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Feature: The Midas Touch

Beverly Russell

Leave it to Alec Gores to turn everything he touches into gold. Since 1992, the chairman of the Los Angeles–based Gores Technology Group has completed over 35 deals worth more than $l billion, including the acquisition of the troubled Learning Company from Mattel, which left his peers gasping and wondering what he would try next. “I work best when I am in a corner,” explains Gores.

That maxim served him well in the creation of his new residence in one of Los Angeles’ exclusive gated communities. He began by buying a lot that many people would have passed up. It was tucked into a corner, right up against a hillside, with no views. Exactly the kind of challenge that pushes Gores into overdrive.

After interviewing six architects, he chose Richard Landry, whom he paired with interior designer Donna Livingston. “I had seen some of Richard’s work published and felt he could do what I wanted,” says Gores, who adds that his dream was “a Tuscan-style house that felt like it had been around for a while.”

To begin, Landry and landscaper DW/LA Landscape Architects brought in bulldozers to cut back the hillside and install retaining walls. This judicious use of hidden assets was the architectural equivalent of a Gores business fix. It got the design team out of a difficult corner and onto a level playing field. It made space for a poolhouse, a generously landscaped terrace, and a children’s play area. Those additions, in turn, created attractive views from inside the house looking toward the hilly backdrop. It was the kind of innovative thinking that Gores appreciated about Landry: “The chemistry was good from a personal point of view,” Gores says. “He was strong. I got along with him.”

“Alec is a man of quick decisions,” adds Landry. “He’s a true entrepreneur. He was one of the few clients who actually asked me if there was anything in the project that I would like to change as we went along. It’s rare to find an owner who wants to initiate change orders by the architect.”

Today, standing by the pool in the garden, Gores gazes at a modern replica of a picturesque casa that, in typical Italian rural style, appears to have been added onto over centuries. It is clad in Santa Barbara rubblestone and French limestone, with carefully integrated precast concrete detailing. The changing roofline is covered with authentic cylindrical terra-cotta tiles and embellished with four tall chimneys, which serve the hearths in the library, great room, outdoor loggia, and master bedroom. A wrought iron Romeo and Juliet balcony on the second floor connects the master bedroom to the garden via a graceful, curving stairway.

Gores’ talent for prophetic anticipation in business also marks his lifestyle. Like many people post–September 11, Gores is thinking closer to home these days. Landry confirms the trend: “Executives today want to come home, put on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, and join their children in some activity.” They also try to work at home more often, which calls for a reevaluation in living: fewer formal dinner parties with clients and business associates, more get-togethers with family and friends. Gores, a lavish party-giver, hosted 600 people in the house over the course of one month this year.

And his natural instinct for paring down and capitalizing on what’s in hand, the cornerstone of his financial rescue operations, is evident in the arrangement of rooms. Although it is spacious, the 12,000-square-foot house has no formal living room. “Why waste space on something you never use?” he reasons. Instead, the library, with its fireplace, wood bookshelves, wet bar, flat TV screen, and antique desk with a 20-line phone system, is a comfortable, multipurpose room that redefines the contemporary life of the 21st-century businessman. Informally formal—a leitmotiv of design today—the library was given a framework of a walnut parquet floor and intricate coffered ceiling by Landry, and filled with upholstered sofas, antique Portuguese armchairs, oil paintings, leather-bound books, and a marble mantel by Donna Livingston. Outside, beyond its triple pairs of French doors, is a second, more casual living room under the covered loggia, where a radiant-heated floor and fireplace make it usable year-round.

Traditional influences abound throughout the residence, which at the same time breaks with convention. Unobserved by guests, but at instant service to Gores, for instance, is a miniature electronic wall panel that adjusts lighting to three different levels or brings up a surround-sound audio system at the flick of a finger. Still, despite having made his name in the high-tech arena, the CEO said he “didn’t want to go overboard” with technology at home. Instead, a concerted effort was made to turn every room into a friendly, family space. Putting one of the six bedrooms downstairs (with a barrel-vaulted ceiling and delightful balcony on the front of the house) also breaks with convention, while making the best use of square footage.

Next to the kitchen is the great room (today’s upscale den), a heroic space with a distressed wood truss ceiling that rises over 15 feet. “It looks as though it has been there forever,” says Marc Welch, Landry’s associate architect in charge, who researches the historical details that characterize Landry Design Group’s European-influenced projects. The wine cellar was positioned behind wrought iron doors on either side of the dining room entrance. And the basement was turned into a state-of-the-art home theater.

Gores’ career epitomizes the American dream. His parents arrived penniless from Israel and settled in Michigan. Like many self-made men, Gores has created his own heritage—his house is his legacy for his children. Donna Livingston installed a luxurious moss-colored mohair fabric on the walls of the library, a decorating idea she noted during a personal audience at the pope’s private apartment in Rome a few years ago. “I was just waiting for the opportunity to do it,” she says. An apt blessing to bestow on a new dynasty. 

Landry Design Group, 310.444.1404, www.landrydesigngroup.com
Donna Livingston, 310.273.1855

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