First Look: Fleeting Beauty

Michael S. Smith, the designer who redecorated the Oval Office and the private living quarters in the White House for President and Mrs. Obama, is launching a new book from Rizzoli, Building Beauty: The Alchemy of Design, on May 7. Co-written with Christine Pittel, it documents Smith’s collaboration with architect Oscar Shamamian in creating a Palladian-style villa on the West Coast for clients who gave Smith carte blanche to travel the world (occasionally with them) and bring back what he found. In an odd twist, those very clients are moving to the East Coast and will be auctioning off the villa’s contents at Christie’s on April 23 and 24. But they already have Smith working on their new residences in East Hampton and New York. One of his finds, this nineteenth-century Chinese root-wood table, he likens to a Chinese scholar rock, in that it “works with every period.” It also set the mood for the house when it was the first thing you would see in the entrance hallway. Photo: Courtesy of Christie’s

The reflecting pool in the front of the house is filled with water lilies. As for the house itself, Smith and Shamamian were not able tear down the existing structure for complicated permit reasons. They ended up transforming the original McMansion”described in the book by Shamamian as a “Spanish mishmash, a sprawling, uneven, unidentifiable structure”“into an elegant Palladian-style villa. Photo: Courtesy of Rizzoli

This nineteenth-century Swedish cream-painted cupboard is one of many eclectic pieces, which include George III chairs, eighteenth-century Italian busts, seventeenth-century Flemish mirrors, and Moroccan leather ottomans. Photo: Courtesy of Rizzoli

The art in the house included Elizabethan and Old Master paintings as well as abstract modernists, such as this canvas by Sam Glankoff, which hung in a room with hand-embroidered curtains inspired by those at Villa Kerylos on the French Riviera. Photo: Courtesy of Rizzoli

A custom-made four-poster canopy bed from India was designed for the master bedroom. It is hung with a hand- embroidered Tree of Life design for the canopy and back panel and another floral pattern on the curtains. Photo: Courtesy of Rizzoli

The exterior of the villa is glass-reinforced concrete, as stone would have been too heavy for the existing frame of the house. This al fresco living room featured a fireplace that was framed by a seventeenth-century Tuscan mantelpiece. The custom-designed rope club chairs were modeled after thirties pieces. So how does he feel about parting with all this after putting so much time into assembling everything? “It’s like having a child go off to college,” Smith said before we hung up. Photo: Courtesy of Rizzoli

First Look: Fleeting Beauty