Wallis Annenberg’s weekend retreat is a feat of design—and a picture-perfect home for the philanthropist’s photography collection.
“When you look out these windows, you can occasionally see dolphins and whales at play. It’s a remarkable thing,” notes Wallis Annenberg, whose intensely consuming work as chairman of the billion-dollar Annenberg Foundation demands a regular change of perspective. For salt air and the cry of a sea gull, Friday drives to her Malibu Colony retreat are welcome breaks.
Built for Michael Landon on a fabled expanse of sand, “the house was a ’70s period piece that had very good bones,” notes architect Frederick Fisher. “It just needed opening up.” He clad the formerly shingled exterior in slate-gray stucco, calling to mind a modernist’s fortress—if it weren’t for the wood slats adding a linear counterpoint. That warm-and-cool aesthetic continues inside with the edgy use of hot-rolled steel in the TV-centric living area (there are three wide-screens). “I admit, she wasn’t fully convinced,” says interior designer Sam Cardella of Annenberg, “but when she saw the steel’s patina, she was thrilled!” Elegantly quirky Mid-Century Modern furnishings that carry no hint of cliché include a T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings rosewood Klismos chair, a 1940s Italian writing desk and 1950s linoleum-covered dining table (with humor fully intact).
The orchid-filled contemporary space, shared with Annenberg’s partner, Kris Levine, displays a passion for the witty, the refined and the organic. Given the flood of multi-directional natural light, the placement of treasures in Annenberg’s beloved photography collection (Mapplethorpes and Bruce Webers among them) took exacting calculations. But what—or who—really took precedence in the end? A shaggy, string-covered sofa was apparently no match for the resident Malteses, so the custom piece was banished. Here, Annenberg describes the home that is a perfect reflection of its owner.
Given the serenity in Malibu, are you tempted to turn your Century City townhouse into the weekend retreat?
It’s very tempting. But as the filmmaker Stanley Kubrick once said, “If everything is beautiful, nothing is beautiful.” Coming here on the weekends—having it as an oasis, an escape—makes it that much more meaningful and special.
I imagine your friends all covet an invitation; is this a gathering place or hiding place?
It’s really both at once. I have friends here constantly, and dinners and informal gatherings as often as I can. You might say we hide out together.
I don’t see too many Bridge tables these days…
It’s most definitely a passion. Bridge teaches you strategic thinking and also the importance of collaborating, communicating with and relying on another person. Plus, it’s fun.
You worked with Frederick Fisher on the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica. What made you ask him to design your own home?
There’s a great deal that I admire about his work. For one thing, it’s minimalist; it’s as much about the open space, the natural environment, the context of a building, as it is about the building. On top of that, there’s an irreverence to his work; he’s not stuck in any formal style or trapped by any dogma—his tastes are broad and deep and wildly diverse. He designs spaces that connect you to yourself, and to the world around you.
Your photography collection displays an appreciation of beauty in both pleasure and pain. What draws you to an image?
Those that can offer some kind of insight, some kind of human truth. Sometimes, it’s about the fragility behind beauty. And sometimes, it’s about pain and deprivation. At the end
of the day, what’s most beautiful is what is real and truthful.
I had to laugh at the “W-A-L-L-I-S NOT W-A-L-L-E-T” pillow.
I laugh at it, too, which is why it’s here. Maybe this is my way of reminding myself that there’s something human that drives our funding choices. Or maybe I just need to assert that I’m more than the sum of my checkbook!
By Dawn Moore.
Photographed by Lisa Romerein.