A new property in LA known as “The One” came on the market in 2017. Spanning 9,662sqm with a half-a-billion-dollar price tag, it was acknowledged as the most expensive house in the world. It was designed by Irish architect Paul McClean, unofficially known as the king of LA’s mega-mansions. Having studied at DIT in Dublin, he worked in London and Sydney before setting up McClean Design in southern California in 2000, a gamble at the time which paid off. “We got the chance to design a ground-up home in a canyon setting and it was too good an opportunity to pass up. Quitting the day job was a no-brainer and more work followed. We have been through a few business cycles by now and I think I am slowly learning not to panic. There is always a lot to do; it’s a matter of balancing that with the financing side of the business.”
Since then he has designed the homes of A-listers including Jay-Z and Beyoncé, designer Calvin Klein, as well as Irish property developer Paddy McKillen. “There have been a couple of clients who definitely left me a little starstruck,” says McClean, “but that fades fast as the practicalities of figuring out the needs and wants take over. We are really fortunate in that we often have generous budgets to work with and we start off right at the first phone call setting realistic expectations about timing and price. Good communication is key to the whole project.”
Glass is an important style trope – eliminating the barrier between outside and inside, and maximising the impressive views of Bel Air, the Hollywood Hills and Laguna Beach. “No matter what scale we are working at, light, air, views and water are the focus of our designs. The same issues apply to all our projects: how we instil a sense of place, how we edit views and surroundings so our homes are both private and expansive in their outlook, how we create a sense of calm in a busy world. I think especially today, with all the distractions of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, creating a place that can be a retreat is so important. If nothing else is available, you can always look at the sky.”
Orange County is a long way from Coolock where McClean admits there was limited exposure to architecture. While studying he was particularly taken with Busáras designed by Michael Scott, “though I was uncomfortable with what it appeared to do to the urban fabric”. His passion was nurtured at DIT: “One of the strongest memories I have was working for McCullough Mulvin Architects as part of the Temple Bar competition in Group 91. They did an amazing job of knitting that piece of the city fabric back together in a way that was groundbreaking for Dublin.” When he returns home he’s drawn to the west – the wildness of the landscape, or the Wicklow mountains if time is tight – and to the quiet beauty of Kildare and Howth. As for his projects (25 are published in a new book by Rizzoli), which is a standout? “It is like picking a favourite child. Some projects are better architecturally. Other projects we have done with brilliant clients bring back the best memories. Easier to say that what stands out most is that first moment when all the programme ideas and client discussions coalesce into a sketch on paper.”
McClean Design: Creating the Contemporary House, text by Philip Jodidio, Rizzoli.
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