Get to Know…Patrick Dragonette The iconic shop owner, designer, newly elected LCDQ President in a rare conversation about his unique path to design, trusting your instincts, and creating timeless interiors.
It’s easy to see why Patrick Dragonette started out his career on a stage. Like any good entertainer, his energy, enthusiasm and charisma pull you in instantly. Whether he is discussing 1970s New York City or musing over modernism, his passion is infectious.
It’s no wonder he is guiding the design quarter into the next chapter. Newly installed as LCDQ president, the owner of his eponymous shop, opened in 1997 with partner Charles Tucker, has big ideas and doesn’t pull punches. From the rows of gleaming Dorothy Thorpe glassware to hard-to-find Billy Haines pieces to quirky objects scattered here and there, his shop is on every visitor’s must-see list.
After abandoning a life on the boards (more on that later), Dragonette built a large and varied personal collection feeding his voracious appetite for knowledge and built a large and varied personal collection. Dragonette LTD is one of the country’s top resources for high-end mid 20th-century design, including furniture, art, accessories, jewelry, not to mention, Dragonette Private Label, which is a collection of pieces with a modern mid-century bent designed by Patrick.
A respected interior designer in his own right, Patrick fills his showroom guided by a simple but powerful maxim…“There’s really nothing here that I wouldn’t live with. That’s always been my criteria. ‘Do I like it enough to live with it?’”
We were lucky enough to catch him between a whirlwind of preparations for LEGENDS 2019 and a busy design schedule, to sit down for a proper chat.
You originally were going to have a life in the dramatic arts right?
“I moved to New York City from Burton Ohio in 1978. At that point in time, I had only wanted to be a singer. After a two-year program at the prestigious American Musical and Dramatic Academy, I got my equity card while doing children’s theatre like a lot of actors. As luck would have it, when I was 21, I looked 15 which basically made me uncastable. I was told time and time again, ‘We don’t know what to do with you…you look like a kid but you’re 6’1’ you’ll have to grow into yourself.’ That’s when I discovered cabaret and it opened a whole new world for me. I realized I didn’t have to ‘try’ and be somebody. I could just be myself. I eventually ran a piano bar and performed for many years. It was a great life.”
What prompted a move to L.A.?
“Two things happened. The piano bar I managed closed and two weeks later, Charles was let go from his job. Shortly after that, I was on the phone with a close friend living in New York who had moved to Los Angeles. She was begging me to move here. When I filled her in on what happened she said, “Well, if you’re going to be unemployed, you might as well do it in L.A.. The weather is much nicer!” I thought if we were ever going to do this, now would be the time. Before moving, we flew to LAX, rented a white Mustang convertible, and drove around to get a feel for the city. I’ll never forget turning onto Copa De Oro Road in Bel Air and being hit with the most fragrant air I had ever encountered. I later discovered it was night-blooming jasmine. Our friend’s bungalow was perched above the Bel Air hotel. It was a mid-century style house with glass doors opening to the outside. There were orchids everywhere. It felt like the most magical place and that trip sealed the deal.”
Do you think there was always a designer lurking inside you?
“It kind of came full circle in a lovely way. My father was a collector and we’d had an antique shop and auction house. When I say antiques, I mean it was more like butter churns, copper milk cans, and Victorian furniture. Nothing that I really liked. I had a thirst to learn about things and about objects and their history. I had always collected things. I loved Art Deco back when nobody wanted it. I also collected Art Nouveau early on. My entire time in New York, I set about collecting lots of things, after all…it was the 80’s! I loved decorating our small apartment in a big way. I glazed the living room walls in a shade of burgundy. There were sterling silver picture frames on the baby grand, Schumacher border papers hand cut and adorned wherever I could get away with it. I had collections of antique brackets and art pottery pieces. Though Charles was the designer, I had always had the bug. I credit my mother. She was very artistic and always designing things. We had a diamond-tufted 10-foot sofa that she covered in orange velvet, and from my father, I got a love of objects and curiosity for learning.”
What was your first foray into the design scene in Los Angeles?
When we first moved here, I had a restaurant job but I knew about these antique malls where you could rent a showcase. There used to be a place called the Westchester Antique Faire on Sepulveda near the airport. I went in and I literally got a showcase that was by the men’s room. I had a lot of things in storage from our New York place, so I would put pieces out and they would sell. Then I started going to garage sales…(this was pre-Internet). If you knew a thing or two about design, then these could be great sources. I started learning everything I could and began selling more and more. I’m one of those people that know a little bit about a lot, and I mean A LOT. I know a bit about jewelry, a bit about silver and a bit about furniture. I just like absorbing information. I heard about a place opening across from Maxfield on Melrose called the Beverly Hills Antique Center. I now had two showcases to fill there and really started to buy. I then moved into a space called Villiers and Vanderpump that was on Third Street.
I now had an actual floor space and I was terrified I could not make it profitable. I realized I had to quit my restaurant job and focus full time on this business. It made me take that step and begin to feel confident to start buying. You have to like it. It’s still true today. There’s really nothing here that I wouldn’t live with. That’s always been my criteria. ‘Would I like it enough to live with it?’”
Did that give you the confidence to open up your own shop?
“Yes, a friend knew of a space on La Cienega that was never open. She encouraged me to look at the place. It was not quite 900 square feet and I remember thinking, ‘How am I ever going to fill this space? It’s gigantic,’ fast forward to now and our 3,000 square feet. We just celebrated 12 years in our current space.”
“If you can create a space that draws from various eras, from various ethnicities, from various whatever, that’s how you create a timeless interior.”
In terms of your point of view for Dragonette…Did you feel like there was something missing thing you could bring to clients and customers?
“I didn’t really think about it. For years, many people could come in and say, there’s nothing like this place here or in New York. For me, it’s not a lie when I say, I just love everything that is in here. That’s why it’s here. I walked into another showroom soon after I opened and while everything was just lovely, I looked around and thought, ‘I don’t see one thing I would want for my shop.’ That’s when the light bulb went off. My showroom was an extension of my taste, my eye. That’s what the people were responding to when they said it was unlike anywhere else.”
So you are not a trend-driven buyer?
“No. By the way, I have a lot of respect for those merchants. Those who know what the trends are and know that they should be buying say Dunbar right now. Or understand that the George Nelson stuff is really popular. For me, it’s one of the things I made a strategic decision about. I didn’t want anything that you could just go and buy new. That immediately took a lot off the table. No Eames of Saarinen. I like a lot of it, but I know there are people doing it really well. How can I differentiate myself?”
What are some of your design inspirations?
“When I discovered William “Billy” Haines, it was a revelation for me. I had a friend who had bought a pair of chairs he designed for the Warner house in Beverly Hills. I remember thinking, ‘God, I’ve never seen a sexier chair. Then I sat on it. It was like the pitch is perfect! Here was a guy who never designed a single piece of furniture for a commercial line. You could not go to Bloomingdales and buy a Billy Haines chair or table. You had to hire him, and then he wasn’t just going to make you a chair or sofa. He was going to make you everything right down to the cigarette box! That really excited me. When you talk about guys like Haines or a Jacques Grange they’ve had a tremendous influence on me. It was the way the saw the world and how they perceived design.”
What do you say to people who may feel good design has gotten too expensive?
“One thing I’ve always said to people if they tell me something rare is too expensive is… ’OK, then find me another one.’ It’s ok to tell me it’s out of your price range, but you can’t tell me it’s too expensive, I’m sorry. There’s just not another one for sale. Until two people have the exact same sofa and mine’s more money, then if might be ok to tell me it’s too expensive.”
What else is important that clients and customers understand about you and your business?
“I treasure all of the things here. So I really put a lot of stock into someone else falling in loving them. If I know somebody else is going to love something the way I do and very often when that happens I’m willing to negotiate the price. It is sometimes to my detriment, but just knowing that a piece is ultimately going where it should be makes me happy. I only have room for so much here.”
“There’s really nothing here that I wouldn’t live with.
That’s always been my criteria. ‘Would I like it enough to live with it?’”
What attracts you to a particular design or object? Is there a through line for you?
“I just love beautiful things. I always have. I think there is a perception that my things are fancy or precious. But my design philosophy has always been that you can’t appreciate the shiny until you have something that’s not shiny. To me it’s all about contrast—I have a collection of African wooden figures people would be surprised to find in my showroom. But I absolutely love them. I basically judge everything on its own merit. I look at it and I decide how much I like it. Things that seem very, very disparate can be moved around and suddenly it all works together. There’s some sort of through line, but I don’t know what it is. Maybe it is just remaining true to what I like and that fuels the story.”
Do you think you were born with an eye for good design or can it be fostered or honed?
“I would say yes. For me, it may have been a bit of osmosis from my mother. She was always about beautiful things. I think I always did have good taste and the things I liked were well designed. Not necessarily expensive— people often make the mistake that expensive means good. It’s not true. “I don’t think you can teach anyone taste. But I think you can teach skills. I think you can learn tools. You can learn the color wheel. You can learn proportion from an intellectual point of view. I do believe good designers are born with a natural instinct. And that may be true of a shop owner. It’s about being true to oneself and presenting a point of view around design. That’s what the LCDQ has always been about, all of these diverse showrooms have a point of view. You may not agree with all of them but there is a story.”
What do you love most about working with people that come in each day, be it designers or enthusiasts?
“One of my great passions, whether working with a designer, a novice, a professional, a seasoned collector, is I love to share and exchange information. I have a love of objects. It’s fun to tell people about things. It’s fun to educate them about how and why things were made. I never had any training to be a designer and I don’t have any desire to be accredited. Fortunately I’m in a position to do what I really want to do.”
What are your thoughts on creating a timeless interior? Do you create a timeless interior?
“My answer is really pretty simple. In my opinion the only way to create a timeless interior is not to be faithful to any one period. I hate the term eclectic. I think it’s grossly abused now. I like the term “collected” interiors. If you can create a space that draws from various eras, from various ethnicities, that’s how you create a timeless interior. You look at Helena Rubinstein’s interiors from the ‘30s and they could have been done yesterday.”
So it’s really about trusting your instincts?
“My advice to people has always been, be true to yourself. If you bought a sofa already and you’re asking me whether or not a cocktail table will work with it, I say chances are it’s because you love them both they’re going to work together. The other advice I always give is buy something because you love it, not because you need it. If you don’t love it, don’t buy it. I don’t want to sell it to you if you are going to ultimately be unhappy with it.”
What will be your vibe as president of the LCDQ?
“It’s all very exciting but I am clear that I don’t operate independently iof my board. I’ve told everyone, ‘Come to me with ideas if even if I don’t think they’re great ideas, I’m still going to take them to the board and let the board weigh in. We’ve got some fresh voices and incredible talent on the board, some who have served for years and s new members like Scott Jarrell from Hammer and Spear.”
Looking Ahead to Legends 2019
“Legendary Icons of Design”
“We are definitely looking into an elevated transport experience. I can’t reveal what yet, but it will be more exciting than a shuttle van.”
“We have had great Q&A sessions and presentations. I want to embrace other formats as well like a round-table forum, where everyone is encouraged to participate not just two or three people but everyone. It will be a lively, wonderful chat about the things that matter to us..”
“People have always said to me, ‘I wanted to shop but never got the chance because of the busy schedule of breakfasts, panels, parties.’ We are starting a day early this year designating shopping time before the opening celebration kicks off Legends where you can see it all and shop. We are branding it “Shop the Quarter”. We’re going to make it easy to get around and there’s going to be a game called Design Dash.”
“We are rethinking the closing event. I’ve rebranded it the “Wrap Party, I don’t want it to be like every other party. I want to have great food drink and music. I want it to be a real celebration.”