Known for Innovative Style : ‘California Look’ Design Guru Michael Taylor Dies

Times Staff Writer

Interior designer Michael Taylor, whose innovative “California Look” made his homes showplaces of the unexpected, died Tuesday of spinal meningitis.

Taylor was 59 and died at the oceanfront home that also was his office in the fashionable Sea Cliff area of San Francisco.

Taylor had received numerous honors, including the Designer of Distinction award in 1984 from the American Society of Interior Designers.

Melded Styles


But he was known to that segment of the public that could afford him as a melder of traditional and contemporary in settings where huge boulders often became fireplaces and Saguaro cacti might serve as room dividers.

His style often was characterized by the bold use of elegant, oversized furnishings, natural materials and a mix of contemporary and period pieces.

“Michael Taylor was one of a kind,” said Virginia Gray, associate editor of the Los Angeles Times Magazine. “There never was any question about a Taylor home. They were off the wall, distinctive if not always livable. He was inimitable.”

A native of Modesto who dropped out of high school and joined the Navy, Taylor attended design schools after his discharge. He worked for other designers and for department stores before entering into a partnership with designer Francis Mihailoff on Post Street in San Francisco.


His exotic designs in color and diversified tastes in furniture (18th-Century English was often coalesced with 20th-Century Spanish and vice versa) proved almost immediately popular and he soon bought out his partner.

Millionaire Clients

In 1970, he purchased a private home in Sea Cliff, ripped out the walls, installed the furniture from his old shop and began attracting the millionaire clients who formed the mainstay of his business. Among them were comic Steve Martin, actress Jennifer Jones and her husband, Norton Simon.

At his death his work had appeared on the cover of more than 40 design magazines, including House & Garden.


“He was the best, the brightest and certainly the wittiest decorator,” Architectural Digest Editor Paige Rense said on learning of Taylor’s death. “His genius is part of decorating history.”

Taylor leaves his mother, Grace Paxton of Sonoma.