STEVEN MEISEL'S MIDCENTURY HOUSE IN LOS ANGELES
Architecture firm Marmol Radziner + Associates and decorator Brad Dunning make the 1960s swing again at the photographer's cocktail-chic residence in Beverly Hills
Steven Meisel’s fall/winter 2000 ad campaign for Versace became an instant cult classic among fashion photography devotees. His indelible images of models Amber Valletta and Georgina Grenville—imperious, bronzed, immaculately manicured, and ambiguously retro—conjured a portrait of the housewives of Beverly Hills that was dreamier and more seductive than anything today’s reality television would have us believe. The genius of those pictures was not simply in the women’s pitch-perfect attitude and poses but in Meisel’s ability to evoke a rarefied world of clipped poodles and Old Master paintings, crystal chandeliers and Lucite wastebaskets.
“I was looking at houses in Los Angeles, and I fell in love with Trousdale Estates,” the photographer says, referring to the neighborhood that inspired his Versace images. “Back then it wasn’t popular at all. I remember asking my friend Herb Ritts about it and he told me, ‘It’s for old 1960s movie stars. Nobody lives there.’”
Developed on a hillside parcel in the ’50s and ’60s by Paul Trousdale, the luxury residential community once boasted a slate of celebrity homeowners that included Barbara Stanwyck, Frank Sinatra, Danny Thomas, and Dean Martin. By the time Meisel arrived on the scene, however, Trousdale and its particular vision of cocktail-clinking California chic had fallen out of fashion, largely overlooked in L.A.’s relentless game of real-estate one-upmanship.
But the intrepid photographer was undeterred. After composing his paean to Trousdale for Versace, Meisel decided to make his own West Coast home in the neighborhood, in a 1963 house designed by architect George MacLean. “I was told it was built for a race-car driver and his model wife, which sounded just about right,” he recalls. “The house had never really been renovated, so it felt authentic to the period.”
Determined to maintain the integrity of the residence, Meisel followed a recommendation from Tom Ford and hired the L.A.–based architecture firm Marmol Radziner + Associates to enlarge its footprint and upgrade its amenities. “The greatest thing going for the house was its rough stone walls, which gave it a Hawaiian-ranch-modern feeling,” says Ron Radziner, who served as the project’s lead architect. “We took that idea and other original details and expanded on them. Even though the house is completely rebuilt, it still has the same spirit. That was something Steven felt very passionate about.”
The architects added 2,300 square feet to the existing 4,000-square-foot dwelling, extending the structure to the east and west so that it zigzags along the top of the ridge in the same rhythm as the existing house. “As you move through it and make various turns, you reengage with different parts of the garden,” Radziner explains. “We installed large water features on both sides of the entry and remade the pool following the same contours of the original. Then we brought in dense tropical plantings that play off the new marble, onyx, teak, and walnut. Everything feels very lush and generous.”
For the interiors Meisel tapped L.A. designer Brad Dunning, another Ford collaborator, to ensure that the inside, too, maintained the ambience that had bewitched him so completely. “This was the most visually confirmed project I’ve ever done,” says Dunning. “Steven and I both love mining vintage periodicals and books. After going through stacks of archival material, we knew exactly what it was supposed to be. This house feels like an experimental study in the essential nature of Trousdale.”