The designer behind one of Greystone’s revamped bedrooms and its adjoining bathroom and patio reveals she’s got more on her plate than her dining creations
Sitting in the sun-drenched breakfast nook of her Beverly Hills home overlooking her beloved garden with her parrots talking away, Barbara Lazaroff is surrounded by a large, colorful canvas, fancifully painted ceramic vases and plates by artist Anna Silver and a piece by sculptor Robert Graham. One thing about this virtuoso of pigment is clear—her world is one that is most unquestionably rich in color.
“We see in color and people seem to want to make everything black and white,” says Lazaroff, the president of Imaginings Interior Design and a partner in the Wolfgang Puck empire of fine dining restaurants. “There’s a reason why we see in color; we should celebrate it.”
Indeed, Lazaroff has never shied away from making use of every color available to her extensive palette. Now this visionary presents her talents to the children’s playroom and terrace at Greystone Estate, where she is creating what she calls “Allegra’s Allegory”, a fairytale bedroom for Lazaroff’s imaginary daughter. She is one of 27 interior designers and eight exterior designers who have provided their time and money to help in the annual restoration of this Beverly Hills landmark, which will be open to the public starting November 4th. All designers are part of the American Society of Interior Design (ASID).
With Greystone, Lazaroff is taking the same spirited approach that has been largely instrumental for the overwhelming success of the Wolfgang Puck empire and using it to transform the Doheny sons’ former bedroom into a storybook fantasy room for her envisioned young girl. Never one to sit idly by, she has ardent- ly worked to create every facet of the room—from a vastly oversized book constructed by conceptual artist Kingsley to house Allegra’s bed, to the vaulted ceiling mural of oversized, whimsical flowers realized by fine artist Mimi Feldman, to vines and elegant butterflies conjured from Lazaroff ’s own imagination. Her design also incorporates two photographic art canvases of seven-foot-tall poppies created specifically for Allegra’s room by artist Pip Bloomfield and an aquatic art installation by Richard Bilow.
The room promises to be a veritable wonderland full of butterflies, flowers and delightfully eclectic appointments.“I designed a dreamlike carpet of imagined flowers and creatures but the time was too limited to produce it,” she recounts. “I was disap- pointed until Minassian carpets lent me a glorious antique Chinese creation.” Lazaroff will also display museum-quality art and antiques from her personal collection; furthermore, she has replaced the original fireplace mantel and is replacing various missing and damaged fixtures and elements in the adjoining bathroom and closet.
But her contributions to Greystone are only the latest addition to the Lazaroff folio. Her vibrant designs have undoubtedly changed the dining lexicon and, in the process, have been largely responsible for establishing ex-husband and still-business-partner Mr. Puck as the most recognizable name on the culinary stage.
Though a multitude of pioneering eateries such as the original Spago Hollywood, (home to legendary Oscar parties), Spago Beverly Hills, Malibu’s Granita, Santa Monica and Las Vegas’ Chinois and such accolades as the 1991 Platinum Circle Award for design fill the columns of Ms. Lazaroff ’s resume, the titles “restaurateur” and “interior designer” were not always in the cards for this girl with a background in biochemistry.
Growing up in the Bronx and Queens, Lazaroff’s family was of modest means, though her upbringing didn’t dissuade her from lofty aspirations. Like many a young lass, she had dreams of becoming a couture-designing ballerina.
Eventually, her flair for the eccentric landed her at NYU as a theater major. With a life in the theater came many odd jobs, one of which was at the acid-base laboratory at Roosevelt Hospital.There, between bouts of brushing up on her Shakespeare, she developed a love for organic chemistry, which inspired her to head to a chemistry program at the University of California, Berkeley before heading back to New York and finally onward to Southern California to continue her studies in 1979.
Since then, her life has not been lacking in adventure. She’s accrued two honorary degrees (including one Ph.D.) and more than thirty business, design and humanitarian awards—all the while developing and designing restaurants throughout America, Japan and Australia.“I get obsessed,” she reveals.“The only thing that matters when I’m into a project is getting it accomplished as close to my vision as possible.”
That fearlessness and voracious appetite for realizing her vision has led to many triumphs, most notably to the wild success of the original Spago Hollywood, which was the 1994 recipient of the James Beard Foundation’s award for Restaurant of the Year.“The idea with Spago was to create a sort of playground. Spago was boisterous, free-spirited and wildly fun. It had a bold, young design spirit and, as simple as it was, there was a lot of thought involved,” she says. Barbara’s use of open ovens at Spago is often celebrated as the creation of what is now known as the exhibition kitchen.
Indeed, Lazaroff is characterized by her aptitude for out-of-the-box thinking. For instance, you might presume that an interior designer would not be all that interested in most matters pertaining to chemistry—organic or otherwise. And yet, Lazaroff maintains that convergences of man and nature are present in all walks of life.“People often think that the sciences and the arts are so unrelated, but I think that’s a misnomer—that’s a total misconception,” she says.
In fact, when she designed the visceral underwater visual of Malibu’s now- closedGranita,she drew inspiration from her days in the laboratory.“Iwould look at the space and see the striking biomorphic and organic-looking tile and incredible glazes and all the undulating lines—it was all very reminiscent of what I used to see under the microscope,” she says. While drawing inspiration from the microcosmic world of the left-brain has
always been a vital part of Lazaroff’s allure, art has always been the other integral element of her design equation. Sure, she now displays Hockney, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist and Frankenthaler in her restaurants but, from the beginning, one of her principal goals was to showcase young artists.“I always wanted to show artists who weren’t well-known enough to get exhibits in galleries,” she says. “I still do so.”
In the beginning, Lazaroff would spend countless hours searching for artists’ lofts or seeking out these artists whom she had discovered by word of mouth. Over the course of two years, she had thousands upon thousands of submissions. “I’ve always tried to expose more of the masses to art and the importance of it—to give people some insight into its uplifting nature. People are changed for the better living with art; it allows imaginations to soar,” she says.
Lazaroff is also continually engaged with her many charitable undertakings.The Lazaroff-and-Puck-created American Wine and Food Festival that benefits the Meals on Wheels program has just celebrated its 24th year and the event has raised millions to feed the homebound elderly. She also co-founded the American Cancer Society’s California Spirit Event and has helped host the festival for 23 years, which has also raised millions in funds for research and care. It’s evident by the quiver in her lip and the rapid blinking of her animated eyes that philanthropic work is how the restaurateur’s heart is truly fulfilled.
Most recently, Lazaroff was honored with the Spirit of Compassion Award by the Aviva organization, which encompasses—among its most important missions—a home for abused girls ages thirteen to eighteen years of age. Barbara is currently working to renovate the living spaces for the girls with contributions from many of her colleagues in the design industry. Additionally, she is excited to add art to the girls’ lives; her friends Michael Dargen and Jesse Kalisher have donated to the center photographs of locations around the globe.“I want the girls to have an idea of how vast the world is and what they have to aspire to. Life is overflowing with an amazing expanse of beauty and discovery. The Aviva girls have to learn to trust again their own strength and abilities to succeed.”
And her more-than-full schedule only fuels her sense of ambition to “do good.”
“In the end,” she says,“the only thing that remains is character. I hope my two sons will learn that lesson above all else.”