Jackie Beat marches to her own drummer
From the curb, it looks like just another 1949 California ranch house. But walk past the plastic skulls planted in the flower bed several Halloweens ago and the American flag rippling in the breeze, and there it is, in your face: a lipstick-red front door monogrammed with a gold J and B.
Jackie Beat, queen of all queens in Los Angeles’ drag circuit, has dressed up a once-boring Highland Park bungalow as a palace of vintage style, a house that throws on a wig and a gown 365 days a year.
“In the sense that it’s all about artifice and I do hope that it’s entertaining, then yes,” Beat says, “this house is a drag queen.”
Everywhere you look, something amazes or amuses the eye: a unicorn-shaped mirror in the guest room, a giant French Provincial-style prop telephone in the hallway, a framed photo of the Golden Girls in the wicker-filled TV room. The sensibility is a mash-up of camp, Hollywood Regency, ethnic, modern and Gothic — all on display with a vengeance.
For a thrift-shopaholic like Beat, achieving the look requires shopping flea markets, secondhand stores and other people’s garages. She loves things with a past, mixing and matching furniture, art and accessories like pieces of a wardrobe. “There’s just too much good stuff out there,” she says.
“Sometimes when I watch ‘Hoarders’ I do see myself,” she says, laughing. The avid tchotchke-chaser likens décor to “comfort food that reminds me of my childhood,” so Beat called in help to rein herself in. The writer-performer hired Jonamor Decor, the husband-and-wife team of Señor and Jonona Amor, to help pull together a grown-up and cohesive look.
That was the challenge: taking everything she collects — “and that is a lot,” Jonona says — and designing with that in mind.
When Beat bought the two-bedroom house in 2007, it was sage green and sky blue inside — reminiscent, she says, of a Comfort Inn. Now each room in the 1,350-square-foot home has its own vivid shade and theme. Past a crimson front door that feels like the entrance to an Elizabeth Arden salon, visitors are enveloped in shades of purple and blue in the open-plan living and dining room — a “groovy grandma vibe with an overload of chinoiserie,” Señor Amor says.
If it’s possible for a room to have many focal points, one here is a peacock painting that Beat calls “beautiful and tacky.” Peacocks also appear on the vintage wallpaper and curtains.
“For a drag queen that is very appropriate,” Beat says. “The ostentatious male in full plumage.”
Her description for the yellow guest bedroom, which also serves as a wardrobe and makeup room: “It’s the ‘Virgin Suicides’-Jan Brady room I never had.”
On one wall, a glass-and-steel étagère is loaded with wigs; on the other, a huge framed poster of a kitty’s face and the unicorn mirror.
“It does have a youthful exuberance,” Beat says.
By contrast, the home office hosts a lifetime of memorabilia related to the Brian de Palma film “Carrie,” mounted on blood red walls — a fright fest for some, perhaps, but a place of inspiration for the writer-performer.
“It’s not a perfect movie, but I saw it when I was 13 and it changed my life,” Beat says. “The message of ‘Carrie’ is: Don’t mess with the freak.”
Beat calls her Mexican Mod boudoir “surprisingly masculine.” The headboard and a storage ottoman at the foot of the bed are contemporary designs, and much of the room’s furniture came from Craigslist. A boldly patterned vintage sunburst wallpaper found on EBay went up behind the headboard. (“It’s too stimulating to be on the wall with the TV,” Beat says.)
Her TV room is furnished largely in rattan pieces, bought for $200 at a thrift store and spray-painted white in the backyard.
“There’s actually Target and IKEA mixed in, but you gotta sneak it,” she says, noting that a wicker chair and ottoman came from a certain Swedish furniture retailer. “If you do your whole house in IKEA, it looks like a Swedish dorm room.”
The space takes its cues from fabric that Beat and Jonona found at the L.A. discount shop Michael Levine: a faux Pucci geometric chain print in salmon, mint and cream. “We said we should just buy all of it,” Beat says — enough fabric to make all the cushions and curtains. It also inspired a vivid paint selection, Crisp Green by Behr.
“I describe it as Jacqueline Susann’s apartment in Boca Raton,” says Beat, who has performed in New York and L.A. stage versions of Susann’s “Valley of the Dolls.”
Beat grew up as Kent Fuher, living in a 1960s split-level house in Scottsdale, Ariz. His nautical-themed bedroom was red, white and blue.
“I did not decorate it that way,” Beat says. “My sister’s room was the room to be jealous of. It had white, fun, fur carpeting, gorgeous, and foil and green fern wallpaper, and lots of white macramé and wicker. I used to sneak in there and read her copy of ‘Helter Skelter.’ ”
Beat’s rooms today might look over the top, but they’re grounded in solid decorating principles. Pulling the living and dining space together with peacock-papered and -mirrored walls was a challenge, Jonona says, who added floral curtains. “There are a number of patterns of different sizes, but the color palette makes it work.”
A white ceiling, white trim and a white hallway leading to each colorful room add some consistency. Collections are organized and displayed by themes: dog figurines in a shadowbox in the hallway, ceramic owls on a counter in the kitchen. Thrift shop artwork and movie posters are hung salon style, unified by common colors or subject matter.
“I am always inspired when I come to Jackie’s house,” says celebrity and fine art photographer Austin Young. “It’s a really sophisticated collection of kitsch.”
For Beat’s part, working with designers was easy, even though she admits to being something of a control queen.
“There are certain things I can’t do,” she says. “They gave me a structure. They really helped purge a lot of old stuff I thought was precious without giving up who I am.”
The result, Beat says, is funny but beautiful. “There are layers to it, and you can see something new every time you look at it,” she says. “I think it looks really grown-up, but then I am not your average grown-up. For all intents and purposes, this house is a movie set and I am the star of the movie.”
And what would the title of that movie be?
Beat flutters her extra-length false eyelashes, surveys her queendom, and replies: “Tears of Happiness.”