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How Hollywood designs a home (and how you can too)

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For home remodeler Janus Cercone, the cliche “If these walls could talk” is particularly apt.

Though she is now living in the world of home designers, decorators and architects, Cercone is a screenwriter best known for the 1992 film “Leap of Faith.” So when this writer-turned-remodeler approaches a new property, she first asks herself:

What is the story this property wants to tell?

Every home has one, she says.

“We think about who would inhabit that setting. And once that character is established and really mapped out, that guides our design process.”

(Click here or on a photo to see a house she designed for a fictional character in Malibu.)

Her company, Jaman Properties—which combines the names of her and her partner, director Michael Manheim—has renovated 10 properties and sold them to fellow Hollywood elite, including Conan O'Brien, "The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening and Fran Drescher.

The house on Tigertail, built for a fictional big media personality -- and bought by Conan O'Brien.

The house on Tigertail, built for a fictional big media personality -- and bought by Conan O'Brien.

One of their homes perfectly exemplifies the success of their philosophy. On Tigertail Road in Los Angeles' Brentwood neighborhood, they tore down an existing house to build from the ground up. Cercone and Manheim invented as their character/resident a media star from the East Coast, someone with a big personality and the physical stature to match.

So they built a Cape Cod-style white home with a back porch and a bright red door in the architectural tradition of the Northeast. They included open rooms, big windows and tall ceilings to accommodate the big media personality they had in mind.

And when 6-foot-4 talk show host Conan O'Brien saw it, he joked that it was the only home he’d seen that would truly fit him, Cercone says.

He bought it.

The new Malibu listing, designed for a fictional frazzled exec. Click a photo for a slideshow.

The new Malibu listing, designed for a fictional frazzled exec. Click a photo for a slideshow.

Cercone's design process is unusual, centered on characters and stories while ignoring the kinds of data that builders tend to put a lot of stock into -- trends, focus groups, market reports. She isn't looking to create a product.

“If you look at entertainment, the goal, boiled down to its essence, is to deliver an experience to an audience. Whether you want them to be frightened or excited or moved, that’s the experience you want to provide,” Cercone says.

“We’re looking to provide emotion with these houses.”

For Jaman’s latest home, the Stone House -- an open beachfront Malibu mansion that recently came on the market for about $10 million -- they thought a lot about the kind of person who would live there. Cercone dreamed up someone in entertainment, who probably has a stressful job and needs an escape, so the home was built as a haven for the owner to relax, dream and just be.

Cercone's approach is one that any homeowner can use. Click here or on a photo to launch our slideshow, which includes tips on how Cercone’s character brought the Malibu home together.

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