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Healdsburg design diva Myra Hoefer dies at 68

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Myra Hoefer, Healdsburg’s diva of interior design whose French-influenced style was featured in many high-end magazines, died Tuesday at a Santa Rosa hospital. She was 68.

Hoefer had suffered lingering health problems for years, including a broken back and chronic lung disease. But up until the end she still managed to cut a swath of glamour through town as she tooled the sidewalks perfectly put together on a motorized scooter she had covered elegantly with white linen and a hint of fringe.

“She was the queen of the town,” her close friend, Natasha Landau, said. “Healdsburg owed so much to Myra. She always was thinking about how to make Healdsburg very special.”

Hoefer had recently been in and out of the hospital. But she became acutely ill on Sunday and was rushed to Kaiser Hospital in Santa Rosa, where she died of complications from a genetic lung disease.

“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,” Jil Hales, the owner of Barndiva restaurant and a friend of Hoefer’s, wrote in tribute on the restaurant’s blog.

A self-taught interior designer, she had worked her way up from a young mother scouting out bargain fabrics in San Francisco’s garment district to working for socialites like Ardath Rouas, a partner in restaurants like Fleur de Lys in San Francisco and Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford. Gourmet Magazine declared her floral arrangements for Aqua restaurant in San Francisco “the most beautiful of any in the world.”

But her star really began to rise when she began creating budget apartment makeovers in Paris for a high-end rental company based in Sausalito.

She would sweep into the City of Light every six weeks on a mission of aesthetic mercy to quickly turn an ordinary flat into every American’s Parisian fantasy. With what she would describe as “smoke and mirrors,” she would use carefully selected pieces from Ikea, beautiful fabrics she scouted from the back streets of outer Paris and weathered antiques she picked up scouring second-hand shops and flea markets.

She came to be known as known as “Madame Tout de Suite” by the Paris shopkeepers, who knew her by name and were left breathless by her take-no-prisoners approach to extreme apartment makeovers.

It became her signature style, a rustic, romantic elegance she would export to Sonoma Wine Country in places like the lobby of the Hotel Healdsburg, Bella Winery, the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville and Healdsburg’s new Valette restaurant. It brought her acclaim in the design world and glossy spreads in coffee table books and magazines like Veranda and House Beautiful.

“Myra brought her impeccable sense of style to everything she touched. She made the work look effortless,” said Jacques St. Dizier, another eminent interior designer with a shop just a few doors down from the ivy-covered cottage where Hoefer lived, worked and held court at memorable dinner parties. “Her projects had an easy elegance and glamour that never took itself too seriously. The design community, style editors and those who follow design respected her greatly. We’ll miss her terribly.”

Born in Vancouver, Canada, Hoefer emigrated with her family to the U.S. when she was two years old. She grew up in the East Bay communities of Walnut Creek and Alamo, earned an associate’s degree from Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill and began her design career apprenticing with a Walnut Creek designer in the 1970s.

Her blonde looks and good taste caught the eye of Billy Pearson, an ex-jockey and world-class art dealer with a stable of famous friends. Singer Andy Williams crooned “Moon River” at their 1976 wedding. But it was a short-lived union. She later married artist Wade Hoefer in 1980. The two made their way to Healdsburg where, in 1986, she opened her first design studio. They eventually divorced, but always stayed involved in each other’s lives.

Hoefer’s eye was as sensitive to beauty as a musician’s ear is to pitch and she let her opinions be known.

“She knew what beauty was and she knew what she liked and she had very little room for people with bad taste,” said another Healdsburg friend, Boris Landau.

Even when she was stuck in a rehabilitation hospital after breaking her back six years ago, she dressed up her dreary room with accents in orange, her signature color.

Her century-old home was her design palette. After returning from the hospital, she installed a Bourbon-sized bed downstairs and turned her living room into a boudoir where she welcomed visitors. She kept a DVD of Sofia Coppola’s film, “Marie Antoinette,” playing silently in the background because she hated the look of the black, empty television screen.

Beneath her silk and linen exterior — she was always dressed to kill — was a wicked sense of humor and an impulse for outrageousness that often erupted in what friend Lukka Feldman, a partner in the neighboring Barndiva restaurant, called a “full stomach laugh.”

Natasha Landau recalled how one day Myra came to her house to visit wearing a long orange skirt. It was a hot day. Even though by then she relied on a walker, she made her way to the backyard.

When she saw the pool she impulsively jumped in, orange skirt and all.

“The nature of Myra,” said Boris Landau, “was the very heart and soul of our city.”

Hoefer is survived by her daughters Gina Gattuso and Lisa North, her son Zane Hoefer and four grandchildren, all of Healdsburg. She also is survived by a brother, Dennis Nicholson, of British Columbia and a sister, Nora Nicholson, of Sacramento.

A private life celebration is planned.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204. On Twitter @megmcconahey.

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