Designer Spotlight

Studio William Hefner Is the Total Design Package

William Hefner and Kazuko Hoshino, of Studio William Hefner, don’t want to be known for a particular style (portrait by Tyler William Parker). Top: They designed this Trousdale Estates home to highlight the clients’ art collection and the incredible view (photo by James Ray Spahn).

At 60,000-square feet, Chateau des Fleurs, a Loire-style estate in Bel Air completed in 2014, raised eyebrows and drew a fair amount of snark from sites like Curbed while it was being constructed. (One headline read, in part, “Chateau des Fleurs Will Eat Us All.”) Even in over-the-top L.A., the consensus was that a building that size could not look or feel attractive.

However, Studio William Hefner, the L.A.-based architectural firm behind the house, saw mastering — and masking — the large scale as a design challenge. Founder William Hefner mitigated the size of the structure and its impact by positioning it at the back of the three-acre property and using layers of landscaping and gardens between the house and its neighbors. Channeling classic French style, he balanced discipline and embellishment by designing a subdued stepped-front façade that shelters the terraces, wings and gardens in the rear of the house. The unadorned limestone exterior sets the tone for luxurious restraint while allowing the color, filigree, crystal and pattern inside to surprise and shine. “Despite the considerable scale, the goal of this house was to create a powerfully simple and elegant structure that would feel timeless and not imitative,” says Hefner.

Repeated research trips to France by Hefner and his team informed the architectural details and the interiors, which include 12 bedrooms (some outfitted with platinum molding, period fireplace mantels and framed paneling), five kitchens and five reception rooms, as well as the gardens, which evoke Versailles.

Although the full-service firm oversaw everything — soupe to écrous — the furnished interiors are not included in the striking book documenting the project and published last year by Pointed Leaf Press, leaving one to imagine what’s on the other side of those wrought-iron balconies. (For fun, we asked Hefner to “furnish” some of the château’s rooms using pieces found on 1stdibs. You can see the results in The Study‎.)

Studio William Hefner Is the Total Design Package
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Studio William Hefner Is the Total Design Package

For their home in L.A.’s Hancock Park, William Hefner and Kazuko Hoshino reimagined an aging Spanish-style house as a French Provincial abode. “We added a low wall fountain and plantings evocative of southern France to create a gentle introductory layer between the house and the street,” Hefner says. Photo by Laura Hull

Left: French doors create openness in this sitting area off the master bedroom, which includes a custom chair and ottoman and Donghia draperies. Right: The airy breakfast room features custom dining chairs. Photos by by Laura Hull.

In the kitchen, a large Circa Bryant light with an antique nickel finish hangs over the wood-and-marble island. Photo by Laura Hull

This Pacific Palisades home’s indoor-outdoor design is a Hefner trademark. White terrazzo floors are juxtaposed with a wood ceiling, while a Kettal table, chairs and sofa keep things breezy and light. Photo by Grey Crawford

Left: The indoor-outdoor design extends to the dining room, which opens to a patio. Right: The entry foyer includes Crema Europa limestone floors and white-oak stairs with a custom stain. Photos by Grey Crawford

In the garden of the Pacific Palisades home, a pebble path leads to a concrete bench, ideal for contemplation. Manzanillo olive trees, Japanese boxwood, hydrangeas and fern pine hedges surround the space. Photo by Grey Crawford

In designing the 60,000-square-foot Chateau des Fleurs, in Bel Air, Hefner aimed to create an elegant, timeless structure. The custom limestone fountain was inspired by one in an Aix-en-Provence town square. Photo by Laura Hull

Massive châteaus are not necessarily the firm’s specialty. Indeed, its portfolio includes Spanish colonial, French contemporary, Cape Cod, Georgian and ranch-style houses, as well as mid-century-inspired and modern glass buildings. “We’re excited about something that’s different,” says Hefner. “We’re afraid if we had a ‘style,’ we’d get bored.”

Among the firm’s recently completed projects is a Trousdale Estates residence that riffs on California Case Study houses but expands the typically low-ceilinged, modest-size design to encompass nearly 7,000 square feet and ceilings up to 12.5 feet high. Hefner kept the trademark expansive use of glass and open floor plan but updated the materials, adding white terrazzo floors and Calacatta marble. “The idea was to create an environment for a large art collection and a mega view,” he says.

Then there’s his own weekend home in Montecito, completed last year. “It’s a modern take on vernacular architecture, built mostly out of Santa Barbara sandstone,” Hefner says. That material was not in the original design, but, the architect says, he “embraced and incorporated” it after it was found during site grading. Hefner shares the home with his wife, interior designer Kazuko Hoshino, who heads up the studio’s interior design division, and their nine-year-old son. (They also own a French provincial house in L.A.’s Hancock Park.)

Subtle texture stars in a Brentwood dining room, where a parchment-topped table is surrounded by Studio William Hefner velvet Coco chairs. A Paul Marra console is backed by an antique glass mirror, which reflects the Minotti chandelier. Photo by Laura Hull

The couple are warm and relaxed, even amid the dauntingly detailed renderings and models that fill the office. They met when Hefner was working on a residence in Seoul, Korea. The Japanese-born Hoshino consulted on the fabric for the home’s custom furniture. It wasn’t until a few years into their marriage, however, that they pondered another union.

“We decided we would try to work together, but we gave ourselves permission to stop if it wasn’t working,” says Hefner. They never needed the out. Despite their diverse backgrounds, they’re decidedly aligned on design. “We have very similar aesthetics,” explains Hoshino. “It’s become a little joke in the office. He’ll pick a finish or fabric, and someone will say, ‘That’s what she chose, too.’ ”

Nevertheless, there’s a dichotomy that serves their designs well: While Hoshino favors smooth, cool surfaces like marble, Hefner usually goes for something more textural. The pair leads a team of close to 40 architects and interior/landscape designers working on commercial and residential projects around the world, as well as close to home, in Los Angeles. Are they ever daunted by taking on all the elements at once? On the contrary. “A room doesn’t stop on one side of the glass,” says Hefner. “To us, architecture, interiors and outside all work with one another to create an experience — a feeling.”

They say their holistic approach feeds their learning process. They’re also eager to be educated by their clients. A few years ago, for instance, they completed a French Mediterranean–style home in the San Fernando Valley for actor and environmentalist Ed Begley Jr. “He is on another level with green building,” says Hefner. “We met new people doing these and vetted tons of eco-friendly products and materials for the project. We learned a lot, even though I think we did a reasonable job at sustainable design before.”

 


“To us, architecture, interiors and outside all work with one another to create an experience — a feeling.”


Studio William Hefner Is the Total Design Package
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Studio William Hefner Is the Total Design Package

This Pacific Palisades home is designed to maximize its canyon views. The patio at the edge of the infinity pool features custom spa lounges. Photo by James Ray Spahn

In the master bedroom, custom wall panels are covered in Rose Tarlow fabric. A pair of mid-18th-century Chinese trunks topped with vintage steel lamps flank the bed, and an Edward Wormley bench sits at its foot. Photo by Roger Davies

In the Pacific Palisades living room, the curvy custom sofa and vintage Brazilian coffee table play off the walnut stairs’ sharp edges. The moon-shaped sconces are by John Pomp. Photo by James Ray Spahn

A Japanese rock garden leads to this aluminum-and-concrete Los Angeles home, which has three roofs pitched in different directions. Photo by Roger Davies

Random Light globe pendants by Moooi hang over Gallotti & Radice tables in the dining area. Photo by Roger Davies

A fountain stands in the rock garden leading into the home. Photo by Roger Davies

The master bedroom of the Trousdale Estates home contains a custom bed and a chair and ottoman by Charles and Ray Eames. Photo by James Ray Spahn

The master bath features marble countertops, walnut cabinetry and terrazzo floors. Photo by James Ray Spahn
A Pigalle chandelier by Bourgeois Boheme Atelier hangs above the striking concrete stairs in another Brentwood home. The floors are Roman travertine. Photo by Laura Hull

Their approach is much the same whether the structure is mid-century modern or Mediterranean. “Underneath all the projects are the basic things that matter, like the comfort of a client,” says Hoshino. “We want to make everything feel natural and timeless.”

Hefner adds that working in such seemingly conflicting styles truly enhances how they design in each. “Our traditional work has made the contemporary projects better, and vice versa.” he explains. “There’s a bit more detail and richness in the modern work. And our traditional spaces lean more simple and tailored — a direct influence from the contemporary.”

Perhaps this is a result of living and working in Los Angeles, where a Neutra house and an Italianate villa often share a property line. “California is a super-important part of what we do,” Hefner says. “The mixture of design found here and the variety of the light infuse everything. We spend a lot of time on the interaction of the inside and outside. We’re designing them together.”

Influences come from beyond the Golden State, too. “Paris is amazing and always inspires,” says Hoshino. Hefner agrees, adding, “We really love Stockholm and Bali, and we get back to Japan a few times a year. We’re creatively recharged by travel.”

This isn’t surprising when you consider the firm’s commitment to design with a cultural history. “No matter the style, our quest is to be classic and never trendy,” says Hefner, summing up the tone of their 30 years of work. “To do that, you have to approach each project with a lot of authenticity and research. Find out the appropriate details and materials so that it will have longevity.”

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