On the eve of his legendary annual Grammys party, the music mogul opens his sun-drenched, art-filled home to The Hollywood Reporter.
This story first appeared in the Feb. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
By the end of what is often a 50-hour work week at Sony Music Entertainment, Clive Davis is just getting started. At 4 p.m. or so on Friday, the 83-year-old chief creative officer is checking to make sure everything is arranged for the guests — there are always guests — headed to meet him at his fabled weekend compound in northern Westchester County, about an hour's drive from Manhattan. Is their transportation on time? Are there fresh flowers in each of the many guest bedrooms? Is the 30-seat plush home theater set up for the "absolutely fantastic" show he has planned for Saturday night? "He's the ultimate host," says his friend and frequent guest, philanthropist and Hollywood doyenne Barbara Davis. "When you're with Clive, whether you're at the house or at dinner he's giving at a party, you know he's gone over every detail so completely, you've never seen anything like it."
Leave it to other industry legends to be jaded about their platinum-plated lifestyles or cavil about the attention (and houseguests) that fame brings. After 50 years in the business, the five-time Grammy winner, who guided the careers of Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys, Rod Stewart and Aretha Franklin, loves it all, still, especially sharing his home, his hospitality and his recently assembled collection of blue-chip modern art.
"To me, the greatest joy — still great every time — is to have people here enjoying this place," he says, standing by the Yamaha grand piano where Keys once made her informal debut for record executives in Davis' light-flooded contemporary house in Pound Ridge. "I see it through their eyes, and it's really a pleasure over and over," he says. His annual Memorial Day party is "one of the major events of the season," says Margot Harley — a 20-year friend and co-founder with John Houseman of New York theater group The Acting Company — who has attended along with the likes of Valerie Simpson (of Ashford & Simpson), Tommy Tune and Joan Rivers. Harley also recalls "a very merry" annual feature of the holiday weekend, "Pound Ridge Idol," noting that such divas present as Franklin and Patti LuPone are disqualified from warbling karaoke opposite Davis himself and other guests. "Nobody can sing, but it's great fun," says Harley. Adds Simpson of parties at the estate, "People you would never expect to let their hair down do. And we all feel safe, cause Clive joins in the action!"
Davis fell in love with the house on first sight in 1991, soon after his second divorce (he came out as bisexual in his 2013 memoir, The Soundtrack of My Life), and bought it from the architect, Vuko Tashkovich. He'd already settled on buying in the area; he'd long spent summer weekends in the Hamptons with his family — he has four grown children and seven grandchildren — and while he loved the social whirl, he'd been looking for somewhere less beachy to escape to year-round. Northern Westchester, where stars such as Michael Douglas and Bruce Willis own huge spreads, was perfect for Davis, a self-described "true foodie" who likes to have virtually every dinner out. The charming Bedford Post Inn, co-owned by Richard Gere, with two top-rated restaurants led by chef Michael White, is only a few miles away.
The 8,000-square-foot house met Davis' high expectations: modern and spacious with calming views through huge walls of glass. There were four graciously proportioned bedrooms in addition to his vast master suite, and a capacious office for his commanding desk and the hundreds of awards he continues to accrue (his Grammys are kept at his duplex penthouse in Manhattan's Ritz Tower).
Most importantly, the house inspired him to try something radical: Instead of hiring a decorator, he would kit out the place himself. Designer Vicente Wolf worked on the interiors of a 6,000-square-foot guesthouse that Davis added in 1999 (built by architect Mark Rios, who has worked with Darren Star, Jim Carrey and David Geffen), along with a tennis court and second pool. Wolf also helped a bit later on rearranging some of the main house's living room seating areas. But it is "virtually all Clive," says the Cuban-born designer, whose clients also include Julianna Margulies, designer Ralph Pucci and, earlier in his career, Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein. "He clearly enjoyed every minute of doing it." Adds Barbara Davis, "You see Clive, you see his taste, you see his love, you see his fantasy."
For Davis, decorating was another adventure. "I figured that I would make buying things part of my travels," he says, "part of the fun." For a yearlong stretch, he made several trips to Paris expressly to shop Les Puces, the famed upscale antique and flea market. He admires the elegant lines of art deco, and throughout the house are glossy examples of the period: barrel chairs and consoles in highly figured grains of wood as well as shelves of black-and-white crystal decanters. His trips to Thailand yielded a huge colorfully painted wedding trunk that adds a pop of color to his neutral-toned living room. He also found pieces for the guesthouse's four bedrooms, each of which was designed to be unique, "like the suites at the Beverly Hills Hotel, so that if you come more than once, you can have a whole new experience," he says. Houston and daughter Bobbi Kristina stayed there once seeking a restorative weekend. ("It was so therapeutic for them," he says, "they ended up staying an extra day.")
His latest obsession is art, and in typical Davis fashion, he has gone big in every way. When he first decorated the house, he bought some fairly valuable signed lithographs — including Picasso — but now he is focused on replacing those with what he calls "real things." In the past few years, he has added a giant spin artwork by Damien Hirst in the entryway as well as works by Joan Mitchell, David Salle, Dale Chihuly, Louise Nevelson, Hans Hofmann, Fernando Botero, Alex Katz and Adolph Gottlieb. In the crook of a stairwell is an Andy Warhol Brillo box. Unlike many ultra-wealthy neophytes entering the world of high art, Davis does not work with a consultant to help him make decisions. "I peruse the auction house catalog," he says. "I learn so much, and the whole thing, it just gives me a thrill."
His eclectic taste and talent in picking winners — the very essence of what has made him a legend in the business — has extended to his new hobby, he says. A recent reassessment of the collection for insurance purposes valued his works at four times what he paid. "That isn't why I am buying," he says. "But I admit it: It's extremely gratifying to be right."