Saturday, April 20, 2024

Michael S. Smith Is Hollywood’s Favorite Host

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Entertaining is a fine art for Michael S. Smith. As a child, the interior designer watched his grandmother throw dinners for 20, and saw how hosting could help a sense of community flower in all situations. He was given a unique look into it while his partner James Costos served as the American ambassador to Spain and Andorra under President Obama; these days, the pair gives three to four dinners a week for friends, in addition to regularly hosting political events, fundraisers, and book parties. During the pandemic, Smith found outdoor dinners to be a needed escape from isolation. During a particularly memorable one, a friend’s son, a singer with the Yale a cappella group The Baker’s Dozen, performed with his group mates.

a person sitting on stairs

Michael S. Smith.

Roger Davies

“I was always fascinated by the kind of conversation that comes from a situation where you bring people together, literally the old-fashioned idea of just breaking bread,” says Smith, who designed the White House residence under President Obama, as well as homes for Shonda Rhimes, Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart, and Jane Fonda. “It very much speaks to this idea of what I care about in design, which is that rooms and furniture don’t inhabit themselves. They’re sets for living. They’re retreats from the world.”

Smith and Costos’ modernist, ’90s-era Los Angeles home is a perfect backdrop for their events, and has welcomed the Obamas, Spanish royalty, and world-renowned artists, among other guests. A recent renovation extended the dining room by seven feet to create more space for dinners, and added acoustic plaster to the ceiling to better allow for conversation. The artist Nancy Lorenz, a close friend, made a mica, mother-of-pearl, and gold leaf artwork that wraps the walls of the dining room. Lorenz also constructed a resin panel on gilded glass for behind the home’s bar. “People love it. Even if they’re just drinking club soda, the idea of the ceremony and the coming together of a bar just creates a really convivial and nice feeling,” Smith explains. His living room has rounded sofas that create a “room within a room” effect around the fireplace.

a dining room table with a horse statue in the background

Adrian Gaut

One of the first celebrations Smith held in the newly redesigned space was a festive birthday party for Fonda that drew guests including Jon Hamm, Ted Danson, and Lisa Kudrow. “At one point, the waiters were dancing. We had a wonderful DJ, and we had the singer-trumpeter Chris Norton perform,” Smith recalls. It was clear to him that there was something so special, he says, about “bringing all these people together from someone’s world, all these different people together.”


A version of this article appears in the December 2023/January 2024 issue of ELLE.

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Adrienne Gaffney is a features editor at ELLE and previously worked at WSJ Magazine and Vanity Fair.

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