Laguna Museum Fete: Emerald Bay Home Is Where the Art Is

At a mega-generous $500 per , supporters of the Laguna Art Museum found that giving well is the best revenge Sunday when they were royally wined and dined as they floated about Jim and Nancy Baldwin's storybook Emerald Bay home.

Guests such as Bob and Marie Gray, the founder of St. John knits whose glinty beige suit seemed made for the Baldwin's mocha decor, rubbed elegant elbows with Tom and Elizabeth Tierney (who went all out for the prescribed "summer elegant" dress code). This La Liz topped her flirty black moire taffeta dress with a feather boa and plopped blinking shades on her turned-up nose. "We bought them at the 'Elvis Show' in Las Vegas," she said. "We thought they were truly elegant.")

For their hostess, the purpose of the twilight affair was twofold: it marked the Laguna Beach debut of the museum's new director, Charles Desmarais, and the debut of her new 7,000-square-foot home, a masterpiece of gleaming granite--quarried in South America, cut in Italy (even the garage floor is paved with it)--and teak designed by Laguna Beach architect Fred Briggs and decorated by Steven Chase of Rancho Mirage.

"The house reminds me of being on our yacht," said Nancy, who, with her husband and their four children four years ago took a two-year world cruise on their 97-footer, the Osprey. "All of the house's ceilings are teak. And you have a view of the ocean from every room. It really makes you feel like you're aboard ship."

Guests oohed and aahed as Nancy--striking in strapless turquoise silk by Carolyne Roehm--led them up and down and all around the four-level house. "Now this, this is my husband's mistress," she said, stopping at a life-size, flesh-tone nude sculpture perched on a granite pedestal. "I unveiled it in front of 100 of Jim's employees for his birthday. I got a lot of people interested in contemporary art that day."

Also on the tour agenda: a peek at the couple's 2,000-gallon exotic fish aquarium that nests in a teak-paneled wall; a stop at twin koi ponds (centered with a bubbling Jacuzzi) set in Japanese gardens designed by Mr. Takeo, who dreamed up the gardens at Little Tokyo in Los Angeles; and lots of pauses at the extraordinary works that compose the couples' art collection, a mix that plays contemporary works against primitive pieces acquired during the couple's extensive travels.

"The primitive art is from New Guinea, Indonesia and Africa," noted Jim, a developer. "We purchased most of it from tribes. Probably the most interesting piece is the drum we bought from an old man in New Guinea. He didn't want to sell it, but his family and friends convinced him to let it go."

As it turned out, the drum came in handy when Nancy decided it was time to introduce Desmarais. Bam! Bam!


"We had over 100 applicants for museum director," announced Nancy, who chaired the search committee. "And it took more than six months to select someone. But, we have the right man. He is young, energetic and has wonderful administrative abilities. It is a new beginning for us and we are excited."

Desmarais, 39, currently director of the California Museum of Photography at UC Riverside, proclaimed the party a "70th anniversary celebration." (The museum is Orange County's oldest.)

"Laguna is a wonderful community with a long-standing commitment to the arts," he said, chatting after he addressed guests. "It even has a football team nicknamed the Artists."

Desmarais will take his new post Oct. 1. Meanwhile, he's mum about specific goals. "I don't want to talk about my plans," he said.

"But, there are going to be some surprises in the area of exhibitions and programs. The museum already has announced its interest in going beyond four walls with its satellite location at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. I like the idea of projecting the museum into the community. There are huge audiences in Orange County that have not been tapped."

Also on the scene: Kitty Morgan, wife of Desmarais, associate editor of Angeles Magazine; Marla and Ken Bird; Don and Claudette Shaw, summer-elegant in purple-and-white polka dots; John and Teri Kennady, wearing hand-painted cotton purchased in San Francisco; Dick and Pat Allen, in accordion-pleated white chiffon; Gus Owen and Kathryn Thompson, arriving fashionably late ("We were in Mexico marlin fishing," Thompson said); Gail and Peter Ochs; Sandy and Harold Price; Kenneth and Lydia Himes (in a flounced blue floral by Ungaro); Karen and Tom Talbot and Anne Naleid, who said of the peripatetic Baldwins: "They have just returned from Alaska and next week they're off to Costa Rica (where the Osprey and her crew await).

"That's their life style, a different hemisphere every week!"

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World