Grand Tour

One of the clichés of writing about houses and decor is a discussion of “the mix.” At the home of Richard Shapiro, the story is not so much about the mix as it is about an individual connoisseurial vision that ennobles objects and artworks of widely ranging period, pedigree and provenance. A zealous collector all his life, Shapiro owns one of the finest antiques shops in Los Angeles. His treasure-laden house in Holmby Hills reflects the arc of his shifting passions and tastes over the past quarter century.

Shapiro made his mark on the Los Angeles food and social scene in 1984, when he co­founded and designed the Grill on the Alley in Beverly Hills. “I wanted to create an instant institution, replete with mirrors, mahogany and imaginary owners, whose collection of drawings covered every square inch of the walls,” he says. “It was always a thrill to walk in and see someone like Marlon Brando or Jackie Gleason or Teddy Kennedy.” That storied restaurant spawned Grills in San José and Chicago (which Shapiro also designed) and a string of Daily Grill cafés. Years later, Shapiro cofounded the Stand, a chain of upscale hot-dog joints.

A dedicated student of art history and an artist himself—he has painted and sculpted for years—Shapiro immersed himself in the world of modern and contemporary art in the 1980s. “I always sought seminal pieces by my favorite artists—ones museums would want. At that time, you could still acquire truly extraordinary artworks if you searched hard enough.” Highlights of his collection included a Robert Rauschenberg Combine from 1954, a Don­ald Judd stack sculpture from the late ’60s, a silver Elizabeth Taylor by Andy Warhol and a 1969 Cy Twombly painting from the Bolsena series.

Over a period of years in the early 2000s, Shapiro deaccessioned a good portion of his contemporary-art collection. “Owning pieces of that caliber is a great responsibility, and I grew weary from worrying about them all the time. I wanted to live a less precious existence,” he says. “Still, it was tough to part with the Twombly.”

Shapiro shifted his attention to exceptional furniture and objects and, in 2001, opened his namesake store on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood. “I apply the same criteria as a private collector to the pieces I buy for the shop. I only sell things I love and would be happy to take home. My focus isn’t on one particular period or style. It doesn’t matter if a piece is Deco, Empire or African, as long as it’s really good.”

At his fantasyland of a store, Shapiro displays antique masterpieces, often highly figured and patinated, alongside pared-down contemporary furniture from his Studiolo collection, which he launched six years ago. That same rationale of objects comes to life in dramatic fashion in the brilliant interiors of Shapiro’s house. He approaches home design (his own as well as that of his clients) less as a decorator than as a curator attuned to the nuances of placement and juxtaposition. In his various incarnations as artist, collector, antiquarian and museum trustee (he was on the board of MOCA for seven years), Shapiro has gained access to some of the world’s most extraordinary homes. The lessons he learned in his extensive travels are evident in the uniquely European sensibility of his own L.A. residence.

“I’ve always been seduced by environments marked by the ravages of time and erosion. Weathering and patina can give great character to a house, just like a chair or table,” he avers. “I’ve seen amazing houses all over Europe, and I’m always taken by the casual, seemingly offhand treatment of great objects and art. I wanted to strike that same note.”

Shapiro establishes his collision of styles and cultures in the double-height entry hall, where a first-century Roman torso of an Amazon warrior stands guard before a monumental target painting by Gary Lang from 2007. Nearby, a seminal Gutai painting by Shozo Shimamoto from the 1950s hangs above an 18th-century scagliola head on an 18th-century Italian gilt­wood console. Shapiro also utilizes existing architectural details: The stair hall’s forged-iron railing and stenciled, coffered ceiling add depth and texture to the multicultural symphony.

Past the showstopping entry is the densely layered living room, where Shapiro’s kaleidoscope spins out to even more dazzling effect. The cabinet of artworks and curiosities is presided over by a 14th-century Italian sculpture of a pope, which faces a stainless-steel “implosion” sculpture by Dutch artist Ewerdt Hilgemann. One wall is covered with a nine-piece typology of industrial structures by German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher. A pair of George III consoles flanks the passageway from the living room to a smaller study. On one, Shapiro has assembled a grouping of busts that range from the Hellenistic period to 16th-century Italian to French Gothic. A curvaceous Japanese roof tile positioned underneath adds a note of orientalism to the occidental mix.

Far less cluttered than the living room, Shapiro’s dining room (added about 15 years ago) boasts a handful of important pieces sparingly deployed. A French Empire table from 1825 is centered between a massive Robert Morris felt sculpture on one wall and a 192-piece installation of Allan McCollum’s Surrogate paintings on the opposite elevation. In a far corner, his genius for juxtaposition is manifested in the pairing of a 16th-century Old Master painting of St. Peter and a 1981 minimalist timber sculpture by Carl Andre.

Shapiro’s skill in finding intriguing connections between divergent artworks is clearly a testament to his experience as a collector and his discerning eye. In characteristic fashion, however, he downplays the masterful design of his home as an exercise in fantasy fulfillment.

“I wanted this house to feel like an old European palazzo or chateau,” he says. “I wanted to play a game and deceive myself, as if I was living in Rome or Tuscany.” Apparently, the deception has paid off handsomely.

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