DESIGN & ARCHITECTURE
What do Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Calvin Klein, and the Winklevoss twins have in common? They all live in homes designed by Paul McClean, the Irish architect behind some of the most impressive—and expensive—residences in Los Angeles. We speak to the man behind the architecture.
Built on a 16,717-square-foot corner lot, this residence was completed in October 2014 on Thrasher Avenue in the Bird Streets north of Sunset Boulevard. It is currently the property of a wellknown fashion designer for whom the architect recently remodeled the house. The entrance to the house is walled off from the street. Visitors then take in the house and the view as they walk across a bridge opening to a water courtyard below and centered on the city view.
“On a planet of almost 8 billion people, luxury is having enough space to totally relax and enjoy the beauty of nature,” declares Los Angeles-based architect Paul McClean. “It’s about creating quietly confident spaces that are pared-back and offer a feeling of calmness. Simply filling spaces with pretty stuff isn’t luxury—that’s just hard on the head.”
If there’s anyone with an understanding of what defines true luxury, it’s McClean. The Irish-born architect creates palatial “mega-mansions” for some of the world’s most high-profile celebrities. His small studio of ten designers is behind Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s $120 million Bel Air home and Calvin Klein’s Hollywood Hills home, which boasts a 65-foot infinity pool. He’s also the architect behind The One, the record-breaking Los Angeles home with 105,000 square feet of living space and a price tag close to $350 million—making it the world’s largest house and America’s most expensive.
Despite having no connection to the world of luxury architecture and a modest upbringing, McClean’s path to designing homes was clear to him from an early age. Growing up in a council house in the north Dublin suburb of Coolock, he began sketching houses at the age of five. Determined to turn his passion into a career, he enrolled in an architecture degree at the Dublin Institute of Technology. Here, he discovered the Mid-Century Modern tradition of Los Angeles. “I read about the Case Study Houses, Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolph Schindler,” he recalls. “I thought it would be a fantastic place to work.”
Following a year in Sydney, Australia, working for architect Denis Rourke, McClean realized his dream and moved to Los Angeles. Coming from Dublin’s densely populated and historic city, he was instantly struck by what he describes as “the newness of the place… where people were building from scratch”. This, combined with the city’s unique landscape and climate, which cultivates an indoor-outdoor way of life, has created the perfect setting for architectural experimentation and freedom of expression.
The spine corridor connecting ground floor spaces at Sarbonne
Inspired by this evocative location, the residences McClean designs are united by a connection with the landscape, and water features and dramatic glazing are a signature of sorts. “We want to give people the opportunity to break down the barrier between interior and exterior, so they don’t feel like they’re enclosed,” he says. Take the 12,000-square-foot Skylark House in West Hollywood, for example, which features large tilting glass walls that lift up to become canopies over the terrace, transforming the inside and outside decks into one continuous living space.
The other defining feature of McClean’s work is less a physical element and more a philosophy—namely that a home should complement the client’s lifestyle rather than be an expression of a particular architectural style that a client has to adapt to. “Architecture should be practical and discreet,” he explains. “We want our houses to reflect the client rather than us—that’s how they become unique.”
The curving pool is the signature design component of this Robin Drive house. It follows the lines of the site and contours to wrap the entire garden.
As a result, homes by McClean Design are more about quality of light and space than materiality, and it’s an approach that gives them a longevity that is all too unusual in contemporary architecture. McClean recalls one home that underwent a dramatic transformation, from bright white marble and a soft grey palette to dramatic walnut and natural stone. “Materiality is something that can change over and over again,” he says. “It’s like putting a beautiful dress on.”
So, what goes into designing homes for the one percent? “We often look at hotels and small resorts for inspiration,” says the designer. “Homes like this need staff and security in a big way, and discretion is very important.” It’s also about creating the kinds of amenities at home that most would have to travel for—think cinemas, champagne vaults, large-scale gyms, hydrotherapy pools, wellness spas, and beauty salons.
The One takes this even further, with 42 bathrooms, 21 bedrooms, a jogging track, a bowling alley, a philanthropy wing, a cigar lounge, and a bespoke tequila bar. “It’s a different scale even to the other large homes we’ve done,” reveals McClean. “It’s reminiscent of the Gilded Age mansions on the East Coast or the Cottages of Rhode Island. No one needs that much space, so a huge component of it is the idea of entertaining.”
Recently, the architect’s body of work from the past 15 years was collected into a monograph published by Rizzoli. McClean Design: Creating the Contemporary House takes readers inside 21 of the studio’s most visionary residences, with detailed sketches, site plans, and lush photography. “You have to be very patient to be an architect as you have to imagine something that will exist in several years,” says McClean. “It was so satisfying to see the work collected and to be able to look back and see how we’ve progressed. The wonderful thing about being an architect is that there’s a product at the end that people live in—it’s such a privilege.”