Home of the Week: Natural Wonder in Malibu

Malibu has long given architects a rich canvas of canyons, hillsides and seaside cliffs upon which to build their masterpieces. For Ed Niles, these natural wonders are more muse than canvas. The Malibu-based modernist architect and nature lover is fond of saying, “Topography is architecture in itself.” It shows in his landmark residences, from the “floating” bridge design of the MacKay house in Las Flores Canyon to the large glass corridor connecting 12 self-standing glass and steel cubes in his own house perched above Pacific Coast Highway. His homes are built to capture light like the different lenses of a camera, often creating cinematic moments through their use of transparency: the sun setting behind the mountains, a gust of wind rustling the trees, a seagull landing on curved glass.

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These were just the kinds of moments that director-writer-producer Graham Henman and his stylist-turned-guitar-designer wife, Paris, had sought out for their personal home. They had lived in a modestly sized Niles-designed home (nicknamed the “Copper Top Battery” house for its semicircular copper roof) for five years prior to encountering another of his creations: an expansive 16-acre compound nestled in the Malibu hills.

“I shot a commercial at the property about three years before we purchased it,” recalls Henman. “The cinematic possibilities within it are astounding. We had dreamed about being able to buy it one day…and as luck would have it, we did eventually.”

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After 12 years, the Henmans have not been disappointed. Surrounded by manicured lawns and sycamore trees with endless mountain views of Boney Ridge, the steel and glass masterpiece spans approximately 7,000 square feet with plenty of room to pursue their creative endeavors and display their contemporary art collection. (Their tastes range from Pettibon to Warhol and Rauschenberg.)

“We are a family of slightly insane creatives,” says Henman. “Living in this environment has helped keep us inspired and on our toes, whether it be writing, shooting a film or design.”

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Panels of glass, which by now have become a Niles calling card, envelope the living room, dining area and kitchen, providing a frame through which to view rock formations on one side, deep canyons on another side and the Pacific Ocean from yet another direction. Expansive 22-foot-high stainless steel ceilings with skylights let in the day’s shifting light. The master suite and its master bath with floor-to-ceiling glass windows have provided the Henmans with a greater connection to the outdoors. At the same time, the home offers the owner a chance to luxuriate in seclusion, with a separate office/gym with bath and sauna, as well as a detached guest house/studio and a 50-foot helipad for airborne journeys into the urban tumult of Los Angeles.

“I can see why Graham would call it ‘cinematic,’” acknowledges Niles. “Like a movie, it’s constantly changing. It’s like being inside a moving picture. Wherever you are in the house, you are aware of the changing art of nature.”

Over the years, the Henmans have forged a relationship with Niles, consulting him prior to embarking on any improvements so they made sure to keep the integrity of his design intact. “He’s not only an artistic inspiration, but he’s been incredibly generous with his time,” says Henman. Their common ground remains their mutual appreciation for nature as art. From fossilized limestone floors to a kitchen that opens to an outdoor entertaining patio and outdoor kitchen, their home represents the ultimate expression of that concept.

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“My favorite room is the large main room with floor-to-ceiling views to the east and west,” says Henman. “As the light on the mountains changes throughout the day, you are looking at a different painting every minute or so. It’s also been used in lots of film and fashion shoots, so it’s fun to see how different artists interpret it.”

Henman and Niles also share mutual appreciation for Malibu and all of the richness of its lands. Both compare the coastal hamlet to living in a three-dimensional painting.

“Man-made art is fixed in time, whereas my homes, and this one, in particular, capture the change of time,” says Niles. “Nature changes. That itself is art.”

33583 Mulholland Highway is offered by Sandro Dazzan of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Malibu.