"Why did I leave motion pictures for interior decorating? A very simple reason. Louis B. Mayer kicked me out." - William Haines
William Haines was never supposed to be a designer. William Haines was supposed to be the biggest actor in Hollywood and for several years, he was. He was Metro Goldwyn Mayer's Russell Crowe: the handsome actor who got all of the romantic leading roles and more importantly, turned massive profits for the studio.
The only problem was that his boss, Louis B. Mayer, wasn't thrilled with the fact that Haines was open about his romantic relationship with his on-the-set stand-in, Jimmie Shields. So when Mayer finally gave Haines an ultimatum and forced him to choose between his partner and his career, Haines chose Shields and Mayer terminated his contract.
Eventually Haines' movie career faded away‚Äîhe made two more low-budget films for an obscure studio, but without even realizing it, he was already launching a new career as his days in feature film was petering out.
According to Class Act (Pointed Leaf Press), the latest book on Haines, acting was ultimately just a diversion. While he was enjoying success as Hollywood's most popular leading man, he was also gaining quite a reputation as a bon vivant who loved nothing more than to host parties at his Hollywood Spanish-style home and invite starlets such as Joan Crawford, Carole Lombard, Greta Garbo and Tallulah Bankhead over for cocktails.
Impressed by Haines' impeccable taste in decor and sense of interior design, Crawford begged him to remodel her now famous Brentwood home. Thanks to Crawford spreading the word about the work he did, Haines soon found himself picking up dozens of clients in the entertainment industry‚Äîmostly actors and studio moguls.
Without even realizing it, Haines redefined the way movie stars lived. Thanks to all those years as an actor, the homes that he first designed owed a lot to palatial movie sets of the silent era. His look was much lighter, fresher and more cosmopolitan than the heavy, monochromatic look that was the standard at the time. Haines early-19th-century England look is now called Hollywood Regency.
Soon, without prompting, Haines gravitated to a sleeker Modern American look. The original furniture designs got leaner (his Hostess and Conference Chairs, both made of angular walnut legs and polished leather upholstery still hold up as an amazing post-modern pieces) and his room arrangements seemed to focus more on low profile simplicity.
Looking back now, Haines was way ahead of the curve in terms of residential design and to a certain extent, architecture. He began creating rooms with a simple look and more importantly, he started working with modernist architects like Samuel Marx and A. Quincy Jones. He removed walls and replaced them with plate glass opening up dark rooms and thus synthesizing the interior and exterior environments. Joseph Eichler would later gain notoriety by implementing the same characteristic in his designs.
Interestingly enough, as advanced as Haines furniture designs and arrangements became, he never strayed too far from his older Hollywood roots. It wasn't uncommon to see one of his modernist rooms filled with kidney bean-shaped tables and custom made art deco-inspired lamps accented by an antique crystal chandelier or an ornate gold-leaf framed portrait from the 18th century.
"I have often found mixing periods quite normal and often exciting," Haines once famously said. "I was doing this when to be popular meant having a kind of sameness throughout the decor. Spanish tables with Spanish chairs. French chests with French loveseats. Boring. You can mix anything provided it pulls together."
In short, Haines broke all of the rules of home design in a time when rules were not to be broken. He became a trailblazer for combining classic English furniture with Continental pieces by placing vintage furnishings right next to his own contemporary objects such as his mod metal ashtrays. Not a big deal nowadays‚Äîyou can't swing a stick at a new designer who doesn't preach about the virtues of mixing styles in the home‚Äîbut back in the '40s and '50s when Haines was making up the rules as he went along, he established an approach to design that continues to be followed today.