Tony Duquette, the legendary designer with lavish and whimsical sensibilities — and a penchant for the exotic and the flamboyant — was also amazingly attuned to every detail of his creations. The famous designer was, as well, a master with the use of color.
Duquette’s career spanned decades, taking foot in 1935 in Los Angeles, California, where he began designing sets and costumes for the film industry. In 1941 he established Tony Duquette Studios in L.A. From this base he designed, over the years, sets and costumes for motion picture, opera, ballet, and the theatre. Very early the designer’s talents caught the attention of many and his design work evolved into the creation of custom interiors for both residential and commercial clients.
Few could match the rich and fruitful imagination of Duquette. A hallmark of the designer was his innate genius for the use and combining of a vast variety of materials. At the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu, one of the studio’s many prestigious commercial projects, the penthouse of the Lagoon Apartments provides an example of the designer’s creative use of materials. An entire wall, in a seating area of the high-ceilinged room, is covered with crushed abalone shells creating a dramatic, shimmery effect. Custom designed furniture and lamps mix with antique pieces.
In the mid 1960s Tony Duquette designed interiors for the home, in Bel Air, of Mr. & Mrs. Charles Ducommon. The drawing room has custom-designed furniture and a fanciful chandelier, all designed by Duquette. The room design is elegant and restrained, highlighting the couple’s art collection that included the painting seen here by Georges Braque.
(Above three images courtesy of Hutton Wilkinson, Tony Duquette, Inc.)
The chandelier with shiny abalone shells, in the Bel Air home above, eventually found its way back to Duquette. The chandelier design lives on in a reproduction Abalone Chandelier by Baker Furniture.
(Image from Baker Furniture.)
Also in the 1960s, with full reign to do anything he pleased, Duquette designed interiors for the home of actor James Coburn. The chandelier, with mirrored disco ball in the center, was designed and made by Duquette. The designer’s marvelous sense of color is apparent in the room design.
(Image from Vanity Fair. The image was used by Vanity Fair courtesy of Abrams from the book “More is More, Tony Duquette” by Hutton Wilkinson.)
In the Paris apartment of Dodie Rosenkrans we see, prominently in the right-hand corner, a sculpture created by Tony Duquette, “Phoenix Rising”. The walls are paneled “…with antique Moghul embroideries set with precious and semiprecious stones.” The color scheme of red and soft greens has accents of violet. Hutton Wilkinson, Duquette’s partner for thirty years, collaborated on the project.
(Image from the Los Angeles Times. Photograph by Tim Street-Porter.)
The eccentricity of Tony Duquette was expressed most fully in his own homes — homes that were idiosyncratic and frequently theatrical. They were dwellings and compounds that he created with his wife of 46 years.
Magical, witty, lavish and exotic, the homes included “Cow Hollow” in San Francisco. The designer has said this about the house: “We have sought inspiration for this house from the four corners of the earth.” The couple was, in fact, widely traveled. Global inspiration is apparent in the designer’s dressing room area:
Per Hutton Wilkinson, the room “…was decorated with Chinese picture rugs, English Regency chairs…and Oriental grill works.” (Image courtesy of Hutton Wilkinson, Tony Duquette, Inc.)
The designer’s Malibu ranch, which was named “Sortilegium,” was a 150 acre property purchased in the 1950s. The grounds eventually included 21 structures, each with a decorative theme, many themes representing different countries. Over a thirty-year period the couple filled the magical spaces with treasures, some collected from around the world. (Sadly, the grounds burned to the ground in the Malibu fire of 1993.)
The “Tea House” pavilion was enchantingly decorated, naturally, with Asian antiques. The ceiling appears to be decorated with inlaid tiles between the red lacquer beams, but in fact the affect is achieved with quilted bedspread fabric. The chandelier was a Tony Duquette creation.
The interior of “Hamster House” at the Malibu Ranch was decorated beautifully, though non-thematically. As described by Mr.Wilkinson, this structure became “…featured in all the glossy shelter magazines.” Using elements of red, which must have been Duquette’s favorite decorating color, the interior of this room is elegant and vivaciously inviting.
(The above two images from Duquette’s Malibu ranch, “Sortilegium”, courtesy of Hutton Wilkinson, Tony Duquette, Inc.)
The Duquette’s purchased a property in Beverly Hills in 1949 to serve as their home. Over the years “Dawnridge” evolved in structure and design as Duquette applied his quintessential repurposing of architectural salvage and elements, as well as incorporating antiques and ethnic finds. The extraordinary home continues to function as the headquarters for Tony Duquette Studios under the creative direction of Hutton Wilkinson.
Richly decorated around 1980, with typical Duquette aplomb, an alcove in a bedroom at Dawnridge has carvings from South East Asia and Bronze Thai Buddhas.
(Image courtesy of Hutton Wilkinson, Tony Duquette, Inc.)
In 2009 Jim Thompson, The Thai Silk Company, invited Hutton Wilkinson to create a collection of fabric designs. Wilkinson drew upon motifs from the Duquette archives for the designs. Below are shown four patterns from the collection of fourteen.
Feu d’Artifice and Pacific Coral patterns.
Tibetan Sun and Gemstone patterns.
The Gemstone pattern is based on the pattern of malachite stones, a favorite of Duquette in his jewelry designs. Read more about the collection on the Jim Thompson Press Centre page.
In a room of a Brussels home, the Gemstone pattern, in cotton, has been used to dramatic effect on roman shades:
(Image from Elle Decor. Photo: Simon Upton)
Tony Duquette, energetic and multi-talented, never stopped working on a project of some sort up until his death in 1999. He left a legacy of imaginative creations and inspiring interiors. His work continues to influence and inspire.
The image above, taken around 1980, shows Duquette on the deck of “Little Thai House” in the garden at “Dawnridge” in Beverly Hills. In Hutton Wilkinson’s words, the “Thai” house was created “from an existing structure by adding architectural fragments from Thailand and Bali as well as English gothic spires and Victorian gingerbread salvaged from Los Angeles’ historic Bunker Hill.”
All part of the magical, fantastical — and colorful — world of Tony Duquette.
The final image of the “Thai” house is another image from Hutton Wilkinson’s Tony Duquette website. You can read more about Tony Duquette, including a brief biography as well as images of his homes and interiors at Tony Duquette, Inc. Mr. Wilkinson has written two books about the designer:
“Tony Duquette” and “More Is More, Tony Duquette”; more info on his website.
For further reading, some with slideshow images:
•At Architectural Digest: “Tony Duquette, Champion of Magic and Theatre in Residential Design” with accompanying slideshow.
•At the LA Times blog.
At the New York Times: “Tony Duquette, a Decorator of Fantasy…”
At Vanity Fair: ““Hutton Wilkinson on Working with Design Icon Tony Duquette”“, with slideshow of images.