S ince 2018, the Los Angeles interior designer Pamela Shamshiri has worked from a Spanish Colonial-style building on Sunset Boulevard. Built in the 1920s for silent-movie cowboy Fred Thomson, and more recently home for several decades to the punky Cat & Fiddle pub, there’s no doubting its convoluted Hollywood history. In Shamshiri’s hands, it has become an elegant haven of high arches and exquisite period furniture, a handsome workplace imbued with a soft sense of homeliness.
Nowhere could be a better base for Shamshiri. As one of the most sought-after interior designers in the city, she deftly repurposes houses built for California dreamers. This year, Studio Shamshiri completed a transformation of a 1970s Holmby Hills extravaganza by the architect A Quincy Jones for the gallerist Shulamit Nazarian. Shamshiri renovated the original pebble-studded concrete floors, realigned the living spaces and incorporated artworks by heavyweights such as Judy Chicago alongside more contemporary pieces, including a 12ft-high mushroom by the Haas Brothers.
For a country retreat for Anne Hathaway, Shamshiri revelled in the actor and her jewelry designer husband’s love of colour, with dusky pink panelled bedrooms and brilliant yellow and gold fabrics inspired by Rihanna’s canary-coloured cape at the 2015 Met Gala. The property – a sweet Swiss chalet in the Californian countryside – was built by Myron Hunt in 1906.
Shamshiri loves to travel across time periods and styles, bringing the past and the present into sync. “I really enjoy working with historic homes,” she says. “It’s like making surgical insertions, injecting new elements and creating clean lines.” It is something she achieves imperceptibly. Her favourite cities, perhaps unsurprisingly, are Tehran and Rome. “They are places where the past exists harmoniously alongside the present. To me, both are the perfect marriage of old and new.”
Shamshiri was born in Tehran in 1970: nine years later her family moved to LA to escape the turmoil of the Iranian Revolution. She was raised in the San Fernando Valley, then studied architecture at Smith College in Massachusetts and production design at New York University. By the late 1990s, she was creating fabulous scenarios for parties and events with her brother Ramin, notably for Virgin Records. “I think the most challenging production we did was for a Janet Jackson album launch at the top of the Chrysler Building,” she recalls. “It was in the former Cloud Club” – a historic private lunch club for high-powered New York executives – “and we made it into a total 1920s period piece.”
“Colour is a tool to convey a feeling and set the tone of a room”
In 2004, she co-founded the multidisciplinary LA studio Commune Design, with Roman Alonso, Steven Johanknecht and her brother. It was an industry trailblazer, focused on projects developed around carefully constructed narratives. “I think our first big success was the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs,” says Shamshiri. “We wanted to get away from the Rat Pack thing to a sort of glamping. It was democratic – not high or low – and grounded in a belief that quality doesn’t come from spending money, but from thoughtfulness.”
Shamshiri and her brother set up their own studio in 2016, and thoughtfulness is still one of her trademarks. “Pamela’s work is so intelligent,” says Sam Pratt, co-founder of London’s Gallery FUMI, who has frequent dealings with the studio. “There’s nothing over-the-top or fancy about her work. It’s just very tasteful: very considered but not uptight. In a Pam project, everything flows – the spaces, the artworks, the objects…”
A new book, Shamshiri: Interiors, published by Rizzoli this autumn, details nine projects completed by her studio. It illustrates how she rejects a signature style in favour of being guided by a client’s sensibilities, lifestyle and, often, their art collection. Hudson Ranch in California, for example, was “a cabinet of curiosities on a grand scale – a mix of objects, furnishings, artworks and oddities”. The house, which was built in 1984, was inspired by its owner’s travels around Italy’s Renaissance farmhouses and Palladian villas, and its original interiors were by the renowned US designer Mark Hampton. “Our colour choices were based on those in Hampton’s own book: red for the dining room, you sleep in blue, green for smoking,” she says. “As a studio, we engage with colour because it is such an emotional leveller. A tool to convey a feeling and set the tone of a room.”
At a house in Trousdale Estates, Beverly Hills, owned by Matches founders Ruth and Tom Chapman, she had to negotiate her clients’ highly evolved tastes. “They would send me texts at night of fine Gio Ponti furniture and other treasures they had acquired at auction,” says Shamshiri. “We wanted a palpable sense of warmth and substance.”
Recent and current projects include houses on the East and West Coasts, London and Tel Aviv, Irene Neuwirth’s flagship jewelry store on New York’s Madison Avenue, and a hotel in Ojai, California. This follows the much-admired Maison de la Luz in New Orleans, a 67-room boutique hotel that opened in 2019. “We are very connected to building for the future, for growing families, lives and art collections,” says Shamshiri. “The project in Ojai has taken 10 years, but the greatest compliment is when people visit it and think we haven’t done a thing.”
Shamshiri: Interiors by Pamela Shamshiri, Ramin Shamshiri and Mayer Rus (Rizzoli) is out on 12 September
Cover image: Pamela Shamshiri with her dog Roquefort at Studio Shamshiri. Photo: Trevor Tondro/OTTO