50 years of designing for politicians and dignitaries

Larry Horne (right) and his partner Ron stand on a balcony with a waterfall behind them. Both are wearing suit jackets and button-down shirts. Larry has on a hat and glasses.

By Holly Gordon

C. Larry Horne (B.F.A. ’69) was a teenager when he first visited the nation’s capital in the early 1960s. He was participating in a 4-H Citizenship Short Course that allowed him to meet his representatives in Congress, tour city monuments, and learn about the government. Little did he know, the trip was also an introduction to the people and places that would be central to his nearly 50-year career as an interior designer.

Horne graduated from the VCUarts Interior Design program, which he notes had more of a residential focus, while the professional field was more commercial. He then got his start at W and J Sloane, a large furniture store in Washington, D.C., where he built a clientele that followed him when he launched his own interior design firm in 1982.

Over the years, Horne designed homes, hotels, palaces, and high-end commercial interiors for well-known political figures, kings, princes, and CEOs throughout the U.S., Europe and the Middle East.

“As a designer, you get to know them. It’s almost like you become a member of the family,” he says. “You share their emotions and their thoughts. You’re working for them; you’re part of their world.”

Here, Horne shares a few highlights from his career.

Moon House, Richmond, Virginia

One of Horne’s first design projects was for Howard H. Hughes’ Moon House overlooking the James River in Richmond. The home was designed by the late architect Haigh Jamgochian, who also created the well-known “spaceship” Markel Building at Willow Lawn.

Jamgochian wanted to hire his sister as the interior designer, but Hughes instead called VCUarts looking for a student to do a floor plan and help him choose furniture. Horne landed the position. Horne says Hughes was a thrifty “wheeler-dealer” who managed to secure furniture purchases at wholesale pricing using the design name of his student. Horne, however, was never credited with the work when the press covered the home.

The Honorable Cardiss Collins, U.S. House of Representatives

An early client of Horne’s was the Honorable Cardiss Collins of Chicago, who was appointed to fill her husband’s seat in the House of Representatives after his death in a plane crash. She was the fourth African-American woman in Congress and the first to represent the Midwest.

Collins served a second term with the endorsement of Mayor Richard Daley, but then ran again on her own terms. “She was a bold and strong leader,” Horne says, “and I admired her.”

Horne worked with Collins on three residences over the course of 30 years. “It made me feel good when someone like Cardiss Collins kept calling me back over the years,” he says. “It takes time to win someone’s trust. Just like any other profession, if people don’t trust you, you don’t have a great relationship. I tried my best to be honest and approach the job with sincerity.”

Ebitsam Al Suwaiyel, wife of Ibrahim bin Abdullah Al Suwaiyel, Saudi ambassador to the U.S.

After the Saudi Arabian ambassador passed away in 1977, Horne worked on several projects for his wife, Ebitsam. Madame, as Horne called her, recommended him to Saudi students for years. Because Ebitsam was a diplomat’s wife, she was their connection to Washington and they trusted her.

Horne landed a number of projects in Washington and Saudi Arabia as a result of referrals from her, including several princes who were coming to American universities and buying townhouses where they needed to entertain guests.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

In 2001, Horne met Condoleezza Rice, who was moving to Washington, D.C., to serve as President George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor. She purchased a condo at Watergate South. She told Horne she had a moving truck coming in one month and asked if he could design the interior.

“I called every contractor, workroom and supplier I had worked with over the years and cashed in every favor,” Horne says. “We had 10 to 15 trades installing moldings, painting, installing built-ins, flooring and lighting, remodeling bathrooms. It was organized pandemonium—but we did it.”

The job had one Washington twist. One day, the wrong table was delivered to the condo. He called the warehouse and was informed that the table belonged to former First Lady Hillary Clinton, who had only recently left office.

Eight years later, Rice called again. “She said, ‘I’m moving to California. I’m buying a house. I want you to help me,’” Horne says. “I thought she was kidding. I hadn’t worked in California. She does follow through. She’s very sincere.”

Larry Horne (left) with Condoleezza Rice

Dounia Benjelloun, filmmaker from Morocco

Horne was thinking about retiring when the filmmaker Dounia Benjelloun asked him to design her Santa Barbara vacation home. He had designed an apartment in D.C. for Benjelloun’s parents and, in the 1970s, they connected him to their daughter who was then attending school in America. Horne designed several homes for her in the U.S. and abroad, and is still in touch with her parents.

He contributed to renovations of the Santa Barbara home beginning in 2015 and completed the last of them in fall 2020. “I thought it was smaller when I took it on,” he laughs.

Interior of Dounia Benjelloun’s Santa Barbara home

Washington Harbour, Georgetown, D.C.

Large-scale design projects often have years of approvals, stages, and budget decisions. One of Horne’s last projects of that scale was the Washington Harbour residential condominium by esteemed architect Arthur Cotton Moore.

“It was 7 or 8 years before we got through with it,” says Horne, who delayed his retirement to continue working on the project. “There was no one I could necessarily turn to, to take it over. They trusted me. I just couldn’t walk out on them.”

Lobby of Washington Harbour residential condominium

Thomas Walton Manor, Laurinburg, North Carolina

In the early 2000s, Horne had the idea to retire and run a bed and breakfast. Along with his husband, Ronald Phillips, Horne bought the Thomas Walton Manor in his hometown of Laurinburg, North Carolina. He remodeled and restored the home, which received the North Carolina Preservation Award in 2006 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.

But Horne says it wasn’t the retirement he had envisioned.

“I couldn’t stop working, even though we had some staff,” he says. “I couldn’t stop cleaning. Ron couldn’t stop in the kitchen. We sold it in 2016.”

The Town and Country Collection, Laurinburg, North Carolina

In another retirement project, Horne transformed his cousins’ historic 1900s hardware store in Laurinburg. The shop features interior design work and goods from his travels and those of former colleague Anne Stokes, who worked with him at Horne International Designs. While Horne and Phillips live four hours away in Asheville, they still keep the store stocked with antiques and collectibles.

Horne also stays busy, although not with the same intensity. “This year, I’ve been able to have time to reflect,” he says. “When you’re busy working, running a few businesses, and traveling, you forget to stop and smell the roses.”

Of course, you never know when you may see his name resurface. “I still do small projects for clients when they call,” he says, “if it’s not too involved.”

Lead photo: Larry Horne (right) and Ronald Phillips