Unlike other successful businessmen, Patrick Dragonette did not relocate to Palm Desert, California, to cash in his chips and retire. As a dealer in Los Angeles over the past 23 years, and as a 1stdibs dealer since 2004, the Dragonette Ltd. founder has parlayed his access to impressively provenanced custom home decor by the likes of William Haines, Samuel Marx and Frances Elkins into additional pursuits, like designing interiors and furnishings, as well as serving as president of the La Cienega Design Quarter.
Now, the tastemaker is doubling down in the desert with a new namesake gallery that, at 5,000 square feet, is nearly twice the size of the L.A. digs he shuttered in late 2019. “Out here, I have a little more freedom,” he observes happily. “People embrace more color than in L.A,. and it’s allowed me to indulge in tangerine velvet upholstery.” Suitably, his new location is nestled among the high-fashion boutiques of Palm Desert’s upscale El Paseo shopping district. “Historically, El Paseo has been referred to as the Rodeo Drive of the desert,” Dragonette says with a smile.
It is also close to numerous sources of design inspiration: the mid-century-modern mecca of Palm Springs, the William Haines–decorated Sunnylands estate and Dragonette’s own residence, at the Marrakesh Country Club — the 1970s pink Moorish fantasia of Hollywood Regency architect John Elgin Woolf. But despite his physical move from Los Angeles, Dragonette remains aesthetically hardwired to the made-in-America Hollywood glamour of the 1930s to ’80s, from Paul Frankl’s Art Deco designs to T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings’s sleek neoclassical works, from Tony Duquette’s fanciful bricolage to Karl Springer’s luxurious minimalist pieces.
To showcase his faithfully restored vintage furniture, bespoke designs and curated contemporary pieces, Dragonette transformed a former French Provençal design shop, removing arches and creating a floor-to-ceiling blank canvas with white paint. In display windows flanking the front door, he conjured a pair of inviting scenes: one, an elegant reading room in desert tones, with biscuit-tufted custom chairs, a petrified-wood coffee table and a Billy Baldwin brass étagère; the other, a vibrant lounging space, with Haines tub chairs, an Edward Wormley coffee table, a lipstick-red two-piece curved sofa and a wildly colorful abstract silkscreen by the British artist Albert Irvin.
Upon entering, visitors are greeted by a third vignette, comprising Salvador Dalí dishes and a Venetian mirror hanging above a Tommi Parzinger credenza topped by a pair of Haines ceramic monkey lamps with woven parasol shades. Dragonette has filled the store’s built-in display cases with jewelry from Chanel, YSL and Valentino; silver by Parzinger, Lino Sabattini, Allan Adler and Tiffany & Co.; figurines; ceramics; and a vast array of original Dorothy Thorpe glassware.
And although he has created a mosaic of sorts on the walls with a mix of classical prints, Arthur Court animal sculptures, 1950s movie star portraits by photographer Sid Avery, abstract canvasses and Mary Spain’s 1970s figurative folk-art paintings, Dragonette has also designated a separate area in the showroom for fine art shows. The opening exhibition is devoted to the abstract landscape artist Barry Lantz, whose work shares the space with a classic French bureau plat reinterpreted by the designer John Vesey in stainless steel with bronze-doré ornamentation.
“I love a good ormolu,” enthuses Dragonette, who also has a weakness for Greek-key details, classical urns, obelisks and neoclassical designs. He is equally fond of contemporary makers who straddle art and functional design. “The Haas Brothers are mad geniuses,” he raves, “and I absolutely covet Ingrid Donat’s chairs.”
During our visit, we sit beneath a cluster of Philippe Halsman photographs that capture the actress Tallulah Bankhead at her most vivacious (“When people look at them and say, ‘Oh, Bette Davis!’ ” he jokes slyly, “I tell them I am going to have to confiscate their gay card”). Over the years, Dragonette says he has seen 20th-century American designers heat up and cool off, but his favorites maintain their value and appeal with identifiable flourishes.
“Monteverdi Young was a firm that did unique oversize executive desks outfitted with intercoms, biscuit-tufted sofas and really cool brass chairs,” he notes. “My experience buying those designs is that you sell it right away or you own it for a very long time.”
Tommi Parzinger’s signature was cabinetry with beautiful ornamental hardware and white, yellow or persimmon lacquer. “Nothing he did was ordinary,” Dragonette says.
He is equally reverent about the architect-designers Paul Frankl and Paul László: “Frankl really shone in the Art Deco period with his Skyscraper furniture and sofas with built-in bookcases, and he revolutionized using cork for tabletops. Both he and László designed commercial lines for Brown Saltman, and László’s custom work was brilliant. His paddle-arm lounge chair from the nineteen forties is one of the most commodious and welcoming I’ve ever sat in.”
It is film-actor-turned-interior-designer William Haines, however, who earns Dragonette’s highest praise. “My father was an antiques dealer and collector, and I spent a decade in the theater in New York, but I had no idea who Haines was. When I opened my showroom in Los Angeles, I had a friend who wanted to consign a pair of Haines chairs. I was instantly smitten. They were smart, beautiful and functional — totally comfortable, with perfect pitch. I needed to know everything about this man.”
What he learned about Haines, who from the 1930s to the ’70s designed for movie stars and moguls, was that he created each piece specifically for the client’s needs. “The chairs for Sidney and Frances Brody’s house were incredibly big and deep because she was six feet tall,” recalls Dragonette, who has acquired a Haines-designed cork-veneered floor lamp from the Brody home.
Customization à la Haines is key to Dragonette Private Label, the made-to-order line of furniture and lighting he launched 15 years ago with a Lucite step stool he wittily dubbed the Social Climber. In addition to Lucite seating that references klismos chairs and Egyptian thrones, the collection offers Parzinger-inspired cabinets and dining and lounge chairs with Art Deco, 1940s French and Hollywood Regency flair, available in a variety of woods, finishes, colors and fabrics. For lighting, Dragonette teamed with Los Angeles ceramist Titia Estes to craft table lamps with matte-black sculptural bases. He also created the Pedra collection, which illuminates rock crystal points and agate slices set atop or into Haines’s signature lamp configuration of museum mounts and armatures.
“Most of what I design comes out of necessity versus a frivolous notion,” says Dragonette, who has decorated interiors for clients with homes in New York and Los Angeles. “At the end of the day, no one cares how pretty something is if it isn’t comfortable.” As a designer, he prizes contrasts and dialogue. “It’s exasperating when someone buys a 1957 house and won’t consider furniture that was made before 1957.”
The way to keep an interior timeless and fresh, he says, “is to never be slavish, but to embrace all styles and periods. So, even though I am known for the glamour of Hollywood, my eye goes to European antiques — Regency, Empire, Aesthetic Movement — and furniture that is rooted in classical and Etruscan disciplines. One of the things I love doing is that mix of new and old, shiny and patinated, high and low, because if you do it right, nobody knows what is what.”