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Sydney Potier’s Los Angeles Home

A Mediterranean style house with an eclectic, Old World feel

Written by Candace Ord Manroe
  • Edmund Barr

    Sidney Poitier admittedly is more of a household name than is his wife, Joanna. An Oscar, a knighthood, and a hot-selling book make sure of that. But in their Beverly Hills home, the roles reverse. Joanna, an interior designer, is the unequivocal star; the entire house is her stage. Built in 1925 in the Mediterranean architectural style that ruled the state during that era, the house bespeaks Joanna’s "Old World meets comfortable California eclectic" approach to design. Her window treatments are especially telling. Over earthy bamboo blinds that calm the sun, panels of hand-embroidered and appliquéd silk and taffeta billow from below the ceiling beams to settle luxuriantly onto the floor like sleepy cats. That congenial coupling of casual contemporary and formal classic, of practical and elegant, is what this house and Joanna’s signature style are all about.

    "Beautiful but comfortable" is how she defines it. Her fondness for gold-leafed 18th-century antiques doesn’t preclude "people putting their feet up on the table. I have no problem if children play with my crystal. If something breaks, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just an object," she explains. "Design isn’t my life. My life is my family and their well-being."

    Photography: Edmund Barr
    Produced by Cathy Whitlock

    Design: Joanna Poitier, J.S.P. Interiors Inc., Los Angeles, CA 90048; 310/273-8990, fax, 310/273-9279.
    Florio Collection, owners Joanna Poitier and Janet Rodriquez, 310/273-8003; fax, 310/273-9279, floriocollection.com, trade only.

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    When she and Sidney moved in five years ago, the previous owners had just repainted every room. "It was wonderful. The house did not require a single structural change, and I didn’t have to alter the color of one room," recalls Joanna, who, after 14 films of her own in the ’60s and early ’70s, left the industry to marry and later start a family with Sidney. Her design challenge was to edit the contents from a house three times this one’s size, without sacrificing objects she and Sidney both love. (Even celebrity households aren’t spared the empty-nest syndrome.) "A lot of furniture had to go. But not the artwork. We’d never part with that," Joanna stresses.

    Here, steps lead up from the passage to the living room, where a pair of Jacobean chairs are covered in antique needlepoint.

    Jacobean chairs with antique needlepoint; tapestry pillows; accessories; lamps; mirrors; paintings; pair of black gueridon tables; coffee table; sculpture: owner’s collection.
    Round table; gilt bench: Rose Tarlow-Melrose House, 323/651-2202, roseetarlow.com, trade only.
    Area rug (custom): Aga John Oriental Rugs, 310/657-0890, agajohncarpets.com.
    Sofa: Ty-Teck Interiors, 323/876-8220.
    Pair of mirrors above sofa: Agostino Antiques Ltd., 212/988-4821.
    Club chairs: Ty-Teck Interiors, 323/876-8220.
    Flame-stitch fabric ("Castello Aragonese’’, colorway discontinued): Clarence House, 800/803-2850, trade only.
    Bullion fringe: Westcoast Trims, 323/263-4421.
    Tapestry wall hanging (Villa Melrose): Aga John Oriental Rugs, 310/657-0890, agajohncarpets.com.
    Chair at entrance to living room (designed by Rose Tarlow);
    chair fabric (Aubusson tapestry): owner’s collection.

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    Joanna is an artist, both painter and sculptor, in her own right. While the couple’s daughters—Anika, 35, and Sydney, 33—were young, Joanna studied sculpting with Artis Lane. Her teacher’s sculpture of actor Djimon Hounsou commands prime space on the Poitiers’ living room mantel. "He was one of our models," says Joanna of the actor best known for his moving performance in Blood Diamond. A commercial success, Joanna sold her own sculpture of Hounsou, but many of her other bronzes decorate the home. The most treasured object in the family room is an elongated bronze of a ponytailed woman that Joanna gave Sidney for his 50th birthday.

    An ability to casually slip into a career change—or any other new role in life—is a skill she has honed over the years. A native of Nova Scotia, she started adult life as a fashion model. After she appeared on a Vogue cover, a Hollywood movie director contacted her at her home in Paris, requesting that she travel to America for a screen test. "I refused. I said, ‘Look at my pictures and decide. I’m not testing.’ "  The director did precisely that, and Joanna accepted a role in Universal Pictures’ The Lost Man. "I met Sidney for the first time on the set," she says. "It must’ve been destiny. I was engaged to someone else at the time."

    Here, an archway connects the family room to the sitting room, where several of Joanna’s own sculptures grace the library table.

    Sofas: Ty-Teck Interiors, 323/876-8220. Sofa fabric ("Castello Aragonese’’ #32184, colorway discontinued): Clarence House, 800/803-2850, clarencehouse.com, trade only.
    Bullion fringe: Westcoast Trims, 323/263-4421.
    Large sofa against wall: Ty-Teck Interiors, 323/876-8220. Sofa fabric: Coraggio Textiles, 800/624-2420, coraggio.con, trade only.
    Pillows on sofa: owner’s collection.
    Area rug (antique); antique objects; lamps; Aubusson-covered benches; tole tray; sculpture; paintings; antique pillows on sofa: owner’s collection.
    Table; chandelier; mirror; accessories; centerpiece: owner’s collection.
    Upholstered chairs: Ty-Teck Interiors, 323/876-8220.
    Mustard-yellow chair fabric: Randolph & Hein Inc., 415/864-3550, randolphhein.com, trade only.
    Chair border: Coraggio Textiles, 800/624-2420, coraggio.com, trade only.
    Bullion fringe: Westcoast Trims, 323/263-4421.
    Area rug: Aga John Oriental Rugs, 310/657-0890, agajohncarpets.com.
    Paintings: by daughter Sydney Poitier.

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    An 18th-century chinoiserie desk and an antique black-leather Italian chair grace Joanna’s study. The gilt chair is a reproduction.

    Chair and bench fabric: Nomi Fabrics Inc., 831/728-4335, nomiinc.com, trade only.
    Chinoiserie desk; pillows; reproduction gilt chairs; chandelier; accessories; gilt painted table (by Rebecca Haydon): owner’s collection.
    Black leather chair: John Rosselli & Assoc. Ltd., 212/593-2060.
    Silk drapery: Florio Collection, 310/273-8003, trade only.

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    When their younger daughter entered college, Joanna began her current career as designer. Her first project was decorating the beach-front home of a friend. "I told her I couldn’t do it, but she kept insisting," says Joanna. Word traveled, and her own design business, JSP Interiors, was the result. Another business took shape when she was designing a villa for Vera Harrah (of Harrah’s Casino) and decided to use hand-embroidered drapery panels. "We did the designs, then sent the fabrics to India to be embroidered. We developed a sample line of these luscious embroidered panels and took them to showrooms," Joanna recounts.

    When 12 showrooms said yes, she knew she was in business. The Florio Collection, with business partner Janet Rodriguez, became a reality. Its fabrics fill Joanna’s home. "I love to find old fabric fragments in Europe, where they call me the pillow queen," she says. "Pillows are like jewelry. You can make a Pottery Barn sofa one-of-a-kind with exquisite pillows."

    The chinoiserie corner cabinet shown here is one of a pair from Joanna’s Florio Collection. The weighty draperies balance the large scale of the furniture, including the antique French dining chairs.

    Corner cabinets (Chinoiserie); drapery ("Butterfly Vine’’/Moss and "Lady Slipper Vine’’): Florio Collection, 310/273-8003, floriocollection.com.
    Drapery fringe: Westcoast Trims, 323/263-4421.

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    Her biggest fan, husband Sidney, admires not only Joanna’s way with pillows but her overall style. "From my point of view, she’s an extremely gifted and talented person. You see her distinctive style in every room. It’s impossible to have a favorite space when each room is beautiful to look at and extremely comfortable to live in," he says.

    Sconces; chandelier; console table; lamps: owner’s collection.
    Stairway runner: Stark Carpet Corp., 212/752-9000, starkcarpet.com, trade only.
    Area rug; chair (antique, Villa Melrose):  Aga John Oriental Rugs, 310/657-0890.
    Aubusson rug; table; chairs; small console lamp; lamps; blue-and-white porcelain plate; urns: owner’s collection.

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    Joanna’s collection of old Aubusson rugs brings a refined finish to the terra-cotta floors. When she can’t find the right antique rug, she improvises. "For the living room, I custom-colored the threads for a new rug woven in the Aubusson style," she notes.

    "I was born a collector, and Sidney and I love to travel," she says. Globe-trotting, they’ve encountered unusual objets d’art, books, and antique furnishings that have managed to hitch a ride home with them. "The house is about 80 percent antiques," Joanna estimates. She began the dining room’s collection of 18th-century Spode "years and years ago in London." The 18th-century Italian table was an anniversary gift from Sidney that she refinished to relieve its worn look. (Why revere age when improvement is in order?) When the living room’s long 18th-century red lacquer coffee table needed work, she topped it with mercury glass for a more interesting reflective quality.

    Here, an antique Aubusson rug, the 19th-century French gilt chair in the corner, and such dressmaker details as the bullion on the flame-stitch armchair bring old-world elegance to the family room’s casual California architecture.

    Chinoiserie coffee table: Rose Tarlow-Melrose House, 323/651-2202, rosetarlow.com, trade only.
    Drapery ("Summer Scroll’’/Jade) Florio Collection, 310/273-8003, floriocollection.com.
    Tortoise shell Roman blinds: Smith + Noble, 800/765-7776, smithandnoble.com.
    Green chair in corner (antique); bench: owner’s collection.
    Chair fabric: Christopher Hyland Inc., 212/688-6121, trade only.
    Bench fabric (flame stitch): Clarence House, 800/803-2850, trade only. Bullion fringe and trim: Westcoast Trims, 323/263-4421.

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    Flame-stitch fabrics and crest motifs are among Joanna’s favorite themes.

    Drapery (Chinoiserie design); crest pillows on sofa: Florio Collection, 310/273-8003, floriocollection.com.
    Sofa fabric: Christopher Hyland Inc., 212/688-6121, trade only.
    Bullion fringe: Westcoast Trims, 323/263-4421.

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    As with any signature style, certain elements bear repeating. Joanna’s approach is both a gilt trip and a fling with an old flame stitch. Room to room, she covers generously scaled gilt chairs in flame-stitch wovens for a look that will last—like her own amazing marriage to a Hollywood legend.

    In the master bedroom, a mirror and sconces are centered between classical architectural elements of columns and crown molding to create a dramatic headboard. The black bedside table, one of a pair, is from the Florio Collection.

    Tole end tables: Florio Collection, 310/273-8003.
    Area rug: Aga John Oriental Rugs, 310/657-0890.
    Lamps; accessories; bed linens: owner’s collection.

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