Suzanne Rheinstein, Designer of Classic American Interiors, Dies at 77

Suzanne Rheinstein, a New Orleans-born, Los Angeles-based designer of classical American interiors in the tradition of Sister Parish and Mark Hampton but with a Southern flair, died on March 20 at her home in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. She was 77.

The cause was cancer, said her daughter, Kate Brodksy.

Ms. Rheinstein’s clients were not celebrities, though they were certainly familiar to the cultural institutions and charities they supported. (In the tradition of decorating magazines, when Ms. Rheinstein’s work was featured, as it often was, in magazines like Elle Decor, Architectural Digest and Veranda, the clients weren’t identified.)

They were the developers, movie executives, business people and patrons who had a large part in keeping Los Angeles, and other cities, running. They were, in fact, very much like Ms. Rheinstein, whose own philanthropies included the Garden Conservancy, a national organization, and the Los Angeles Conservancy, a local historic preservation group.

“She was a lover of history and beauty,” Dara Caponigro, creative director of F. Schumacher & Co., the textile and wallpaper company, and the editor in chief of Frederic, the company’s design magazine, wrote in a tribute on its website. “But it didn’t outweigh her desire to create livable spaces. She once said to me that she didn’t design to ‘wow’ and that her work quietly revealed itself the longer you were in one of her rooms, which spoke to her mastery of the details — curtains lined with a subtle, just-so check, or a valance with a trim in the perfect width.”

A Northern California library designed by Ms. Rheinstein is lacquered a vibrant green (Herb Garden, by Benjamin Moore); the sofa is covered with a paisley fabric produced by the Lee Jofa company.Credit…Pieter Estersohn
Ms. Rheinstein’s living room in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. The upholstered furniture is “dressed” in its summer slipcovers of striped chintz.Credit…Pieter Estersohn

Like Mrs. Parish, who freshened up the Kennedy White House, and Mr. Hampton, who elevated the habitats of 1980s-era robber barons, Ms. Rheinstein brought an American freshness to English country style. Her work, said Mitchell Owens, American editor of “The World of Interiors,” the English design magazine, “was very much within that American tradition that had one foot in history and one foot in the now.”

“She appreciated English Regency and Louis XV and William and Mary,” he added, “but those pieces were mixed up together in rooms where there was a lot of clarity and not a lot of clutter.”

“There were no tricks,” the decorator Bunny Williams told Frederic magazine.

Ms. Rheinstein was her own best advertisement, a gracious entertainer who hosted charitable functions for decades at her red brick Georgian house, twined with Lady Banks climbing roses and opening onto inviting garden “rooms.” She followed the English country house tradition of slipcovering her upholstered furniture every summer — in cream and blue chintz in wide stripes, or in roses printed on pale linen.

In 1988, she opened Hollyhock, an antiques and decorative arts store, on Larchmont Boulevard, Hancock Park’s main shopping street. She sold upholstered furniture, often copied from yard sale finds (one best seller was “Mrs. Wilson’s sofa,” named for a neighbor’s castoff), as well as William Yeoward glasses, 18th-century English prints and botanicals, Mary Kirk Kelly ceramic fruits and vegetables, and her own textile designs, which were produced by Lee Jofa, the fabric company.

In short order, customers became clients, and the store grew into a hub and resource for the design community. In later years it was one of the largest retailers of Christopher Spitzmiller lamps in the country, and was known for its 17th- and 18th-century French, Spanish and Italian antiques. The store moved a few times in its 30 years in business, ending up in the La Cienega Design Quarter before closing in 2018.

Stenciled floors in a pantry…Credit…Pieter Estersohn
…And hand-blocked linen walls and a sleigh bed in a bedroom.Credit…Pieter Estersohn

“Suzanne understood entertaining, how to throw open the doors of a house and make people comfortable,” Mr. Owens said. “To make sure you had a drink in your hand” — an Ivy gimlet, made with fresh lime juice, simple syrup and a layer of club soda — “and a silver tray of candied bacon nearby. She knew how to live. That was one of her pet peeves: If you had the most alluring rooms but didn’t know how to live in them or make your friends enjoy them, what was the point?”

Suzanne Maria Stamps was born on April 1, 1945, in New Orleans. Her mother, Mimi (Patron) Stamps, was a decorator and a partner in an antiques store called Flair. Her father, Joseph, was a businessman who imported exotic hardwoods and veneers for the furniture industry.

Suzanne earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Tulane University, in New Orleans, where she was managing editor of the school newspaper. After graduating, she worked for Hodding Carter, the progressive journalist, and for Eric Sevareid of CBS News as a “girl Friday,” as she put it.

She was working as a freelance television producer when she met Frederic Rheinstein, founder of a special effects and post production company in Los Angeles. (He had been a producer for NBC News based on the West Coast. He and his crew were in Dallas in 1963 the day Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald and caught the event with their cameras.) The couple married in 1977.

For a house in Bel Air, 1920s wicker furniture and Moroccan urns.Credit…Pieter Estersohn

In addition to her daughter, Ms. Rheinstein is survived by her brother, Odom Stamps; three granddaughters; and two stepchildren. Mr. Rheinstein died in 2013.

Ms. Rheinstein was the co-author of three books that are portfolios of her work. The most recent, “Suzanne Rheinstein: A Welcoming Elegance,” was published by Rizzoli in March, with text by Michael Boodro and photographs by Pieter Estersohn.

That work includes a 1940s Georgian house in Northern California that she transformed into an airy showplace for the owners’ collection of contemporary photographs; a 1920s house in Bel Air that mixes Italian antiques with Victorian wicker and abstract expressionist paintings; and Ms. Rheinstein’s own weekend house in Montecito, which is elegantly minimal and pale-hued, with Portuguese and Tuscan furniture, Morandi prints, Etruscan wine vessels and her own fabric designs.

The book ends with a few of Ms. Rheinstein’s design tips, including, “Make sure some rooms have a sense of calm — so important with everyone leading such busy lives.”

And this one: “Fewer things, but better ones.”

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