William Haines Designs

The legacy of a silent film star.

As a screen star who bridged the transition from silent films to “talkies” and is memorialized with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and later, as a decorator and furniture designer to Hollywood notables and ambassadors, Staunton native William “Billy” Haines left an outsized legacy.

Haines left home at 14, landing in Hopewell, where he worked for $50 per week in a DuPont factory. In 1919, he moved to Greenwich Village, was subsequently discovered by a Hollywood talent scout and began an acting career. Often cast as the young, arrogant type who received his comeuppance, Haines was named the country’s top box-office attraction in 1930.

The openly gay Haines retired from acting in 1933 after refusing an ultimatum from MGM Studio Head Louis B. Mayer to enter into a “lavender” marriage to preserve his box-office appeal. He and his partner Jimmie Shields started an interior design firm and an antiques business, taking on Hollywood clients, such as Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson, Carole Lombard and George Cukor. Later, he was the designer of choice for Ronald and Nancy Reagan and members of his “Kitchen Cabinet,” decorating homes for the likes of Betsy and Alfred Bloomingdale and Lee and Walter Annenberg. 

His influence remains.

“Billy Haines exposed me to Hollywood Regency furniture, which I just adore, and he made me see the glamour in low, sleek ’50s houses in California,” says celebrated interior designer and Charlottesville native Bunny Williams.

William Haines Designs is still extant, with headquarters in West Hollywood and showrooms in Dallas, Denver and New York. Many of Haines’s striking mid-century furniture designs, like his Elbow and Brentwood chairs and Malibu and Valentine sofas, remain popular with collectors. WilliamHaines.com

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