Michael Carter: Melrose House Extravaganza

December 20, 2011

It’s always been inspiring to walk into the Webster & Company showroom in Boston. From the first day David Webster opened his doors to the design community over twenty years ago, you always walked in to find something exceptional both in product and presentation. Of all the amazing lines that the Webster crew has brought to Boston over the years, the Rose Tarlow Melrose House line of furniture, fabrics, wallpapers and accessories was perhaps the most exciting–and, moreover, useful–I had ever encountered as a design professional. I realized immediately that I had a real winner, something that I could really incorporate into my own work, which satisfied my desire for a timeless aesthetic but was still chic and of the highest quality. My clients loved it because it was approachable–comfortable, casual, but clearly a step above the usual. I was the first Boston designer to place an order after the Webster introduction: a custom settee. It was a hit, it looked stunning in the client’s foyer and the room was published in Traditional Home magazine the following year.

So imagine my excitement when I was invited by David Webster to join him in Los Angeles to view the entire collection in the new Melrose House showroom! I think I said yes so fast and so emphatically that it startled him. It seemed like a golden opportunity; little did I know that it would be such an inspirational and transformative experience.

Photos courtesy of Michael Carter

As luck would have it, the trip to LA coincided with my fiftieth birthday. Great!  I brought along my wonderful partner in life, David Rousseau, and my amazing partner in design, Douglas Truesdale, and off we went via Virgin America along with David Webster and collection manager John Becker. First in a long line of design accolades would be to the brand-new aircraft on which we flew. It was almost futuristic, with violet and pink mood lighting and touchscreen menus to allow full customization of  your dining and entertainment experience.

We were met at LAX by a driver named Marshall who made the next three days the most seamless and pleasurable driving experiences I’ve ever had in LA. He knew how to navigate around the infamous traffic, and during those unavoidable back-ups, we all jammed inside to the ’70s on 7 Sirius satellite radio (as a testament to our “youth,†we all knew the words to all the songs and found ourselves singing along to Michael Jackson and Stevie Nicks).

But the real red carpet rolled out as we arrived at Melrose House on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood. This would be home base for our VIP visit, and what a home base!  This was the brand-new business headquarters and showroom that proffered the ultimate vision of Rose Tarlow and her collection. The building was impressive in its architectural statement: a whitewashed stucco structure that spices California clean and casual with a colonial South African flavor. Inside a two-storied showroom invoking a quiet calm was the hallowed hall of all things Melrose House–a  trophy room of exquisite furnishings and fabrics, soft in its mood, strong in its rich character of finishes and bold in its unique forms.

So naturally I was both curious and excited to meet this doyenne of design, the legendary Rose Tarlow (recently confirmed by Architectural Digest‘s AD100 list in December). And she did not disappoint. Ageless in appearance (somewhere between fifty and…), confident but not cavalier in her demeanor, she clearly marches to the beat of her own drum. The fun part for me was her delight in meeting David–not David Webster, but my husband David, who is a veterinarian. Almost glued to Rose’s side was her apricot poodle, Ollie, and Rose asked David three times to examine him asking, “Do you think he’ll live to be twenty-two?†On day three, David in his infinite wisdom said “yes.†Such is the benefit of a spouse who appeals to animal lovers.

If the aesthetic heart and soul of Melrose House is Rose Tarlow, then the business and marketing pulse is powered by Meg Touborg. A woman of many hats (figuratively speaking, as I have never known Meg to wear a hat), she and business partner Peter Sallick (of the Waterworks family) have taken a strong personal interest in steering this venerable business into the twenty-first century, leaving Rose the freedom to continue her focus on the creative side. Meg and her amazing staff guided us through the product line, its approach to quality and design as well as versatility in unique furniture finishes.  There was the amazing lighting collection to be seen along with new introductions to the linen wall coverings, one of my favorite “can’t-wait-to-use-it†discoveries.

Part of the visit included a visit to neighboring showrooms and unique antiques shops that surround the Pacific Design Center. We were given a very warm welcome (that translates to wine and yummies) by antiques dealer Lee Stanton, who has become a leader in this community of enterprises that revolve around the interior design trade.

There is clearly a big push, if not an outright revolution, in LA, where the emphasis is on independent showrooms that are outside the gargantuan red, blue and green albatrosses of the PDC (to me the Pacific Design Center seemed a ghost town in terms of tenants). From our own experience, we understood the appeal of shopping streets lined by palm trees and courtyards with manicured gardens and working fountains. It’s the best of Southern California, so why wouldn’t one set up business in that environment as opposed to inside a glass warehouse?

Meanwhile as part of our red-carpet treatment (all thanks to Meg’s amazing connections within the industry), the Boston contingent was given a private tour of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Melrose House staff member Heather Lawrence (our very own Cruise Director Julie) arranged for the group to visit a terrific exhibit on postwar California design, called “Pacific Time.â€Â  From fashion, cars and Airstream trailers to architecture and product design, the exhibit was a visual feast and well underscored the role that California has played in establishing the modern design landscape, which we have almost taken for granted. The tour was led by LA interior designer Oliver M. Furth, a rising star both locally and nationally. This was my second introduction to him, having met him at the Lady Pepperrell House in Kittery, Maine, on July Fourth this year…small world!

And speaking of small world and celebrity designers, our brief sojourn produced a plethora of sightings, both casual as well as more intimate encounters. I’m saving those stories for my next blog installment, “Million Dollar Decorators.†Stay tuned! But to wind up on our Melrose House extravaganza, it was a whirlwind of excitement and truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In terms of “Webster World goes LA,†I’m so thrilled, inspired and honored to have been included.

–Michael Carter
Michael Carter is an interior designer and principal and owner of Carter & Company Interior Design.

Find A Resource

Search from hundreds of home services, products, destinations, and real estate opportunities.

View All Resources