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Hamptons Life

May 29, 2017 10:10 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Visiting The Left Coast For The Legends of La Cienega

May 29, 2017 10:21 AM

By Marshall WatsonThe Eastern Seaboard’s Interior Design World celebrates its new market introductions twice yearly with rather standard gatherings at various watering holes peppered about Manhattan and Brooklyn.

But the “Left Coast” design community concentrates these specific energies on a week in May when the purple Jacaranda burst into iridescent bloom and southern California’s soft climate performs its jasmine-scented magic. The event is grandly titled, “The Legends of La Cienega” and editors, designers, architects, TV personalities and public relations agents not only flock to its varied venues, but also pay handsomely to do so—participation ranges from $75 to $450 per person. Boiled down to three entertaining and extravagant days of lectures, book signings, panels, discussions and gourmet food feasts, design glitterati espouse on all matters visual, global and sometimes political. I attended this year because I had been invited to sign my own book while opining on the aspirations of “The Art of Elegance.”

To lend a bit of geographical perspective, La Cienega Boulevard crosses over Melrose, and a soldier course of former warehouses and industrial workshops—which have been elegantly transformed into strikingly relaxed showrooms—lines the streets. Even more alluring is their inside/outside sensibility where coifed and manicured gardens, courtyards and planted alleys sidle up to rustically sophisticated show spaces. The outdoor environments display California’s seductive lifestyle for which it has become famous, while indoor environments entice you with patinated metals, weathered woods and a modern sensuality of design.

Spectacular stand-alone showrooms, such as Harbinger, Dennis and Leen, Rose Tarlow, and Mecox Gardens (yes, our very own!) are well worth a significant stopover to view such sensibilities.

Purveyors of carpets tend to stay with the greige chromatic scale with riffs on organics like banana leaf, coir, silks and New Zealand wools. Here there is little differentiation from our Eastern brethren. They also focus on design motifs with splish-splashy spotted patterns with book-matched-Rorschach dominating.

However, if you have just crawled out from under a rock—like me—and are not aware of “Boho” style, or its tentacles, let me make it perfectly clear: California textile designers are obsessed. Best described as the revival of Indian bedspread and hippie style, Boho encompasses all manner of paisleys, batiks and hand blocks saturating their markets. Flower child yearnings have given way to flowy, thin, cotton fabrics, wisps of raw silk embossed with Indian sari-like designs. Claremont’s tribal geometrics seem tinted with dyes extracted from the African bush, while Hollywood at Home assembled collections that focused eastward of the Red Sea and westward of Rangoon. Consistently, fabrics held a drapery kind of appeal, loosely fluid, gentler in contrast and organic versus strident in hue. In other words, very Californian.

Often I find it amusing to arrive at a design destination where I find appealing surprises that originate on my home turf. Merida, a textile mill located in Fall River, Massachusetts, is weaving up exquisitely complex rugs, colored up in earthtones. Their wares are as intricate and thoughtful as are the great French couture fabrics. Lauren Hwang of Brooklyn has loomed remarkable cotton, linen and wool fabrics that would be swept up by Mr. Armani himself.

Visitors familiar with Los Angeles spot the Design and Decoration area by the landmark building snidely referred to as the “Blue Whale,” or the PDC, Pacific Design Center. Unfortunately, this behemoth is as cold as its blue glass skin indicates. The charm-free hallways guide you aimlessly to emptied showrooms and sterile displays—hence the reactive exodus to the more cheerful LaCienega design district.

The second leg of my southern California trip took me to the extraordinary area of Montecito. This is a quiet enclave whose scented privet hedges and satiny eucalyptus trees enshroud architectural gems designed in the ever appealing California Mediterranean style or the cozy Cotswold’s charming style. Every once in a while you hit upon communities like Montecito or Santa Barbara where scale, proportion, material and siting have all been carefully considered. Perhaps it is the spectacular setting where rugged green mountains fall to gentle knolls which border a vast blue ocean that inspires such civility. It has certainly attracted fine architects, studied building codes and community pride.

This is a community of gardeners too, it seems. With a mild climate and fertile soil and a keen awareness of drought, an extraordinary variety of plant material can be discovered. The elegant slender fingers of Italian Cypress punctuate the adobe walls, the Catalonian arches and the bronze fenestrations. Live oaks, grey Santolina, purple straw flower, sunlit nasturtiums and scented rosemary crowd the edges of the casual byways. I could not be more envious (as an East Ender who struggles with fungus and blackspot on his roses) to observe the bounty of healthy Graham Thomas, Iceberg and Old Damask roses that spill over hedges of pittosporum, box and sage.

Yet despite the lovely folks who attended my book signing, who were so artistic, bright and engaging (like my fellow East Hamptonites), I could not be happier to return home. On Saturday, June 3, I do invite you all to tour my home and garden for a private afternoon and book signing supporting and sponsored by the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program. For tickets contact the Garden Conservancy or go their website,

At 4 p.m. I will start the tour with a glass of my family’s wine and a brief horticultural, architectural and interior design perspective that led me to writing my book, “The Art of Elegance.” I do hope you will join me.

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