This Serene Oasis of Calm in Malibu Is What We All Need Right Now

Vanessa Lawrence
·4-min read
Photo credit: Douglas Friedman
Photo credit: Douglas Friedman

From ELLE Decor

In 1929, the American movie star William Boyd began building a hacienda-style home on almost 150 acres of land in the Santa Monica Mountains in California. Boyd, who would soon become famous for playing the cowboy hero Hopalong Cassidy, had recently been on location in Spain shooting a movie. There, he fell in love with the local architecture and realized that the style would work equally well in the dry Malibu climate. He envisioned his house, which was completed in 1932 and overlooks Boney Mountain and the Pacific Ocean, as a place where he could detox from his Hollywood life.

Photo credit: Douglas Friedman
Photo credit: Douglas Friedman

Nearly 50 years after Boyd’s death, the property now belongs to Alex and Sue Glasscock, who, incidentally, are continuing the actor’s vision for the site as a place to unwind from the stresses of modern existence. The Glasscocks are the founders and owners of the Ranch, a wellness and fitness retreat touting rigorous regimes (think 5 a.m. wake-ups, four-hour daily hikes, and a caffeine- and gluten-free vegan diet) and a celebrity clientele (actresses Mandy Moore, Rebel Wilson, and Brooke Shields have all been guests). When the couple purchased Boyd’s former land in 2009, they also bought an adjacent parcel that was being used as a children’s camp. The Glasscocks transformed its cabins and grounds into the Ranch Malibu (they have since opened an additional location at the Four Seasons in Westlake Village). They decided to live next door in Boyd’s U-shaped house, which retained its original tapestries, Spanish Colonial furniture, and 90-year-old carpets.

Photo credit: Douglas Friedman
Photo credit: Douglas Friedman

Initially, they reconfigured the main bedroom suite and upgraded the finishes, but otherwise kept the spaces intact. “We had all these dark, heavy carved pieces of furniture,” Sue explains. “In the spirit of the moment, we felt we should keep a lot of it.” As time passed, the decor seemed at odds with their more relaxed, outdoorsy lifestyle. A year and a half ago, they sought help from their friend of two decades, New York–based interior designer Steven Gambrel, though who exactly initiated the intervention is up for debate.

“ ‘Maybe your house is a bit dark and monastic,’ ” Alex recalls Gambrel saying to them.

“Sue said to me, ‘I think the house is a bit gloomy, and the ceiling is so dark,’ ” says Gambrel. “And I was like, ‘God, I never thought about it.’ Honestly. The coolest thing about this project is that it was so beautiful before.”

He certainly made the most of the house’s stellar bones. With an eye toward adding lightness and serenity, Gambrel replastered the walls and painted the exposed ceiling beams white. The couple loves entertaining and hosting dinner parties, so in concert with the landscape designer Scott Shrader, Gambrel revamped the outdoor spaces, adding vintage stone garden furniture and wicker seating to facilitate social gatherings.

Photo credit: Douglas Friedman
Photo credit: Douglas Friedman

Indoors, he continued this theme, transforming the great room from an underutilized space into a central hub. Now, vintage and custom sofas and ottomans mix with antique marble tables and contemporary Japanese ink drawings. Glass bell-jar lanterns add expansiveness. In a breakfast nook off the kitchen, Gambrel designed a custom 17-inch-high banquette in a Janus et Cie fabric. It clocks in at two inches lower than the standard, giving the entire corner a laid-back, easier feel.

Perhaps the most noteworthy changes come from what Gambrel did without: color. The Glasscocks prefer a neutral palette, the better to keep the focus on the natural bounty outside. Gambrel, whose New York projects often feature bold and artful hues, obliged, limewashing walls and layering in shades of taupe, putty, and gray for an aged finish that still exudes the sophistication for which he is known.

“When you can rely on texture and patina, then color is not as relevant,” the designer explains. “I’m not sure that I’m the first name that comes to mind when you think of California, but I love the vernacular and the freshness.”

For the Glasscocks, Gambrel’s work on their home is not entirely dissimilar from the wellness goals they set for their human clients at the Ranch. “When you look at something that’s beautifully sited and has the right scale,” says Alex, “then it’s fun to make it its best self.”

Photo credit: Ricardo Labougle
Photo credit: Ricardo Labougle

This story originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of ELLE Decor.

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