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INNER LIFE

Fashionably extreme

If house and owner can be kindred spirits, then clothing designer Sue Wong and her gloriously restored Cedars estate were destined to find each other.

October 12, 2006|Valli Herman | Times Staff Writer

When Wong brought Raabe to see the house two years ago, he unenthusiastically said, "Oh, no. Do we have to do this?

"Now, I'd like to take back the 'oh, no,' " says Raabe, who is president and chief executive of Wong's company.

Wong, a youthful 57, personifies glamour as she glides through the villa, one day dressed in stitched and knotted scarves and Art Deco jewelry, another day in one of 52 turquoise bracelets she bought in a spree, or in one of the dozens of black kimonos that are her everyday uniform. As always, her hair is slicked straight and shiny, her eyebrows dramatically stenciled, her lips vivid red. This house and its new owner seem destined for each other.

LIKE a Ziegfeld Follies set, every room of the Cedars seems more elaborate, more storied and glamorous than the next. The centerpiece is the expansive ballroom, furnished with plush textures and deep couches that soften the baroque details. At times, it's overstimulating.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 18, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 105 words Type of Material: Correction
Sue Wong's estate: An Oct. 12 Home section article about fashion designer Sue Wong and the renovation of her Los Feliz estate, the Cedars, quoted Zoltan Papp, who redid the ceilings of the home, as saying that they hadn't been "touched in 80 years." The article also said that the previous owner was a professor who had ignored the upkeep of the home since purchasing it in 1969. In fact, the estate had been sold to another party a few years prior to Wong's purchasing it in 2004, and that owner had done some renovation work, which included the ceilings, before selling it to her.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 23, 2006 Home Edition Home Part F Page 5 Features Desk 2 inches; 103 words Type of Material: Correction
Sue Wong's estate: An Oct. 12 Home article about fashion designer Sue Wong and the renovation of her Los Feliz estate, the Cedars, quoted Zoltan Papp, who redid the ceilings of the home, as saying that they hadn't been "touched in 80 years." The article also said that the previous owner was a professor who had ignored the upkeep of the home since purchasing it in 1969. In fact, the estate had been sold to another party a few years before Wong's purchasing it in 2004, and that owner had done some renovation work, which included the ceilings, before selling it to her.

Look up to an 18-foot ceiling of stenciled rustic beams adorned with more gilded, roaring lions. Look down to a herringbone-pattern mahogany floor. Turn right to two nearly life-size lions resting atop a walk-in fireplace that's fronted with a golden grapevine-pattern screen. Look left to the gilded and painted Corinthian columns framing archways illustrated with Rococo portraits.

Green velvet chairs from the ocean liner Normandie anchor the solarium, while French Art Deco chairs in glossy Madagascar ebony flank the largest of six fireplaces.

There are thrones here, actual, centuries-old thrones from some forgotten European royal family. Their shoulder-high frames are carved with faces and flora, coated in gold leaf and upholstered with deep blue velvet.

Wong designed the throne's embroidery pattern and shipped the panels to the Chinese factories that also embellish her gowns. The elaborate, scrolled-leaf upholstery was embroidered by hand -- with 14-karat gold thread.

"Simple is really not my M.O.," says Wong. "Intricate, yes."

It took Wong and countless artisans nine months to produce the ballroom's most fanciful flourish -- six hand-beaded, 22-foot burgundy velvet curtain panels embroidered with gold and silver that frame her vast view of the Hollywood Hills. They make the place palatial. The curtains are, of course, Wong's design, and are so finely crafted that they make the quite pricey but machine-made textiles elsewhere in the house look like poor imitations.

The curtains are another example of Wong's designer wiles: She built visual unity into the home's decor by repeating the motif on bedroom curtains, bed covers and pillows. It's no coincidence that many of the same themes are reinterpreted throughout her clothing collection.

Wong had her own Michelangelo, Zoltan Papp. He's the European-trained expert who restored the ceilings, walls, furniture and those throne frames. Papp, owner of Artisan Restoration in Los Angeles, practically lived at the mansion for a year and a half while he and a crew cleaned every surface, replaced the gold leaf, repainted the missing areas and burnished their work to match the patina. The grimy ceilings were the biggest challenge.

"They hadn't been touched in 80 years," says Papp, who considered that a blessing. "Because of the buildup, 99.9% underneath was original."

Armed with obscure chemicals, imported materials and lots of gold leaf, Papp and his crew turned blackened posts into gleaming columns, scrubbed arches to reveal intricate paintings and brought thousands of cherubs carved into the foyer ceiling to a high-wattage gleam.

He carved sphinx table legs, repainted portraits on top of gold leaf ceilings and even created a replica of a circa 1495 chair so Wong could have a matched set.

The house had been used, and ignored, by its previous owner, a professor who bought it in 1969 for $43,000 and then used it to hold his books for almost 35 years.

Lately, it had been rented for intermittent movies and parties. Then in 2002, a local developer updated the plumbing and electrical systems before listing it for about $7 million. But according to Wong, "he didn't address the beauty. I'm a beauty addict, so the first thing I did was hire Zoltan."

NOW the house is alive again with the original gilded chariots racing across the library ceiling, lovers swooning across the dining room and lions roaring everywhere you look.

The restoration and furnishing of the house would have been overwhelming to a novice, but Wong is a practiced interior designer, having designed her corporate headquarters and her contemporary houses in Hawaii and Malibu, each in a style distinct from the Cedars.

She's not one to agonize.

"I visualize everything in my third eye before it comes together. Whether it is clothes, furniture or interiors, I see everything completely realized in my mind," says Wong, who says she sometimes dreams of gowns and their bead and stitching details.

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