GILDED AGE

IMAGINATION RUNS WILD IN A CALIFORNIA HOME

THAT CAPTURES THE ROMANCE OF HOLLYWOOD.

CALLING A HOME «EXCESSIVE»

MIGHT BE CONSIDERED AN INSULT TO SOME,BUT THE ADJECTIVE PUTS

A WIDE SMILE ON THE HANDSOME FACE

OF DESIGNER HUTTON WILKINSON AS HE STANDS AMID THE RIOTOUS SPLENDOR OF THE 4,000-SQUARE- foot Venetian palazzo he has built to share with Ruth, his wife of 36 years, in Beverly Hills.

«I can’t imagine the lives of minimalists,» he says. «This is minimalism to me.»

Others can keep their beiges and their Berber rugs; Wilkinson, the longtime business partner of the late set designer and decorator extraordinaire Tony Duquette (he came to work for the master when he was only 17), immerses himself in teal, amethyst, and deep reds—and seemingly endless hand-wrought gold leaf. Not to mention a sea of leopard carpet, a set of seven-foot-tall blackamoor figures from the estate of former client Dodie Rosekrans, coral branches once owned by Elsie de Wolfe, a slew of 17th-century Venetian oils, and an 18th-century vermeil model ship. And then there’s the huge rendering of Wilkinson’s family tree—he is descended from Bolivian aristocracy—adorned with monkeys and rodents. Come to think of it, excessive seems an understatement.

The land on which the home sits is next door to Duquette’s former house, which Wilkin-son, who runs his business under the Duquette moniker, bought from his mentor’s estate after Duquette’s death in 1999. Wilkinson has turned that home into a museum filled with the exquisite belongings of Duquette and his late wife, Elizabeth. Duquette’s clients included J. Paul Getty and Doris Duke, and he famously used everything from Louis XVI furnishings to gold-colored plastic serving trays to create his baroque interiors. He and Elizabeth entertained Elizabeth Taylor, Tennessee Williams, and Princess Grace, among many others, and Wilkinson now uses the house for special events.

Next door, at their own home, Wilkinson and his wife throw parties that spill out into the gardens adjoining the properties. There is often dancing for a hundred, with a band playing standards by Cole Porter and Jerome Kern; Balinese dancing girls; gourmet Mexican food; and a cadre of men in turbans, who make sure no one trips on the polished black-marble stairs that appear throughout the house.

Structurally, the home is a vertical affair, with all the rooms facing south. This gives the Wilkinsons—whose living quarters are on the top floor of three, looking down at a lake below—the sense of residing in a penthouse. There is a trio of bedrooms, so Wilkinson and Ruth can each have a retreat; Ruth’s is dominated by a large-scale painting by Elizabeth Duquette. «The upstairs is dreamy and romantic and sort of adorable,» Hutton says.

The main entry is on the middle level of the house, therefore necessitating a grand stroll down a sweeping circular staircase to the large open living room. Wilkinson, who favors silk dressing gowns and often wears pendants from the elaborate jewelry collection he designs, loves to make an entrance.

«Very Auntie Mame,» he says. «Why would you live any other way?»

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