Brigette Romanek, the designer of choice for Beyoncé and Gwyneth Paltrow, reveals her trade secrets
Words by MARTHA HAYES
Photography by SAM FROST
Romanek stands in the hallway by the front door and staircase, which are original to the 1929-built house. To her right is a painting by Alvaro Barrington.
In the heart of her sprawling Los Angeles estate, Brigette Romanek is sitting on one of two 1960s Marco Zanuso sofas that curl perfectly around a Rose Uniacke table. She is snacking on chips and guacamole at one end while members of her team type on laptops at the other. And she doesn’t even flinch when her boisterous labradoodle, Rufus, climbs up to join her on the pristine cream-colored vintage furniture.
“I don’t ever want to be precious,” says the self-taught interior designer, whose star-studded client list includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Beyoncé, and Demi Moore. “A dining room is sometimes ‘only for when guests come over,’ but we’ll sit here for hours and hang out and play cards, have lunch or dinner. I work here, too.”
Romanek’s approach to the 1929-built home she moved into one year ago with her two daughters — Willow, 17, and Isobel, 14, from her marriage to film director Mark Romanek — perfectly embodies “livable luxe,” the philosophy that has made her one of Hollywood’s most sought-after interior design gurus.
“I always tell my clients, ‘I’m going to leave your house when it’s done and when I close the door, I want you to really live in it and feel like it’s you,’” she says.
A pink lightbox made by Gilbert Lighting deliberately disrupts the living room space.
Romanek calls her neighborhood “the original Beverly Hills.” Awash in 1920s architecture, the neighborhood sits just south of Paramount Studios, and many Hollywood Golden Age execs once called it home. “I love this area because there aren’t a lot of areas in L.A. where there’s a uniformity,” she says. “It reminds me of Europe.” The move meant leaving behind an iconic Laurel Canyon mansion, a former recording studio with a “hippie soulfulness” that has hosted everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Mick Jagger.
“This house is equally soulful,” she says. “I have a real love of houses that have a lot of character built into the walls. When you walk in, you feel that.”
Romanek was invested in this particular property because she had already reworked the historical residence “to service a modern family,” as she says, for one of her clients. “We moved a couple of walls and added doors that were more contemporary but had enough detail that they felt like they really belonged here,” she explains.
When said client, Joey Gonzalez, CEO of Barry’s Bootcamp, and his partner, Jonathan Rollo, announced they were relocating to Miami, Romanek realized it was the perfect house — with a “wonderful energy that is very nice to come home to” — for her own family.
“My clients say, ‘I’m so glad you made me do that in the end’”
“I knew I wanted something here because it’s a dead space,” says Romanek of the nook beneath the staircase. “When I found this De Sede vintage sofa in orange leather, I was like, ‘There she is.’” Above the sofa hangs a picture by Robert Pruitt.
“I make everybody feel like it’s their home,” she says, walking me through a light and airy open-plan front living room. The room is adorned with rare and eclectic pieces, including a Hans Wegner hammock chaise lounge (“They’re remaking these now, but this is a vintage one; I lost my mind when I found it!”) and an electric pink lightbox (“It disrupts everything”) by Gilbert Lighting.
Off the living area is a cozy bar enveloped by a mural by James Mobley. “You want a drink? Go to the bar and make yourself one,” she says, showing me into the rectangular room. “I brought a Danny Ho Fong dining table and coffee table books in here,” she says. “Do what feels good and what works for you!”
Livable luxe isn’t just Romanek’s design philosophy; it’s also the title of her new book, a beautifully photographed showcase of the residential and commercial work that has secured her a place every year in Architectural Digest’s AD 100, a list of the top designers in the world, since she founded Romanek Design Studio in 2018.
In the tome, Romanek attributes the start of her interest in design to her nomadic childhood as the daughter of a backup singer to Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin. “I lived with my grandmother a lot, and there were rooms we weren’t actually allowed in,” she says. “I always said, when I’m in control [of rooms in a house], I want them to be pretty but I also want to enjoy them.”
As well as exploring Romanek’s high-low Gucci-meets-Gap sensibility, the book includes a foreword from Gwyneth Paltrow, who has known Romanek for more than 20 years. Romanek can still recall the conversation when Paltrow first mentioned she wanted to start the blog that would eventually become her wellness and lifestyle empire, Goop. “I said, ‘That’s fine, but can you pass the salt? I’m really hungry,’” she says, laughing.
Paltrow’s words explain how Romanek, with whom she has worked on three projects, including her stylish manse in Montecito, has pushed her own design boundaries. Romanek, in turn, enjoys surprising her clients. “I’ll throw in a wild card that can just turn a room on its head in the best way possible,” she says. Paltrow also has a cozy bar in pink onyx and an indoor hammock suspended from the ceiling.
“I love houses that have a lot of character built into the walls”
Romanek finishes her workday by “grabbing a little rosé” from the bar, which she custom made, and sitting with a book at the dining room table and stools by Danny Ho Fong. The mural is by James Mobley.
“That’s when my clients end up the happiest,” Romanek says. “They’ll say to me, ‘I’m so glad you made me do that in the end,’ and ‘I’m so glad you pushed me to go there.’”
Although Romanek — who is currently juggling a portfolio of commercial projects, including stores for the vintage-inspired California womenswear brand The Great and Audemars Piguet’s new experiential retail spot, AP House — clearly knows her stuff, she also learns from her clients.
“Working with Gwyneth is really fun because she has seen so many things,” she says. “She’ll be like, ‘Have you heard of this paint company?’ Working with people who are well versed in cameras, you learn how you want the light to act and why you want certain colors. It expands my mind.”
It is, however, an occupational hazard when Romanek finds something beautiful and rare for a client’s home but wants to keep it for herself. “I’ll be like, ‘I would love that, but no, it’s going to go to my client!’ They always come first,” she says.
And with this property she was very happy to come second.
Behind the Lara sofa is a painting by James Nares. When Romanek is drawn to a piece of art, she just knows. “I fall in love,” she says. “It’s that feeling of ‘I want us to be together!’”
Two paintings hang above a vintage chair in the hallway.
Vintage Hans Wegner hammock chaise lounge made of wood and roping. “I’ve had it almost ten years,” says Romanek. “It’s gone everywhere with me.”
TAYLOR FRITZ wears FENDI jacket, GUCCI sweater, DRIES VAN NOTEN pants, CARTIER necklace and bracelet, ROLEX watch. MORGAN RIDDLE wears LOUIS VUITTON and vintage jewelry.
Feature image: Brigette Romanek sitting on a Lara sofa designed by Roberto Pamio, Noti Massari, and Renato Toso next to a coffee table by Lawson-Fenning in the living room of her 1929-built Los Angeles home. “We adjusted the design elements that could be adjusted and embraced the things that couldn’t,” she says. “You have to respect the house that’s been standing for that long.”
This story originally appeared in the Fashionable Living 2023 issue of C Magazine.
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