ELEGANT SOIREES and exotic jewelry go hand in hand at DAWNRIDGE ESTATE as HUTTON WILKINSON continues TONY DUQUETTE’S dual PASSIONS.
“If it’s not fabulous, it’s meaningless,” says Hutton Wilkinson, longtime business partner of the late Tony Duquette, set designer, costume designer and decorator to the stars. This mantra echoes his mentor’s more-is-more mentality on everything from china patterns to theme parties.
After Duquette died in 1999, Wilkinson took over the business and bought the famed Dawnridge estate. Designed in 1949 by architect Casper Ehmcke to be a “baby Venetian palace,” Dawnridge may have originally been the smallest house in Beverly Hills, just a 30-by-30-foot box, a mere 900 square feet. Today, it sits on five-and-a-half continuous lots of gardens, and the interiors, expanded in the 1970s, are layered in rich fabrics and adorned with exotic antiques. For decades it’s been a playground for Old Hollywood glamour.
“Tony and Elizabeth Duquette would have a black-tie party once a month, complete with an orchestra,” Wilkinson recalls. “Ruth and I are a continuation of that glamorous tradition, perhaps the last era of entertaining.”
Wilkinson and his wife, Ruth, have built their own home next door to Dawnridge and throw parties on the property. Sometimes it’s an intimate dinner, and guests walk through the garden from his home to Dawnridge, and other times it’s a themed soiree, with surprise dancers and Champagne towers. His belief is that the host is responsible for making an effort, and whether the party size is four or 400, the effort is what guests most appreciate. “I always entertain at home, not in restaurants. Dawnridge is my home, my headquarters, it’s a party house for me,” Wilkinson says.
Also the president of the Elsie de Wolfe Foundation, Wilkinson takes additional cues from the lady known to throw cocktail parties in her bathroom, putting flowers in the tub and Champagne in the sink. Agreeing the dining room may be the most useless room in the house, he often turns it into a dance floor and believes in being unpredictable.
On some occasions, African dancers lead guests into dinner or a procession of Balinese dancers walk through the Southeast Asian-inspired gardens holding candles. Dawnridge has seen magicians, jugglers, opera singers, mermaids and Thai dancers—and often the food goes along with the theme. Only one caterer, Pasadena-based Kitchen for Exploring Foods, is allowed in the house, and for every other event Wilkinson uses a personal chef to make “the best Mexican food in the world,” he says. Hutton also frowns upon people who are too afraid to use their own wedding china. Growing up as a kid, he always encouraged his mother to use the pretty plates and the crystal, reasoning that whatever they chose all had to be washed anyway.
Having put on parties for clients with sky-high budgets everywhere from San Francisco, to New York, Dallas, Palm Beach and Venice—a city he calls a pageantry of drama and theater—there is nothing too grand in Wilkinson’s playbook. Dawnridge remains his dreamy, magical stage, his very own old movie, where Champagne always flows and candlelight makes people look beautiful, and where there’s always room to pack in a few more well-dressed guests, because more is still more.
Photography by BLUE CALEEL.
Written by JENNIFER BLAISE KRAMER.