Nestled high above Los Angeles in the Hollywood hills, not far from the iconic Hollywood sign, this residence was conceived as a modern-day medieval castle whose breath-taking views and compact footprint are matched by an oddball grandeur that fuses "industrial chic and old-world interiors". Designed by Kristen Becker of Seattle based architecture firm Mutuus Studio the house was commissioned by entertainment couple actress Mia Sara and director, producer, writer and puppeteer Brian Henson, son of the legendary Jim Henson (think The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock) who wanted a home with a modest footprint. Taking cues from the couple’s travels to Ireland and the great castles they visited, along with drawing from the compactness of their New York City penthouse, their Hollywood Hills Residence embodies California’s luxurious lifestyle in its purest form.
Built on a steep hillside, the three-storey building was designed as a series of stacked rectilinear volumes in a mix of concrete, wood, glass and metal, a configuration that ensures a minimal footprint as well as being able to accommodate a series of terraces and courtyards to take advantage of the mild climate. The house is accessed via a wood and steel footbridge that leads to a monumental bronze door, an allusion to a castle’s drawbridge over a moat.
Entering the top floor, which also houses the garage and the master bedroom, a foyer leads you down to a great hall on the middle floor comprising an open plan kitchen, dining and sitting area. Two additional bedrooms and a study are located on the same level, while below, there is a media room, guest rooms as well as storage spaces and a laundry room. With public and private spaces dispersed across all three levels, the choreographed configuration of spaces that seamlessly flow into one another speaks to Becker’s background in dance.
Underpinned by an “elemental” material palette of concrete, blackened steel, copper, cedar and fumed oak, the house’s décor, which Becker designed in collaboration with owner Mia Sara and her father, artist and curator Jerry Sarapochiello, is the epitome of idiosyncratic eclecticism, a mishmash of styles and periods, statement pieces, personal treasures and industrial references. Mid-century modernist classics like Nanna & Jørgen Ditzel’s Hanging Egg Chair, Ricardo Fasanello’s Anel chair and Bruno Mathsson's Pernilla Lounge Chair are playfully mixed for example with antique Chinese sideboards, vintage Japanese benches, and African artwork – a reflection of the owners’ globetrotting lifestyles.
Undoubtedly the heart of the house beats is the “great hall” on the middle level, a bright, double-height space featuring massive black steel beams, black steel Brombal windows offering a breath-taking panorama over Los Angeles, and a heavy metal gear and chain pivoting window that opens up to a dining terrace where you can zigzag down to the pool. The pivoting window “is not only an opulent gesture”, as the architects remark, “but also another clever emphasis on the idea of an ever-changing interweaving space”.
In the living room, contemporary pieces like Willy Daro’s Brass Bonsai Surrealist Coffee Table are mixed with 1930s Japanese stools that have been re-upholstered in a leopard print, vintage lamps from Italy and Aboriginal tapestries, while an arm cast from Henson's childhood, adorned with his father’s cartoons, stands next to Arthur Court’s 1970s polished aluminium Tortoise Shell lamp. In the adjacent dining area, a thin, oval dining table originally designed by Danish master Finn Juhl in 1948 and reproduced here in teak, is paired with a bespoke chandelier by local artist Facaro whose opulence is juxtaposed with the material it’s made from: bicycle chains. The kitchen’s contemporary design of concrete countertops, blackened steel and walnut veneer cupboards is perfectly matched with Warren Bacon’s cantilever counter stools from the 1970s.
In the media room downstairs, a 1970s modular white leather sofa by iconic Swiss manufacturer de Sede is combined with a mohair rug, Rick Owens’ bronze Swan Neck sculptural vase, and a collection of African masks, while, in one of the bedrooms, a vintage rosewood angled desk is paired with Norman Cherner’s Swivel chair from the 1960s and an antique faux-bamboo reading lamp from the 1930s. Such diverse yet complementing pieces reflect the owners’ unique sense of style and storied personalities as well as encapsulate their desire to marry luxury with modesty.