A private garden off the living room and guest room (seen below.)

The Harper’s Bazaar story is a mix of interior design and clothing design.   Our lady is head of the line Sies Marjan, designed by Dutchman Sander Lak.  The collaboration is just a few years old now and it has become quite successful. 

Both of the couples two children live in NYC and so the couple are now in the big city permanently.  L.A. is an escape from the noise and hustle and bustle of NYC.



AFTER:   The front hall with a marble floor and new stair railing. 

The marble floor comes from a convent in the south of Spain!!

The house didn’t need a major renovation, just a restoration.


The Harper’s Bazaar article was half interior and half clothing design.   Here, our lady models clothing from Sies Marjan – in the foyer with the convent’s marble floor.  GORGEOUS settee in green velvet. 



The sunroom opens to the garden on three sides.   Portuguese tiles on the walls – just like their former home in Montecito!  How beautiful!  Notice the tiled floor – gorgeous!!!  The windows remained the same.  I love their green painted wood. 


BEFORE:  Hard to tell, but this might be the sunroom above.



Before:  The living room, opens to the pool area.  Actually, the “befores” are very pretty!  The house had never been updated before our family bought it.

I love how I say “our family.” 


AFTER:   The living room today is in warm peach walls.  Robert Kime fabric on sofas. 



BEFORE:  The dining room.



FTER:    The dining room today! 

LOVE!!!!!!!

I love the check with the crystal chandelier. 

This was the photo that stopped me in my tracks when I first saw it.    I just love the classic design in 2019. 

LOVE!!!!



And here, the patio, now restored, with tiled walls and urns and lanterns.  OK.  She is soooooo pretty!!!!




On the first floor between the living room and the sunroom is a guest room, that opens to the gardens.  I really love this room with the green paneling, canopy bed – it’s so cozy and inviting and then, the French doors open to the outside.

Is this England?!?!?!?



From Smith’s Instagram, the two French chairs.



BEFORE:   The lady’s upstairs office with its own fireplace.



TODAY:  The walls are papered which continue to the ceiling.

But, my eyes can’t leave her outfit!  I love the skirt and the shoes especially.  It’s all her line.

This was the most interesting part of the interview.  The lady said she told her husband that for their next home (she knows him only too well, it seems) she wants the designer of her line to pick out the interior colors.  She said there will be a bright yellow sofa!!! 

Can’t wait to see this new direction they will take in the future!!!



And then, there is the story of Spain:


 

The house, La Posada, was 15 years old when it was purchased by “our couple.”  The balcony is a new addition to the façade.

Read about the house at WSJ. HERE.

In 2004, while on vacation, Michael Smith saw a framed photo of a seaside terrace in Mallorca which completely mesmerized him.  Soon Smith and his partner, James Costas, and “our couple” went to visit Mallorca.  “Our couple” bought a small finca which Smith decorated and often borrowed.  By this time, 2013, Costas had been named Ambassador of Spain and Andurra, by then President Obama, and he and Smith lived in Spain full-time.

Smith & Costas made many friends in Spain and Mallorca and one new acquaintance turned out to be the owner of that seaside terrace that had started this entire Mallorca ball rolling.  


As would happen “our couple” met the owner of the terrace house and although it wasn’t for sale at the time – it swiftly became the couple’s and Michael Smith was renovating it, a process that took a few years.


The pool is set away from the house on a lower terrace.  So beautiful.  I can’t imagine how heavenly it must be to lounge there with the birds tweeting above and the waves crashing below.

What is so enticing is the old, tall trees that look like a forest – but it’s seaside.

To understand the house, you have to understand what drove Smith in his design.  He tried to capture the Mediterranean experience, using evocative themes – but not in an obvious way.   Each room conjures up a nostalgic feeling, such as a Madrid hotel suite, a desk in Tangiers, a bed in Venice.



In the living room, the walls are stenciled in blue.   Across is the dining room with a large yellow and red painting that somehow becomes the focal point of both rooms.

There is such a casual sophistication.  Those walls!!   I can see Humphrey Bogart just walking through the doorway.



The dining room with red and gold accents. 



Next, past the dining room is the winter garden.   The tiles are Moroccan zellige.  Smith says the winter garden reminds him of the old Allah Hotel in Hollywood.


A small office with an array of tiles.  Love the curtains throughout the house.  Can’t you hear someone typing on an old standard typewriter, not an electric one?!!!



I love this view – from the master bathroom, to the bedroom, to its sitting area.  The space is covered in various wall and floor tiles.  No cabinet doors – instead there are Moroccan type cutout shutters. 

Master bath – where you can really appreciate the tile pattern in blue/green. 


Next, the master bedroom with the tiled walls.  Matching antique mirrors flank the bed.   Love the side tables.

Notice the ceiling!   Such a beautiful room.


Notice how you feel like you can walk right through the Candida Hoefer photograph of a Madrid palace.  Love that placement – it’s perfect!



In the guest room, Smith used same matting on the walls that Yves Saint Laurent used in his Marrakech house.  A friend bought it for him in a souk in Fez for a few hundred  dollars.


WHEW!


DESIGN NOTE:

What I find most fascinating about this story is how this relationship between designer and clients has lasted over two decades.  While we don’t have their first few projects to look at – I do see a definite maturing of the clients’ aesthetic.

Yes, there are blue and white tiles on the walls here, but they seem more sophisticated.  Everything does.  Nothing looks as if it came out of a store.  It is all so edited and one of a kind.  

The NYC apartment has that same look.

Has Smith’s aesthetic become more sophisticated too?

But conversely– the new LA house is romantic and classic Michael Smith.

All I know is this has made me hunger for more and more Michael Smith.   He is remodeling his own house in L.A. and are we ever going to see the Obama’s house he did for them?

         

This is without a doubt a Michael Smith design!!!  Is this her office in her house?  HMMMM.


And please, no politics!!!!   If Michael Smith designed Pres. Trump’s office I would post it too!!!!