Generous” and “warm” were choice adjectives members of the design community repeatedly used to describe Los Angeles–based decorator and ELLE DECOR A-List Titan Suzanne Rheinstein, who died Monday at the age of 77 after a battle with cancer. “She was the consummate host,” California designer Joe Lucas remembers. “No one was too small for her to care about.”
Bunny Williams, who had been close with Rheinstein since the late 1980s, describes her in the superlative: “She was the best friend a human being could have.” Not just to her, she added, but to the decorating world writ large. “She was a mentor. So giving and caring.”
For those who didn’t know her personally, Rheinstein was famous for her impeccable taste and personal style. She was born in New Orleans in 1945 and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. After graduating from Tulane University, she first pursued a career in journalism in Washington, D.C., cutting her teeth at CBS working on stories of the day like the Watergate scandal.
She and her late husband, Fred, who had been an NBC producer, eventually migrated to Los Angeles, where, in 1988, she pivoted to the life of a professional aesthete and tastemaker when she opened Hollyhock, a design shop that instantly developed a cult following. There, she held book parties, where spirits were served and high-octane hobnobbing went on until whatever hour she deemed respectable. “I remember the cocktails, the hors d’oeuvres,” says Lucas, who’d been a regular since he was a young man working in the office of Michael S. Smith. “There were lots of great elbows to rub.”
Lucas recalls a party he threw himself last year, during the annual Legends of La Cienega Design Quarter in May. “Suzanne came all dolled up and was the star of the party,” he says. Then, as is tradition these days, everyone who attended the party, including Rheinstein, came down with COVID-19. Thoroughly mortified, Lucas called her the next day to check in and apologize. True to form, she was unfazed. “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” Rheinstein said.
Alongside her retail outlet, Rheinstein developed a thriving interiors business. Her rooms were a sight to behold, as evidenced many times in the pages and on the cover of this magazine and others. “She was a true original and knew how to live,” Williams says. “Her projects were for people who live in their houses.” She described Suzanne’s work as having a beautifully edited and simple quality “but always interesting.”
That talent and taste were honed over decades and passed down to her daughter, Kate Rheinstein Brodsky, the proprietor of KRB, a design shop on New York’s Upper East Side. “They’re the only mother and daughter I can think of who both had their homes on the cover of ELLE DECOR,” says Michael Boodro, who edited the magazine from 2010 to 2017.
This month was to be one of more celebratory parties and Champagne toasts, between the release of Rheinstein’s new book, aptly titled A Welcoming Elegance (Rizzoli), written by Boodro. And on April 3, she will be posthumously awarded the Kips Bay President’s Dinner Lifetime Achievement Award—an honor that’s been bestowed to Peter Marino, the late David Easton, and Williams herself.
Despite Rheinstein’s impressive list of achievements, she was never one to rest on her laurels. In 2018, I reached out to her with a request—an odd one by anyone’s standards, let alone an icon like her. The idea, as part of that year’s ELLE DECOR A-List, was to coax more than 100 designers into being “doobed”—a process that entailed having them take time out of their schedules to walk into an imposing futuristic booth where dozens of cameras would capture their likenesses. Two weeks later, a six-inch three-dimensional figurine would arrive at my office, where I was preparing a miniature fashion shoot to be featured in print. To my amazement, Rheinstein was game. Just like she always was.
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