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Wheelbarrow Chic

His new L.A. house still resembles a construction site, but designer Bill Sofield throws a party anyway--hard hats optional

Bill Sofield is one of the most successful designers of the decade. His clean, modern work has attracted a diverse clientele, from Ralph Lauren to (my spies report) Sean Combs, a.k.a. Puff Daddy. Tom Ford of Gucci tapped Sofield to create a retail store in Beverly Hills--just opened, it's already a hit--and to renovate the flagship store in Manhattan. "I've always admired Bill Sofield because he doesn't think like a traditional architect," Ford told me. "He has a real understanding of drama, theater, luxury and the way people interact within a space." Sofield is also working on a personal project dear to his heart: the renovation of his newly acquired L.A. home. Read on for more.

site inspection
On Sofield's first trip to Los Angeles in 1986, he jogged by a "bungalow" once owned by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. It was love at first sight, although Sofield didn't buy the property until 11 years later. (When he did, he came across Fairbanks's monogrammed playing cards and Pickford's hair goo.) The building, was inspired by the gatehouses at the Imperial Palace in Japan. Sofield's table setting, for a party to celebrate the installation of a frieze by his friend Nancy Lorenz, demonstrates his taste for Asian simplicity. The dendrobium orchids are from a supermarket, and the container is an antique iron vase from Japan.

"leave your manolos at home"
Because the lighting wasn't finished, Sofield strung up droplights. The electrical cords were bright yellow, so he chose yellow as his color scheme, using it for cups and candles. Only Sofield can look at an electrical cord and find inspiration! The invitations read "Leave your Manolos at home." (Manolos are to shoes what Havanas are to cigars.) The party started at 5 P.M.--and at 4:59 the crew was still testing the safety of the stone steps that the guests, including Jim Gianopulos, would be ascending. Sofield hijacked a wheelbarrow, filling it with ice and a cache of Taittinger Champagne, and transformed a sawhorse into a bar. It goes without saying that this kind of entertaining takes imagination, humor and confidence!

the party scene
Inside the house, a bedroom doubled as a dining space, and the bathroom served as a wet bar. "The artwork is static and certain pieces of furniture are also static, but food and people are movable," Sofield said. One fixed point was the lacquer frieze by Lorenz, installed in the living room. Tables and chairs from Ikea were set up with care, reflecting Sofield's democratic view of the importance of even the smallest object: "I don't think any less of a chair than of a building." For the meal, Sofield had dispatched two friends to Japantown and Chinatown the day before in search of the freshest sushi and the best dim sum. He also ordered miso-glazed grilled tofu from Café Midi and picked up soybeans, at an Asian market (steam them for three minutes, drain and sprinkle with coarse salt). Then he bought paper lanterns to hang over bare bulbs--for 95 cents apiece!--at Ikea. His friends, Christophe Bernard, and Tom Houlden, seemed pleased with the results.

Published September 1999
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