LAMA BLOG

All Hail Haines: Patrick Dragonette Discusses America’s King of Custom Design

May 8, 2014

In the upcoming May 18, 2014 Modern Art & Design Auction, Los Angeles Modern Auctions will offer over 30 custom William “Billy” Haines designs commissioned in 1960 by Rita Roedling, daughter of Mervyn & Kitty LeRoy, for her 1015 North Beverly Drive house in Beverly Hills. The property is being sold by Rita’s daughter, Anita May Rosenstein, who also is the granddaughter of Tom & Anita May.

Recently, we sat down with Los Angeles interior designer and gallerist, Patrick Dragonette of Dragonette Ltd. For almost two decades, Dragonette has specialized in the custom works of Billy Haines, and his showroom on La Cienega is one of the only places you can find a Haines work for sale at any given time. One of the leading experts on Haines, Dragonette is responsible for helping to introduce one of America’s most influential designers to a whole new audience.

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Patrick Dragonette – Image courtesy of Dragonette Ltd.

How were you first introduced to Billy Haines designs?

It was probably 15 or 16 years ago. My shop had been open for just about a year. It was about the time the Jack Warner House was sold. I knew Paul László, Paul McCobb, a lot of modernist designers. My friend said that he had some chairs from the Warner House by this guy Billy Haines. I didn’t know who that was. He brought them up and I was star struck. They were such sexy chairs. From every angle they were sexy. How can something be this beautiful and this comfortable? That whetted my interest in his work.

Because of the Warner House selling and all of that stuff hitting the market, it piqued people’s interest. He only did custom work; he never did stuff for a factory. Soon, pieces were starting to pop up because of the Warner sale. The big auction house didn’t want to touch it because they didn’t think it was worth something. All of a sudden here was this fresh perspective that people weren’t familiar with.

You see a lot of László projects that were published, but you don’t see many published Haines projects. Because of Haines’ clients’ wealth, they were very private people. When [Haines’] designs hit the market, I became obsessed. I wanted to find everything I could.

There’s a certain vocabulary with Haines, especially with seating. Everything that he did was always customized for a client. Even though you had a similar dining chair, he would make yours with a thin leg. He made compotes, ashtrays and wastebaskets, everything for his clients.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Compote, Michael Morrison and William “Billy” Haines designer, Property from Anita May Rosenstein, 
May 18, 2014 Modern Art & Design Auction

What makes Haines’ designs so special?

When you sit in a Haines chair, everything just feels right. There are definite collectors of his work now that want to have the best of his work. He’s one of the core designers that represent the crème de la crème of American custom work.

People tend to lose sight that you’ll never see two desks that are alike. Pretty much anything by Haines is going to be a unique one-off. You’re not going to see another piece like it.

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Living room, 1015 North Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills

What is your most admired Haines commission?

The Frances and Sydney Brody house. And Sunnylands is right up there. We’re so fortunate that the Annenbergs had the wherewithal to turn it into a public institution. It’s always there for people to see. When I saw Sunnylands I was moved to tears. That’s the real gift, if you can be in the house while the furniture is in place – to see the comfort of living and architecture.

Haines came in early to his projects. The Brody house is so spectacular because the Brody’s brought in the architect, designer, and landscape architect at the same time.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Long Sofa, William “Billy” Haines, designer, Property from Anita May Rosenstein,
May 18, 2014 Modern Art & Design Auction

What is the best Haines piece you have ever represented? Or the one that got away from you?

One that got away: The parchment backgammon table and pair of leather-clad chairs with lamp and game pieces. These came from the desert living room in the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. In 1942, Ann Rutherford married David May and they hired Haines to do his house. He sold the table and chairs to them and it remained in Ann Rutherford’s home until she passed away. I’ve been told that it went to London, but that belongs in a museum here in America.

You have to realize from the beginning how finite everything was. Haines only made furniture for his clients and that’s it. Provenance becomes extremely important. You want to have that same chain of title you would for French furniture.

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Bedroom, 1015 North Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills

How would you rank Haines in comparison to other great decorators of the 20th century?

As American designers go, I would put Haines and Samuel Marx at number one and two. They’re almost neck in neck. There’s so much simpatico in their work. There was absolutely without question a friendship, and they worked together as architect and designer. At Ann Rutherford’s home, there was a set of Marx chairs. You wonder how that happened? Did Ann go to a house that Marx had done? If you look in the Marx book, you look on the table and it’s all Haines accessories. I don’t how it worked out but they had a tremendous amount of respect for each other. There’s a real kinship in their work.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

William “Billy” Haines, designer, Table Lamp with Tang Style Figure, Property from Anita May Rosenstein,
May 18, 2014 Modern Art & Design Auction

Do you see anyone working along similar lines today?

There’s a difference today because I don’t think there are clients that will allow you to design everything from soup to nuts. Someone who’s an absolute genius is Peter Marino, but he relies heavily on artistry and artist-driven finishes. I was at a house in Paris with walls finished in pheasant feathers. This man knows how to do those kinds of details.

I don’t know anyone currently who’s designing every piece of furniture. Haines was able to find things form the past and antiques to create his pieces. That level of luxury is unattainable for many clients.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Ledge Back Seniah Chair, William “Billy” Haines, designer, Property from Anita May Rosenstein,
May 18, 2014 Modern Art & Design Auction

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Furniture Plan of 1015 North Beverly Drive from the William Haines office

Who else do you see as Haines’ peers from this period and what sets Haines apart?

Tommi Parzinger, Paul László, André Arbus. I’ve grown to love Jean Royère and Jean Prouvé.

I decided a long time ago that I didn’t want to carry work that was still being made, which wiped out a lot of mid-century work. I didn’t want to have something that there was an abundance of. By specializing in Haines’ work, it sets me apart. Nobody has this dining table, or this pair of leather wrapped chairs.

Once it sells, that’s one less Haines piece on the market. I don’t how many estates are still left. Nancy Reagan has a lot of Haines. Once in a while, something walks through the door and I know it is Haines.

I try and teach people that provenance is the most important thing in collecting Haines. At the end of the day, to have something to hit the market like [the Anita May Rosenstein property from the 1015 North Beverly Drive estate], it’s paramount to the legitimacy of the market and work. To know that you’re one person removed from the person the designs were made for eliminates all doubt.

You can’t tell me it’s too expensive, you can only tell me that you can’t afford it.

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William Haines designs on display now at the LAMA Preview (May 5 – 17, open daily 10am – 6pm)
May 18, 2014 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot information:

Lot 175
William “Billy” Haines, designer
Long Sofa
Custom designed for the 1015 North Beverly Drive residence; this example commissioned 1960
30″ x 132″ x 36″

Provenance: Rita Roedling, Beverly Hills; Anita May Rosenstein, Beverly Hills

Estimate: $4,000 – $6,000

Lot 177
William “Billy” Haines, designer
Ledge Back Seniah Chair
Originally designed c. 1947; this example commissioned 1960
Custom designed for the 1015 North Beverly Drive residence
28.5″ x 31″ x 29.25″
The ledge back design was the most sophisticated of all the Seniah designs by Haines, having evolved from the original tight back, tight seat model designed in 1947.

Provenance: Rita Roedling, Beverly Hills; Anita May Rosenstein, Beverly Hills

Estimate: $3,000 – $5,000

Lot 181
William “Billy” Haines, designer
Table Lamp with Tang Style Figure
Custom designed for the 1015 North Beverly Drive residence; this example commissioned 1960
32.75″ x 17.75″ x 13″
This lamp was created to showcase the Tang Style ceramic figure that was originally purchased by Haines for the Mervyn & Kitty LeRoy Bel Air residence in c. 1948.

Provenance: Rita Roedling, Beverly Hills; Anita May Rosenstein, Beverly Hills

Illustrated: O’Brien, Liz. Ultramodern Samuel Marx-Architect, Designer, Art Collector. New York: Pointed Leaf Press, LLC., 2007. p 183.

Estimate: $7,000 – $9,000

Lot 197
Michael Morrison and William “Billy” Haines, designer
Compote
Custom designed for the 1015 North Beverly Drive residence; this example commissioned 1960
9.25″ x 10″ diameter

Provenance: Rita Roedling, Beverly Hills; Anita May Rosenstein, Beverly Hills

Estimate: $1,000 – $1,500

For more information, or details on how to bid, please contact a LAMA representative.

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