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A Well-manored Interior

Newport Beach Residence Stands as Monumental Symbol of Designer's Love Affair With What's Old and English

January 03, 1998|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If she'd had a choice in the matter, Ann Fraser would have been born 30 years earlier and become a designer of lavish Hollywood movie sets.

"My idols are set designers from the '30s and '40s," says Fraser, who grew up watching Katharine Hepburn and Fred Astaire movies.

As fate would have it, Fraser was born in 1948 and became an interior designer instead. Yet she still gets to create the kind of glamorous interiors shown in the old black-and-white films.

"Everyone says my work looks like movie sets," she says.

Her home in Newport Beach would make a great setting for a movie

about a well-traveled, wealthy and witty character. She designed the 6,000-square-foot residence, with its pink stucco facade and fanciful iron railings adorning the verandas, to look like a centuries-old estate even though she finished it a few years ago.

"I wanted a real whimsical, Caribbean feeling, like a great house on an island," Fraser says.

She has filled the home with dramatic touches. Inspired by a photo of an estate owned by Oscar de la Renta, she covered the walls of her dining room with orchid-colored paint over layers of plaster so the walls would look centuries old. The floors of her upstairs bedroom are covered in sea grass instead of carpet to create an island feel.

She's re-created the ambience of a luxury cabin aboard the Queen Mary in her guest bath, installing carved antique furnishings, gold star-spangled wallpaper, starfish curtain brackets and drawer handles and a mirror in a seashell frame imported from Paris. There's also authentic Queen Mary memorabilia and photographs. "I spent a lot of time on boats when I was growing up," Fraser says.

Some of the techniques she uses look expensive but cost little. She covered the deck of her veranda with Mexican pavers, installed upside down to look old.

In her great room, she wanted foot-thick stone walls with arched windows. From a rock yard she bought a load of cheap "reject rocks" and covered her walls with them. Faux limestone adorns the massive fireplace.

Throughout, doors are painted a shiny black that complements the white crown molding and soft colors on the walls.

"All of the doors in the country houses of France and England are painted black," she says.

Fraser furnishes the rooms with antiques she purchases on her world travels and trips to Los Angeles-area flea markets.

The great room has an eclectic mix of furniture, including a weathered brown-leather men's club chair, a wicker lounge chair from France and a massive European sofa with throw pillows covered in Fortuni silk.

Her bedroom features an antique hall tree, dressing mirror, end table and other furniture made of French faux bamboo. For a Caribbean touch, she covered the windows in bamboo shades.

Fraser says fate led her to a career in interior design. Her mother was a decorator and her father owned a furniture store. They built a home in Palos Verdes and, as Fraser would later do, furnished it with antiques found on jaunts to Europe. Her mother took Fraser with her to interior design centers, exposing her to fine furnishings and art.

"I was worldly, and I loved art and decorating," she says.

Fraser received a master's degree in art education at the University of Southern California, but she found decorating to be her true calling.

She started working for a Newport Beach designer in 1974, opening her own business in 1977. She was discovered by a wealthy Orange County developer and hired to decorate his estate and the homes of family members and friends.

"I went from nothing to explosive in two or three years. I was doing huge million-dollar houses in the early '80s. Most of my clients loved English decorating. They wanted beautiful English paintings, drapes and furnishings."

Her clients were mostly from old California families who could afford her elegant interiors.

"To decorate the way I decorate is expensive," she says.

*

Fate, she says, not only brought her into contact with the owners of million-dollar mansions but also brought her face to face with her idol, the late Princess Diana.

Fraser has always had an affinity for all things English. She counts the London design firm of Colefax and Fowler and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as major interior design influences.

One of her earliest memories is of watching the coronation of Queen Elizabeth on television in 1953, and she was mesmerized by the wedding of Princess Diana in 1981. She credits the princess with unleashing a craze for English decorating in American homes.

In the '80s, Fraser was traveling to England three times a year, picking up paintings, silver, crystal and furnishings for clients' homes. In London in March 1986, she encountered Princess Diana at the Polo Ralph Lauren store.

"It was the best moment of my life. I'm rubbing shoulders with Princess Diana. She started talking to us, asking 'Where are you from? How do you like London?' "

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