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As We See It

[The Strip Sense]

Roger that!

The Hangover may have struck out, but Vegas still scored a Wynn at the Oscars

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If you don’t look glamorous in this room, you need a doctor’s appointment.”
Photo: Chris Carlson/AP

Roger Thomas was trying to keep perspective and some distance from the goings-ons at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood on Sunday evening. It was Oscar night, of course, and Steve Wynn’s design alter ego had a handful of his friends at his Architectural Digest-featured Summerlin home for a viewing party.

In many ways, it was a standard-issue gathering for the annual event the Advocate magazine gratingly dubs the Gay Super Bowl. Everyone enjoyed wine (or bottled water) and cheese and filled out mock Oscar ballots as they snarked at the more disastrous dresses parading by during the pre-game. Then the assembled feasted on homemade enchiladas and salad as the show crawled along to its inexorable conclusion.

Predictable debates ensued (Zac Efron vs. Taylor Lautner, etc.), cheers went up over openly gay Neil Patrick Harris’ official displacement of is-he-or-ain’t-he-already Hugh Jackman as the world’s reigning song-and-dance man, marveling was done over Queen Latifah’s weight loss, Matthew Broderick’s paunchiness and Tom Ford’s utter physical perfectness.

You could even forget with whom we were watching—until Thomas suddenly piped up as Gerard Butler and Bradley Cooper strode on stage to deliver, uh, what were they doing there again? Also, who cares?

“Gerard and Bradley really loved my Bianca daybed,” Thomas said with a smirk. “They sat on it—together!—yesterday and remarked how comfortable it was.”

We could say that Thomas was name-dropping, except that it was one of the precious few times in the entire evening that he discussed or even alluded to how important he was to this year’s Academy Awards. He displayed for us his Oscar credentials (because he was asked to), let me track the telecast’s progress with the impossible-to-get run-of-show document he snagged the day before, and at some point early on mentioned as some star walked off the stage that they were heading “right into the green room.”

His green room, that is. The green room that Thomas, the man whose design aesthetic has revolutionized Las Vegas via the Bellagio, Wynn and Encore, was tasked to divine and then construct. The editors at Architectural Digest, who select the green-room designer each year, picked him from among the “AD100,” the 100 creative minds that the world’s most prestigious design magazine has declared as our best designers.

And so it was that he took a break from installing the Switch Beach Club at Encore Las Vegas and redesigning the 5-year-old rooms of Wynn Las Vegas to create the backstage area where the stars shook out their jitters over bottled water and, as he calls it, “nibbly bits.” For an old-film buff like Thomas (you should’ve seen his glee upon seeing a snippet of Bette Davis in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? during the Oscar telecast’s horror-flick montage), the assignment was about as plum as it gets.

“It was a concept that came to me really quickly; I designed it in about three hours sitting in my home in Marin,” Thomas said. “It happened much more quickly than most of my projects, and that’s good, because getting confidence in the big idea was really important. If you don’t look glamorous in this room, you need a doctor’s appointment.”

The big idea here was to pay homage to the movies but not in a literal, clichéd way. He started with a Jackson Pollack-esque paint-splattered floor, for instance, because Thomas imagined that this “would have been how the floor looked when they were painting the sets of my favorite films.” His signature furniture line is covered in plain canvas, upon which he drew distinctive designs “to honor the fact that each film nominated is unique on its own.” The “Bianca”—the piece that Butler and Cooper cozied up on—is so named because the feet are modeled after Thomas’ Italian greyhound that, in turn, is named for a sister in Taming of the Shrew.

Thomas could have hung out in his green room during the Oscar show or enjoyed a hard-to-get seat in the audience among the glitterati, but he simply left his business cards with the green- room hostess and came home “to enjoy the show from my living room, the best seat in the house, in my opinion.”

He is not, of course, easily star-dazzled, having spent the past 30 years at Steve Wynn’s side and having met just about everyone who matters. And before that, he rubbed elbows with the fancy folks throughout his upbringing as son of Parry Thomas, the legendary financier who loaned money to countless Strip developers long before Wall Street gave Vegas any respect. Yes, Roger is a Thomas, as in Thomas & Mack.

Still, there was a sense this weekend that the 58-year-old viewed this opportunity as a possible career turning point, in part because it was the highest-profile thing he’s ever done away from Las Vegas. The rooms he created at Kodak offered pieces from his personal furniture and carpeting lines, and he displayed his aesthetic and drawing abilities, much of which may sail right by the Hollywood types who stay at the Wynn or Encore.

Here, Thomas and his name were front and center in spaces where “the biggest deals in Hollywood get made.” His next non-Vegas moment, in fact, comes in mid-April, when he headlines a show at the Heather James Gallery in Palm Desert, California.

“It’ll be a Roger Thomas world,” he said. “It’ll be a room with only my pieces in it. I can’t wait.”

This is, in fact, what Thomas had hoped to be doing full time these days. He was set to leave Wynn Resorts last spring but axed those plans because “I had a reversal of fortune as many of us had at that time, so it just wasn’t that intelligent for me to retire at that time.”

Thus, rather than pursuing his own projects exclusively, Thomas remains in the thick of the Wynn universe, coyly hyping his design for the forthcoming Switch Beach Club and Surrender nightclub that is replacing Encore’s underused Strip-side porte-cochere. I got one tidbit out of him about the “mascot” for Surrender: “My inspiration was original sin, and that brought me to Adam and Eve, so ...” He stopped there, but it seems the place will have a serpentine sensibility, huh?

It’s clear that his long career with Wynn has been overwhelmingly good for him, but that he was ready to have his crowning achievement be Encore, the hotel themed with butterflies—probably subliminally intended as a metaphor for Thomas’ own hoped-for metamorphosis. Instead, on Thursday he’ll be the star of a reception at the reopening of the Wynn Home Store, after he was tasked with overhauling the items sold there.

So, as Hollywood is wont to do, this weekend’s Oscar glory undeniably has Thomas dreaming again. And that’s great, but Vegas, too, ought to take pride here. It’s fantastic that the MGM Mirage brain trust has lured the world’s starchitects and top artists here for CityCenter, and their willingness to commit to work on the Strip is a breakthrough for culture.

Thomas, however, is a Vegas original whose homegrown talents have been deployed heretofore primarily for Vegas creations. Last weekend, though, he officially—if not formally—moved into a new, broader realm. He’ll inevitably get calls this week from Hollywood people wanting him to do their homes and offices and perhaps even their movie and TV sets.

Let’s just hope when he gets his own set-design Oscar nod, he remembers to thank that all-important Steve who got him where he is.

Wynn, I meant—uh, of course.

Follow Steve on Twitter at TheStripPodcast or head to VegasHappensHere.Com for his blog and weekly celeb-interview podcast, The Strip. Email him at SteveFriess@aol.com.
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Steve Friess

Steve Friess is a freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared in the New York Times, ...

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