At Home With Ryan Murphy
While two Bernese Mountain dogs play in the courtyard where a white stucco fountain trickles in the sunlight, Ryan Murphy plunks down in a shadow-filled sitting room at his Beverly Hills house -- a space that was a kids' playroom when previous owner Diane Keaton lived there. He's eschewed his trademark cap, wearing a long-sleeved gray T-shirt and khakis. Even though he's overseeing an astonishing three primetime shows this fall, Murphy, 46, doesn't seem the slightest bit rushed, no iPhone or BlackBerry in sight over the course of nearly two hours during a visit that included a tour of his seven-bedroom, nine-bathroom house. The Spanish Colonial Revival residence -- where Murphy and designer Cliff Fong have created eclectic interiors mixing ranch-inspired, period-correct furniture, contemporary art and photography and American Horror Story-worthy objects -- was designed in 1927 by Ralph Flewelling, also the architect of the well-known fountain at the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards.
The successful show creator -- whose Glee and American Horror Story have hauled in a combined 52 Emmy nominations and eight wins -- talks about how he almost bought this house 3½ years ago. In a rare bit of indecisiveness -- "I'm a really big yes/no person. There's no maybe with me" -- Murphy got cold feet. "I started escrow, but then I fell out. I was like, 'It's just too big,' " says Murphy, who was single at the time and in the middle of launching Glee.
Since then, he has created two more shows, AHS and The New Normal, and a little more than two years ago began a relationship with photographer and former location scout David Miller. "We started talking about family, and I had been haunted by the fact that I had not bought the house, so lo and behold, it was still available, and I bought it," says Murphy, who purchased the property in late 2010. The next year, the couple became engaged, and this year over the July 4th weekend wed on a Provincetown, Mass., beach, reportedly celebrating by catching a cabaret show by actress-singer and Glee guest star Patti Lupone. Murphy says that he and Miller had been friends for a dozen years before dating. "After years and years of dating people, we were like, 'What are we doing? We're the same age, we want kids, let's try it.' Thank God it worked."
The couple's house -- located in the flats below Sunset, a few blocks from the Beverly Hills Hotel -- had been faithfully restored by Keaton, L.A.'s most famous authority on indigenous Spanish Colonial architecture, documented in her 2007 book California Romantica. The actress bought it in 2007, adding archways and white plaster fireplaces to the two-story house, where four wings are arrayed around an interior courtyard. Murphy has been a fan of Keaton's taste for years. "When I first moved to L.A., a friend of mine was interested in buying a house of hers," says Murphy, who worked as a journalist for such outlets as The Miami Herald and Entertainment Weekly before breaking into TV. "It was 1992. We went to look at the house, and I remember going into the closet and seeing all her Annie Hall hats." (According to public records, he bought the house from Keaton for $10 million; he also owns a two-house compound in Laguna Beach, Calif.)
The new house is a dramatic change from Murphy's previous midcentury residence in the Hollywood Hills by L.A. architect Carl Maston. (Murphy sold the contents of that house to its new owner. "The only things I took were my coffee cups and my art and my clothes," he says.) He and Miller -- whose portraits of various subjects populate the walls alongside works by Doug Aitken, Robert Mapplethorpe, David Wojnarowicz and Ruven Afanador -- refined the interiors room by room over the course of the next year and a half. "Our mantra was, 'What would Diane do?' I'd say we changed 40 percent of it," says Murphy, who calls Keaton's look "more monastic." Fong, whose clients include Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, took the furnishings in a more comfortable direction. Where Keaton had wood benches and seating with leather cushions, for instance, there are now invitingly upholstered -- though all-black -- Spanish-style and Chippendale sofas.
An important visit this past summer forced them to complete the project. In June, Murphy and Miller hosted a $40,000-a-couple fund-raising dinner for President Obama at their house, attended by the likes of HBO's Michael Lombardo, Glee star Jane Lynch, Reese Witherspoon and Julia Roberts, the star of Murphy's 2010 feature film Eat Pray Love. For an entire week before the 75-person event, the Secret Service "came in and checked it out. They take over your house. I even at one point had to show my ID to go back into my own house. Some of our neighbors are Republicans, so they weren't exactly thrilled." Obama, he recalls, expressed his love for Spanish houses. "We gave him a little tour. It was thrilling."
Murphy became passionate about design growing up in the suburbs of Indianapolis. His father, who died last year, was the circulation director of a newspaper; he has described his mother as "a beauty queen who wanted to be an actress." Murphy subscribed to Architectural Digest, absorbing photos of houses owned by the late fashion designer Bill Blass and socialite Nan Kempner. At age 8, he designed his own bedroom. "I was very influenced by Studio 54 and Diana Vreeland. My mother thought I was insane, but my grandmother was like, 'Let him do what he wants.' I tried to turn it into a Marrakesh-meets-Studio 54 thing, so it was chocolate brown walls, a disco ball and olive carpeting."
Having the means to indulge that passion today "really feels like a fantasy to me," says Murphy. Adds Fong: "When he is interested in something, he likes to explore it in the most thorough sense." Murphy's love of Spanish Colonial style has extended to his newest show -- the sets he created for The New Normal are a near replica of his own house. Of course, the partnered couple on the show, one of whom is a TV producer, mirror his life as well: the two characters are in the process of having a baby via surrogate -- exactly what Murphy and Miller have in their plans. Given that, Miller has been adamant about his husband spending time at home. "He's pretty awesome about making sure he's home at a fairly reasonable hour, eight o'clock, which is amazing for a showrunner doing even one show," says Miller. Adds Murphy: "I never don't work. But a home life is so important to me now. I'm excited to have a family here."
AROUND THE HOUSE
LIBRARY: His Diane Keaton Obsession: The green sofa in the entry-library is a rare Monterey of California daybed with its original paint, an almost identical twin to the one former owner Keaton had in the same spot. Murphy admits he begged her to sell him all the furniture in the house, but she declined. His next request was accepted: to give him a day "where I can photograph everything because I want to copy you," he told her. In the end, he also persuaded her to sell him a Spanish chest in a guest room and the kitchen's rectory table.
DINING ROOM: Beverly Hills Horror Story?: Murphy believes that a presence inhabits the southwest of the house, which includes this parlor room. "I moved into this house [when] I was writing American Horror Story with Brad [Falchuk, his fellow showrunner on AHS and Glee]," he says. "Maybe because I was very into the ghostly thing, I did feel something. It's a kind spirit. But maybe I just need to turn up the thermostat." Danish ceiling lamp in copper by Louis Poulsen; Monterey chairs and tables; German early 20th century porcelain sculpture on the table.
BEDROOM: The Prince and the Pea: Murphy admits he changed the design of the master bedroom three times. "I find I can exhaust people if the color of the vase is wrong," he says. Asked about his husband's famously exacting attention to detail, Miller says with a laugh, "No comment. You know, the benefit of being OCD is that things do tend to look really perfect." Custom Monterey-style bed with Calvin Klein bedding; Spanish Colonial antique side tables from Lucca; lantern lights from JF Chen; Frits Henningsen midcentury chairs; leather Chesterfield sofas from Galerie Half; Monterey bench; hand-woven olive silk rug from Woven Accents.
LIVING ROOM: Where the Globes Live: Owen makes himself comfortable in the kitchen/family room, where Murphy's three Golden Globe Awards -- one for best drama series for Nip/Tuck in 2005 and two for best musical or comedy series for Glee in 2010 and 2011 -- are nestled on the shelving. Also on display are examples of his collection of vintage Bauer pottery, many of which are from Pasadena's Monterey Garage, which is owned by Keaton's sister, Dorrie Hall. "California" sign from Early California Antiques.
KITCHEN: Pinning It: An 18th century Italian chair, from Melrose Avenue's Galerie Half (which is co-owned by Murphy's interior designer, Cliff Fong) sits in front of the couple's bulletin board in the kitchen.