At Home with Walter and Sylvia Lim
Posted: Dec. 1, 2016
They call the eight-acre estate in Rancho Santa Fe’s exclusive Rancho Del Lago community “Château l’Orangerie” (House of Oranges), where row upon row of citrus trees seem to stretch into infinity. The elegant home of Walter and Sylvia Lim is so remarkable that it was the setting for the Beach & Country Guild’s Dia del Sol fundraiser not once, but twice, in 2004 and in 2010, hosting over 250 guests for a home tour and on-site luncheon and fashion show. Recently, the couple gave Ranch & Coast an inside look at their 20,000-square-foot, formal, French château-style home, decked out for the holidays.
In the living room, a soaring 18-foot Christmas tree greets visitors. Trimmed by Sylvia herself, it is festooned with red velvet ribbons, white doves, and gleaming ornaments. Two dramatic Venetian statues on the mantelpiece stand guard. A magnificent terracotta horse from the Qin dynasty (211-206 BC) holds a place of honor, as does a huge gilt chandelier, which once hung in the Ritz in Paris.
Sylvia, who has a finely honed eye for design, supervised renovations of the 1980s-era house, including gutting and extending the kitchen and adding a gentleman’s dressing room in the master suite. “She has an innate ability to picture a setting in her mind,” says Walter with admiration. “She has a dimensional concept that really is great.” Sylvia furnished the home with beautiful 17th century antiques purchased at auction, informed by the couple’s travels to England, France, Italy, Spain, Ireland, New Zealand, and Asia. “Maybe that’s why we love this house so much,” Sylvia muses. “It reminds us of our travels.”
The dining room table, centered by a magnificent Baccarat chandelier, is set with sparkling china and crystal for the festivities to come. A buffet, acquired from the Annenberg estate, offers plenty of room for holiday dishes. Sylvia loves to cook for friends and family in the expansive kitchen with its three ovens, four warming trays, and two dishwashers. “We eat a lot,” jokes Walter, who is known for his quick wit.
The vast grounds are equally stunning. A balustrade terrace overlooks a grand fountain and reflecting pool. Pathways lead to a guesthouse the Lims call “the Pavilion.” They love to entertain there in summer (and guests hate to leave), when the tall doors are sometimes left open to catch the breeze.
The couple purchased their home in 1993 after Walter, a chemist, sold Aerosol Services, the company he founded in Los Angeles in the 1960s. The company once provided 70 percent of the nation’s salon aerosol products — hair spray, hair mousse, and conditioners — for brands like Nexxus, Paul Mitchell, Sebastian, Redken, and Vidal Sassoon. Earlier in his career, Walter says he was tasked with putting WD-40 (invented here in San Diego) into an aerosol can.
Even in his 90s, Walter shows little sign of slowing down. He developed Spritz ‘n Color, a hair root cover-up sold online. He is also working on an aerosol sting relief spray. “There is no time for golf,” he says with a chuckle.
Veterans’ causes are of great importance to the Lims, who recently hosted nuptials for an active duty Marine and his bride on their lawn, with dinner served by the pool. “You protect our family, our homes, our towns,” Sylvia told the Marine. “We owe you something.”
They also support the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans. Walter grows emotional when he recalls walking past taverns on his way to high school in Chicago, where veterans suffering from what is now known as PTSD would gather. Walter was just 17 when he enlisted during World War II. He spent years in post-war Germany as a platoon sergeant, locating and detonating unexploded bombs.
The Lims met later in life, when Sylvia went to work for Walter’s company as an executive secretary. Married for 37 years, they share five adult children. When it was time to retire, they settled on Rancho Santa Fe. “Once we were introduced to Rancho Santa Fe, there was no question that this was the place,” Sylvia reflects. “It was the safety, the tranquility, the outdoors.” Adds Walter: “There is a lot of green stuff.” Indeed, the grounds are filled with geraniums, gardenias, roses, rosemary, azaleas, magnolias, and, of course, the estate’s namesake orange trees. “Château l’Orangerie,” says Sylvia in a bit of an understatement, “is a beautiful place to be.” Andrea Naversen