Thursday 19 April 2018

Peek Inside: The Irish architect who designed Beyonce and Calvin Kleins' LA mansions

What do Calvin Klein, Beyonce and Jay-Z have in common? They all live in a mega-mansion designed by Coolock-born architect Paul McClean. He talks to Tanya Sweeney about working with the stars

Mega-mansion The One in Bel Air, designed by Paul McClean, runs to 9,662sqm and has a $500m price tag
Mega-mansion The One in Bel Air, designed by Paul McClean, runs to 9,662sqm and has a $500m price tag

Tanya Sweeney

When it comes to the Irish cutting a dash in Hollywood, certain names spring readily to mind: Michael Fassbender, Ruth Negga, Saoirse Ronan.

Yet there's one Irish name rarely far from mind for California's truly rich and powerful.

In fact, one California magazine has called Coolock-born Paul McClean "the new king of LA mega-mansion design".

With around 60 properties in his portfolio to date, the architect has long been synonymous with glassy, show-stopping houses. But last year, he set a new benchmark when he created LA's biggest and most expensive house ever, informally dubbed The One, along with film producer-turned-developer Nile Niami. The One is a 9,662sqm monster on a Bel Air hilltop, with a half-a-billion-dollar price tag. For that, you can expect a 464sqm master bedroom, five pools, a casino, a lounge with walls and ceilings made of jellyfish tanks, a flower room, security centre, a water treatment room and a cigar room. Perhaps not surprisingly, it's being mooted as the world's most expensive house.

Swedish DJ Aviici’s McClean mansion at Blue Jay Way
Swedish DJ Aviici’s McClean mansion at Blue Jay Way

Another of McClean's properties has recently hit the headlines: 454 Cuesta Way was built by McKillen developments (run by Dean McKillen, son of Northern Ireland-born property investor Paddy McKillen). Beyonce and Jay-Z reportedly bought the property last month for a cool $90m. The property boasts eight bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, four swimming pools, a basketball court, a recording studio, staff quarters and a garage for up to 15 cars.

Glass-walled common areas open on two sides to make the most of panoramic views. The pocketing glass doors and windows are bulletproof.

It's LA's fifth largest sale of a single-family home, coming behind last year's $100m sale of the Playboy Mansion and the $90m sale of the Owlwood Estate.

McClean boasts a lengthy client list, but won't be drawn on the details. Whether famous or not, client discretion, he notes, is paramount. And when you're dealing with the seriously rich and famous - an exacting bunch, to put it mildly - some features start to become more desirable than others.

Paul McClean
Paul McClean

"It wouldn't be atypical for them to have three or four water features, and everyone loves a media room, often kitted out with stadium seating," says McClean. "They definitely want the whole big screen surround sound. I've done bowling alleys in houses for people. There are also large wine cellars, which is a fun thing to do. We've also done a lot of show garages with bars in them, because these days people are buying cars like they're pieces of art, and they don't want them just in a garage, they want them somewhere where they can display them. And if they have staff, they'll have to have their own area somewhere else (on the compound)."

As with most client-architect relationships, there's a degree of intimacy involved in creating someone's dream home: "You do start to get to know them, because you need to find out what they need from a house and how their lives work. It can be very intimate, asking them about the habits of their lives, how they interact with friends and family, down to their bathroom habits."

Of working with the A-list, however, McClean says: "It's funny - sometimes at first when you meet someone like that it can be a bit surprising, like, 'wow, I'm here with this person', but it fades very quickly because there are the same problems to be solved as with other clients."

Growing up in Coolock, North County Dublin (his late father was an upholsterer, his mother a homemaker), McClean says there was never a doubt in his mind as to what he wanted to do with his life. "It's like a vocation," he laughs. "When I was a little boy I used to draw houses all the time and I would ask my mum, 'What's the person that does that?' and she told me it was an architect, so that's what I always wanted to be."

Swedish DJ Aviici’s McClean mansion at Blue Jay Way
Swedish DJ Aviici’s McClean mansion at Blue Jay Way

Enrolling in DIT Bolton Street's architecture degree (he graduated in 1994), he started to come across case studies of architects like Richard Neutra and Frank Lloyd Wright - homes that were a world away from what he knew in Dublin.

"When I was in college, everything I was reading about was in LA - that's where the most interesting homes were being built," he recalls. "I think growing up in rainy Dublin, we do like water, so [my] houses tend to have a lot of water features."

On graduating from DIT Bolton Street, he had California or Australia in his crosshairs. In the end, he had friends who lived in the salubrious Orange County suburb of Laguna Beach, so he headed west and started working with a local architect there. Once he got off the bus, he was struck by the light and the water views, and these remain his trademarks.

While working his day job, a few people approached him to do independent projects. He started small, working on houses that were 186sqm. By dint of a connection he says he made via the Irish community in Laguna Beach, he was commissioned by fellow Irishman and property developer Paddy McKillen to build around seven houses for himself and family members.

Swedish DJ Aviici’s McClean mansion at Blue Jay Way
Swedish DJ Aviici’s McClean mansion at Blue Jay Way

He worked on progressively larger homes, and the Irish accent, he admits, became something of a boon in the business.

"[In the property development industry], there are public hearings where you have to get up and speak to a room. The Irish accent goes a long way," he smiles. "One of the great things about California is that people are open to trying new things and more willing to take a chance on people than in other places."

His big break came in 2009, when one of his houses on Bird Street sold for $10m. In 2012, the Winklevoss twins - famous for suing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg - bought a McClean house in the same area for $18m.

Over in LA, McClean does occasionally get to enjoy the glitzy trappings of the LA lifestyle. He was also able to design his own dream home, and he lives there with his family just outside LA.

"It's a fringe benefit, yes," he concedes of the Los Angeles lifestyle. "There are nice parties to go to, and there are the opportunities to meet some interesting people, but with two teenagers at home it's all about balance and trying to spend enough time with them."

As McClean's trajectory continues, he is understandably keen to keep things original and innovative. "Nothing is timeless and there are houses I built even five years ago where now I feel, 'what was I thinking?'" he says.

"I try to remember that the house is not the star of the show - the people are what's important about a place. I don't want people to walk on to a street and say, 'Oh look, there are three McClean houses'," he surmises. "I want them just to say, 'Oh look, there are three beautiful homes'."

Sunday Independent

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