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Smoke Houses

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Although most people won’t allow smoking in their homes, even detractors might say that when the smoke clears from the cigar phenomenon, humidors--the exquisitely crafted boxes the cigars are stored in--are worth keeping.

Even anti-smoking advocates have noticed that while humidors provide conditions around 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 70% relative humidity, right now they’re hot.

Like grandfather clocks or music boxes that are no longer mere timekeepers and jewelry cases, sophisticated cabinetry has elevated humidors from functional units to heirloom furniture inside the homes of aficionados.

“We had one customer who came with a decorator. Drove me nuts!” recalls Annie Hallajian of Fashion Island Newport Beach’s Newport Tobacco. “The decorator came six times. They had to find the right brown, the right size, to match the other furniture. They ended up with a humidor that holds 1,500 cigars--a big one!”

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Daniel Marshall, one of several manufacturers producing heirloom-quality humidors in Orange County, and by far the best known, offers a similar experience.

“I’ve had people say they buy the humidor from me and buy the furniture to match,” says Marshall, who’s been making humidors in Santa Ana for 14 years. “Some have asked me to make matching furniture. It’s gone that far.”

It’s gone further than that.

That John F. Kennedy’s humidor recently fetched $575,000 at Sotheby’s or that George Burns’ collection goes on the block Oct. 10 is only the most visible evidence.

Any number of devotees are making humidors the focal point of a room. Ron and Linda Cedillos of Laguna Niguel have done so in more than half a dozen rooms of their hilltop manse.

One Chinese box on a stand, for instance, dominates the dining room table. Another, decorated with a polo scene and of Philippine origin, is the focus of the parlor room. All eyes are drawn to a 19th century Chinese box--the handle on top formed by clasped golden hands--at the center of the sitting room.

Linda Cedillos finds the boxes while traveling, then has them converted into humidors as gifts for Ron.

“These are works of art,” Ron Cedillos says, beaming. “They’re treasures. Plus I can mix and match, move them around.”

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Cigars are made without preservatives and other chemicals used in cigarettes and need to be coddled, not unlike vintage wine. A correctly humidified environment is essential, and devotees consider death-by-negligence of a quality cigar a pitiful state of affairs. Proper storage remains paramount.

The Cedilloses own 15 humidors, including two contemporary Elie Bleus--which Ron considers the Rolls-Royce of humidors--and not counting the walk-in humidor being built adjacent to his at-home office with a projected capacity of 10,000 cigars.

“What I like is uniqueness and individuality,” says Cedillos, owner of La Jolla’s Kiva Grill and a Republican Party hotshot. “Dunhill, Davidoff, these [brands of] humidors are beautiful. But I want something that nobody else has. And I know nobody is going to have a humidor like any of these here,” he says.

The sky’s the limit on such items. Portofino in Newport Beach features a huge free-standing humidor made in 1892 of Honduran mahogany and beveled glass that proprietor Mark Evans would have trouble parting with for $50,000.

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“This is my pride and joy,” says Evans, who also collects toy boats. “It’s an old cigar store humidor--you can still see the scratches on the glass from a million nickels. People are putting this size humidor in homes now.”

But humidors hardly need to be big, cost thousands and thousands of dollars or be found overseas to serve as design centerpieces.

While functional wood or plexiglass humidors, and even some antiques, can cost as little as $200, collectibles at Portofino in Newport Beach start at $395. They include a leather humidor with a cedar-lined porcelain interior from the ‘30s and a small metal humidor from the 1920s.

“These are things of beauty,” notes Evans, who began collecting cigar-related antiques three years ago.

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Most people stick to contemporary models in tabletop sizes. Fine examples, starting at around $500, are usually made of walnut, mahogany or rosewood and lined with Spanish cedar. Portofino carries contemporary humidors by cabinetmaker Edward Jorgensen of Buellton using such woods as myrtle burl with Makassar ebony inlay, bird’s-eye maple and cherry.

Rich Berg, whose home is adjacent to John Wayne’s former Newport Beach residence, owns several humidors: one for his bedroom dresser, another for the yacht Jalapeno, and he’s just purchased a third, made by Jorgensen, for his living room.

“Look at the workmanship, first of all the finish,” Evans says of Berg’s latest purchase. “Book-matched veneer. I don’t want to insult anybody, but nobody [working today] matches this stuff.”

Kurt Wheaton of Plantation Humidors doesn’t want to insult anybody either, but he begs to differ. Wheaton is just getting his line off the ground--he and his partner work out of a garage in Garden Grove--but he’s concerned only with producing heirlooms. Examples made from curly koa wood can be seen at Romeo et Juliette in Seal Beach and Lido Cigar in Newport Beach.

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Ray Sanford of Irvine, graphic layout artist for Cigar Monthly magazine, offered only the highest praise for Wheaton: “I’ve been smoking cigars for 11 years, and the Plantation Humidors, Daniel Marshall and Elie Bleu are the nicest humidors I’ve seen.”

Lido Cigar also features handiwork of Fullerton’s John Ellis, who is partial to exotic hardwoods such as African wenge, padauk and cocobola. The cabinetmaker counts among his clients several executives at Paramount Studios.

“I’m hoping these humidors will stay in these families forever,” Ellis says. “They’re of a quality that will last a lifetime at least and certainly could be handed down.” The studio itself just took delivery from Ellis of a 6-by-3-foot, glass-topped humidor.

But then, Hollywood is big on humidors. Actor George Hamilton has a Marshall humidor in his Bentley. (Hamilton will present his new line of super-premium cigars at a dinner at John Dominis Restaurant in Newport Beach on Oct. 3.)

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Arnold Schwarzenegger, featured on a recent cover of Cigar Aficionado magazine, owns a model from Marshall’s Signature Treasure Chest series. Other well-known smokers who own Marshall humidors include Jack Nicholson, former President Reagan and rock artist Eddie Van Halen.

Says Marshall: “One of my biggest pleasures is to visit the actual location and see how one of our humidors is used, how it’s positioned inside the home--or office or boat or jet.”

Joe de Franco has two humidors at his office in Irvine and two in his Big Canyon home, a small one for the den and a large 3-by-4-foot Dunhill humidor (capacity 1,500 cigars) that sits on the bar. He describes it as “an adornment that adds much to the luxuriousness of the living room and bar areas.”

While looks may not be everything when choosing a humidor, de Franco notes that they still count for a lot--especially when it comes to the nonsmokers in the house.

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“I know if I had an ugly humidor in my bar, my wife would raise holy hell,” de Franco admits. “This one lends itself very functionally. But it had to be the right one or it wouldn’t have been permitted.”


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