A protege’s perspective of Tony Duquette

Tony Duquette was more than a designer of film and theatrical sets, movie-star mansions, gardens, furniture, costumes and jewelry. The legendary Hollywood decorator (1914-1999) was also a conjurer, magically transforming plaster, paint, discount-store wares and mirrors into dazzling sculptures and exotic tableaux inspired by the storybook fantasies of his youth.

For years his particular brand of decorative abandon was under-appreciated, even dismissed by some as over-the-top. This decade’s revival of Hollywood Regency décor -- a theatrical blend of classical and modern styles practiced by iconic designers such as William Haines and Dorothy Draper -- sparked a renewed interest in ornate and luxurious interiors, and Duquette’s work reasserted its allure.

In last year’s monograph “Tony Duquette,” author Hutton Wilkinson explored the designer’s life and career from the unique perspective of being his protégé. Wilkinson, who began working for the master as a teenager, now owns Tony Duquette Inc. Wilkinson is equal parts standard-bearer, biographer and memoirist.

A true raconteur, he delivers star-studded anecdotes with panache. As the keeper of the Duquette archives, he illustrates these stories with rare photographs, sketches and personal correspondence.

The aptly titled “More Is More” delves deeply into Duquette’s artistic process and prodigious output. It opens with “The Enchanted Vision: Casting the Spell,” the text from a series of lectures that Duquette gave at UCLA in the early 1970s. Duquette writes that stones, coral and bones -- these “fragments of the universe” -- cast a spell, and he’s had as much pleasure working with disintegrated rubber sandals and bird feathers as he had with diamonds.

Duquette was partial to designs depicting sunbursts, phoenixes and garden insects, and he was an early proponent of decorating with natural materials. Prominent in his decorative arsenal are antlers and abalone shells, which he used to cover walls at the Los Angeles Music Center.

The book also details the hauntingly beautiful canvasses of his wife, Elizabeth “Beegle” Duquette. Her work was prominently featured in the film “The Sandpiper,” starring Elizabeth Taylor as a painter.

But Duquette’s jaw-dropping designs remain the focus of the book, which is packed with period photographs of his personal properties: a ranch in Malibu, a design studio in West Hollywood, and then Dawnridge, Duquette’s Beverly Hills home. In a fitting coda, “More Is More” ends with a look at Dawnridge, which Wilkinson bought and restored to such glory, one might wonder if the student has surpassed the master.

-- David A. Keeps