Using bold patterns and sensuous colors, decorator Kelly Wearstler and architect Brian Tichenor revamp the Hollywood Regency style

When, in the 1930s, a young architect from Atlanta arrived in Hollywood, he hoped to be cast in Gone with the Wind. John Elgin Woolf didn’t get the part, but he went on to make his mark in Tinseltown as the architect of a glamorous new style inspired by his southern roots. Soon, everyone from Errol Flynn to Mae West was commissioning Woolf to design palaces complete with razzle-dazzle entrances and mansard roofs.In Los Angeles, few Woolf disciples are as devoted as interior designer Kelly Wearstler and architect Brian Tichenor. They both had the southern architect on their mind when they were commissioned to create a show-stopping home in Brentwood.

Woolf was one of a cadre of mid-century style setters, including interior designers William Haines and Dorothy Draper, who borrowed from a pastiche of historical styles, from neoclassicism to French Regency to Art Deco, and updated them with such luxe modern materials as Lucite and tortoiseshell leather. The style now known as Hollywood Regency owes a major debt to its cinematic setting. These were homes as stage sets—not perhaps as pure as their midcentury-modern counterparts, but in many ways a lot more fun. “There’s a sexiness and sophistication to the style that solid modern doesn’t give you,” says Wearstler, whose hotel and residential design aesthetic draws heavily on Old Hollywood motifs.

The client, a major player in Hollywood, was really asking for two homes in one: a showplace for entertaining her colleagues and a private sphere to which she and her husband and two young daughters could retreat. “I wanted the house, notwithstanding the scale, to feel intimate in the rooms,” the client says.

She approached Wearstler and Tichenor separately after seeing their work in magazines, not realizing that the pair already had a close relationship. The two have worked together on a variety of projects, including Wearstler’s renovation of a mid-century Hal Levitt house for her own family. She and Tichenor are currently collaborating on her next home, a revamping of the former Beverly Hills estate of the late Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, producer of most of the James Bond films.

While both Tichenor and Wearstler love to restore old houses, they agreed with the client that this one had little redeeming architectural value. They decided to rebuild most of the house, retaining only a small portion of the original building. Tichenor and Wearstler relish the research stage of a project. In this case, they had recently visited a Woolf house from 1938 that had made a big impression. They learned everything they could about the dapper southerner. Born in Atlanta in 1908, Woolf had received a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the Georgia Institute of Technology before moving to California. In Hollywood, he quickly befriended everyone from Ziegfeld starlet Fanny Brice to famed decorator Elsie de Wolfe. Eventually, his client roster encompassed movie director George Cukor, lyricist Ira Gershwin, heiress Barbara Hutton, and actors from John Wayne to Greta Garbo.

A Woolf house owes a debt to the Greek Revival mansions of his childhood, with their glamorous double openings and Doric colonnades. His trademarks, in addition to the mansard roofs, included paneled doors and tall fireplaces with windows where the flues should have been. He also incorporated luxurious details that were decades ahead of their time, including large walk-in closets and vast marble bathrooms.

Given the style’s sophistication and airiness, Wearstler and Tichenor felt it was perfect for this high-profile client and set out to create a contemporary interpretation. Tichenor simplified the architectural detailing, designing a stucco exterior with oval windows, a slate roof, and copper flashing and gutters. For Wearstler, the key to modernizing Hollywood Regency is to mix in fresh color and pattern. She also strives to be adventurous in her choice of furnishings. “Today, you can put a 1980s severely modern Italian chair in there and it looks insane,” she says.

Another source for ideas was Andre Arbus, the 1940s French designer, who inspired the elegant dining room in the shape of an ellipse. The room’s form is a study in symmetry, with pairs of double doors framed by neoclassical moldings on each side and windows at both ends that flood the space with luxuriant California sunlight. An 1880s rock crystal chandelier hangs from a ceiling emblazoned with a plaster medallion whose starburst pattern is echoed in the radiating design of the French-polished macassar wood table and custom carpet below. “It feels like walking into a flower,” Wearstler says of the room.

The dining room’s marigold hue is a departure for Wearstler, as is much of the color scheme of the house. At the request of the homeowner, Wearstler softened her typically dramatic palette and instead chose colors ranging from gray and yellow in the living room to a plummy taupe for the master suite.

The process involved some give-and-take. The interior designer had first proposed Hermès orange for the dining room before arriving at yellow. “I tried to make sure that Kelly’s bold impulses were moderated for practical living and brought down a tad,” says the client, adding, “It never felt like a compromise.” As for Wearstler, she says she prefers working with a client “who has a voice.”

For Tichenor, a primary goal of the architecture was to create a seamless dialogue between indoor and outdoor spaces. From the entry room, an allée of magnolias leads to a screening room and a large swimming pool beside a screened pavilion. “Every single room on the ground floor has a way to get to the garden,” Tichenor says.

The entry hall functions like a dramatic opening scene, dazzling the viewer with its play of surfaces, from the paneled mirrors that cleverly conceal the low height of the ceiling to the high-contrast floor made of three different kinds of marble. The vista leads through the living room, where three Dorothy Draper chandeliers hang in unison, to the end of a hallway where a demilune staircase stands like an architectural question mark, inviting speculation about what might lie upstairs.

The answer is a master suite fit for a movie star, with its walnut canopy bed and adjoining office lined with bookcases in a pomegranate faux-bois finish. The spacious master bath is equally glamorous, all marble and mirrored cabinetry with interiors painted pomegranate to match the lacquered bookshelves in the room next door. “I love it,” says the client. “The whole house has such harmony.”

It’s also a fitting homage to the design panache of Jack Woolf, who, while he may never have realized his dream of appearing on the silver screen, has a devoted audience still.