Since founding her eponymous company 15 years ago, the Los Angeles–based interior designer Joan Behnke has worked with myriad clients, from tycoons and professional athletes to the proprietors of boutique hotels. Her projects have been as varied as her clients—private planes, beach houses, penthouses, golf courses—and they have spanned the globe, from Southern California and Washington, D.C., to Tokyo and Abu Dhabi. Behnke is, quite simply, a master at scale: The interiors she creates for homes as large as 60,000 square feet still feel intimate and personal. Comfortable working in a range of styles—from midcentury to Moroccan, Cape Cod to Provençal—she approaches her projects with an eye toward one-of-a-kind finds, whether that means collaborating with craftspeople on custom furnishings or sourcing antiques worldwide. Robb Report Home & Style caught up with Behnke at her firm’s new location, in Beverly Hills, where she was working on a host of projects, including her inaugural furniture collection, which she hopes to introduce by the end of the year. [Samantha Brooks]
What is one of your strengths as a designer?
Balance. I know when to use restraint, which can sometimes mean advising a client not to put five TVs in the master bath.
Your most challenging project to date?
A hotel in Sardinia where everything had to come from Italy. The challenge was to update an already unique style and make it fresh and hip but still reference its 1960s roots.
Which of your projects would you most like to live in?
There’s something about a house we did in Malibu. It’s a very relaxed home on the beach with interesting art, antique finishes, beautiful plasterwork, and comfortable furniture. Your blood pressure lowers right when you walk inside and look through to the ocean waves crashing on the sand.
Selective about the hospitality projects she accepts, Behnke avoids situations where she would be forced to sacrifice quality and detail or, as she characterizes it, “knock herself off.” Instead, the designer looks to work on boutique properties where she can create an environment that she sees as “a second home with a more personal statement.”
A home need not be large for Behnke to take it under her wing, though most of her projects tend to measure in the 20,000-square-foot range. Whatever the size of the residence, the designer works closely with the architects to ensure there is unity between the build and the interiors, and she obtains, often internationally, one-of-a-kind artistic elements that make homes both large and small feel intimate.
Many of Behnke’s clients are referrals who discovered her by seeing examples of her work in a friend’s home. The designer created these different living rooms for two Los Angeles clients who are friends. To avoid duplicating her work, Behnke always draws inspiration from a home’s unique architecture, as well as from the client’s personality.
Behnke sees technology as an important element in her projects, but she avoids what she sees as gimmicky or unnecessary gadgetry. Her kitchens, such as this design in Beverly Hills, are elegantly purposeful with high-quality appliances and other essentials. For home theaters, the use of large TVs instead of projectors is a trend, she says, and basements are being outfitted as gallery-like spaces for the artful display of car collections.
Joan Behnke’s Top Ten
Downtime: I’ve been dancing since I was a child. I try to make classes four times a week. We also have a vacation home on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. We ski, hike, swim, cook, read, and play board games. Websites: Galleryfumi.com is great for art, and Remodelista.com often leads me to sources all over the world. Architecture: I lived in Japan after college and loved the classic Japanese architecture and gardens in Kyoto, but I also love the more modern designs of Tadao Ando. Hotels: Orient-Express. I was recently at the properties in Laos and Myanmar. Fashion: Antonio Marras, who lives in Sardinia and designed for Kenzo, does great ethnic chic stuff, but I also love my Nike neon green Flyknits. International Acquisitions: In Myanmar and Laos I recently threw out clothes to make room for the hand-carved elephants I wanted to bring back safely. Car: My husband has a beautiful old BMW 850Ci that is in mint condition. It passes everything but a gas station. Tabletop: The Cielo collection from the German company Hering Berlin. I also designed a line of 14 sterling silver pieces for Pampaloni that are available exclusively through the Micucci showroom in Los Angeles. Bedding: Vis-A-Vis in France does great custom linens. Jewelry: I always get compliments on pieces from Alice Kuo, whose husband, Robert, is a furniture designer. Joan Behnke, 310.271.5080, www.joanbehnke.com [S.B.]