None of us has a truly indomitable spirit as it turns out, though from what I knew of Myra Hoefer these past twelve years, she was a woman who gave the idea a good run for its money. But the heart beats, until it doesn’t, and our elegant friend who lived down the street behind the white rose arches of Ivy House in ever changing au courant rooms of perfect white is no more. The loss of her presence will resonate for a long time here in Healdsburg, a town she put on the design map and loved for over four decades, a town that in her inimitable style she never stopped trying to improve.
Myra was a formidable and much loved mother and grandmother, but to the outside world she will be remembered as a famous designer whose career will no doubt be the focus in the weeks to come, as her role as progenitor of “wine country design” is parsed and lauded. Two books were already in the works when she took a last health spiral a few weeks ago, and they will be welcome, because her talent was in fact prodigious. It deserves to be celebrated.
But it is not the doyen of design who will be missed most here at Barndiva, where her very close friendship with Lukka and her support of all things Barndiva afforded us front row seats to this vibrant woman’s operatic life. Myra had genuine star quality in an age where insipid selfie projections masquerade as talent. She was a Rabelaisian figure, always on the hunt for the joy to be found in any given moment, with a bawdy sense of humor and a relentless desire to unmask hypocrisy wherever she found it hiding. When she entered a room in those brilliant silk ensembles, huge costume jewelry and that beautiful smile, a deep throated laugh just this side of mischievous was never far behind. Crossing the Plaza a few months ago behind a family of tourists, we all caught sight of Myra zipping along Center Street in her white linen upholstered motorized wheelchair at the same moment, and they literally stopped in their tracks. “Now that,” said the father, “is what I call style.”
He was right of course, it was all about style, whether the perfect chair, painting, or overflowing vase of single color flowers - but it was never style where price alone gave you bragging rights. Myra could walk into a room, any room, and break down exactly what she thought was wrong with it, but she did so with a generosity of spirit that was most uncommon in the insular world most designers protect as if it were a birthright. She would then proceed to tell you what she thought you needed to do to make the room “work,” with envisioned changes lavish or inexpensive, depending on your budget.
That she wasn’t overly precious about design, which she often called "the art of smoke and mirrors,’ is not to imply there wasn’t great nuance to her signature rooms. We all made jokes about painting the town Pashmina, but it takes more than a few oversized couches and a chair with goat feet to make a room truly comfortable yet visually stunning, which hers always were. Her “smoke” wasn’t a slight of hand so much as an intrinsic understanding of how to value atmosphere, calibrate what really happens in the rooms we live in, how they should change with us. Her “mirrors” were the reflected glow of all things beautiful. Which she wanted to share. I’ve been designing all my life for the sheer joy of it, and while we never collaborated (our styles could not have been more different) I knew a fellow traveler when I saw one.
A number of years ago Geoff and I stopped over in Paris and wanted to stay in the studio Myra kept in the heart of the Marais along the Rue de Tournelles. Because she and Wade were in residence she offered us instead the little apartment farther back in the building that looked down on a nondescript courtyard. She had decorated it for herself as a bolt hole with mismatched antiques and not a yard of silk in sight, yet the room was a master class of graceful lines, comfort as the ultimate expression of form, and the judicious use of color (though the rooms were white, of course). One night we met up for early drinks then went on our separate ways, returning very late. Geoff and I were worse for wear the next morning, creeping gingerly down the stairway in sunglasses, but there was Myra and Wade, sitting on the sidewalk like they were taking the sun in Biarritz, sipping coffee from little demitasse cups a waiter from Chez Janou sprinted across the street to deliver. Myra was dressed in a flowing silk and perfectly pressed linen, a St. Laurent Bedouin. She looked up, I rolled my eyes, we laughed. “Give me a few hours and I’ll be raring to go,” she said. And she always was.
What I remember most about that flat was the way the planks of the polished old wood floors slanted, ever so slightly, just enough so that without consciously realizing it every step you took tilted you toward the boulevard, and the life outside that courtyard. Myra Hoefer may have been a designer of exquisite interiors but it is the life she brought outside those rooms, to a world that was never too big for her to try and wrap her arms around, that made her a singular human being. She will be sorely missed. RIP My. Healdsburg will not be the same without you.