Ask Alice O'Neill Avery about her beloved antiques and she throws up her hands in mock despair.
"I have so many collections that I even have Windsor chairs--that kind of thing," said Avery, 81, as she wended her way through exhibits at the preview party for the Capistrano Antiques & Garden Show. "I love them all, but I'm having a terrible time because I'm getting older and thinking, 'Who's going to get what?' "
The doyenne of one of California's most respected families--"nine generations of O'Neills have been born here," she said--Avery was an honorary chairwoman of the weekend event at the Decorative Arts Villa Pavilion in San Juan Capistrano.
"This is great," Avery said of the show billed as Orange County's first benefit antiques and garden exhibition. "It's not only introducing people to the world of antiques--it's raising money for good causes." Show beneficiaries: the Reeve-Irvine Research Center at UC Irvine, the Camino Health Center and the Boys & Girls Club of San Juan Capistrano Valley.
Dressed in formal evening wear, hundreds of guests sipped fine wines and sampled gourmet fare under voluminous white tents as they viewed exhibit items ranging from a 19th century French grease pot--"used to store duck meat," noted a vendor--to a glassed-in French flower house from Lyon.
White House interior design consultant Kaki Hockersmith pronounced the show "wonderful."
"For something to be this well-organized and beautifully displayed the first time out is a real feat. I am most impressed," she said.
(Hockersmith was chosen by President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton to furnish their personal living quarters and the Oval Office.)
Also among guests was Sally Dane, co-chairwoman of the show with Carol Thielen and Linda Blinn. "This is a community endeavor to bring awareness to the charities and the antiques business in this area," Dane said. "The [San Juan Capistrano] mission is our jewel, but there's another layer of activity here to be enjoyed."
Antiques buff Joan Irvine Smith was among those exploring the furniture scene. "I'm just browsing tonight," said Smith, a member of the show's honorary advisory board. "But I'm a real fan of American antiques--Queen Anne, Chippendale. I keep them at my country house in Virginia."
Gavin Herbert, owner of Roger's Gardens in Newport Beach and Casa Pacifica in San Clemente--once the Western White House of President Nixon--praised the show, calling it "the ultimate way to bring different cultures together" in Orange County.
An avid gardener, Herbert recalled a trip he and his wife, Ninetta, took to the Chelsea Flower Show in England two years ago: "We acquired an award-winning garden," he said. "And moved it to San Clemente, rock by rock. It was a crazy moment."
Design consultant Fred Chuang created a formal dinner setting in the tent where Tiffany & Co. held a reception marking its 10th anniversary at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.
"Here, the forks and spoons are turned over on the table in the French style," Chuang explained. "And the crystal glasses are placed symmetrically at the top of each plate. It's a beautiful way to do things--especially when your silverware has a lovely design on the back."
Another Chuang touch (he does those clever Tiffany windows): votive candles at each setting housed in frosted glass boxes with their lids ajar. "The lids protect you [from the flame] when you're reaching for your wine," he said.
Show director Electa Anderson wore a gown designed around a yellow silk bow from a prom dress she wore in the '60s. "I wanted my dress to have an antique touch and this is what I came up with," she said.
Anderson has high hopes for the success of the antique and garden show, which promises to be an annual affair. "There are benefit antique shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. The Los Angeles show, which benefits Cedar Sinai Hospital, started three years ago and already they have made over a million dollars," she said. Net proceeds from the Capistrano show were estimated at about $150,000.
Also among guests: Cynthia Harper Miley, owner of the Decorative Arts Villa in San Juan Capistrano and the show's executive advisor. "When people walk away from our show, we hope they have bought something special," she said. "Perhaps an heirloom that will bring some meaning and a little history to their home."
Decorating for the First Family: On Friday evening, Kaki Hockersmith and her husband, Max Mehlburger, were honored at a reception for about 50 guests in the home of Roger and Janice Johnson of Laguna Beach. Janice Johnson serves with Hockersmith on the Committee for the Preservation of the White House.
Of her work on behalf of the Clintons' living quarters, Hockersmith said: "They love color and light and bright pastels. If I had to put a label on the decor I would say, English country. They love florals--the president has no problem with florals. We used a lot of linens, chintzes, beautiful silks and taffetas.
"And they love art. We've incorporated contemporary masters with the best of the White House collection. Mostly, I have tried to create a family home within the context of the historic collection."
Among guests: Maurice and Stephanie Skenderian, Pam Banks, Marilyn and Tom Nielsen, Jim and Barbara Glabman, Vesta Curry, Paul Ecke, Bill Merrill, Billur Wallerich, Catherine Thyen and Don and Claudette Shaw.