This story first appeared in the March 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.
When Donald Kushner began building a second home on top of a mountain deep in West Malibu, he had no idea it was going to be so big.
"From the plans my architect showed me, I thought it looked quite modest," says Kushner, 67, a film producer (Tron, Monster, Tron: Legacy) and an owner of the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. He also is a partner in several L.A. bars and clubs, including Lure, Hemingways and Roxbury, with his Chinese Theatre co-owner, producer Elie Samaha.
Three gallery-like spaces, four bedrooms, a guest house and 13,000 square feet later, Kushner's minimalist house, completed last summer, sits perched on a hilltop with unparalleled views of the surrounding Santa Monica Mountains. There are no neighboring houses to speak of. The rolling hills to the back of the property, as far as the eye can see, are part of Bob Dylan's secluded mountain retreat.
Designed by Malibu-based architect Steven Kent, the bold lines of the residence are composed of sandblasted concrete and weathering Cor-Ten steel. Kent, who early in his career worked for Frank Gehry, has developed a reputation for the striking architectural volume of the modernist homes he has built around Los Angeles.
Kent worked to maximize a seamless indoor-to-outdoor experience by incorporating the largest glass panels that could be made for this project. Nine feet wide and 14 feet high, the motorized glass walls of the main living area disappear into hidden wall pockets.
"When Donald arrives, he slides open the glass panels, and they stay that way until he leaves," says Kent. "It's an amazing feeling to experience this room completely open, with the infinity pool a few steps away and the mountains beyond."
Kushner, who owns a smaller property on the beach in Malibu, wanted this house's design to incorporate part of his extensive contemporary art collection, which includes pieces by the likes of Damien Hirst and Kenny Scharf and several site-specific installations.
So when it came time to think about furniture for the residence, it made perfect sense to commission one-of-a-kind pieces. Kushner turned to designer Gulla Jonsdottir, who created the interiors of Roxbury and Lure. Now that the house is complete, she'll tackle renovations to the landmark Chinese Theatre -- including a series of glam green rooms and VIP lounges -- which Kushner and Samaha purchased in 2011 for an estimated $10 million. (Kushner's daughter Alwyn Hight Kushner is president and GM of the Chinese.)
The duo have been busy since, selling naming rights to the theater in January for $5 million to Chinese TV manufacturer TCL and in 2012 purchasing, along with several investors, the Two Bunch Palms Resort in Desert Hot Springs, Calif.
A native of Iceland, Jonsdottir came to L.A. to study at the Southern California Institute of Architecture. Four years working for architect Richard Meier were followed by nine years as principal designer for Dodd Mitchell Design, where she headed such projects as the Cabo Azul Resort in Los Cabos, Mexico, and a redo of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.
In 2009, Jonsdottir opened her own company, G+ Gulla Jonsdottir Design. Her steel latticework facade for Melrose Avenue's Red O restaurant garnered much critical acclaim. Jonsdottir's high-drama, sculptural forms and use of opulent materials give her work a distinctive futuristic-meets-organic style that favors curved, biomorphic shapes over straight lines. "One of my clients once jokingly said they were going to give me a ruler for a Christmas gift," says Jonsdottir.
She recently launched her first furniture collection based on many of the pieces she designed for the Kushner residence. Called Tree, the line ranges from sculptural, movable wall partitions to dining tables, desks, sofas and chairs.
The white leather sofa in the living area has a walnut wood back with a split "like a tree trunk you'd find in a forest," explains Jonsdottir. For the dining area, she created a 12-foot-long table with a base that calls to mind tangled roots and a tabletop of solid white oak inlaid with bronze in the form of branches. The three different chair designs evoke the shapes of leaves and are mixed around the table in a style she says is "a little eclectic but still coherent."
"I found the setting of this house very inspiring," says Jonsdottir. "You not only feel you are sitting on top of a mountain but on top of and surrounded by trees. Nature is a great inspiration in all of my work."