A chorus of soap bubbles danced around visitors entering Al and Deeann Baldwin's new, don't-it-make-your-brown-eyes-green Emerald Bay estate in Laguna Beach last week. Bubbles? "We got them from Lawrence Welk," teased floral designer Paul Ecke. "They go with the nautical theme we tried to create in the Baldwin house for Christmas." Ecke, co-owner of the Black Iris florist in Laguna Beach, had joined four other area designers to adorn five Emerald Bay homes with floral exotica for "Christmas by the Sea," a holiday home-tour sponsored by the Chopin Guild of the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
Such events are fast becoming Orange County's answer to "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."
Thursday night was preview night for Chopin members, the chance for their first breathtaking peek. On Friday and Saturday, the homes would be open to the public. Approximately 2,000 people were expected to tour the homes. Johnson estimated proceeds at $30,000.
Opalescent bubbles spewing from spouts hidden in the Baldwin front yard weren't the the only surprises in store for Chopin members.
Dizzy goldfish swam inside huge candlesticks. A smoother-than-silk dining room table cover turned out to be a table--upholstered in goat skin. The kitchen floor was luxury-yacht chic. No wonder. It was made of teak. And some unseen fairy godmother waved her electronic wand and made a wall-recessed aquarium become a movie screen.
"The projector is hidden inside of that coffee table," pronounced a wide-eyed hostess. Deeann explained that the projection area's surrounding sofas were equipped with under-the-cushion sound. "The sound vibrates; it's wonderful," she said. At the flick of a switch, the living room ceiling was rolled back to reveal a moon-hung night. A glass elevator, Deeann's idea, was available for a ride to the villa's three sprawling levels, the lowest a cabana decorated in faithful imitation of the bar at the Hotel Twin Dolphin in Cabo San Lucas. "Our favorite," whispered the socialite-philanthopist.
Ecke's floral statements were minimalist. "The challenge was to not interfere with the home's clean, contemporary lines," he said. On the tree, swirls of thread-thin Lucite tubing, white moire silk streamers, lace ribbon and soap-bubble balls hung beside nautilus shells halved lengthwise (using a diamond cutter, Ecke said).
Guests agreed that the home was a cliff-hung masterpiece.
"It took us two years to design the house," said developer Al Baldwin. "And 2 1/2 years to build it. A house like this becomes a passion. It takes commitment. A lot of commitment. . . ."
Also on the tour was the warm, Williamsburg-style home of Linda and William Campbell. To get visitors in the Colonial mood, Laguna Beachflorist Clifford Fulkerson decorated the tree with fresh cranberry garlands, pomander balls festooned with satin rosettes and fantasy touches like a miniature pink pineapple smothered with faux pearls.
"We fell in love with Williamsburg when we visited our children in boarding school," said Linda, an active Chopin member. She admitted the house had never seen such a divine tree. "My friend called me last night and said, 'Is the little Christmas mouse I made going to be on it?' I told her I was afraid not!" she said with a giggle.
The day after Christmas Linda will leave for India for a vacation with her son, she said. "It's my Christmas present. My husband will be home with the other three children and take them skiing in Sun Valley for a few days."
Pomegranates dripping with gilt and bamboo poles lacquered in burgundy were accents employed by Randy Harmer and Shirley Miles of Miles-Randolf Inc. for the Oriental-themed home of William and Louise Turner Arnold. Hostess Maggie Murdy, a Chopin member, led guests through the house. Besides the sanguine bamboo and weighty fruit, the florists used clusters of magnolia leaves as nests for burgundy berries to trim the tree. Beige silk tassels provided a soft counterpoint. Murdy pointed out a tiny rock garden surrounding the tree's base. A closer look revealed that the garden held clumps of fresh narcissus.
Forest of Greens
Janet Brennan of Roger's Gardens in Newport Beach decorated the house of Karen and Leighton French. Brennan used long-stem red roses, towering candles and a forest of greens to maintain the classic lines of the French home. The tree was accented with velvet and fur-suited Santas. "We've lived in Emerald Bay for 22 years and it's a joy," said Karen, a Chopin patron. "We've fixed up a lot of houses. Paid around $36,000 for our first. This was a 1947 modern with a rock roof when we started and now it's, well, eclectic, definitely traditional. We've filled it with things we've collected on trips to Europe and things we've found here."