Designers Talk Challenges of Building Warm But Mega-Sized L.A. Mansions

10:22 AM PST 05/13/2014 by C. Molly Smith
Courtesy of La Cienega Design Quarter

John Finton and William Hefner were among those who discussed the state of large-scale homes in Southern California at the La Cienega Design Quarter event.

“Here in Los Angeles we like to think big, bold and outside the box,” Susan McFadden, editor-in-chief of California Homes, said in her opening remarks at the panel discussion “Grand Estates -- The Art of Building Big” on May 9. The event was part of Legends, a three-day event celebrating interior design, art, fashion and architecture centered along L.A.’s La Cienega Design Quarter.

McFadden was joined by interior designer Kerry Joyce, Finton Construction president John Finton, architect William Hefner and Russ Diamond, president of kitchen and bath showroom Snyder Diamond, to discuss the challenges in building massive estates and bringing warmth to those large homes. The talk was held at SOLI Architectural Surfaces.

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When McFadden asked if anyone really requires a home of such large scale, Finton, who worked on Mark Wahlberg’s new 30,000-square-foot Beverly Hills French manor, responded, “I don’t know if anybody actually needs that.” He added that five to seven years ago there were more homes being built that clocked in over 25,000 square feet. Today, he says he’s seeing less of that.

Still, drive around Los Angeles and it’s evident: There are plenty of mega-mansions in Southern California. In fact, Finton and Hefner recently worked on a herculean project, Chateau des Fleurs. The 65,000-square-foot mansion took five years to build. The entire process -- acquiring properties, designing and building -- took around 20 years.

The trend -- and challenge for designers -- is finding ways to add human dimensions to large-scale homes. “People are moving back to creating intimate environments,” Hefner said.

Specifically, Hefner spoke of the challenge in masquerading the technology, which often has a cold feel, necessary for such large homes, and the need to keep it out of sight as much as possible.

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Joyce said he thinks about creating an inviting feeling, particularly when designing the front of a property. “I don’t like to intimidate when I do the facade of the house,” Joyce said. He also emphasized the importance of garden views and lighting.

Diamond, on the other hand, talked about wellness -- a trend he’s seen in Europe -- as a means of creating comfort in the home.

Finton added that houses tell stories. Every item in a house is curated, and these items have their own background. He spoke of searching to find unique fireplaces, which he has incorporated in the past to add a personal touch.

When the panel opened up to a Q&A with the audience, a big topic of interest was budget and difficulties of the job, including demanding clients.

“The challenge is that you don’t often know where you’re headed,” Hefner said.

As for difficulties, Finton recalled a trip to Mexico in which a woman asked about his profession. He told her he was a contractor, and she responded, “Oh, you’re a human punching bag.”

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