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Unveiling the Lavish World of William Haines: A Sunnylands Exhibition

When it comes to the iconic midcentury modern gem, Sunnylands, the surprise lies within its walls. Contrary to the prevailing minimalist trends of its era, Sunnylands boasts interiors that are nothing short of maximalist extravagance.

“In an era and a region heavily leaning into a minimalist, modernist interior design, the Annenbergs embraced a full-on maximalist approach,” remarked Anne Rowe, Director of Heritage at Sunnylands.

At the helm of this opulent transformation was none other than decorator extraordinaire, William Haines. His unparalleled designs now take center stage in the brand-new exhibition, “Variations to a Theme: William Haines at Sunnylands,” set to dazzle visitors as Sunnylands Center & Gardens reopens for the season on Wednesday, Sept. 13.

Design luminary Patrick Dragonette extolled Haines as a “design master” whose work defied the midcentury esthetic that had saturated the design world. Haines possessed a unique ability to honor the past while infusing his designs with a fresh, forward-thinking perspective.

Haines’ signature Hollywood Regency style exuded silver-screen glamour through a captivating blend of colors, textures, patterns, and finishes, all with a nod to the 19th-century English Regency period.

Photo credits: David Loftus for The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands.

Before rising to prominence as an interior designer, Haines had graced the silver screen himself during the 1920s and 1930s. His knack for seamlessly integrating classic elements into a contemporary design sensibility made him a sought-after figure among his former Hollywood colleagues. Icons such as Joan Crawford, Carole Lombard, and Jack and Ann Warner were among his esteemed clientele. Haines succinctly captured his approach: “When you’re designing modern, use the past.”

For the Annenbergs, Haines undertook the monumental task of furnishing every nook and cranny of Sunnylands, crafting over 450 bespoke pieces for the sprawling 25,000-square-foot residence. This remarkable collection of cabinets, tables, consoles, sofas, desks, chairs, and decorative items now stands as the world’s largest existing assembly of William Haines, Inc. furniture and lighting.

Between 1963 and 1966, Haines collaborated closely with the Annenbergs, architect A. Quincy Jones, and the estate’s landscape designers to transform 200 acres of barren desert into one of the nation’s most distinctive and significant homes.

Anne Rowe, the Director of Heritage at Sunnylands, declared, “This exhibition breaks ground as the inaugural museum experience celebrating the influential design work of William Haines.”

“Variations to a Theme: William Haines at Sunnylands” promises to be a highlight of the 2023-2024 season, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the timeless allure of Haines’ designs.

Sunnylands Center & Gardens, located at 37977 Bob Hope Drive in Rancho Mirage, will open its doors free of charge from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, starting September 13. For those eager to explore the Annenberg estate, tickets are available at Don’t miss the chance to step into the extravagant world of William Haines at Sunnylands this season.

Walter Annenberg (far right) stands shoulder to shoulder with William Haines in front of a private plane, circa 1967-1969. With them are Haines’ partner, Jimmie Shields (far left), and business associate, Ted Graber. Photo credit: The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands.

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