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Shawn Hausman on Showbiz, Andre Balazs, and Being "The Pitbull"

Welcome to Dining & Designing, a new column in which Curbed National joins with the forces of Eater National to profile and explore the design of restaurants. Your fearless leader through this untamed wilderness will be Julie Earle-Levine, an Australian, NYC-based writer who has contributed to The Financial Times of London, New York Magazine, and the New York Times, among others. She has both a passion for real estate and a passion for eating. This will be fun.

Photos: Shawn Hausman Design

Shawn Hausman has created playful, vibrant hotels including The Standard Hotel and Spa in Miami, both Standard Hotels in L.A., and the famed West Hollywood destination Chateau Marmont, not to mention a whole stable of restaurants for the likes of Stephen Starr. Hausman's eponymous interior design firm is a small operation, with just under 10 people and a dog all sharing space in their downtown L.A. office. Still, Hausman has earned awards for Starr’s new Philly restaurant The Dandelion and has plenty of cool projects on the go, including the second Little Dom’s in L.A. and a French-inspired restaurant in D.C. Here we talk to Hausman about his Bohemian childhood, working with Andre Balazs, and hotels in space.

Your mother was the elusive late actress Diane Varsi, and your father is Michael Hausman, a film producer and professor at Columbia University in New York. How did that influence you?
Growing up I was always moving—we were like gypsies. I was around the film business with my mom in my youth, and later with my father. My mother was a major influence, enabling me to carve my creative path as I grew up. My father remains an inspiration, a symbol of integrity.

Did you live at the Chateau Marmont as a kid?
No, but we had friends that did so we spent a lot of time there.

How did you get started in your interior design career?
It was more or less by accident. I was working in film, doing production design. [He was a production assistant on Saturday Night Fever, and had worked on two features before that film.] In 1983, in my mid-20s, I opened a nightclub in New York called Area with three other friends. We built the place ourselves, and being the only one that could draft, it was my first interior design project. It was a collaboration.

I remember that club. Did you consciously design with a changing theme and rotating art installations in mind?
Yes, the concept was based around adapting the club to a new theme every six to eight weeks. It was an amazing learning experience that taught me what can be accomplished in 24 hours.

After that, I moved back to California and continued to work on production design on films and television commercials. One of my partners from Area was opening a restaurant, The Hollywood Canteen, and asked me to design it. It was my first restaurant project. From there, one thing led to another and I began the Chateau Marmont Hotel for Andre Balazs. It wasn’t really a career—when an interesting project would arise, I would take it on.

What was it like working for Andre Balazs?
We still work together. I have done at least 10 projects with him over the years. Andre finds amazing projects. He’s very involved in the design process, from concept to every detail. He is always willing to take a chance—push the boundaries for design. I admire his fearless approach.

Do you butt heads on design?
We have sure, at times, but only in a productive way. I try to look at all options with an open mind but there will be some things I can be stubborn about—something that I feel is essential, without compromise. Another client fondly refers to me as "the pitbull."

What are some of your favorite hotels?
I find so much is related to personal experience—a memory from some time and place. I stayed in a small place outside of Puerto Vallarta while working on a production. I remember it more like a dream, a maze. My room had an opening to the sky and it rained all night. Water missed the bed and just drained out the tile floor to the balcony. It was truly romantic.

Dos Negros in Uruguay was an unforgettable dinner. I have always loved Tosca’s bar in North Beach—it's understated perfection.

If you had to describe The Dandelion, how would you?
Comfortable, playful, unpretentious, and British. We tried to avoid British clichés; rather, to translate British in spirit.

Can you point to a couple of specific details?
There are five fireplaces and six dining rooms throughout two buildings on two floors. We used Fine Paints of Europe (formerly Schroeder) and drew from their British Standards line of colors

Is there anyone you haven’t worked with yet who you would love to?
I remember reading a few years back about this guy, some kind of a Las Vegas slumlord or something, and he was doing a hotel in space. I thought that looked intriguing. I guess the trip is part of the experience. Your cruise ship in space.

You could always jump on Richard Branson’s jet.
I don’t know all that Branson does, but I find some of his achievements really inspiring. He is a truly remarkable entrepreneur.

Head over to Eater National for the remainder of the interview. >>