Home & Garden

At Home With Lina Fat: Dazzling guests with a glass ceiling

At home with Lina Fat, the grand dame of the Fat restaurant family. Her business is running restaurants, but her home is a dining experience, too. The centerpiece of her house is a spectacular dining room with the most beautiful ceiling in Sacramento -- an upside-down garden of gigantic fantasy glass flowers on stainless steel stems.
At home with Lina Fat, the grand dame of the Fat restaurant family. Her business is running restaurants, but her home is a dining experience, too. The centerpiece of her house is a spectacular dining room with the most beautiful ceiling in Sacramento -- an upside-down garden of gigantic fantasy glass flowers on stainless steel stems. aseng@sacbee.com

Almost a half-century ago, Lina and Ken Fat moved into their Sierra Oaks home and decided to stay put.

“That was just after our second son, Kevin, was born, in 1967,” Lina said. “When we bought it, it was just a small little house.”

As their family and careers evolved, so did their home. While Ken built a successful dental practice, Lina switched from her work as a pharmacist to master chef at Fat City, one of the Fat family’s restaurants.

“I was bored as a pharmacist,” said Lina, who met Ken in medical school. “But I love food.”

She became a successful Sacramento restaurateur and sought-after hostess. That second son, Kevin, is now chief operating officer of the Fat Family Restaurant Group, which celebrated its 75th anniversary last year. Frank Fat’s, the downtown landmark restaurant named for Lina’s father-in-law, earned the 2013 James Beard Award honoring it as an “America’s Classic.”

After several years as the company’s food director, Lina recently changed titles and focus. Pulling back from the day-to-day operation of the Fat family’s four restaurants, she now directs research and development.

“That means I’m traveling a lot more,” she said. “I’ve been to Portugal, Spain, France, Italy. I get to learn about their food, their customs. I love my job.”

And her little house? It’s changed a lot, too.

“We remodeled three times,” Lina Fat said. “The last time, we had to move out for two years while the contractors worked. But we love it here.”

A priority was room to entertain. Just having all the family over for Christmas dinner meant preparing for a crowd.

“I was tired of renting a tent to fit everybody in,” said Fat, who has three children, eight grandchildren and many more nieces, nephews and cousins. “I need room for 60.”

Since guests seem to congregate in the kitchen or dining room, the Fats melded those spaces as part of a wrap-around great room that flows from the whimsical entry way to the pool patio out back.

The open and efficient kitchen is surrounded by living space with creative seating areas inviting conversation. Artwork (mostly by local artists) and memories (souvenirs from world travels and family portraits) decorate the walls. A Looney Tunes-inspired sequined jacket, featuring Bugs Bunny’s grin, looks ready for a night on the town.

There are storied reminders of Lina’s native Hong Kong and China, including an intricately carved screen.

But most visitors can’t take their eyes off the ceiling.

Suspended over the massive glass dining room table, a rainbow-hued garden of fantasy flowers bloom with LED lights. In translucent reds and golds, these glass daisies, each the size of dinner plates, dazzle with vibrant color and light.

This knockout glass ceiling was the creation of Michael Sestak, a longtime friend and Sacramento-based lighting expert.

Earlier, Sestak came up with other interesting lighting solutions for the Fat home. A curlicue of mini-track lights brightens two seating areas. A waterfall curtain of illuminated crystals creates a see-through partition for the master bedroom.

In the entry, fairies dance amid the twinkling lights of a sculpture/chandelier made from roots, branches and LEDs. It gives visitors a taste of the whimsy to come.

Just past the entry way in the dining area, the glass garden beams from above.

Blame it on Vegas.

“I wanted something really nice for the ceiling, but I couldn’t think of anything,” Lina Fat recalled. “I went to Las Vegas and found this glass. I bought 24 pieces, and called Michael. I said, ‘I have something for you!’ He was silent for quite a while.”

Fat shipped home her fragile find. Once he saw her inspiration, Sestak bought into the project. He made measurements of the Fats’ dining room ceiling, which recedes into a large skylight.

“I’m so glad he loved the glass,” she said, “but then he told me, ‘I need another 20 pieces, maybe more.’”

Fortunately, the glass company had more flowers, stashed closer than Las Vegas. Fat traveled to its Oakland warehouse and handpicked a bouquet of two dozen more glass flowers.

As it turned out, those extras came in handy. Some broke during shipping and installation.

The handblown glass is similar to Chihuly glass, Sestak said.

“Different kinds of grit are put into the glass to get the speckles and spots,” Sestak explained. “I had never attached these pieces to a ceiling. It was a lot like making a reverse garden.

Fat describes the stainless steel fabrication that holds all the flowers as “ingenious.”

“It was a highly engineered installation,” Sestak added. “Not only did I have to figure out how to spread the flowers out, but how to hold the weight; that glass is heavy. The first order was to make sure it won’t fall down.”

Sestak attached all 38 flowers individually to the ceiling. He used flexible stainless steel “stems” to connect them.

Then, the hardest part was lighting the table, Sestak said. Steel “leaves” that sprouted from the flower “stems” hide directional LEDs.

“Nothing is square,” he said. “There’s a beautiful ceiling of color, but I also had to illuminate the space below – I couldn’t just put up a row of can lights. The little leaves seemed like a natural solution; they illuminate every place setting. It was a fun challenge.”

Her glass ceiling makes Lina Fat smile.

“It was a big job, but it turned out fantastic,” Fat said. “It’s just perfect. I love it!”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

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