Hutton Wilkinson doesn’t shy away from dramatic spaces. The longtime business partner and protégé to famed decorator Tony Duquette is famous for his maximalist, opulent tastes (think animal prints, Fortuny fabrics, gold leaf) and his wildly imaginative interiors. In true showman’s style, Wilkinson decorated the Casa del Conde, at the Duquette compound, from top to bottom. The designer is consigning all the key pieces from the house, meaning fans can do more than just lust after this jewel-box fantasy; they can own a piece of it too.
You worked with Tony Duquette, who famously mastered the “more is more” look. How did working with Duquette influence your eye for design?
I started working with Tony when I was 17. Early on, he took me to see the “Ducommun House”, which he had decorated in Bel-Air. When we got back in the car he asked me, “What did you think of the house?” I told him, “I thought it was terrific.” “Didn’t you think it was strange?” he asked me. “Not at all,” I said. “A lot of people think it’s strange,” he told me, “you know, different.” “Not at all,” I told him.”I think it’s very tame.” In other words — without taking anything away from Tony, who was a genius — everything he did was second nature to me.
What initially got you interested in working in design?
My father and grandfather were architects in Los Angeles since 1918. I grew up in their architectural offices, reading all their books and studying all their projects. I was always scheduled to become an architect and I still have a passion for architecture… But when I was 17, I realized that the decorators got all the attention and the Rolls Royces… And although the Rolls Royce days seem to be behind us, I still have a passion for interiors and, fortunately, a lot of clients who like the maximalist look that I have to offer.
What’s been the best “design lesson” you’ve learned from Duquette?
Never compromise… Work from your gut… Your inner voice will never lead you astray… Follow the path of least resistance… Something that we called the Tsao of decoration: When the deer is ready to be shot, it will come into the forest. In other words, you can’t force a job to be beautiful. You have to sit back and let it evolve… You have to listen to the room… But more importantly you have to hear it… And when you hear what it wants, you have to act on it… That’s what makes a room great.
What has been your favorite design project?
The 12th-century Palazzo Brandolini on the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy. It was a job I did in partnership with Tony Duquette for John and Dodie Rosekrans. We had just finished their apartment in Paris, and she asked “Where else in Europe can I get a place to stay?” And Tony and I both said simultaneously, “Venice!!”! John Rosekrans died midway through the project… And Tony died just after the job was completed. A perfect example of “drop-dead decorating”. I always gave Tony credit for the job, but Dodie Rosekrans scolded me and said, “You know you did this job Hutton; Tony was so sick and unable to travel. You know it was all you.” But she had hired both me and Tony in partnership, and so I always gave him his due as the designer of credit.
Is there any area in your life in which you are a minimalist?
None whatsoever… I like to think I live every aspect of my life to excess. I always say, “A little too much is just enough for me.” Believe it or not, I do restrain myself… But unfortunately, it never shows… If you look at our work, it is actually very simple. Not a lot of trims or tassels. Not a lot of ormolu or crystal. Our mirrors are all beveled, our iron armatures lack acanthus leaves, our sofas are rarely tufted or carpets plush. Carpets are large, curtains vertical from the cornice to the floor, simple simple simple… But rich in color, texture, and layering… That’s the secret of a refined maximalist interior… Unless of course you’re going for a Zsa Zsa effect.
Many might not be aware of your official title: Count of Alastaya. Can you tell us more about the history of this title?
My mother was South American, descended from a noble Spanish family. My first ancestor in the new world came to the city of Potosi in Alto Perú (now the Republic of Bolivia) in 1635. Potosi was a city of the Holy Roman Emperor Carlos V, and was the richest city in the world at that time, built on a mountain of solid silver. At that time, it was larger than Paris or London, and the Spanish said they mined enough silver from Potosi to build a bridge of solid silver and have the King of Spain ride across in a silver chariot. Fast forward several hundred years, and my maternal grandfather was Secretary of State, Vice President, and President of Bolivia from 1934 to 1936. About seven years ago, King Juan Carlos of Spain bestowed my grandfather’s title, Conde de Alastaya, on me. If you go on the Internet now and look up the Count of Alastaya, you will see in Spanish, people saying, “It’s very strange that the King of Spain would give a Norte Americano a Spanish title… And that my mother was the actress Betty Hutton (not true). It is all very amusing… But I am proud of my heritage, although only a handful of friends refer to me as El Conde.
Your fabulous home is called the “Casa del Conde”. What’s the backstory of the name?
It was named “Casa la Condesa” for my bride of forty years, Ruth, who is the Countess of Alastaya. On our street, we own three houses in a row, one is called Conti (which is “count” in Italian) and we have the Duquette house, which means “little duke” in French… So our block in Beverly Hills has become somewhat ennobled.
You frequently entertain at home. How would you describe your hosting style?
My wife and I are almost professional hosts. We never entertain in restaurants and we never invite people to charity parties, unless we are the chairman of them. (I actually believe that people think if they invite you to a deadly $1,000.00-a-plate charity dinner that they have actually entertained you!!! Not at all!!!) We entertain exclusively at home, and a small party is usually for 30. We have an excellent cook and, for really big parties (over 30), we have an excellent chef. We have two vast china closets with sets and sets of china from 18th-century Chinese export to Fornesetti to my own designs for Mottahedeh. And we like to use all of it all the time with different specially made cloths and linens, different sets of silver cutlery, and crystal too. We like to dress up, black tie not being something that we shy away from. A butler will always offer you a drink (none of this “get your own drink” stuff) and serve your dinner, although buffets are not unusual, depending on the group or the occasion. We like live music and have various orchestras that we employ, depending on if we want just background music or if we want dancing… And it’s always fun to have a divertissement like Balinese dancers or Flamenco dancers, or a magician or a singer. We eat all over the house, in the monkey room or the garden room, or up on the balcony or right under the big chandelier in the drawing room… And in good weather, we have the upper terrace in the garden, the middle terrace, the tree house room, or down by the lake, depending on how many we’ve invited. Because we are virtually recluses, we have a lunch party every day with between four and eight guests… And we always serve Mexican food if at all possible, as we feel it is one of the great cuisines of the world. What we hate are people who ask, “What can I bring?” I always say, “The caviar!” They always bring it… And never ever ask that stupid question again. The other one we get all the time from total strangers who have been invited as a date or whatever by someone who we do actually know is, “I’ve never been here before!” To which I answer, “And I’ve never been to your house either.” People are so stupid!!! The worst part about living in L.A. is that nobody reciprocates… I don’t mean tit for tat. I’d settle for a hamburger and a movie… But in L.A., only a handful of my friends really get the message!!!
You have an amazing collection of art and antiques. What is your favorite acquisition and why?
I love the four blackamoors in my living room. They are seven and a half feet tall and take four men to move them. I originally bought two of them for my client Dodie Rosekrans in Venice, and when I got them back to the palazzo, I realized that they were both left-handed… I called the dealer and asked if there were any more. She called the prince at Palazzo Balbi and he said, “oh yes, there were four, I gave two to my sister and two to myself.” Well the idiot split the pair… So I was able to buy the other two from the sister and reunite the whole family… When my client died (drop-dead decorating strikes again) I was able to buy all four of them back… And they are my favorite decorations.
What’s your favorite space in your house?
The bedroom… Every room in the house has a southern exposure, but the bedroom with the hand-painted silk panels on the wall, which I had made in India to resemble the gardens of Shalimar, and our canopied bed in duck egg blue and celadon green, is where I like to be as much as possible… Which seems to be never!!!
How are you carrying out Duquette’s legacy?
I was his business partner and purchased the other half of his business along with his trademarks and copyrights five years before he died in 1999, at the age of 85. After his death, I published Tony Duquette with Wendy Goodman for Abrams. This is the book which I firmly believed launched the new maximalist epoch we are now entering. I followed up Tony Duquette with another book for Abrams, which I authored myself, called More Is More. The second book for Abrams was followed by a third, titled, Tony Duquette, Hutton Wilkinson, Jewelry, which was another best seller for Abrams, featuring our one-of-a-kind jewels set in 18K gold with precious and semi-precious stones. My most recent book, written with Flynn Kuhnert and published by Cecil Court Press is titled, The Walk to Elsie’s, which is the story of the first ten years of Tony Duquette’s career and the last ten years of Elsie de Wolfe’s life.(They were together from 1940 to 1950.) That book has been purchased by Lionsgate for 91 episodes, 7 years of broadcasting television series which, as of this writing, is not in production yet. I have also licensed Tony Duquette collections of fabrics with Jim Thompson, tabletops with Mottahedeh, lighting with Remains Lighting, and furniture for Maitland-Smith. For my own brand, Hutton Wilkinson, I am designing carpets for Patterson Flynn Martin, and continue designing residential and commercial interiors under my company name, Tony Duquette Inc.
If you could design a space for anyone, what kind of space and for whom would it be?
I would like to design an apartment in the “Enright House” designed by architect Howard Roark. Hopefully whoever asks me to do this job will be someone with the means to satisfy the needs of their and my imagination!!!
What’s a staple in your tool kit?
Clear jewel-like colors… My idea of beige is coral… The only muddy color I like is a greenish-bronze. I prefer gold over silver, and I like my surfaces to be reflective. I use as little recessed lighting as possible… Ceilings to me are like the fifth wall in the room and were not invented to put holes into… And of course the floor is the sixth wall in the room, and the one we usually start with… I don’t like brown furniture, but I do like English Georgian styles, which I invariably want to paint. 18th-century Venetian furniture is my passion, and yards and yards of rich fabrics turn me on totally.
What do you love about Viyet?
Accessibility and, for me, what I like most… A treasure hunt!!!