Gold Standard

Amid gilt and glamour, Ann and Gordon Getty embrace family and friends with a surprisingly relaxed flair.


December is the happiest time at Ann and Gordon Getty’s spectacular 1913 residence in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood. Each year, family members fly in from around the world to join the couple for a month filled with festivities. They gather alongside longtime friends to celebrate the holidays and Gordon’s birthday, which falls just five days before Christmas.

Ann, an acclaimed interior designer and philanthropist, has always taken great pleasure in entertaining her guests. “I love getting involved with holiday decor, menus, and flowers,” she says. “Or even engaging young musicians, a magician, or actors in costume.”

Preparations begin the first week of December, when a 13-foot-tall evergreen is placed in the center of the parlor known as the music room. Soon, the tree is transformed into a magical confection adorned with golden ribbons and tiny lights. Hovering among the branches, too, are exquisitely detailed ornaments depicting characters from operas written by Gordon, who is a composer. “I surprised him with the figurines on his 80th birthday,” Ann says. “They hold musical scores and instruments and wear couture gowns and authentic costumes.”

The Gettys host cocktails and recitals in this space, which has a Russian theme. The 19th-century hand-knotted wool rug is Russian and once belonged to the Scottish Duke of Hamilton. The patchwork curtains were crafted from fabrics that once decorated the legendary Paris apartment of Rudolf Nureyev, a friend of the couple’s. The ballet dancer’s double-sided sofa also inspired the one here, which is upholstered in a black-and-rose silk velvet made to order on 18th-century Venetian looms.

The chinoiserie-themed dining room achieves heightened drama with Getty’s artful layering of rare antiques and fine craftsmanship. Wall panels are inset with bands of verre églomisé, and voluminous curtains shimmer in metallics. At the top of the walls, mounted on golden brackets, delicately painted porcelain figures of Chinese immortals peer down at guests. “I am passionate about all things chinoiserie,” Ann says. “I love the Asian aesthetic, especially the eccentric style interpreted by and for Europeans. For me, Chinese export porcelain is captivating and energizing.”

Over the last half century, the couple have amassed a museum-quality collection of European antiques, Venetian paintings, French textiles, and Russian chandeliers. In the living room, a pair of 18th-century gilt-wood armchairs came out of London’s historic Spencer House. The room’s walls are encased in paneling of Coromandel screens and hung with gold-framed Impressionist paintings. Throughout the home, there are decorative pillows made from fragments of antique saris, Lyon silks, and embroidered Chinese brocades gathered by Ann on her global travels.

It all makes for an entrancing setting for conversation. And as party guests depart, one more enchantment awaits: On an ornate circa-1740 carved gilt-wood table in the entrance gallery, the family’s pastry chef offers gold-wrapped handcrafted caramels and French and Italian bonbons to take home in pretty boxes. Each sweet morsel is a happy memory of a glorious evening.