I only have a few minutes left before 2012 turns into 2013. I'm observing the folk tradition that you should envision the best moment of the last year in hopes that it will manifest again in the new one.
My best moment of 2012 was visiting with Hutton Wilkinson at his home in Beverly Hills in April. Interior designer, jewelry guru, businessman, socialite, native Angeleno, author, raconteur, and Old Hollywood maven, Hutton Wilkinson is the perfect embodiment of Los Angeles past, present and future.
I'd been aware of him through his role as protégé and business partner of the late artist and interior designer, Tony Duquette, but had never had the opportunity to meet him until a journalist friend invited me along on a visit to Mr. Wilkinson's compound in Beverly Hills, which includes, Dawnridge, Duquette's magnificent house, for an interview about his latest jewelry collection and its accompanying book, Tony Duquette Hutton Wilkinson Jewelry.
Charming, funny, erudite, gracious and kind, Mr. Wilkinson is one of those people who make you feel smart and witty just being in his presence. Wearing a fantastic silk robe from Duquette's personal collection of Asian textiles, he welcomed us as we stepped into Dawnridge's mirrored foyer.
"Ask me more questions, " he commanded as we sipped ice tea in the beyond-baroque living room.
"What kind of jewelry looks best on the jolie laide?" I said.
"Pearls! No, you have to have attitude to wear my jewelry. You need lots of self-confidence. Like Elsie De Wolf, you have to make people see beyond [the plainness of your face]."
Even as we discussed the qualities of different gemstones, it was evident that he shared my enthusiasm for classic Hollywood movies. "Topaz, in my collection?" I said, failing to resist the urge to slip in a line from the movie "Gigi" as he described using topazes and citrines in his current collection.
He bolted upright, eyes sparking, and gave us a perfect impression of Gigi's Great Aunt Alicia, exclaiming "A Topaz! A topaz among my jewels? Are you mad? It's a yellow diamond of the first quality" before continuing on about how he used topazes in place of canary diamonds, saying " I love the yellow color, but I want huge, huge stones. 40, 50, 60 carats! You can't get yellow diamonds that size, and if you could, they would cost billions of dollars."
Once we had finished the interview, the real fun began. Mr. Wilkinson gave us a tour of the Duquette mansion, its gardens and his adjacent residence, which he shares with his wife, Ruth. Mr. Wilkinson's house manifests his background and interests, too. The son of a well-regarded architect named Marshall Wilkinson, Mr. Wilkinson is a third generation Angeleno who understands the value of showmanship as well as good taste.
His living room is a mix of red walls, gold-framed Italian paintings and leopard skin rugs, anchored by a pair of antique blackamoor statues from Venice that he kept calling his "moretti." The Venetian touches made sense as he shared anecdotes about various treasures bequeathed to him by his good friend Dodie Rosekrans of San Francisco, who was a major supporter of the Save Venice foundation devoted to preserving the artistic heritage of the Italian city.
Traveling upstairs, we oogled his library which was dominated by mementos documenting his mother's aristocratic heritage. Her father had been a Bolivian President. Then we headed out to tour the gardens that adjoined the two properties.
The Duquette portion on the lower terrace contained a pool and patio filled with statuary, pagodas, and exotic pavilions while the upper terrace on the Wilkinson property displayed an infinity pool with a waterfall that generated its own fog layer.
All too soon, it was time to say good bye. I still have a contact high just from the memory of our meeting.
I hope it's not the last that I see of Mr. Wilkinson. Every now and again, I tune into HSN to watch him sell costume jewelry versions of his designs. Now that Huell Howser is retiring and Robert Osborne is reducing his presence on TCM, I'd like to nominate Hutton Wilkinson as a replacement for either gentleman. He's a telegenic genius who has mastered the art of living well.
Although I took pictures during my visit, I am sharing photos taken by Christopher Sturman and others which capture the beauty of the properties. Check out Lonny Magazine's pictorial on Dawnridge in its September 2012 issue