Behind the scenes: Tony Duquette

The legacy of Tony Duquette lives on in the theatrical Hollywood set and costume designer’s Beverly Hills home.

The flamboyant Hollywood set and costume designer Tony Duquette, who died in 1999 at the age of 85, liked to compare himself to the magical phoenix. He was certainly haunted by fire, which claimed both his famous Pavilion of Saint Francis project in San Francisco and, just a few years later, his own ranch in Malibu. But for Duquette, whose big-name roster of Hollywood clients included Mary Pickford, David O Selznick and Vincent Minelli in a career spanning more than 50 years, the phoenix combined nature and magic, the twin sources of an “enchanted vision that we carry around in the treasure house of our own minds”.

His love for the fabled bird also suggests the designer’s talent for constant reinvention and creating fantasies full of life, colour and theatre. This was certainly true of Duquette’s own Beverly Hills home, Dawnridge, which survived the flames and still sings of drama, playful exuberance and delightful excess. Duquette was one of the great originals of American design and decorating (regular readers of Vogue Living may recall the article on him in our Catherine Martin guest editor edition, May/June 2009).

The legendary grand dame of interior design, Elsie de Wolfe, became an early admirer when she discovered Duquette in Los Angeles in the 1940s. He became part of the Hollywood scene, designing sets and costumes for many films and theatrical productions, including Yolanda and the Thief with Fred Astaire. He mastered many different mediums, designing jewellery, hotel interiors and public spaces. Yet Duquette is best remembered for the homes he created not just for himself, but also his high-society clients, including Elizabeth Arden and J Paul Getty. All these interiors were defined by an instantly recognisable ‘Duquette’ look that drew inspiration from nature, the past, from theatre, film and stories.

Although assembled in unique fashion and high style, they were not elitist; Duquette might place a sculpted screen of his own design made with hubcaps and sunburst motifs next to a priceless period piece. He was not only a phoenix but also a voracious magpie, collecting endlessly. “Until I was an adult and then for nearly 50 happy years with my artist wife,” he said, “I have gone on accumulating enough beautiful things, ugly things, curious things – from deer’s antlers to Siamese figures of gilded wood – to fill boxes and boxes, baskets and baskets, houses and houses.”

This is an extract from ‘Behind the Scenes’, a story by Dominic Bradbury on pages 170 to 179 in
Vogue Living Sept/Oct 2011. For subscriptions and back issues visit here.

Words: Dominic Bradbury
Photographs: Richard Powers

5 Responses to “Behind the scenes: Tony Duquette”
  1. I love this. I’m glad I’m not the only one who loves a full house.

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  1. […] us his unique, original and flamboyant vision lives on in his Beverly Hills home.  Even luckier Vogue Living recently went for a […]

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