Tour a Dreamy Malibu Villa That’s One Family’s Private Sanctuary

As Oliver M. Furth embarked on the design of this serene Malibu villa, his client issued an evocative challenge: “I want to live inside an ancient seashell, washed up onto shore,” she told the AD100 talent. Over the course of the past 15 years, Furth and his muse (as he refers to her) have developed a shared visual language as well as a caring friendship. The Malibu property, a compact villa with a series of intimate pavilions overlooking the Pacific, represents their fourth project together. The place was intended as the harbinger of a meaningful new chapter for the client—a grounded life viscerally connected to nature. Among her varied philanthropic endeavors, the homeowner is a cofounder of One Earth, a nonprofit organization working to accelerate collective action to solve the climate crisis. “Her previous life was very glamorous, filled with celebrities and fancy antiques, all of which she had outgrown personally and aesthetically,” Furth explains. “This new home was designed as a private sanctuary for her and her family, a respite from the superficiality of the outside world. It was envisioned to be a place for reflection, meditation, and casual gatherings of intimate friends.”

The soul of Furth’s design resides in its poetic, earthy materiality—solid wood, carved stone, cast bronze, and hand-shaped ceramics, all orchestrated in bright, airy compositions that dance in the California sunlight. Furth completely reimagined the existing 1990s structures in a process of clarifying and refining to set the stage for his decorative alchemy. His touchstones were 19th-century Japanese architecture and distilled Belgian design of the early 2000s, tethered, naturally, to a distinctly California ethos. “We were heavily influenced by the rhythmic repetition of Agnes Martin,” Furth adds, referring to the illustrious minimalist artist. “You see her visual poetry of grids and lines reflected in stacked stoneware tile, hand-combed plaster, cleft-cut travertine, and reclaimed, wide-plank oak floors.”

An antidote to today’s cut-and-paste, beige-on-beige decorative doldrums, Furth’s complex palette of subtle earth tones draws inspiration from the Malibu seascape and the surrounding mountains. He had textiles custom woven in Kyoto and Lima in colors of salt, indigo, and muddy amethyst. Tiles were handmade in Mexico and Morocco. Specially commissioned pieces include a set of Shoji-like doors carved in ash by North Carolina–based artisan Casey Johnson, which feature translucent panels of recycled resin fabricated by an eco-friendly design collective in Utah. The home’s bespoke artistry is announced immediately at the front door of the house, where designer Chuck Moffitt fashioned a sculptural, branch-form handle in bronze.

Furth’s assemblage of fine furnishings encompasses a pair of important George Nakashima walnut cocktail tables, a bench of Douglas fir by Mexican architect Ricardo Legoretta, a Donald Judd daybed, and signature pieces by Poul Kjaerholm, Carlo Scarpa, Mies van der Rohe, Pierre Jeanneret, Bruno Mathsson, Børge Mogensen, Arthur Espenet Carpenter, and Wharton Esherick. Together this all-star roster deftly bridges the machined precision of high European modernism and the handmade beauty of American craft. Contemporary pieces—including a celadon resin table by Sabine Marcelis and an incense stand by Minjae Kim—pepper the historical mix.

The client’s rarefied taste in design is coupled with an equally incisive eye for art. There are pieces by seminal figures in the Los Angeles arts scene—Ed Ruscha, Billy Al Bengston, Ed Moses—along with works by titans of 20th-century art on the order of Cy Twombly and Pablo Picasso. Complementing the treasures hanging on the walls are Roman and Bactrian antiquities as well as a collection of ceramics focusing on midcentury California makers. “There’s a dreamy quality to this house that feels very in tune with the sky and the surf and the land,” Furth muses. “It also reflects the spirit of the homeowner and this particular moment in her life. She’s a dream client, so it all makes sense.”

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