The luxury retailer par excellence has decamped to an art-filled farmhouse with her husband, David. But with two new stores in the works, she is far from winding down
Photography by FRANÇOIS DISCHINGER
Words by ELIZABETH VARNELL
Walker wears a Valentino dress with a Gucci bag while holding Delilah and California. A Keith Haring print, hanging above her bed, exemplifies her love of symmetry.
“It’s been a shocking, unplanned, spontaneous surprise,” Elyse Walker confesses about her recent foray into Napa. The founder and CEO of eponymous fashion boutiques in Pacific Palisades, Newport Beach, Calabasas and St. Helena is known for her pioneering retail hunches. Stocking designer labels such as Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Gabriela Hearst, Gucci and Wales Bonner, she’s been the first to carry such lines in many of the neighborhoods where she’s opened stores, and her St. Helena boutique was the only U.S. retail location to host last year’s Bottega Veneta sculpture installation inspired by Austrian Bauhaus artist Herbert Bayer. Such strategies have attracted clients including Kate Hudson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Cindy Crawford.
Walker was raised in Scarsdale, New York, and grew up working in her mother’s Scarsdale and Upper East Side shoe stores before establishing her first shop in the Pacific Palisades in the late 1990s. She eventually would split her time between Los Angeles, Cabo San Lucas and later Newport Beach. But when she and her husband, David, a banker turned real estate investor, found themselves searching for an in-state getaway where they could nurse their long-haired Chihuahua named Delilah back to health after an eye injury, they arrived in the storied Northern California wine region and promptly decided to stay.
Elyse and David Walker’s modern farmhouse-style St. Helena retreat made of stone and Japanese Charwood-finished cedar siding
The sun-soaked veranda’s views of the valley vineyards and surrounding Vaca and Mayacamas Mountains drew Walker to the house. Harbour Hamilton sofas strung with Olefin rope surround a custom coffee table.
Walker wields the pool skimmer in a dress by La DoubleJ and Gianvito Rossi platforms.
“I love math, so I love Keith Haring; it looks like a matrix to me”
The couple, who met in New York and have been married for 32 years, settled on a modern farmhouse-style design built in 2018 with a series of airy indoor-outdoor rooms created by San Francisco–based Nova Designs + Builds. The space is surrounded by vineyards and views of the Vaca and Mayacamas Mountains, and it emulates the sort of communal living Walker loved in Mexico. Industrial Corten steel siding, ancient stone and Japanese Charwood-finished cedar siding encase the house, while an 18-foot-wide sliding pocket door connects the indoor kitchen and vaulted dining and living rooms with an outdoor veranda, pool and sculptural firepit.
Walker’s graffiti-influenced art collection, including pieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Frank Stella, takes pride of place throughout. Once these prized paintings arrived, along with the antiques she had acquired over the years from shops on Venice’s Abbott Kinney Boulevard, Walker tapped Amber Lewis of Amber Interiors Design Studio—with whom she’s worked on previous homes and boutique interiors—to create layouts and advise on bed fabrics and curtains. Next, Walker opened all the doors and invited in the neighbors.
A Retna painting hangs above a vintage desk.
From left: A wine closet with local vintages, Warhol shoe lithographs and a bag image by Retna. Right: Croft House’s steel-cased Arden dresser, topped with Bottega Veneta, Chanel and Louis Vuitton bags, and Gianvito Rossi and Saint Laurent shoes, sits below Andy Warhol’s collage portrait of Mick Jagger.
Harlan Estate’s Deborah Harlan, Colgin Cellars’ Ann Colgin, Erin Martin of Erin Martin Design, Scarecrow’s Mimi DeBlasio and Frank Family Vineyards’ Leslie and Rich Frank are among the frequent guests inside the wood- and steel-beamed living room, as is graphic designer Michael Vanderbyl. In fact, Vanderbyl even created a label for the Cabernet blends—affectionately called One-Eyed Delilah—that David creates with choice grapes from the Napa Valley Reserve, a private club nearby. The couple’s sons Ryan and Kevin, both based in L.A., often join the gatherings on weekends. “I entertain almost every day, and my parents’ home was always open as well,” says Walker, who moves her art around in much the same way as she rearranges accessories from Acres Home & Garden on St. Helena’s Main Street and place settings from Carter and Co, all stored inside a nearly seamless wall of monochromatic dark walnut cabinets.
Walker hops atop RH linens.
“I like a lot of everything or I like none. Once I like an artist, I usually follow and follow and follow,” she says, describing her collection that also includes pieces by Marquis Lewis (known as Retna) and up-and-coming talent Halim Flowers. “I love math, so I love Keith Haring; it looks like a matrix to me. I studied ordinary differential equations in college, and there’s something in Haring and Retna where I see patterns. Basquiat is organized chaos in a good way,” she adds. Retna’s large-scale works dripping with white or black paint, Haring’s manic silk screens of line-drawn figures and a Warhol collage of Mick Jagger are on rotation above the house’s white oak plank floors. Warhol’s 1950s illustrations for shoe manufacturer I. Miller, part of a hand-colored lithograph series titled À la recherche du shoe perdu, are playfully propped inside a wine closet with a selection of Napa vintages.
“Every day there’s a tasting—someone has a new olive oil, honey, chocolate—or there’s a garden party”
The wood- and steel-beamed living room is frequently filled with guests from neighboring wineries.
The kitchen’s monochromatic dark walnut cabinets are filled with dishes from Acres Home & Garden on St. Helena’s Main Street; Jeff Kahm’s graphic Axiom hangs above the dogs’ beds.
“David and I met Marquis maybe 10 years ago,” says Walker, adding that MOCA’s 2011 Art in the Streets show curated by Jeffrey Deitch, among others, led her to him. “He writes in his own language, hieroglyphics and Hebrew.” The artist painted a wall of Walker’s Pacific Palisades boutique. “He was on a ladder, writing my words in his own writing, just as fast as I spoke them,” she adds, noting that he also lent his philanthropic support by donating works to the Pink Party, an annual gala Walker held in Los Angeles for 10 years—often co-hosted by Jennifer Garner—raising more than $11 million for Cedars-Sinai’s Women’s Cancer Research Institute. Retna lost a sister to the disease; Walker lost her mother, who passed from ovarian cancer at age 42. This turn of events led Walker to take over the family shoe business while finishing university. In May, she launched Rock Out/Knock Out Cancer, a new Napa fundraiser held at Christopher Kostow’s The Charter Oak restaurant benefitting the St. Helena Hospital Foundation’s early cancer detection programs.
While her husband works from an office above a hardware store, Walker is preparing to expand her St. Helena location in the spring and open two new ones in New York this fall, adding to her existing boutiques and three additional Southern California stores called Towne by Elyse Walker, which stock elevated basics. All this on the heels of launching her website’s e-commerce expansion, which has been two years in the making. And yet, she points out, there’s no shortage of newness all around her. “Every day there’s a tasting—someone has a new olive oil, honey, chocolate—or there’s a garden party,” Walker says. “These families are visionaries. Everyone shares their history and story with you, and it’s often a labor of love.”
Fashion Direction by LAUREN GOODMAN. Shop similar styles at elysewalker.com and Elyse Walker stores.
Feature image: The CEO with her real estate investor husband.
This story originally appeared in the Fashionable Living 2022 issue of C Magazine.
Discover more STYLE news.
See the story in our digital edition