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Alexandria Abramian-Mott | Photo: Jim Simmons | January 10, 2013
Footwear designer Jessie Chen slings back to the future to create the ultimate hillside getaway.
As the owner and founder of Pelle Moda shoes, Jessie Chen is clear about what she wants to create: Highly sculptural footwear that is all about simplicity and a focus on materials. Whether she’s combining leather and snakeskin for a sexy summer platform, is adding handpicked jewels to a dramatic heel, or has created a chain-link leather ankle boot that perfectly cages the foot, it’s all about “pared-down wow,” according to Chen.
And the same goes her for home, a 4,000-square-foot ruthlessly right-angled spread in the Hollywood Hills’ Bird Streets. Sleek, clean-lined and retrained, the house is a study in simplicity—the perfect retreat for a designer obsessed with making the most possible visual impact with the least amount of adornment. “What I like is material and textural interest. I like simple lines, but when you get closer, you can see these contrasts,” says Chen, whose shoes are routinely worn by the likes of Julia Stiles, Giuliana Rancic and Selena Gomez. “So on my shoes, you might see a combination of exotic materials with very plain leather on an architectural construction. Here there are shiny finishes that play against matte ones; sleek furniture and more organic elements. It all has to flow together.”
But if utter simplicity was the goal, the path toward it proved to be somewhat more complicated. Chen spent two years searching for the perfect home. And when she finally stumbled upon this late 1950s, single-story spread, it was far from her vision. But something struck. “I came here three or four times and it just felt right,” says Chen. “Even though it wasn’t beautiful at the time, there was something about it, and I knew I could make it much better.”
To help lead the charge, Chen enlisted the help of Los Angeles power-decorator Waldo Fernandez—of Spago, Soho House and countless high-profile homes—whose work she discovered while house hunting. “When I was looking at another home in Beverly Hills, I found out it was designed by Waldo. I interviewed about 20 designers, but when I met with him, I fell in love with his energy and passion. And then he suggested we work with architect Mark Rios [of Rios Clementi Hale Studio] as well.”
Together, the three embarked on a collaborative effort that opened the home up, both in terms of creating wide-open interior spaces, but also in terms of establishing a better indoor-outdoor flow. Load-bearing posts were removed to make an uninterrupted living/dining area; limestone flooring now seamlessly connects the indoors with the out; floor-to-ceiling pocket windows disappear to bring the area’s rugged hillside and cityscape into view, the perfect foil against the home’s high-shine perfection. One of the biggest changes is the addition of a 60-foot-ribbon of an Infinity pool that bookends the property on one side. Lit up at night, the property looks like the luminous jewel box Chen always dreamed of.
“What I really wanted was a home that would feel like my own private spa,” she says. “A home that would be a true retreat. I didn’t want a glamorous retreat; I want to create a place where I could have serenity and peace in mind.”
And what about storage for all of those shoes? Chen converted one of the original bedrooms into a 700-square-foot closet, a high altar for her beloved designs. “I give away a lot of my shoes, but I still have hundreds and hundreds of pairs. Walking into that closet is like entering a museum.”