Orli Ben-Dor: You’re a movie executive, not a decorator, and yet your home — which you designed — looks fabulous. Decorating must be in your blood!
Strauss: It actually is! My 101-year-old grandmother was an interior designer, and my aunt is one, too. I’m also a ravenous student of design. I subscribe to every shelter magazine and have read countless interiors books. I pay attention to the experts. I believe every house tells a story, and my whole career in movies has been about storytelling. At Walt Disney Studios, where I am president of marketing, we create and inhabit different worlds. I’ve worked on Star Wars, Coco, Zootopia, and Black Panther. I love the fantasy of escaping into a new place. But in my own home, it’s about my story.
This Regency-style house is very old-Hollywood. Do you have a thing for classic glamour?
Strauss: I think so. As a kid in Harrison, New York, I would sketch interiors, taking ideas from my parents’ friends’ houses. At 13, I drew an entire home, detailing all the rooms and even the family who lived there and how they entertained. The facade was uncannily similar to this house. I still have the illustrations.
Have you always been drawn to older homes?
Strauss: Yes. I’ve lived in a midcentury-modern, a Spanish, and most recently a Tudor across town. It was grand, dark, and foreboding. I needed a change. This house is brighter and has an infectious energy that speaks to me. It is glamorous, but on a manageable scale. The home belonged to a friend who was ready to sell. He bought it from friends, too. In fact, when I commissioned a house history, I learned that for the past 20 years, this house was owned by a series of people who knew one another.
It was meant to be! For someone who didn’t use a designer, there are a lot of decorator touches, like the green-lacquered bar.
Strauss: That was already here, which was fortunate. I’ve always had lacquered rooms in my houses, but it’s a painstaking process, so if I didn’t have to live through the trouble of creating one here, all the better. I did enlist a couple of interior-designer friends to help with a few things, particularly Ryan White, who came in to support me on my first big edit. Sometimes my maximalist tendencies can use some reining in. And then I consulted Brooke Gardner, who is always a great partner when I have a specific vision and need help making it happen. For example, I wanted gold walls in the dining room, and Brooke found artisans who hand-applied a custom finish. I even rolled up my sleeves and pitched in a bit!
What is the story you are telling here?
Strauss: I believe in a strictly authentic narrative at home — everything in my space is there for a reason. I’m one of those people who actually uses their good china, and I hand-carried my porcelain plates back to Los Angeles from Shanghai. See that punch bowl on the bar? I got it after we wrapped the set of The Help, a movie I worked on that meant so much to me. Behind every single thing in this house, there is a background story that makes me smile.
Sounds intriguing. Do go on...
Strauss: Well, I am particularly in love with a ceramic bowl in the living room that used to belong to Marilyn Monroe. I have always looked up to her, and I believe she epitomized Hollywood glamour. I wanted to own something of hers, and I was finally able to get this bowl at auction. But it’s hard to pick a single favorite object in my house. In the kitchen, I have a collection of porcelain pagodas that I get to enjoy every morning. Tabletop items are really important to me.
Your bedroom is dreamy. How did you land on that airy blue?
Strauss: I’ve had dark bedrooms in the past, but this time I wanted to conjure a lighter feeling in my sleeping space. I wanted the room to make me feel happy and uplifted — like I am sleeping in the sky. I love it. The built-in bed creates a cove effect, and I upholstered the background to give the look of a headboard. I also installed wall-to-wall carpeting. I’m a huge fan of that — maybe it’s because I grew up in the ’70s, but I find it easier to vacuum, which is essential since I have dogs. It absorbs sound, so the room is peaceful and quiet. You forget that Sunset Boulevard is less than a mile away.
How did you design such a personal space yet keep the soul of this old house alive?
Strauss: With any house, new or old, I believe my role is to be a good caretaker. Even if you’re building a house from scratch, someone else will one day live there. I love living in vintage homes, within walls that speak of history. Right now, I’m just a steward of this house, doing what I can to leave my mark.
See more photos of this gorgeous home:
This story originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Natipernavigare.