The Cat Comes Home
Winding up Mount Soledad to the La Jolla home of the late Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, I’m not sure what to expect. Stuffed animals based on his characters? A somber shrine to his genius?
The impressive 8-foot etched glass front door opens and there stands Ted’s widow Audrey, tiny and blond, perfectly groomed and smiling, absolutely glowing in a peach jogging suit. She ushers me in to the world of the Cat in the Hat, and from the etching on the door, the Cat’s gloved hand tips his cockeyed top hat in a welcoming gesture.
With the help pf architect Larry Case, Audrey has rebuilt the famous hilltop home where Ted wrote most of his famous children’s books and lived from the 1940’s until his death in 1991; they saved only the original tower that the house had been built around. Audrey chose Lisa Slayman, ASID, to design elegant yet restrained new interiors with custom fabrics and furnishings.
I made it booky and animaly, Audrey says of her desire to keep the spirit of her husband, his memorabilia and art very much a part of the home. He seems to choose what I choose, though he’s a quiet voice these days.
Paintings that show a playful but complex side of Ted hang throughout the house and are being reproduced in a new book, The Art of Dr. Seuss, out next month from Random House, his long-time publisher. Doctoral hoods from Ted’s many honorary degrees hand in the library along with his Peruvian artifacts, whimsical animals with antlers he mounted together in the 1930s, first editions of all his books and the famous ‘Cat closet’. Therein hang dozens of hats friends gave him over the years, which brought much mirth to dinner parties when they were donned by guests like Francois Gilot and Jonas Salk, the Joseph Hibbens, the Victor Krulaks and Neil and Judith Morgan.
The original observatory tower, a lookout used by realtors to show prospective buyers the spectacular views past Scripps Pier and up the coast, was an immediate attraction for Ted when he bought the property. Built around the tower, his house grew over the years with a remodeling process that began in 1946 and included several additions by San Diego architects Thomas Shepard, Robert Mosher and Russell Forester.
Audrey and Case took the house down to the ground, leaving only the tower. They rebuilt with exactly the same floorplan and size as the original, but with more volume and light. Audrey can walk into the house in total darkness and not even stumble, Slayman says. Pool and pool house were also rebuilt.
High ceilings (including some over 20 feet) add to the sense of spaciousness and grandeur in public rooms, while cozy libraries are on a more modest scale. I wanted more excitement, Audrey says. I wanted it to be as different as possible but still as similar.
New interior colors pale pumpkin, golds, neutrals and avocado perfectly suit Audrey and the view. You won’t see blue, explains Audrey, a woman who knows exactly what she likes. I never go sharp white, blue or pink. I go peach there’s a vitality to peach.
One focal point in the living room is a large sculptured metal tree made in Boston in the 1930’s which Audrey saw in a magazine. It’ll be a lot of fun for Christmas, she says. It draws your eye to the view, then back inside. Curvilinear sofas lit from beneath seem to float on the carpet Pecan-stained coffee tables and reupholstered 1940’s triangular chairs evoke an early modernism that is the height of understated chic today.
Audrey likes to curl up in front of a fire so there are three fireplaces, plus one in the pool house. Over the living room mantel is a massive piece of polished onyx in gold and green tones that Audrey found in Los Angeles. It is lit from behind for dramatic evening effects.
Slayman, whose work includes several country clubs and high-end tract model homes, furnished the Seuss residence with custom chenilles, velvets and handpainted silks and cottons, many with animal prints. Audrey’s favorite peach tones are incorporated into the master bedroom and bath, complemented by a grayed blue-green.
The desk in the office/studio where her husband worked for decades is now the core of the empire Audrey runs as president of both Dr. Seuss Enterprises and the Dr. Suess Foundation. Ted’s worn drawing board hangs on the wall marked with a brass plaque. Sitting behind the desk, Audrey looks out at the same stretch of La Jolla Shores that Ted gazed on while dreaming up all those books and drawings. He had big long legs and he was very agile and limber. He worked best at this with his legs propped way up in the air, she recalls. He bounced ideas off me but I was never involved in the step-by-step.
Audrey, however, was the creator behind the couple’s famous dinner parties for 12. I looked around the table once and everybody there had written a book and I thought, I’m different. I told myself, I have no intention of writing my book for I’m living my book.
An active and important philanthropist, Audrey is devoted to promoting literacy through the Seuss Foundation. Recently, she’s been out in her hard hat to both the Mingei International Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art building sites (she supports both) and sheís on the board of the National Hospice Foundation, the Ida Green Cancer Center, the San Diego Museum of Art and many other civic and cultural organizations. She put her heart and soul into her remodeling project just as she does for Dr. Seuss Enterprises.
The ‘90s are going to be fantastic for San Diego, Audrey says. We’re going to have a share it with more and more people, but as long as we keep the physical ambience of the place along with the superb weather, we can’t fail.
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