One of the most-anticipated titles on our reading list this fall is Worlds of Wonder: Richard Hallberg Interiors (Rizzoli), the debut monograph from the Los Angeles–based interior decorator and design director behind the brands Formations and Dennis & Leen. His uniquely Californian adeptness at blending antique treasures with contemporary verve has helped garner a list of fans that includes FREDERIC’s own editor in chief, Dara Caponigro.
In the books opening pages, Caponigro recalls the chance encounter that led her to Hallberg’s work—and instantly captivated her.
• • •
One spring evening in Los Angeles a little over a decade ago, well into my career as a design editor, I walked into a showroom on Melrose Avenue that I had never heard of and was confronted with the imagination of a designer whose work had also somehow eluded me. Formations, the furnishings brainchild of that designer, Richard Hallberg, and his partners (and dear friends) Dan Cuevas and the late Barbara Wiseley, was a revelation. Everything was beautiful and serene and comfortable: monolithic limestone consoles and deep, loungy sofas covered in nubby linen; sculptural iron tables and rustic hand-hewn pottery; shells and driftwood displayed like sculpture; such a profusion of ferns, orchids, moss, and trees spouting from urns and planters and rock vessels, it made the whole scene feel impossibly nonchalant.
Dennis & Leen, their adjoining showroom, wrought a similar magic in a completely different vein: exquisitely crafted reproductions of Italian chairs of a certain pedigree mingled with undulating Rococo-style mirrors and tendrilled chandeliers dripping rock crystal pendants, all brought refreshingly down to earth with the kind of worn and weathered finishes that take centuries—or masterful, talented craftspeople—to achieve. The sound of trickling water drifted in from a courtyard fountain, candles flickered in the twilight, and every object beckoned me to touch it and take a closer look. It was one of must luxurious and memorable experiences of my life. The spaces were indicative of a worldly and supremely sophisticated eye that is rare to encounter (and believe me, I have seen many places and met many designers!).
Just off a plane from New York, where winter still held an icy grip, it was as if I had stumbled into the elysian dream of California itself. It was contemporary, but not cold; cozy, but not saccharine; clean-lined and elegant, but completely approachable. You could have walked barefoot through the spaces and felt totally carefree. Richard‘s interiors, neatly embodied (but by no means exhausted) by the Formations and Dennis & Leen aesthetics, encapsulate the way we want to live today. That he was an enigma to me that spring night says more about his herculean modesty than it does about his oeuvre. Quite simply, Richard is one of the greatest American designers working today, but fame is not high on his list of priorities. Many years into a very successful interior design career, this is his first book. But as countless magazine covers aptly prove, Richard’s talent can’t be ignored, despite his lack of interest in promoting himself.
Everything Richard does he accomplishes with style and an incredible attention to detail, but he makes it look like a cinch. He understands that a graceful, polished space can still feel relaxed; a casual and sophisticated living room isn’t a losing proposition. A master of scale and form, he loves symmetry, but in his hands, it is never static. He always throws in something surprising—an African staff leaning in a corner, an olive tree off-kilter on a console—so it isn’t banal. He uses expensive, sumptuous materials, but they are always sensual and never intimidating. He has a gift for mixing the refined and grand with the humble and crude: the gilt Louis XV chair with weathered rafters salvaged from a crumbling countryside barn—somehow making both look the better for it. Fluent in the luxury of white space, he knows when to fill something up and when to leave it empty. He’s not interested in the way things are supposed to be done; he’s curious about the way unexpected combinations can fall soulfully together and the spells he can cast with the quotidian objects that surround our every day.
I’m privileged to call him a friend and had the pleasure of staying with him in the Spanish Revival house he lovingly restored in Montecito. Lucky, lucky me. It was beyond amazing to live, even for a couple days, in his spaces. In my guest room, the linen sheets were pressed, the canopy bed was cosseting, the bathroom was outfitted with delicious-smelling shampoos and soaps, there were fresh flowers in all the right places, and the sisal wall-to-wall underfoot was invigorating and calming all at once. It was a feast for the senses. Swirling everywhere around me were things of beauty that you’d expect to find on a museum shelf but were just as often uncovered in a junk shop corner (he is an unparalleled “picker,” putting even me, a devoted treasure hunter, to shame)—all done without a whiff of pretension. Everything was calibrated to make you feel utterly at home, which is really his special, incomparable genius.