Legends Of Design: Tony Duquette

Although considered more of an artist than an interior designer, Tony Duquette did indeed create many memorable interiors both residential and commercial and deserves to be profiled in our continuing Legends of Design series.

Duquette was born in 1914 in Los Angeles but grew up between L.A. and Three Rivers, Michigan where his family lived part of the year. He attended The Chouinard Art Institute (which, in 1961 became the California Institute of the Arts) on a scholarship and after graduating, he began working freelance for interior and fashion designers like Billy Haines and Adrian. Soon after he was discovered by interior designer and socialite Elsie de Wolfe (previously here) and started creating sets for film studios such as MGM as well as theatrical and operatic productions.

As an artist, he had many prestigious one-man shows at museums like Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the M. H. de Young Museum and Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, the California Museum of Science and Industry and the Municipal Art Gallery in Los Angeles, the El Paso Museum of Art, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and the Museum of the City of New York. And how is this for pedigree: he was the first American to have a one-man show at the Louvre.

But through this all, he designed interiors for people's homes, creating his own art work in the form of light fixtures, wall hangings, and textiles. His work in film and stage lent a highly theatrical, presentational sense to the interiors he created. Indeed, his work later became known as Hollywood Regency.

Most fascinating, Duquette and his wife lived in many different homes over the years, most of them cobbled together from salvaged architectural pieces of other buildings.

The Tony Duquette Studio was located at 824 North Robertson Blvd. in West Hollywood. Originally constructed as a movie studio for the silent film star Norma Talmadge, the Duquettes purchased the building in the early 1950’s as a ruin and remodeled and restored the structure as their residence and studio. At the entrance was a pair of 16th century Spanish doors, carved wooden horses from a palace in Chiang Mai Thailand, and Duquette’s own lighted “Whale Vertebrae” stand lamps.

The “big room” at the Tony Duquette Studios was 150′ long and 25′ wide with 28′ high ceilings and furnished with the Duquettes’ collections of 17th, 18th and 19th century European and Asian antiques as well as their own works of art and furniture designs. Duquette built the stage at the end of the room in order to showcase sections of ballets, operas, and film costumes and sets. The stage was also used for the Duquettes’ own lavish entertainments as well as for dining. Over the years, Duquette added to and remodeled this "big room," culminating in a 1960s hippie light show!

The Duquettes also lived in Beverly Hills in a home they dubbed Dawnridge. Originally a 30' x 30" box, Duquette and his wife tricked it out with a bold combination of European and Asian antiques.

The terraces, grounds, and gardens of Dawnridge were extensive. Deep in the gardens was the “Little Thai House,” 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 neighborhood.

But the most lavish of the Duquette properties must have been the Sortilegium (Latin for "fortune-telling").

In the 1950’s Tony and Elizabeth Duquette purchased a 150 acre property high in the Malibu mountains above the Pacific Ocean. Over the next 30 years they spent each weekend at the property which they lovingly dubbed, “The Empire” creating an enclave of pagodas, pavilions, studios, and houses on which they lavished their many talents, collections, decorations, and magic. Duquette's website says that each structure had a name which corresponded with its decorative theme. “Ireland” was composed of 19th century shop fronts purchased in Dublin; “Bullocks Wilshire” was decorated with authentic Art Deco furnishings (Duquette had decorated the original Bullocks department store in Los Angeles during the 1930s); “Horn Toad” was decorated with Victorian ginger bread and Americana.; “China” was a riot of red lacquer and gold leaf dragons, sedan chairs and Chinese embroideries; “Goom” was named after a town in India; “Portugal” was a large barn filled with 18th century carvings; “Bosphorus” was a domed and minerated structure which held garden implements; “The Star Barn” was full of old props from MGM; “The Ball Room” made of 18th century French windows from Paris with their original hardware “just like jewelry”, parquet de Versailles floors, carved 18th century wooden fireplaces and original Tony Duquette chandeliers; “Hamster House” was originally a 1920’s wooden mobile home which Tony expanded and added to and which ended up as a really rather grand house which was featured in all of the glossy shelter magazines; “Rose Parade” which was a long narrow structure filled with plants and Victoriana, the roof of which Tony used for parties and exercise under embroidered Indian parasols. But most important was Duquette's own house, “Frogmore” that originated as a 20′ x 20′ metal building which was being thrown out on Santa Monica Blvd.: the owners paid Tony to take away! He turned that discarded 20′ x 20′ building into a compound which included a 2 story studio, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom wings, and an entire covered terrace as well as a huge cantilevered deck where he could entertain 150 people for lunch.

The property and its 21 structures tragically burnt to the ground in the Green Meadows Malibu fire in the 1990’s.

His maximalist work influenced a slew of designers including Kelly Wearstler. And for the last few decades of his life, Duquette's business partner was Hutton Wilkinson who now owns and runs the Tony Duquette design firm. Light fixtures and textiles (seen here) are still in production! Visit the website to learn more.

Happy designing!