Architectural Digest September 2011 Issue
Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Malibu Home
Many hands have left their mark on the home of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. Hundreds of master woodworkers, plasterers, metalsmiths, stonemasons, and upholsterers contributed their expertise to this deeply personal project. “Everything needed to be done by hand,” Will says. “We wanted to feel the love and labor that went into every piece of this place.”
And you can. The 25,000-square-foot house has a surprising intimacy—a soul animated by the craftsmanship on display and the spirit of the celebrity power couple that live here with their children, Willow, Jaden, and Trey, Will’s son from his first marriage. “For Will and me this home was always a spiritual endeavor,” Jada says. “We’re very earthy, organic people. We wanted to create a family retreat, something made by hand and as natural as possible, something that ties back to the land.”
The Smiths’ domestic odyssey began when Will was working with costar Gene Hackman filming the 1998 thriller Enemy of the State. “Gene loves Santa Fe,” Will says. “He has a house there, and he always talked about it. And then Wild Wild West came up, and we were shooting outside of Santa Fe. So I thought, Let me go see Gene’s house.” He admired what he saw. “I just loved that adobe flavor and feeling.”
As it happened, Hackman’s home, designed by local architect Stephen Samuelson, had been published in Architectural Digest (April 1990)—as had another Samuelson Santa Fe residence, the adobe retreat of Carol Burnett, which graced the cover in December ’96. The photos convinced the Smiths to contact the architect, and their collaboration took off in earnest the following year, when the couple acquired a ranch nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains near Calabasas, California. One of the primary draws of the property was a picturesque man-made lake with views of majestic Saddle Peak in the distance. In short order Will and Jada purchased a string of adjacent plots to assemble the rambling 150-acre parcel: their sylvan Shangri-la.
Given the environmentally sensitive landscape and the area’s labyrinth of regulations, the building-permit process dragged on for four years. Construction finally commenced in 2003, after Samuelson and his team had regraded the property to its natural topography and restored sections that had been leveled for equestrian use.
The architect marshaled a small army of workers to apply the hand-troweled plaster that defines the character of the two-story home, which curves around itself, encompassing a motor court. “The aesthetic is anchored in history and the various interpretations of adobe in Persian, Moroccan, Spanish, as well as Southwest American cultures,” Samuelson explains.
The textural quality of traditional three-layer stucco, with all its inherent imperfections, is echoed in exposed ceiling timbers harvested from old homesteads and barns. Banisters of hammered wrought iron and floors inlaid with river stones in spiral and infinity-knot patterns reinforce the project’s hand-forged ethos and spiritual aspirations.
Ancient cultures are referenced throughout—thanks to the Smiths’ collection of antique carved panels, doors, and architectural details from the Middle East, Africa, the American Southwest, and Asia, including the house’s monumental front door, which once provided entry to a fort in northern India. “I have a thing for doors,” Jada confesses. “I always think of them as a threshold to something new.”
The Smiths consulted with designer Waldo Fernandez to get the interiors under way, but for the past couple of years the rooms have been fine-tuned by Los Angeles–based decorator Judith Lance. “When I started, the footprint, finish materials, stone, and paint were already in place,” Lance says. “The aesthetic note was set. Everything [I added] had to look handcrafted but at the same time refined and sophisticated.”
Using reference books on tribal jewelry as her points of departure, Lance ennobled specific rooms with exquisite custom-made pieces. In the living room she installed a serpent-themed fireplace screen of copper mesh, hand-hammered bronze, and carnelian cabochons. A cloistered seating area off the formal dining room boasts foliate sconces of twisted brass wire by artist Mary Brogger and a bespoke chandelier of bronze and leather, with rock-crystal beads hand-strung by Lance’s assistants. In the master suite the designer’s coup de théâtre is a bed canopy constructed of tiny ball chains, which is suspended from the ceiling by links of bronze.
Samuelson’s spatial composition, full of secret nooks and tranquil alcoves, utilizes generously swooping curves and unorthodox geometries so the many rooms, both large and small, flow and connect like a lyrical run-on sentence. “The idea was no dead ends,” Will says. “To create an infinite cycle that represented what Jada and I hoped for our love.”
For Lance, the architecture’s fluid shapes meant every piece of custom-made furniture had to be meticulously tailored. “That was the beauty and challenge of this project,” she says. “Everything I did had to be incredibly precise, both in terms of engineering and aesthetics. Nothing here came off the shelf.”
It seems only natural that this decidedly organic home should continue to evolve. “It’s definitely a work in progress,” Jada says. “Will and I were very young when we started the house, so it keeps on changing as we get older and understand how we really live in it. But whatever it becomes, the craftsmanship will always represent our union and the love of our family.”