A couple of years ago, when it was time to ditch her 1920s Spanish-Moorish house and “invent a new home space” for herself and her two children, award-winning actress Laura Dern was on a mission. “I had this fantasy of moving them into a treehouse,” she says. Since livable treehouses aren’t exactly in great supply in Los Angeles, she found the next best thing: a minimalist 1953 post-and-beam home by Calvin C. Straub (of the powerhouse midcentury firm Buff, Straub and Hensman), on a lot in Brentwood’s rustic-turned-tony Mandeville Canyon. Lush and jungle-like, the piece of land looked like it could have come straight from the set of Jurassic Park.
A Haitian painting in the family room is credited to director Jonathan Demme, while Robert Altman introduced her to photographers whose work she now owns.
“It’s a different feeling being in the trees. There’s an almost 200-year-old oak tree in the front, and an almost 200-year-old avocado in the back. I fell in love with those trees, and it felt like the right spot. The kids fell in love with it. And Michael had this real sense of how it could find its best self," says Dern.
The Ithaca series triptych by artist Alexandra Hedison really makes the dining room, says Haenisch. “On that wall I think it kind of wraps the outside into the room. The table and [Heracleum by Moooi] chandelier Laura owned, and the Nakashima chairs we found together.” Substantial textured vases by ceramist Ken Ferguson top the table. “The juxtaposition just works so well. I love that mix of young and old, vintage and new,” says the designer.
“People became aware I collected the lunch boxes, so I have boxes of them. Jay Leno gave me the Charlie’s Angels one because we’d talked on his show about my obsession. The one I keep trying to find is for a show in the ‘70s I loved called The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. I don’t know if it exists, but I’m still looking.”
“Trip suggested where to put a few pieces of art that I’d never thought of that were really treasures, to let them be honored. It’s funny how you can have such an important photograph to you and hide it away. I have one in my bedroom called “The Baptism” that’s such an incredible depression-era photograph and it’s meant the world to me, but I had it in a place I never saw it. He was like, ‘You love this.’ He wants to know what you love, what you want to see. He has his own brilliant eye and his taste and knows what pieces might shift a room, but he is considering not only your lifestyle but also what might mean something to you.”
“I looked at a lot of modern houses that weren’t from this era, and I appreciated them but there was an austere sense that might feel like I was living in a hotel. Even though I can appreciate a very minimalistic, monochromatic space as meditative and beautiful, I couldn’t live there unless it had a little bit of hippie.”
Dress by Heidi Merrick; Shoes by Schutz; Jewelry by Spinelli Kilcollin
“It’s one of my favorite spaces in the world,” says Dern of the Hemingway Bar in the Ritz Paris, where she spent a lot of time when her kids were babies (while their dad, her ex-husband Ben Harper, was recording and touring). She keeps an ashtray as a reminder in the living room. “It felt like this cave of beautiful colors and art and different textures and fabrics, club chairs and backgammon sets and found pottery. My living room is very influenced by that feeling.”
A souvenir from her starring role in the first Jurassic Park - a gift from Spielberg - sits next to her fireplace.
“David Lynch is a huge influence, and his art is throughout the house. He’s an influence in every way, all the way to the cappuccino machine that was a gift. It’s an incredibly generous and luxurious present, but it is also here for absolutely selfish motivation because he said [doing a gravelly voiced impression], ‘If I’m going to visit you and you’re going to live all the way over there by the beach, then I’ve gotta be able to have a cappuccino.’ The next thing I knew, I had the finest machine that is the only one he will drink from, and some David Lynch coffee, which is the best.”
Bright, unique wallpaper and a quirky dog painting decorate the bathroom.
“I started giving myself one present at the end of a film, in my young adulthood, and they were photographs, depression-era photographs, starting on Rambling Rose. It was a film that would have taken place in the South, so it felt really powerful and cool," Dern explains. "[It was] the idea of choosing either a photographer who was really connected to that time or story in terms of the movie I’d done, or reflected that time in my life. That extended into art pieces.”
“When I need to relax I love looking at architectural and interior design magazines, art books and photography books. They make me happy. I can actually take five minutes and it’s like a mini meditation," says Dern. In her collection: The book Big Little Lies which the HBO show was based off of.
“In storage boxes I have probably 100 individual tea cups that I’ve found all over the world. I feel like they tell the story of a woman in a very specific way,” says Dern over a cup of green tea with Manuka honey. “I was working in London recently and found these women who have a tea shop, and I spent two hours, obsessed, learning how to brew matcha properly. The ritual of it was so beautiful.”
Dern’s favorite space is ever changing. “I’m newly in love with being in the courtyard, but probably the living room—I love being in there, particularly when a fire is lit and you can see all the way through the rest of the house."
Top by Ulla Johnson; jeans by Closed; Shoes by Paul Andrew; Earrings by Catherine Weitzman; Ring by Ariel Gordon
“David [Lynch] is obviously a huge admirer of this specific era of architecture, and he had some wonderful pieces of advice. The master was a very tricky space, because as we know of this time period there are no closets, kids mustn’t have had many toys, people had a lot less stuff to hide. He had some beautiful thoughts and ideas about how we might figure that out, and he talked through them with both myself and Michael. He was an amazing advisor, and always has been, about framing art and how to honor art," says Dern.
“I’ve found instruments on the side of the street. I’ve found incredible Roseville pottery in people’s yards, while working in the South. When we did Citizen Ruth, we’d go antique thrift shopping on weekends," says Dern.