If Lionel Richie came out with a line of pianos, no one would be surprised — after all, the pop superstar who's sold more than 100 million records usually performs while sitting at a keyboard. Even putting his name on an assemblage of fancy duds wouldn't be out of place — the dapper Grammy winner was just named to British GQ's international list of best-dressed men.
But Richie and a collection of… tableware?
Connect the dots, please.
"Well, it's a new adventure for me, but I've actually been doing it for quite some time," he says of the high-end trove of china, barware and accessories at LionelRichieHome.com. "If you came to my home, you'd see what I mean — I've been custom designing things there for a long time, so this is kind of a logical next step. I've seen and learned so much about different kinds of style from traveling the world and collecting beautiful antiques and whatnot. It became a passion and led to me developing my own design sense."
The 66-year-old performer, feted as 2016's MusiCares Person of the Year recently with a star-studded concert at Staples Center, sees a clear connection between his singer-songwriting skills and his new endeavor. "When I first started out at Motown, I had no idea that I could become a songwriter until somebody came in to the studio and said, 'Hey, kid, you can really write!' From there, the discovery happened. And it's the same thing with designing — it took my business manager telling me, 'You really have a talent doing this' to make me think seriously about it."
"Of course," adds Richie with a laugh, "he really likes the idea because it means I can hopefully make money as opposed to just spending it."
That sense of humor, on view in recent years via daughter Nicole's VH1 series "Candidly Nicole," appearances on "The Simpsons" and a Jimmy Fallon skit that blew up online, extends to his philosophy about work. "I'm like an Italian race car driver: What's behind me doesn't count, it's only what's in front of me that matters," says Richie, who has a South American tour, followed by a residency at Las Vegas' Planet Hollywood Resort and then a European tour. "I think I'm addicted to exhaustion."
Here are some of the inspirations and influences behind veteran pop star Lionel Richie's style:
This old house: "I live in an amazing 1929 house — it's the old Carrie Guggenheim estate in Beverly Hills — and that's probably where a lot of my style inspiration started. I had to make a lot of choices when I first bought it; not to change it, mind you, but to freshen it. It needed a lot of work and it took several years. And it's my favorite era — the 1920s and early '30s were just oozing with style, very glamorous and almost decadent. It's funny because I'm not a big fan of Art Deco, per se, but there's a certain boldness to it that I love, so you'll see some of that reflected in the collection."
Party pad: "I love having parties," says Richie, who says daughter Nicole's 2010 wedding was the most extravagant one he's ever thrown ("It was like an evening in Provence, with chandeliers twinkling on a giant stage we built over the pool. The price got way out of hand, but I wanted her to have whatever she wanted.") "I like to play dress-up, so sometimes they're more formal, but some days you just want a fun setting that's more casual. I kind of look at it like I'm building a set for a stage show; sometimes it's indoors, sometimes it's outside, but there has to be great food and a great mix of people. There'll be a casting director, maybe a film producer, somebody from Wall Street — it's not all people from the music business. I know it's a good party when no one wants to leave!"
Admiration society: "Just like I never, ever thought I'd be in the same field as someone like Marvin Gaye — I mean, he was one of the very greatest of all time — I never thought I'd be doing something that Ralph Lauren does, you know? All of his designs —from clothes to housewares — is the best; no one does it better. I'm definitely inspired by people like him and Calvin Klein. As far as artists go, I like very different things: Jean Dufy, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Basquiat ... Banksy. I'm all over the place when it comes to art."
Mix it up: "I like taking a piece from one designer and mixing it with something from another, and the collection is very much like that — mix and match. You can put the London plate on top of the Milano charger and then add a Riviera salad plate. They don't all match, but it looks far more interesting on the table."
Only the best: "When I was growing up in Alabama, my mother, like everyone's mother, only brought out the good china on special occasions. But over the years, I've spent a lot of time in Europe and I've noticed that you'll be served a casual lunch in, say, Geneva or London, and the plates will be spectacular. So I took a page from that and I use the best stuff on a daily basis. I don't want to put something away and only bring it out on special occasions. Why have it at all if you can't use it all the time?"