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Paul McClean of McClean Design | Redesigning Hollywood Hills Homes

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Once Upon a House in Hollywood | Paul McClean Design

Photography by Manolo Langis

A spectacular Hollywood Hills home provided challenges that architect Paul McClean of McClean Design was eager to conquer.

The Hollywood Hills have long been an enclave for Hollywood royalty. Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, James Dean and a who’s who of other notables have called the central Los Angeles neighborhood home through the decades. And though newer homeowners might be inclined to preserve some of the region’s history (who wouldn’t want to reside within Yvette Mimieux’s former Bel Air estate, inspired by the glistening villas found on Italy’s Amalfi Coast?), modern conveniences and current engineering standards have necessitated remodels and renovations of these beautiful homes.

Current homeowners and new buyers often turn to Paul McClean, whose eponymous firm is one of the leading contemporary residential design firms in Southern California. Established in 2000, McClean Design strives for excellence in design, pushing boundaries with unique spaces that are connected to their environment and providing clients and their families a dwelling of composure within a humming modern society. 

His work is synonymous with the quintessential California lifestyle, exercised through clean architectural lines, a sophisticated material aesthetic and established lasting relationships with leading builders and designers. McClean has become the go-to architect for celebrity clientele such as Beyoncé, Jay Z and Calvin Klein. With projects ranging in size from 3,500 to well above 50,000 square feet, McClean’s homes are tailor-made to fit his clients’ varying lifestyles. 

His latest Hollywood Hills home provided a unique opportunity to rework a promontory lot to take advantage of the 270-degree views of the entire Los Angeles Basin. A spectacular site with its own fabled Hollywood history (Ronald and Nancy Reagan once lived in the original structure), the lot provided several challenges that McClean was ready to tackle.

“The biggest challenges were also some of the most enjoyable parts of the project,” says McClean, who grew up in Ireland where he attended the Dublin Institute of Technology, graduating with honors in architecture in 1994. “The slope created a unique constraint of fitting the program. We had to get creative with the whole project team to come up with how we could fit in the building envelope, which resulted in a basement perfect for entertaining, a stand-out staircase at the entry, and the list goes on. Many consider constraints a negative but to us, they’re part of the fun.”

The client (a large Italian family that would use the home as a respite from their life in Canada) wanted to build a large home with great potential for entertaining, especially outdoors. The lower pad of the parcel inspired the original idea for the project: a glass living space, surrounded by water on three sides, reflecting the surrounding cityscape. 

“Our initial goal was to provide a house that focused on entertaining for a family, while balancing the client’s desire of privacy and open views of the city,” says McClean, who worked with Sarah McKay of design firm Colabhouse on the interiors. “Every wall, tree and shrub were strategically placed to ensure the desired outward views were not blocked, while undesired inward views from the street were blocked.”

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The front entry is screened by marble slats to provide both privacy and shade. Passing through, the interior opens up to the landscape behind the property with a two-story glass wall overlooking a courtyard garden where a green marble waterfall surrounded by dense foliage falls into a basement-level water basin. To the east are the main living spaces; to the west are an office, the main staircase and a guest bedroom.

The main living and dining space projects out onto the peninsula with the pool feature wrapping on three sides. The family kitchen and breakfast area open both to the pool and to the verdant garden behind the house. A family room is tucked into the garden space with a see-through fireplace that can be enjoyed both from the lounge and the garden. The upper level contains the main bedroom and two additional suites. A large, landscaped roof garden over the living room below can be accessed from the hallway, so that the entire family can enjoy the spectacular view.

The basement contains an additional three bedrooms as well as some unique spaces including a sizable media room, a large gym with an adjacent wellness area and a billiards room with an intimate conversation nook and a window cellar and humidor. 

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The house’s palette is composed of soft natural tones of warm travertine and bleached walnut, with brass and bronze accents. The large scale of the home is balanced by the warm materials and attention to detail, as well as the surrounding tropical landscape, and views from every room. 

“I have always enjoyed working with different people and am constantly amazed by the different and varied backgrounds of our clients,” McClean says. “Design is more than a job for me. It is what I wanted to do as a little boy and which I am lucky enough to be able to practice today and hopefully for a very long time.”

McClean is a member of the American Institute of Architects. His firm’s first book, McClean Design: Creating the Contemporary House, was released in the spring of 2019. Written by Philip Jodidio and published by Rizzoli Electa, the book takes readers behind the scenes of 21 of McClean’s ultra-modern homes.

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