Monday, March 26, 2018

Famous Homes: Sunnylands

Built for Walter and Leonore ("Lee") Annenberg and completed in 1966, the Annenberg Estate in Rancho Mirage, California near Palm Desert in the Coachella Valley is known as Sunnylands.

Walter Annenberg (1908 - 2002) was a publisher (he owned and operated Triangle Publications), philanthropist, and diplomat. Upon his father's death, Walter took over the family's failing and scandal-ridden publishing business, turning it around and buying the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper. He also created the lucrative magazines TV Guide and Seventeen. But he had a civic-minded side as well and he became one of the founding trustees of Eisenhower Fellowships. Richard Nixon appointed him Ambassador to the Court of St James's in the UK. Walter became close friends with Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the Royal family and was eventually made an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 1976. Lee became known and admired for her entertaining and support of patriotic British causes, such as the restoration of St. Paul's Cathedral in London and the renovation of Winfield House, the American ambassador's residence.

The liberal-minded Annenberg's were known for their philanthropy, too. Walter founded the journalism school at USC and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1990, he donated $50 million to the United Negro College Fund. In 1991, he gave $60 million to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to support student math and science programming. A $2 million Annenberg gift endowed a new Pennsylvania Hospital institute devoted to hip replacement surgery, and named it after physician Richard H. Rothman, who had performed such surgery on Annenberg himself. In 1993, he attended a White House ceremony at which President Clinton announced the ambassador’s $500 million matching-grant program that ultimately funded 2,400 public schools serving more than 1.5 million students. And in 2001 he gave the Philadelphia Museum of Art $20 million, its largest gift ever, and a total of $29 million went to the Philadelphia Orchestra, much of it to renovate the aging Academy of Music building. With Annenberg funds the Philadelphia Zoo acquired a new baby elephant. If only the people of extreme wealth today supported society and education and our culture at large...

Needless to say, the Annenberg's had amassed quite a fortune in their lives and built their winter residence near Palm Springs, enlisting an A List of names in architecture and interior design: modernist architect A. Quincy Jones designed the estate and main house with its distinctive pink roof (Lee wanted it pink to match the pink glow of sunrise and sunset reflecting off the nearby San Jacinto Mountains) while Billy Haines and Ted Graber (whom we just learned of here) did the interiors.

Lee and Walter also amassed a staggering art collection with original major works by Corot, Picasso, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Seurat, Braque, Monet, Degas, Renoir, Gauguin, Lautrec, and Matisse. They donated a majority of their collection to the Met in New York which now houses the Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Collection. The pieces on the walls now at Sunnylands are excellent quality digital copies produced by the Met itself as the originals are at the museum in Manhattan.

While the house is important in the scheme of architecture and interior history, and is certainly famous for who owned it and who visited, the modernist structure is curiously at odds with its 1940s pastels and staid furnishings. While Billy Haines created some original pieces for the house such as the dining room tables and chairs, and used his signature pieces in other areas of the house, the house does not hang together when considering its envelope. I wonder if it's possible the house was ahead of its time and the furnishings had yet to catch up.

Entrance to Sunnylands
The pink roof of Sunnylands
Over the neighboring Annenberg Center, we can see the pink hue that inspired Lee for the roof color
The Atrium featuring Auguste Rodin’s Eve, a second artist's proof casting by Rodin himself
The Dining Room
The Game Room
The Game Room
The Inwood Room with views of the San Jacinto Mountains
The Memory Room/Library
The Living Room
The sitting area of the Master Bedroom
Sitting area

Because of his political relationships and time spent as Ambassador, Walter and Lee Annenberg had influential friends, many of whom visited Sunnylands over the years. In addition to the impressive roster of Presidents, heads of state, and royalty, regular visitors included Frank Sinatra (who was married there), Bob Hope, Fred Astaire, Gregory Peck, Ginger Rogers, Bing Crosby, Truman Capote, Mary Martin, Jimmy Stewart, and Sammy Davis, Jr. It seems only fitting that the property is at the intersection of Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope Drives.

President Xi Jinping of China and President Obama at Sunnylands in June 2013
Lee, Bill Clinton, and Walter
Dwight D. Eisenhower and Walter
Herny Kissinger at a party at Sunnylands
Lee and Margaret Thatcher in the greenhouses of Sunnylands
Richard Nixon, Lee holding a baby Jennie Eisenhower (the Nixon's granddaughter) and Pat Nixon
From left, an unidentified man, Gerald Ford, Leonard Firestone, an unidentified woman, Lee, and Brooke Astor
From left, Walter, Ronald Reagan, Charles Price, William French Smith, George Shultz, and Donald Regan
From left, Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh, Lee, HRH Queen Elizabeth II, and Walter
HRH Queen Elizabeth II and Lee

You can visit Sunnylands! While there is an Open Air Experience and a Bird Tour, the Historic House Tour is the only one that takes guests into the house. It is 90 minutes and costs $48 per person. Tickets must be purchased in advance and are available only online. Access to the historic house is only by guided tour. The nearby Sunnylands Visit Center & Gardens is open to the public Thursday through Sunday, 8:30 am to 4:00 pm. There is no fee and reservations are not required. Visitors to the Center & Gardens enjoy sculpture from the Sunnylands Collection as well as a rotating exhibition. There is a film and other offerings about the history of Sunnylands and its founders, Walter and Leonore Annenberg. The Cafe offers light lunch items and unparalleled mountain and garden views.

Happy designing!

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Slimfocus Suspended by Focus Fireplace

Since it is still fireplace weather (at least here in chilly Northern California!), I will share with you a new product. Focus Fireplaces, the French manufacturer of the iconic Gyrofocus fireplace developed by Dominique Imbert in 1968, has announced a new design in their already impressive line-up of modern and sculptural fireplaces. The Slimfocus Suspended is a pivoting, wood-burning, steel tube which draws in air for combustion through the smoke evacuation flue and has an 82 percent efficiency rating.

“The Slimfocus, the latest creation from Dominique Imbert’s design studio, is the sleek result of a quest for aesthetic fluidity, minimum volume and excellent heat performance,” the company says.

The unit hangs from the ceiling with a made-to-measure flue and other adaptation parts. Available colors are matt black (standard) or anthracite grey (optional).

The Focus website says, "Focus remains where it began life, in the village of Viols-le-Fort in the south of France, in the stone house renovated by Dominique Imbert. This is where he created the very first Antéfocus, and today it is the company’s head office. It is also the workshop (L’Atelier Dominique Imbert) where Focus models are conceived and designed.
It is from this medieval hamlet in the midst of the Mediterranean garrigue that Focus exports its fireplaces all over the planet."

Happy designing!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Fiorito Interior Design Press Update, March 2018

I am proud to announce that Fiorito Interior Design has won a 2018 Best of Houzz Award for service from Houzz, the leading platform for home remodeling and design.

I am grateful to have been chosen by the more than 40 million monthly unique users that comprise the Houzz community from among more than one million active home building, remodeling and design industry professionals.

"The Houzz community selected a phenomenal group of Best of Houzz 2018 award winners, so this year's recipients should be very proud," said Liza Hausman, Vice President of Industry Marketing at Houzz. "Best of Houzz winners represent some of the most talented and customer-focused professionals in our industry, and we are extremely pleased to give them both this recognition and a platform on which to showcase their expertise."

But I am most grateful to my clients--past and present--who allow me to come into their homes and trust me to partner with them in shaping their surroundings and their personal lives. Thank you so much! I look forward to creating a lot of wonderful work with all of you in 2018!

Happy designing!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Know Your Sofas: The Chaise Longue

For this installment of Know Your Sofas, we are looking at something of a hybrid: the chaise longue. Hailing form France in the late 1700s, the term chaise longue (pronounced shez long), meaning "long chair" in French is correct but it is most commonly know by it's Americanized name, a chaise lounge (chezz lownge). If it is a sofa, it is a sofa for only one. And if it is a chair, then it is a chair with a built in ottoman. Designed for lounging with legs astride or propped up, this versatile piece of furniture can act as a resting place for a quiet afternoon read, or as a visual cap to a seating arrangement.

A chaise longue can be traditional or transitional.

Or a chaise longue can be modern. I love the juxtaposition between the modern chaise longue in the photo below with the very traditional and highly ornate Georgian plaster elements at the crown (look right to Design Mantra #1: Contrast brings interest!).

Even the iconic Le Corbusier lounge chair is considered a chaise longue!

Happy designing!