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You may not know Michael Taylor’s name, but you certainly know his style. Taylor, a San-Francisco-based designer, designed homes in the ’70s and ’80s for the Bay Area elite. He’s credited with creating the California Look, that airy, informal-yet-classical design that includes over-sized white sofas, primitive objets d’art and sheepskin rugs.

Rosenkrans smoking room, photo by John Vaughan & Associates

Rosenkrans smoking room, photo by John Vaughan & Associates

Author Stephen M. Salny describes Taylor as a larger-than-life man with enormous appetites. He preferred clients who let him have complete authority over his projects and he often convinced clients to front him money for large purchases, like an 18th century Italian marble staircase, which he bought and shipped to America at a client’s expense. The staircase wound up being too big for the project and was stored in Taylor’s warehouse for 20 years until his death.

Michael Taylor, image courtesy of Bonhams & Butterfields

Michael Taylor, image courtesy of Bonhams & Butterfields

His big heart, brilliance and love of design balanced his appetites and impulses. In addition to doing homes for clients like Maryon Davies Lewis (daughter of Ralph and Louise M. Davies, whose name graces San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall), he also designed the interiors for classic San Francisco restaurants like L’Etoile and Fleur de Lys. Salny writes, “Before L’Etoile’s opening night, Taylor sat in every booth to ensure that the lighting was good and that nothing would glare in a customer’s face.”

Fleur de Lys restaurant, San Francisco, photo by Fred Lyon

Fleur de Lys restaurant, San Francisco, photo by Fred Lyon

Magazines like Architectural Digest and House & Gardenregularly featured Taylor’s work, capturing his irreverant spirit, love of nature and trendsetting style.

Knowles garden room, photo by Steve Haag

Knowles garden room, photo by Steve Haag

 The surprise is how fresh and current his style remains. You can see it in his choice of colors (apple green, chocolate and cream) and patterns (tapestries and zebra print) and the way he freely combined styles, blending formal Louis XV-style chairs with casually overstuffed sofas.  

Charles and Dorothy Fay living room, courtesy of Frances Bowes

Charles and Dorothy Fay living room, courtesy of Frances Bowes

Salny’s interviews of Taylor’s friends and clients allow him to paint a revealing picture of a complex, mercurial and brilliant man, one whom Diana Vreeland called “the James Dean of interior design.” More than just another pretty coffee table book, Michael Taylor Interior Design is an entertaining and enlightening text on one of America’s most important designers.

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