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Castle Contemporary | Modernism Meets Medieval By Mutuus Design Studio

photography by KEVIN SCOTT

modern medieval LA home Mutuus Design Studio
The architecture and design of Mia Sara and Brian Henson’s edgy Hollywood Hills home was inspired by a historic Irish stronghold.

Mia Sara and Brian Henson’s home in the Hollywood Hills is a study in modernist architecture and design—an angular showcase of concrete, steel, glass and cedar resting on a steep slope with unimpeded views of downtown Los Angeles. Despite its cantilevered roofline and nod to the architecture and design of Southern California’s Case Study houses, this particular residence took inspiration from an ancient castle.

“We fell in love with the spaces, and I had a weird epiphany that I wanted a house inspired by that structure—medieval but also modern.”

Mia Sara and Brian Henson Mutuus Design Studio

“Brian and I visited Bunratty Castle in Ireland, which dates to the 15th Century,” explains Sara, an actor best known for her roles in “Legend” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” writer and interior designer. “We fell in love with the spaces, and I had a weird epiphany that I wanted a house inspired by that structure—medieval but also modern.” Adds Henson, a producer and director, “We loved the idea of a grand hall or room that you could look down on from a drawbridge.”

While the castle and its grand scale served as a dramatic impetus, the couple actually desired a sustainable, family-friendly house that would remain easy to maintain and livable when their two children moved out and they become empty nesters in a few years.

LA view modern home by Mutuus Design Studio

“Mia and I wanted a house in which we had every room that we needed but also a floor plan that kept us together. There shouldn’t be space that we’d never use,” says Henson, who is also the chairman of The Jim Henson Company, founded by his late father, Jim Henson, the famed puppeteer. “Something that was environmentally responsible was also important to us.”

To create the three-bedroom, 4,000-square-foot home, the couple called upon the talents of architectural designer Kristen Becker, principal of Seattle-based design studio Mutuus Studio, who had previously renovated the couple’s New York apartment. “Mia and Brian’s lot was challenging,” recalls Becker, who, at the time of the project, was working for design firm Olson Kundig, also in Seattle. “It has a 45-degree slope. We let the hillside dictate the levels.”

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LA hills modern home Mutuus Design Stuido

Becker conceived a three-level floor plan that places the entry at the top of the hill, with a steel bridge that leads to a monumental bronze door. Inside, a grand staircase descends into the great room, where the living and dining areas make use of sweeping views through floor-to-ceiling windows. The black steel-accented kitchen is tucked toward the hillside.

Two bedrooms, Henson’s office and a workshop for artistic pursuits share the same the central living level. The owners’ suite is on the upper level, and the lower level, which opens onto the pool deck, includes a screening room and a sleeping nook—a favorite with houseguests—nestled beneath the stairs.

“The materials are timeless, and the details are not cluttered.”

modern LA home from Mutuus Design Studio

Rather than pushing the back of the house into the hillside, Becker pulled it away a few feet, creating a small void for a garden space at the base of the slope—visible from the steel bridge—and allowing daylight to illuminate a few strategically placed rear windows.
“The house is a series of volumes meant to frame views,” explains Becker of the home’s architecture and design. “The materials are timeless, and the details are not cluttered.”

LA hills with a view Mutuus Design Studio

To prevent heat gain from the great room’s large east- and west-facing steel-framed windows, Becker designed large screens made of vertical cedar slats that can be moved across the exterior of the windows by mechanical pulleys mounted on the great room walls. Exposed I-beams in the great room contrast with the glowing, coppery-hued Venetian plaster ceiling, while the dining area is warmed by a conical-shaped fireplace.

An outdoor shower for the owners’ suite bath is private yet also offers city views. Another architecture and design detail—the owners’ suite’s green roof—is part of the home’s numerous sustainable strategies, which also include solar panels and the use of gray water and rainwater to irrigate the landscape.

modern LA home by Mutuus Design Studio

The interior—a collaboration between Becker and Sara—reflects the family’s eclectic, artistic leanings. “Mia and I took inventory of pieces they had in storage and in their previous residence,” Becker notes. “We placed meaningful things in the house and added new layers.”

Many of the new furnishings were found with the help of Sara’s father, Jerry Sarapochiello, a furniture dealer who specializes in 20th-Century pieces. “Kristen and I can talk about a doorknob for an hour,” remarks Sara of the collaboration. “Then, Dad would find something cool, and we would work it in. We all like sculptural pieces with an organic feeling and a patina of age.”

LA hills home Mutuus Design Studio

In the great room, an Alberto Rosselli leather sofa invites napping and lounging. It’s paired with a Willy Daro bronze coffee table and an Anel lounge chair by Ricardo Fasanello’s design studio. Family heirlooms were also worked into the design, including an aboriginal tapestry that Henson’s father, Jim, had collected, as well as the younger Henson’s childhood cast from a broken leg, festooned with his dad’s cartoons. There are quirky things, too. A bicycle chain chandelier illuminates the dining table, a vintage valet stand in the master bedroom keeps Henson’s suit jackets wrinkle-free and, on the balcony overlooking the pool, a rattan table and chairs by Danny Ho Fong’s design studio share space with a pair of “monster” stools that add just the right amount of Muppet-esque humor to the setting.

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Mutuus Design Studio and firm in LA

Completed pre-pandemic, the house was put through its paces when the family hunkered down there for months without leaving. “This house truly supports our life,” Sara says. “We really, really used every room.” Adds Henson, “We made artistic messes in the studio; we sat on the terraces; and we watched birds of prey swoop down the hillside from our roof. It’s all perfect.”
With a modern-day drawbridge, a great hall and a secure perch on a hill, Sara and Henson’s home truly is their castle.

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