The Cali-based Interior Designer Talks about the Past, Present and Moving Forward

(Paul wears the Banks)

Designer Paul Fortune's work—from David Fincher's Los Feliz home and Mark Jacobs’s Paris apartment, to the glorious renovation of the Sunset Tower hotel, and his column in the dearly departed House & Garden—is the stuff of legend.  Born in Liverpool and educated in London, Fortune put the first Cadillac through the roof of the Hard Rock Cafe, made cameos in both Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, and created an LA icon of his former home, a 20s cabin in Laurel Canyon once rumored to be the liquor den for Laurel & Hardy. Now he’s taking his show on the road—or at least moving to Ojai.

Wait, why Ojai?

We wanted a change of venue for act three. Argentina is nice, but they only eat meat and I’m too old to tango with panache. We just sort of stumbled into Ojai. It’s off the beaten path, but still close enough to L.A. And it has trees! Beautiful oaks and orchards and hippies and yogis and Terence Stamp. It’s also restricted in the best possible way. No box stores or billboards or parking meters. We’re even doing pottery classes and Qi-gong. 

The old Laurel & Hardy gin joint is gone? RIP! I'm curious, since your constant, gradual, work-in-progress approach to that place was sort of legendary, if you look back on your time there in toto—over thirty years in all—to find any takeaways?

I never really thought of the work I did on the house as work, really. It was just living in a space and adjusting it to my changing needs and means over the years. The place did have some magic to start, and my job was to keep that intact, and sprinkle a little more fairy dust around when needed. The 30 years went fast and then the fairy dust ran out I guess—it seemed like the time was right to move on.

I am always and continually struck by the fact that the dominant factor in any environment that you touch—the thing that makes it a Paul Fortune environment—is more of a lifestyle thing than it is a recognizable design vernacular. Every room of yours that I have been in, whether in Laurel Canyon, at Les Deux or the Sunset Tower, feels like home, feels like it is open to me, in some way. I have a feeling this comes more from your personality, your way, than from any aesthetic philosophy or set of principles. What is that?

There are decisions to be made and you make the right one, always. To do that you need to have looked around you all your life and paid attention. But it’s good to leave a little wiggle room for surprises no? 

Your homes, your uniform of Prada suits and Oliver Peoples(!)—you are the ultimate embodiment of elegance. What is elegance to you?

Really? I'm flattered. Diana Vreeland said elegance was refusal, which is pretty good. I think maybe it's refinement or reduction. It’s often easier to say what it isn't than what it is—but whatever it is, it is. Perhaps there is always a mystery to elegance: Who is she? Why is she? How?

Also elegant people wear only what suits them and are indifferent to the rest.

It is through you that I met Gavin Lambert (for which, I am ever in your debt), and Gavin's LA, like your LA, is LA for me, the LA that I am homesick for.

Sadly I think your LA and my LA is lost now. There are a few moments still that can be found here and there, by accident, but the relentless development is taking its toll—the cars and restaurants these days are, in Gavin’s words, “positively ghoulish.” The dreams are still of fame and fortune but something has been lost—maybe an innocence—and now we just have delusion. Bummer, eh?

What are you looking at these days that inspires you, turns you on? 

The natural world is always a source of wonder. I read books, which, despite endless laments of their demise, are still available and a constant joy and surprise in variety and imagination. Films can be amazing. I still enjoy cooking and drinking delicious wine, thankfully. The pottery is absorbing and, who knows, I might get good at it!

- photos by Ari Michelson

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