At Home With Connie & Bill McNally
Posted on December 5, 2011
For much of their lives, Connie and Bill McNally have been on a treasure hunt — for art, furniture, silver, and objets d’art that not only are exquisitely crafted but have stories to tell. There’s the silver “posey holder,” which carried the Queen of Denmark’s bouquet on her wedding day; a “duck press” from New York’s famed “21 Club,” a speakeasy during Prohibition; a hand-painted secretary from the Palm Springs estate of the late actress Loretta Young; and the baseboards from an 1870s home in San Diego’s Banker’s Hill.
The couple, who opened The McNally Company Antiques 20 years ago in Rancho Santa Fe, recently welcomed Ranch & Coast to their elegant home, which, like their shop, is filled with fine antique furniture and accessories. “My tastes run the gamut,” Connie says. “I’m very eclectic. I love Art Deco, but I love Neoclassic. I like the best of the best.”
In the living room there’s a pair of 17th century Italian Baroque chairs upholstered in cut velvet, a Russian Biedermeier lyre table from 1815, Louis Philippe lamps, and Tuscan gouaches from the 1700s, which once graced a Pasadena home featured in Architectural Digest. (The McNallys bought them, along with an 18th century rock crystal chandelier, when the owner relocated to Rancho Santa Fe.) Carved wooden lions from 17th century Italy flank the custom-made marble-and-limestone fireplace that Connie designed, topped with a seven-foot-high 18th century mirror from Venice. The coffee table is fashioned from antiqued glass set upon sturdy Italian Baroque legs. And the couch, down-filled coral silk Chinoiserie, is so comfortable that guests like to linger, sipping strong Greek coffee that Bill has just brewed. “Everywhere I sit in my house,” says Connie, “I look at something I love.”
A passionate collector, Connie was once called “the queen of the kingdom of thingdom” by McNally friend Ronald Spogli, former U.S. Ambassador to Italy. It’s easy to see why: the McNally home is filled with small collections of precious objects: crystal spheres from England and Murano; boxes made of crystal, ivory, tortoise shell, and paper mache, the latter owned by the late socialite and diplomat Pamela Churchill Harriman. Editor emeritus of Silver Magazine, which she once published and later sold, Connie also collects silver, including the Buccellati ornaments that decorate the McNally’s Christmas tree. The couple even has a collection of fancy finials that once adorned newel posts at the foot of staircases. Bill explains that in Victorian times, homeowners who paid off their mortgages often topped the posts with crystal finials to symbolize their good fortune.
This expertly curated mix of periods and styles works, he says, thanks to Connie’s discerning eye, honed through decades of experience. “It’s a gift Connie has. She can walk into a room, change this, do that, bring in a color, change a light and the room transforms into a beautiful, beautiful thing.”
When asked about his role in their relationship, Bill deadpans: “I clean and carry,” a comment which elicits a hearty laugh from Connie. But he obviously has a practiced eye himself. “When I married Connie, the antiques were just heavy brown furniture. I knew nothing about them,” he says. “But over the years, I’ve learned also. I can tell old from new and good from bad. I’ve refined my eyes to know what I love.”
Connie got started in the business in 1976, opening an antiques shop in Palm Springs with Babs Shoemaker, then the wife of jockey Bill Shoemaker. They ran the shop, attended art auctions, learned the business, and according to Connie, laughed a lot.
Bill, a businessman, met Connie at the World Backgammon Championship in Las Vegas in 1975. Connie, who moved in Hollywood circles, was quite the pro, having taught the game to Lucille Ball, Steve McQueen, Walter Annenberg, George Hamilton, and Totie Fields, to name a few. Eventually the McNallys moved to Rancho Santa Fe, which Connie had first visited, quite by accident, during a trip with her mother in 1962. They wanted a look at La Costa Resort, which was then under construction, but got lost and wound up in Rancho Santa Fe. “I said ‘I think I’ve died and gone to heaven,’” Connie recalls. “There were people riding their horses in town. And I said, ‘Some day, I’m going to live here.’”
The McNallys now ride their own horses, a Paso Fino and a Peruvian Paso, on the Ranch’s winding trails. They love to cook — Greek and Italian are Connie’s specialties — and Bill, we’re told, makes a mean risotto. When they dine out, it’s usually at Mille Fleurs, where they celebrated their tenth anniversary on their first visit, and nearly every anniversary since.
The couple has formed an enduring partnership over their 36-year-marriage, strengthened by their Christian faith and their many charitable causes. The McNallys are committed to the youth volunteer organization Kids Korps USA, which honored them with its Leadership Award, and where Connie serves on the Board of Directors. Connie has been a longtime member of The Country Friends, heading up volunteer efforts, serving on its board for nine years, and chairing the group’s annual fall fashion show at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe. The couple is also involved with Friends of San Pasqual Academy, the Helen Woodward Animal Center, and the North County Humane Society. They are active in their church, Horizon Christian Fellowship, supporting its many missions. And they look forward to spending the holidays with son Doug Benson, his wife, and their three grandchildren.
The McNallys, who began their treasure hunt so many years ago, ultimately have discovered something far more valuable than precious antiques. Faith, family, and the friendships they’ve made along their journey are their true treasure. “That’s really, to us, the best part of the business,” says Bill, “and the best part of living here is the people.”
(858/756-1922, www.mcnallycompanyantiques.com) Andrea Naversen
Photography by Vincent Knakal