“Dreams caught in the net of reality,” he reflected, quoting the French poet Louise de Vilmorin, while he gazed fondly at the profusion of objects that he and his wife, Elizabeth, had fabricated and collected over forty years.
From the house, inspired by the Italian Renaissance, to the garden-a living Chinese coromandel screen, Duquette had managed such juxtapositions of antiques and exotica that anything as humdrum as a telephone was startling.
During his long career, Duquette had confected artful interiors for such clients as J. Paul Getty, Norton Simon, Doris Duke, and Elizabeth Arden. His last commission was the refurbishment of the Palazzo Brandolini in Venice for Dodi Rosenkranz. He was the first American to have a one-man show at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, in Paris.
When we met, he was a young seventy-year-old pinning me with bright eyes and a mischievous smile. As we meandered through the rooms and terraces, reminiscing, he seemed like a careful curator in a museum whose contents are old friends.
The house recalled memories of a trip to Venice. “All cities on the sea have a tremendous influence on me,” he said. “It’s the thing of the ship returning with its treasures, the galleon with the gold of Peru.”
The unexpected mélange gave the place its magic. It would startle and surprise the eye. He pointed out, “when someone says, ‘Oh, you must have had so much fun doing this,’ it’s insulting. It’s a struggle to give it that sense of lightness and pleasure.”
He was never offended by the comment people made that they loved it, but could not live in it. “Precisely”, he said, “I did not make it for them, but for myself.”
p.s.: some of the items from the Duquette estate went on auction and a friend acquired a set of frogs. When she set them up in her house, she was disappointed. “They look so déplacé.” Exactly.