Arianna Huffington’s Sleep Revolution Starts at Home
By BOB MORRIS
APRIL 28, 2016
Arianna Huffington was sitting like a very relaxed queen in her SoHo bedroom on a thronelike bergÃ¨re chair covered in brocade Fortuny fabric. It was time to wind down, 8 p.m. Behind her, an embroidered throw pillow announced: “Sleep your way to the top.”
The phrase recalls a TED Talk she gave in 2010, and it isnât about sex, thank you. It is about sleeping. “I was making a speech about sleep as a performance enhancer,” she said. “As opposed to being lazy or not engaged with life.”
One wouldnât think that about one of the most powerful women in the world, the author of 15 books and a founder of a news site that sold to AOLfor $315 million in 2011. But of all the things on her agenda, which would exhaust most mortals, sleep is at the top.
Her new book, “The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time” (Harmony), is a call to bed. It is also inspiring a turbocharged national tour that involves “sleep fairs” at colleges and an educational “takeover” of a JetBlue flight during which she gave out books and answered questions.
“I want to rekindle our romance with sleep,” said Ms. Huffington, 65, in a lullaby voice as soothing as her floral perfume. “Itâs a central part of life and a gateway to our dreams.”
If sleep is a gateway to her dreams, then her bedroom is the mother ship. It is one of four in a vast apartment she transformed a few years ago with the help of the designer Steven Gambrel.
“It was a minimalist loft,” she said. “But I wanted something that felt more lived-in and European.”
To achieve that, she hired Mr. Gambrel to add walls to break up the space, for which he also designed much of the furniture. Peter Mucek, the decorative painter, plastered the walls to emulate a golden Venetian glow.Michael S. Smith, who redecorated some rooms in the Obama White House and is a friend, suggested that she treat the loft’s concrete columns with metallic brown paint to give them an ancient bronze feel. Mr. Smith also designed some leather chairs and an ottoman. Her home now has a regal and romantic ambience that seems in perfect keeping with Ms. Huffington’s personality.
Everything in the decidedly low-tech bedroom is as carefully considered as a business move. On a bed surrounded with Fortuny curtains in a restful light blue, she sleeps on organic cotton sheets from a collection calledHuffington. The Huffington line, carried by Coco-Mat, a nearby bedding shop, was designed by her daughter Isabella Huffington, 25, an artist who shares her home. Her pillows are stuffed with soporific hops and barley. Across the room are two Gordon Parks photographs, including the bucolic“Boy With June Bug.” Over her night stand is a photograph of her other daughter, Christina, now 27, at Isabella’s christening.
“I call it a joy trigger,” Ms. Huffington said, “and I like having it right by my bed.”
Her night stand functions as a kind of altar to Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. The books are inspirational, including works by Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet, and Marcus Aurelius, whom Ms. Huffington admires because he was a multitasking Roman emperor and not easily ruffled. There is a simple alarm clock from Pottery Barn without any of the pesky digital lights she bans from her bedroom and from her hotel rooms. (She packs masking tape to obscure their blinking.)
Roses and peonies rest in a vase by a journal with a black cover decorated by Isabella. Next to it is a pen light. “So if I wake up in the middle of the night, I can write down my dreams without turning on the light,” she said. Dreams, of course, are welcome; business ideas, not so much.
On a desk and dresser across the room, which she can’t reach from her bed, Ms. Huffington has several china Herend Rothschild bird bowls to hold such workaday items as Post-its and manuscript clips, and a lacquered box for her packed appointment book. “I hide the whole mess to forget about it,” she said, lifting and setting down lids like a cook.
Photo CreditAlessandra Montalto/The New York Times
At bedtime, her phone and electronic devices are relegated to the foyer outside the bedroom, to recharge under a wall of family photographs. Withdrawing from her machines, she said, is part of a half-hour “transition to sleep” ritual that includes writing down the many things she is grateful for; dimming the lights; taking a warm bath in Epsom salts by flickering candlelight; and changing into a silk nightgown to greet sleep with respect.
“I used to sleep in the same thing I wore during the day,” said Ms. Huffington, whose call to rest came in 2007, when she fell down from exhaustion and broke her cheekbone. “It’s better to have special clothes for sleeping.”
It also helps to have soundproofed windows, which required a complicated and expensive installation process that made her renovated home as quiet as a church. Indeed, her cellphone rings with the sound of cathedral chimes.
“I love church bells, don’t you?” she asked in a seductive purr.
It was time for a tour of the rest of the apartment. It is one of her two homes and very different from the one she has in California.
“My other house is from the 1920s, in Brentwood, in L.A.,” she said as she swept into her living room. “When I step out the door there, it’s into a garden of entirely white flowers, where all I smell is gardenias and it feels like being in the country. Here, it’s children, dogs and people from all over the world on my street when I walk out, and my favorite shops and restaurants.”
Her spacious living area â with a custom bookcase, a gilded Louis XV desk, gilded bronze and cobalt 18th-century candelabra and a 19th-century Italian mirror above the fireplace â has the feeling of something between a papal chamber and the Oval Office.
“Isn’t this beautiful?” she asks, gesturing to a hand-painted screen by Mr. Mucek that hides a small white kitchen area, where she doesn’t concern herself with cooking. Just the same, Ms. Huffington loves to hold the many dinners that she doesn’t prepare at a hand-painted faux marble dining table.
“I know how to make a really great cheese plate,” she said. She makes tea, too.
Near the front door is a portrait of a woman by FranÃ§oise Gilot, which Ms. Gilot, who spent 10 years with Picasso, gave Ms. Huffington around the time Ms. Huffington was writing “Picasso: Creator and Destroyer,”published in 1988. The portrait of her daughters is by Nelson Shanks, who also painted Bill Clinton, Pope John Paul II and Diana, Princess of Wales.
“But what I love most of all are the works of my daughter Isabella,” she said.
As if on cue, Isabella emerged from an art studio next to her bedroom. (Christina has her own place.) The two put their arms around each other. The daughter, as it turns out, also respects a good night’s sleep.
“Even in college, I’d get nine hours of sleep a night,” said Isabella, who is as tall and graceful as her mother and whose pretty collages have a dark political edge. “Remember when you’d visit, and my friends were pulling all-nighters, and you’d lecture them about it?”
Her mother laughed. No need for that at home. It was 10 o’clock, and with a television appearance scheduled for early the next day, time to dim the lights and take the moment seriously.
“My sleep ritual is about to begin,” Ms. Huffington said with a beatific smile. She looked to the double doors leading to her bedroom. “My gateway calls.”
The church bells on her phone were ringing. She ignored them.