Suzanne Rheinstein, internationally renowned interior designer, author and philanthropist, and long-time resident of Windsor Square, passed away March 21, 2023 after battling cancer.
Since her passing, there have been numerous tributes to Rheinstein’s extraordinary body of work and achievements in interior design. She was the author of three books, the last of which, “A Welcoming Elegance” (available at Chevalier’s Books), published just a few weeks ago. In the book, Rheinstein offers readers a personal tour of her signature style of modern elegance and relaxed, timeless simplicity. It reads like a conversation between old friends, in which she generously shares her wit and wisdom about living life surrounded by beauty, simple or extravagant, both of equal value.
Rheinstein’s design work has been featured in virtually every lifestyle magazine. She was named to Architectural Digest’s AD100 and Elle Decor’s A-List. Rheinstein is the recipient of the New York School of Interior Design’s “Albert Hadley Award for Lifetime Achievement,” the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art’s “Legacy Award,” the LCDQ “Living Legends Award,” and the LACMA Design “Leadership Award.” She designed the Hollyhock fabric and rug collections for Lee Jofa.
To those of us lucky enough to have known Rheinstein as a neighbor, she was also a talented gardener, a dedicated preservationist, an active member of the community, and a dear a friend. She was extremely generous, opening her wonderful Windsor Square home to many groups for various causes, including the preservation of the neighborhood. Rarely did she say no, and more often than not she was there to welcome everyone.
“Suzanne was our secret weapon in the effort to secure the Windsor Square Historic Preservation Overlay Zone,” Priscilla Wright, longtime friend and colleague of Suzanne’s told the Buzz.
“At the time, Councilmember Tom LaBonge told us we need to prove that 75 percent of the neighborhood supported the HPOZ,” explained Wright. “We had prepared a campaign with petitions, lawn signs, and T-shirts for Windsor Square block captains to walk the blocks and collect signatures from residents. It was going to be unveiled in conjunction with LA Marathon, which went through the neighborhood at the time, but we needed to kick it off and get people excited. I asked Suzanne if she would host the meeting at her home, and she said yes. She was so excited to do it, and we had a great turn out because everyone wanted to see her home and garden.”
The HPOZ passed in 2002 and the Windsor Square Preservation Committee won a preservation award in 2006 from the Los Angeles Conservancy for the campaign. Suzanne and her husband Fred generously hosted the HPOZ team at the awards presentation. Rheinstein also served on the board of the Los Angeles Conservancy for a time during its important formative years.
Rheinstein was born Suzanne Maria Stamps on April 1, 1945, in New Orleans, according to the New York Times. Her mother, Mimi (Patron) Stamps, was a decorator and a partner in an antiques store called Flair. Her father, Joseph, was a businessman who imported exotic hardwoods and veneers for the furniture industry. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Tulane University, in New Orleans, where she was managing editor of the school newspaper. After graduating, she worked for Hodding Carter, the progressive journalist, and for Eric Sevareid of CBS News in Washington, D.C., where she met Frederic Rheinstein, then a producer for NBC News based on the West Coast, and whose crew were captured the moments Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas in 1963. They married in 1977 and moved to Los Angeles shortly thereafter. Fred Rheinstein founded the Post Group, a special effects and post production company that he later sold in 2005.
When the Rheinsteins moved to Windsor Square in 1980, they quickly became part of the neighborhood, hosting many events in their exquisitely renovated Georgian home, built in the 1920s. According to Wright, Rheinstein opened her fabulous shop Hollyhock, the renowned home furnishing and accessories shop known for its unique antiques and decorative pieces, on Larchmont Blvd. precisely because everyone wanted her to decorate their homes they way she decorated her own house.
“Her mother was a decorator with a shop and so was Suzanne,” said Wright. “Hollyhock was unique. It was one of the first luxury stores that reflected someone’s personal aesthetic. Everything was in the store because Suzanne wanted it there. She really elevated the level right down to the elegant dark green wrapping paper and grosgrain ribbon used on every package.”
Hollyhock opened in 1988 at 214 N Larchmont, in a light and airy space featuring tropical peach and green colored walls. It was stocked with elegant antiques as well as fanciful home accessories that celebrate gracious living. Rheinstein used the store like a “salon of sort to highlight all that is good and gracious in the world of design,” noted Architectural Digest.
“Suzanne really upped the game on Larchmont,” said Edie Frére, owner of Landis Gifts and Stationery and a contemporary of Rheinstein’s. “Her taste was impeccable and spectacular and rarified. It took an education to understand what she was doing and what she was about. You could pick up one fabulous thing in her store and whatever you put with it, would somehow look better.”
When she left the street (Rheinstein moved her shop to West Hollywood in 2000), Frére said, “it broke my heart. It would be our 33rd year if we were in the same place. (Frére has also moved to North Larchmont Blvd). Her shop was a destination, it was a treat to go there. Larchmont lost a lot when she left.”
“Suzanne had exquisite taste but she never made you feel bad about your taste,” joked Carolyn Bennett, Windsor Square resident and a longtime friend who met Rheinstein when their daughters were toddlers. Introduced by mutual friends in the neighborhood, Bennett was part of a small group of neighborhood women with young children who became close friends, sharing mutual interests in gardening, preservation, design and community involvement.
“Suzanne was a docent at the Huntington, she knew all the botanical names of plants, she was was an excellent horticulturalist,” said Bennett. “She was also an amazing flower arranger,” Bennett added, recalling how the two had created an enormous flower arrangement for a flower show competition and Bennett had to sit in the backseat of a car and hold it while Rheinstein drove. All was well until a snail emerged from the fresh florals, freakishly close to Bennett’s face.
“Suzanne was a lot of fun,” next-door neighbor and another longtime friend, Jennifer Fain, told the Buzz. “Suzanne was irreverent and loved to laugh. She was elegant but it was an easy, warm, approachable elegance.”
“She was also an encourager,” added Bennett, “She would always say, ‘of course you can do that,’ and she really meant it.”
Garden designer and longtime friend and garden collaborator Judy Horton agreed. “Suzanne really took a chance giving me the opportunity to design her garden. I had just started designing and she gave me the project.”
Horton and Rheinstein’s collaboration resulted in a wonderful green, formal garden with clipped hedges and shaped plants contrasting with vines, roses, and climbing shrubs growing on the house. The garden “rooms” were inspired and influenced by gardens Rheinstein had seen around the world. The garden has been published many times and is currently being submitted by the Hancock Park Garden Club to Smithsonian’s Archive of American Gardens.
“There’s something ineffable about the notion of a garden. Gardens speak to people in a fundamental way and are meaningful to people for different reasons. For Suzanne, it was a passion. She understood plants, she was a great gardener and she knew some of the most important talents and import garden voices throughout the world,” said Jame Brayton Hall, President of the Garden Conservancy, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving American gardens, where Rheinstein served as a dedicated board member and generously funded a film documentation program.
“Suzanne was ahead of the curve in understanding the power of using film to capture the voices of the people who created the garden, and allow a visitor to experience being in a garden,” Brayton Hall told the Buzz, adding that Rheinstein was also an excellent leader with an innate ability to bring people together.
“Suzanne was a convener,” said Brayton Hall. “She wanted organizations she cared about working in tandem, believing the whole is greater than the parts. The Garden Conservancy is presenting programs in Los Angeles with The Ebell because Suzanne wanted us to collaborate.”
(In another such collaboration, Rheinstein was delighted when LA Opera executive Dr. Stacy Brightman became the first-ever Executive Director of The Ebell. Brightman lead the Opera’s public education and outreach program including the 90012 program Rheinstein and her late husband Fred supported for the past twenty years, providing a chance for more than 1,000 high school students to attend four operas annually at the Music Center.)
Landscape architect Joseph Marek, a longtime friend who worked with Rheinstein on the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program, organizing tours of significant local gardens all over the country, said “You could go into an event at Suzanne’s home or shop a stranger and come out with friends.”
“She was conduit to so many amazing people and experiences in my life,” said Marek. “She was so generous, opening her home and garden for all kinds of events. She was also very knowledgeable about plants; completely self taught. She would also be in the garden to greet guests too.”
“Suzanne was a remarkable person,” add Brayton Hall. “She accepted honors graciously, but didn’t ask for them. She was happy to create beauty around her, have deeply held friendships and quietly support people. We are very humbled and thrilled that the Garden Conservancy was named by her family as a recipient for gifts in her honor.”
The Rheinsteins were also very generous supporters of the Children’s Institute and the Los Angeles Opera. In 2021, Children’s Institute honored Suzanne at its Annual Cape and Gown Gala.
“Her belief that everyone should experience beauty in their lives has inspired her generosity,” said Fain.
In 2016, Rheinstein was selected by the Friends of Robinson Gardens to be the Grand Marshal for their annual Garden Tour.
Though Rheinstein’s signature style is often described as elegant civility – “fewer things but better things” – her philanthropy and community engagement was one of abundance.
“Suzanne would rather do many things than less,” said Brayton Hall. “She was a “both” sort of person, tremendously optimistic and indefatigable. She battled this disease for the past four years and never slowed down.”
Suzanne Rheinstein is survived by her daughter Kate Brodsky and son-in-law Alexander Brodsky, granddaughters Beatriz, Frederica, and Delphine, her brother, Odom Stamps, and her stepchildren Linda Rheinstein and David Rheinstein. She was predeceased by her husband Frederic Rheinstein in 2013.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Garden Conservancy.