DIGStv with Constance Dunn gives you a exclusive behind the scenes look around Meridith Baer Home’s massive Los Angeles interior design and home furnishing warehouse lead by famed interior designer and home stager Meridith Baer herself.
Meridith Baer discusses how she transition from screen writer in her 50s to become one of the most well known names in interior design for the last decade, with all the challenges and the payoffs — an inspiring storying of a self made woman in business.
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Written by Jenn Thornton | Photos Courtesy of The Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art
Much has been made of Doris Duke—her dalliances and eccentricities, her vast fortune and reclusive nature. In 1925, the 12-year-old, only child of an American Tobacco Co. tycoon inherited millions, making her the “richest little girl in the world.”
One with a penchant for hopping continents, first with her parents, then with her husband, James Cromwell, with whom she honeymooned across the globe.
Beguiled by Hawaii, the couple extended their stay there and went on to purchase a dazzling oceanfront parcel near Diamond Head, outside Honolulu, for Duke’s Islamic-inspired eden—Shangri La.
On the surface, Shangri La is the grand, expressive statement one might expect a tremendously prosperous person to own, particularly in the 1930s, when it also reflected a fashionable interest of the era. “At the time of her travels through the Islamic world, affluent families in New York City were enamored with the orientalist fantasies,” explains Konrad Ng, executive director of the home’s current role as Shangri La Center, A Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design.
But, he adds, “Doris Duke’s curiosity was the start of what became a more meaningful engagement with Islamic art and the recognition of its great value.”
Shangri La articulates quite significantly her “deep embrace of the world-at-large” and “her admiration of the history and heritage of peoples and cultures that may not have been her own.”
Completed in 1939, Shangri La is comprised of 5 acres, on which the main house stretches a magnificent 14,000 square feet. Architecturally, the property’s most signifying feature is the Central Courtyard, its open-air ceiling and fountain indicative of a Middle Eastern home. Of the mansion’s 12 rooms, a number have undergone dramatic changes. The Damascus Room was transformed into its current state in the 1950s, when Duke purchased an authentic Syrian interior for the space; the Dining Room, formerly ocean-themed, sported a wall of aquariums and a traditional dining table and chairs; and the Syrian Room was once a billiards room with an office on the upper floor.
Most spaces, however, have changed only with textiles, furniture arrangement, and new acquisitions over the course of Duke’s lifetime. The Mughal Suite, a jewel-box bedroom and bath that borrowed inspiration from the Taj Mahal, remains striking with marble inlay panels and carved marble screens. Intended to mimic royal gardens on the Indian subcontinent, the Mughal Garden offers exterior flourish, complemented by the Playhouse, a poolside pavilion that replicates an ancient Iranian palace. Interior touches are rich and flavorful.
Highlights include ornate tilework (most from the Ilkhanid period); late Ottoman-Syrian interiors and furniture; a vibrant foyer ceiling made in Morocco; colored-glass windows; and a kaleidoscope of textiles and carpets for a lavish cultural tapestry.
In all, the Shangri La collection encompasses some 4,500 objects, the majority of which were created in the Islamic world. Of these holdings, most notable are two intact
Damascene interiors (the aforementioned Damascus Room and Syrian Room), which offer a chance to see traditional painted woodwork, or ‘ajami, up close outside of Syria; the ceramic luster Veramin mihrab (48.327), which dates from 1265 AD and features a rare signature and date; and a pair of shaped Indian Mughal carpets (81.49 and 81.50) from the 17th century.
History may call Doris Duke an heiress, but she is best considered a philanthropist, one who used her wealth for the cultural inheritance of all.
With a place like Shangri La, the “richest little girl in the world” became a true woman of the world.
Written by Constance Dunn | Photography Courtesy of H.D. Buttercup
Consider H.D. Buttercup probably the most prolific showcase of smart, eclectic decor in Los Angeles. Started in 2005, the company has quickly grown from a single site to a network of locations across the city—four total; all sprawling, browse-friendly galleries filled with distinctive modern home goods. The Culver City location is its most striking—a mammoth flagship at the former site of Helms Bakery along Venice Boulevard.
Stepping into the space, 150,000 square feet in all, one is overtaken with the comprehensive glamour of the place. It’s an artillery of the best in modern design sensibilities—from furniture and original artwork to rugs and lighting. The space draws its charm from a far-flung mix of aesthetics—a Moroccan rug might mingle with fur-covered dining chairs; geometric chandeliers against over-stuffed linen armchairs—melding pleasantly and gathering rather neatly under the umbrella of Modern California cool. (The variety at H.D. Buttercup extends to its product lines: If shopping for a new couch, one can find a Lange 3-Piece Sectional for $11,595.00 or snag a creamy Mid-Century tufted model for around $700 on sale.)
One can’t help but find inspiration among the well-crafted scenes found while perusing the store, and if a setup captivates, it can be yours, down to the duvet, candles and throw pillows. “We are one of the only furniture establishments who makes off-the-floor sales,” says Kathleen Lawler, manager at H.D. Buttercup Culver City. “Meaning you can take your furniture home and enjoy it the same day you buy it!”
As for best times to shop, Lawler recommends the middle of the week. “We get tons of new product shipped to us at the beginning of the week and by Wednesday, you have first pick at all the newest pieces.”
Bedding is a big part at H.D. Buttercup too. “Our In Bed department houses the most eclectic and diverse bedding in Los Angeles,” notes Lawler. “With lines such as Society, Coyuchi, Matuk, Pom Pom, Bella Notte and John Robshaw, H.D. Buttercup is a destination for anyone seeking high-quality linens.” In addition to the Culver City flagship, there are H.D. Buttercup points in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and the Arts District of DTLA. “Each of our locations has an inimitable personality focused on Los Angeles’ various geographical landscapes and reputations,” explains Lawler. “In Santa Monica, for example, we will have more of our Cali Coastal line represented, whereas in Downtown, we have more of the Loft collection available.” A showcase of H.D. Buttercup’s entire collection, however, can always be found at the Culver City locale.
Outside of Los Angeles, there’s a 40,000-square foot outpost in Costa Mesa, a couple of locations in San Francisco, and even one in Hong Kong that’s answering a current-day demand for California style.
Finally, if you’re wondering about the name, H.D. Buttercup is the moniker of the outfit’s fictional mascot: Herbie Buttenscheimer. Originally from Queens, Buttenscheimer moved to Hollywood and did like so many others before him— reinvented himself with a new name and a new vocation: that of a globe-trotting purveyor of furniture and art, and always choosing only the items that please him.
Written by Constance Dunn | Photography Courtesy of Paul Jonason
It’s a strange idea that a creative person must work in a single lane; confine oneself to producing paintings, sculptures or other works in a single discipline. It’s a concept certainly not adhered to by Dan Janotta, whose output includes paintings, furniture and home decor—when he’s not designing buildings. “See those models?” the artist asks while sitting behind the desk in his new Hermosa Beach gallery, pointing to a series of crisp-white 3D architectural models that rest along the counter. “That’s what I do during the day. I design high rises.” A senior design architect who’s been with the same Los Angeles firm for 30 years, Janotta recounts exploring furniture design in the early 1990s and, for a brief spell, having a store where he sold his works. “It’s like designing a building,” Janotta says of the discipline. “You have to come up with a concept. You have to figure out how the measurements work.” Then there are materials, engineering, and so forth. About a dozen years later, Janotta expanded his creative repertoire by painting—first watercolors, then acrylics, now oil. “It’s a contrast to what I do at work,” he says, citing the painstaking detail and precision, not to mention long computer hours, work with clients, and creative compromise of his profession. “When I paint it’s just me and the canvas. A different creative energy.”
To showcase his works on his terms, Janotta (who’s lived in both California and Florida for many years, and currently resides in Marina del Rey) recently opened a sunny, intimate gallery amid a new cluster of boutiques that line Pier Avenue, a block or two from where the street meets the beach. Much of the walls are given over to Janotta’s canvases—oil paintings depicting the surf-meets-sidewalk sensibilities of current-day Los Angeles, with plenty of beach scenes and cityscapes. “I like to bring architectural influence to beach scenes and surfing,” says Janotta, referencing perspective, color and composition, where his formal design background comes into play most prominently.
There’s also a revolving display of his furniture designs, including a birch plywood coffee table with part of an airplane wing in its center, and a Hawaiian shirt lamp—where a starched, antique shirt cloaks a lamp poised on a Koa wood base, with a fishing lure switch dangling below. Home accessories range from printed pillows to lamps. Janotta designs some items; all are selected to be consistent visually: geometric, un-ornamental and influenced by the clean lines and patterns he works with in his architectural practice.
The gallery, opened in January, is the ideal vehicle for the entrepreneurial-minded artist to exercise control over how his works are marketed and displayed. “It’s better from a business point of view and from a creative point of view,” says Janotta, who can freely choose what he wants to showcase and, creatively unconstrained, can usually be found painting away at his gallery on Saturday afternoons, his easel set up inside or on the sidewalk. “It’s satisfying to have everything in one place so it explains the whole story, from painting to furniture to other designs. It’s a one-stop shop.”
Written by Constance Dunn | Photography Courtesy of Meridith Baer Home
In the late 1990s, Meridith Baer was moving and looking for somewhere to store her things. She suggested to a developer she knew, whose property was languishing on the market, that he should let her decorate the empty home with pieces of her furniture and extensive plant collection. He agreed, and the property sold swiftly—and way above its asking price. Baer was asked to decorate another home. And another.
Today, her company, Meridith Baer Home, is a national force in design, staging an average of nearly 150 homes a month, from New York City to Miami, Pacific Palisades to Palos Verdes, and she’s starting in on global properties, too. (When we spoke in early October, her tally for the year had topped 1,600.) Baer’s offices are in glamour pulse points like Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, the Hamptons and Miami, and she has a new line of furnishings, The Meridith Baer Home Collection, some of which is manufactured here in Southern California.
Baer’s firm also does private interior design and the leasing of luxury furnishings, all the way down to spoons and sheets. Speaking of, the latter wing of her business, which is growing rapidly, initially came from celebrities who were desirous of having a certain look to homes they were leasing, and wanted it done in as turnkey way as possible. “We’ve even been asked to get Q-tips and toothpaste for clients,” Baer says.
“And we’ll do it.” There was even a network show, HGTV’s Staged To Perfection, which featured Baer and her team staging luxe homes around Los Angeles.
“It’s beyond my comprehension,” the affable home mogul says of her success. So much so, that when she heads to her bustling Los Angeles headquarters (included in Los Angeles Business Journal’s list of 100 Fastest Growing Private Companies for two years running), or surveys her warehouse—a mammoth space that houses a dizzying inventory of furnishings, artwork and other home-styling artillery that Baer describes as “Disneyland for lovers of things and interiors”—she’s still in happy disbelief.
“I look around and say to myself, ‘Holy Moly, how did this happen?’”
At the root of Baer’s success is organization, a strong business mind and public need. No doubt about it, the timing for a nascent home staging business was keen in the early 2000s, as realtors increasingly saw the tangible impact of a home dressed up in a welcoming cloak where potential buyers could aspire to live.
Staging is now a mainstay of high-end homes (and becoming more of a factor in other levels of the market, too), but Baer remembers it being a tug of war in the late-1990s, with her having to sell clients on the idea. “I had to get a big glass of water afterwards I talked so much,” she says. Baer still has her knack for identifying emerging design, real estate and home trends, and being picture-perfect ready to execute them. Take her InstaHome, a new offering that gets homes furnished in a matter of weeks, which is premised on Baer’s understanding of the do-it-yesterday mindset. “They want it furnished in a few days,” she says of clients requesting the service. “They don’t want to wait, and they don’t feel they have to wait.”
But there’s also Baer’s supreme style sensibility and an ever-evolving creativity that keeps her well-heeled clientele coming back. The Meridith Baer look is one that can be shape-shifted to meet a kaleidoscope of tastes, but can always be key-worded as smart, elegant and efficient. “The underlying formula is a neutral background palette that allows for change,” says Baer. This approach allows for Baer and her designers to continually put new trends and modes into play (like the current taste for bold color and earthy, textured objects).
Likewise, when it comes to her furniture line, Baer—who admits to a love for constantly shifting her own home scenery (“I can move my furniture around every week,” she says with a laugh)—can use her pieces to more precisely orchestrate the look of her staging projects. “The collection is always changing,” says Baer, who employs a team of 30 designers on the furniture side of her business. “We’ve become almost a collective in giving each other feedback.”
For someone who never set out to achieve such levels of design success, but has done an exceptional job of embracing and growing it with non-stop momentum, Baer has some tips that have kept her keel even through the years. Among them: Keep fear away by not over-leveraging oneself. “One of the ways that I was able to do it and be able to sleep at night is that I didn’t go to the bank and borrow a lot of money.
Every time I made money, I put it back in the business. So at each point I felt comfortable with where I was—and still do.”
After talking business, the conversation turns to creativity and inspiration.
“I would have loved to have lived in the 1920s,” says Baer, when asked where she might like to visit if offered a spin in a time machine. “The music, the pace, the fun, the dresses. It was such an exciting time.”
MERIDITH BAER HOME 310.204.5353 | MeridithBaer.com
Written by Wendy Bowman | Photo Courtesy of Jeff Elson
What’s black and white and sophisticated all over? The latest design trend, of course, and it’s prevalent all across L.A. “Whether in tiles, sculptures, drawings, carpets or furniture, people are looking for that timeless, stark yet dramatic impact that black and white does so well,” says internationally recognized artist and designer Pablo Solomon, who has been touting the chic style’s resurgence in magazines nationwide since 2010.
What exactly sparks his love for the classic color combination? “It is the simplicity, impact and elegance of design,” Solomon says. “The great thing for the average person wanting to update some furniture or decorative objects is that black-and-white paints can be found in every formula and means of application, and some of the greatest black-and-white art prints of all time can be purchased as open-edition prints for poster prices.”
Here in L.A., architects and designers are following Solomon’s lead, using a streamlined approach to décor that incorporates stylish and minimal design with a stunning black-and-white color scheme. For instance, the high contrast of black and white in this newly constructed home at 16410 Bosque Drive in Encino helps to create areas of emphasis and direct the buyer’s eye. And when coupled with shades of rich gray, the two hues remain neutral, without appearing lackluster.
“A strategic black-and-white palette works perfectly when you introduce glamorous gold accents or warmer wood tones,” says Sally Forster Jones of John Aaroe Group, who is listing the residence for $4.48 million. “The black accents dramatically pull your eye to focus on the fine details that were placed in the kitchen—paired with the elegance of the gold finishes.”
Having black above the white wainscoting on the living and dining room walls also works to showcase the soaring ceilings. “Black and white is timeless and creates high contrast, which can be ideal for emphasizing fine finishes and important features,” Forster Jones says. “It’s all about finding that correct balance of color selection and deliberate placement.”
One thing’s for sure, the home’s magical color scheme surely works together in perfect harmony.
Interiors take flight with the Softline Sky Blue Swivel Square Chair from abc carpet + home. Taking a mid-century modern stance, this architect-designed piece features a molded seat atop a swivel base in sophisticated chrome for a minimalistic look with maximum impact. $1,440.75, ABCHome.com
USC alumnus Jerry Helling has revolutionized Bernhardt Design, one of America’s oldest furniture companies, all while tirelessly working to preserve authentic design. Approaching furniture ideas from fresh perspectives and investing in LA County’s young designers, DIGS gets a snapshot of this visionary’s direction.
Since the onset of his career, Jerry Helling, president and creative director of Bernhardt Design, has elevated the company from a family-run wooden furniture business to an internationally acclaimed design brand with a conscious. Celebrating his 25th anniversary with Bernhardt, Helling has accomplished much for the future of streamlined furniture design.
Famously known for collaborating and nurturing fierce talent from all over the world, Helling has brought under Bernhardt’s umbrella such talents as Ross Lovegrove, who designed the famed Go chair, and Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance, designer of the cheeky backless-armless sofa in the brand’s recent Colours collection. With a vast hit list of unique and groundbreaking designs from great creatives, Helling shares,
Bernhardt remains a family-owned business, one with a history of being lovingly committed to community and environmental welfare. Helling himself holds an even deeper conviction to maintaining design authenticity and nurturing young talent. One initiative dear to his heart is Be Original Americas, a program created to educate consumers and designers on why we should concern ourselves with original design, which is not limited to furniture design or apparel design or art, but is an architectural, museum and music issue, as well. Helling was the first president of the program—originally a collective idea encompassing 10 different manufacturers and designers that addressed compromised designs (aka knockoffs), taking the problem from a conversation to action. The group offers education through lectures, events and teaching young designers one on one. Now on the board after years of service, Helling explains, “There are environmental, performance, and social issues about where and how these products are made, and in the end, copying a design is stealing.” Thus, the Be Original website calls designers, decorators, architects, musicians, interior designers and anyone in the creative field to join the initiative to protect design originality.
On a similar note, Helling is part of a handful of programs for design students and young designers just starting out, including Tools for School initiative, Contempto and The Carrot Concept in El Salvador, yet his self-proclaimed favorite project, ICFF Studio, is based in Los Angeles County at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Here, students gain professional hands-on experience such as seeing a product from conception to completion then through the sales and marketing process, and, finally, to retail. Bernhardt Design, meanwhile, presents these designs at market, and even pays royalties to students for their original work. Every other week each fall, Helling actually works in the school’s studio, where six local LA design students recently won candidacy for the Bernhardt ICFF scholarship project.
Furniture by Bernhardt Design is available locally at Twentieth in Los Angeles as well Hive Modern. Outside of growing the company’s brand, Helling desires to encourage the design community to strive for accountability and originality to preserve and protect the industry as well as nurture and protect talent.
Handsome in premium-grade cherry wood that ranges in hue from light to reddish brown, the Grove Cocktail Table from Room & Board mixes well with a modern setting and complements but doesn’t dominate a space with its light open shelving and beveled edges. Handcrafted by Pennsylvania woodworkers, this solid-wood stunner is good for many rounds. $799, RoomandBoard.com
Written by Joclene Davey | Lifestyle Photos Courtesy of Noah Webb | Product Photos Courtesy of Nursery Works
Los Angeles-based children’s furniture company Nursery Works is rebranding itself with a fresh, cutting-edge collection under the direction of new CEO Teddy Fong. Together with his creative director wife, Tiffany, the Fongs are proving to be the industry’s dynamic duo. With grand plans for the rebirth of Nursery Works, this design-forward company has a very bright future.
Coupling chic design and innovation in both production and work environment realms, Nursery Works is setting standards for both. “The 25-year-old startup”—as Harvard grad Teddy humorously refers to MDB (Million Dollar Baby) Family, Nursery Works’ parent company, approaches business as such, reflected by the median age at the office, just 30 years old. The Fongs themselves are a match made in furniture heaven, likeminded in their intent to bring to their 25-year-old company a youthful essence; to the workplace, with a start-up viewpoint, and to the marketplace, with a fresh, playful perspective on design and foundational elements.
MDB Family comprises six different furniture brands at various price points and styles. Soon after Teddy took over as CEO for MDB Family, the company acquired Nursery Works and began rebranding the product for the luxury market, focusing on higher quality. For example, the Lydian crib, with a super luxe, 24-carat gold floating frame gracing its front, turns little tots into kings and queens. These affluent cribs are from $4500-$7000; however, within the collection there is one style, the Novella, in the $1,000 range. This crib is a streamlined beauty flexible enough to pair with most décor.
With products like these, expansion is inevitable. “We are looking at growth results from advancements in design and production,” says Teddy. “We are also carrying stock now on all our cribs, even the Gradient, Vetro and Lydian, with the heavier price point. We don’t believe in making customers wait three or four months for their furniture, which is typical in our industry. A baby on the way means time is of the essence and we want to be able to deliver to that expecting mom right away.”
Aesthetically, Nursery Works’ designers blend art and form for discerning customers and are beloved by the design crowd and celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé and Gwyneth Paltrow, to name a few. Birthing the relaunched Nursery Works was the aforementioned lucite Vetro crib, a completely fresh form of crib while remaining perfectly functional, all wrapped up in a brilliant artistic presence. “With25 years of successfully navigating the painstaking standards on children’s furniture, we are able to succeed in creating a completely innovative design like the Vetro, and crafting it to standard unlike most other companies with less history in the marketplace,” explains Tiffany. Launched recently is the show-stopping Ambient Crib. In development for over two years, this exquisite wooden crib with a shape reminiscent of the Disney Music Hall is not only supremely crafted and exquisitely designed, but also raises the industry bar for better design and production capabilities.
Another arena where Nursery Works continues to push boundaries is by exploring convertibility, creating cribs, rockers and other items that grow with baby. The current Novella crib converts into a love seat that is cool enough for adults too. Although DIGS did glimpse at some top-secret innovative ideas still unshared, these groundbreaking styles will launch in 2016.
While seeing an opening in the marketplace and a need for more luxurious options, the Fongs are certainly filling the gap. Already ahead of the curve with one goal in mind—to work your nursery into optimum style—stay tuned to see these young contenders continue to up the ante with Nursery Works’ opulent furniture brand.