By: Roger Grody
The office’s location on this stretch of Wilshire Boulevard, lined by Art Deco masterpieces and many of the city’s museums, is clearly inspirational for designers.
Originally from Northern California, Hefner arrived in Los Angeles to earn a graduate degree in architecture from UCLA and founded his current practice in 1989. He oversees a highly collaborative staff of about 35 in L.A. and maintains a smaller office in the idyllic coastal community of Montecito, outside of Santa Barbara.
Hefner, who studied art history in college and appreciates a diversity of design, draws inspiration from landmark residences scattered throughout Southern California. He is appreciative of traditionalists like Wallace Neff and Paul Williams — their Mediterranean estates have long been popular with Hollywood celebrities — as well as Mid-Century Modern masters Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra. As a result, Hefner’s practice encompasses a wide spectrum of architectural styles and his firm adapts to evolving preferences.
“In my practice, I try not to have a ‘signature’ style but strive toward quality design and execution in different genres, from very traditional to contemporary,” says Hefner, who reports about 60 percent of his current commissions are modern, a share that has doubled in the past decade. “Modern residential architecture has come in and out of style over the past 30 years but is finally becoming more of a lifestyle, not just a fashion or trend,” says Hefner, who adds, “I think it’s here to stay.” In Los Angeles — where so many high-end homes are in the hills or along the coast — modern design maximizes views and suits the region’s indoor-outdoor lifestyle.
Commissioned to design a massive residence on 10 precious acres in L.A.’s opulent Bel-Air neighborhood, Hefner created a formidable French-style estate known as Château des Fleurs. The client’s original inspiration was the majestic Hôtel du Cap on France’s Côte d’Azur, and Hefner conducted extensive research in Paris, Versailles and the Loire Valley to ensure that every detail was authentic. “We wanted to make sure each room was special and unique,” explains Hefner of the house, which has 31 bathrooms. Despite the scale of the project, the architect took care to create intimate, family-friendly spaces throughout the home in addition to grand rooms for entertainment.
When the 60,000-square-foot residence was completed in 2013 after five years of construction, it was the largest home in a city famous for conspicuous consumption. In his lavishly illustrated book Château des Fleurs (Pointed Leaf Press, 2016), Hefner explains a progressive approach to classic French design. “The balance of this house was to create a powerfully simple structure that would feel timeless and not imitative, while inviting an Old World opulence to the fit and finish of the architecture in a way that would be both decorative and something more: modern,” he writes.
Another more classically inspired design from Hefner is an oceanfront home in L.A.’s Pacific Palisades, a celebrity-favored enclave with a rich architectural history. This home features an Italianate design, dazzling spiral staircase and lush landscaping. In the very same community, in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, Hefner authored a sprawling modern residence in which the floorplan was meticulously oriented to ensure optimal views from every room.
An approximately 7,000-square-foot home in Beverly Hills’ coveted Trousdale Estates is one of Studio William Hefner’s most notable expressions of modernism. Reminiscent of L.A.’s influential Case Study Houses from prominent Mid-Century Modern architects, it was commissioned for a client with an extraordinary modern art collection. “Accommodating art is always a challenge in a view house,” says Hefner, who notes the requisite expanses of glass tend to limit available wall space.
In suburban Sierra Madre, a considerably more rustic community than Beverly Hills, Hefner created a thoroughly contemporary residence in an environment where Craftsman bungalows and Spanish Revival homes are the prevailing architecture. But through a generous use of stone and wood, he was able to infuse the property with considerable warmth, softening the impact of its modernist theme.
“My philosophy, in both traditional and modern homes, is to introduce spaces for indoor-outdoor living, which is a reason we offer landscape architecture among our services,” says Hefner. “In Southern California, the entire site becomes a living space, with large patios, covered outdoor living areas and landscaped courtyards that people can use throughout the year,” he explains. In Hefner-designed landscape design projects, swimming pools often double as reflecting pools, fountain-laden patios assume the serenity of Zen gardens and cacti provide a compelling complement to austere clean-lined structures.
Like New York’s idiosyncratic Peter Marino, a talent he admires, Hefner is an architect who has expanded his practice to incorporate interior design. “I always had a strong interest in interiors and was disappointed when some of my early projects were not finished the way I had envisioned them, so I began designing interiors myself,” recounts Hefner. Now heading up the interior specialty at the firm is his wife, accomplished designer Kazuko Hoshino, and the firm produces custom-made furniture and accessories that enhance the interiors she creates.
Among Studio William Hefner’s custom-made products are the Infinity console, a plane of wood supported by two circular bands of steel, and the strikingly contemporary Halo mirror with its echoes of Mid-Century Modernism. Featuring a modern simplicity are the Capri lounge chair and distinctive Willow nightstand. Even the most contemporary of these pieces can complement vintage architectural settings, as Hefner and Hoshino have demonstrated in their own 1920s residence in L.A.’s fashionable Hancock Park neighborhood.
Before Hefner founded his own company, he worked for Skidmore Owings & Merrill, one of the world’s largest and most influential architecture firms, designing high-rise commercial buildings. “It was difficult to establish a personal connection with the ultimate users of the spaces,” laments Hefner, who appreciates residential design because of the more intimate relationship it forges between architect and client. Hefner encourages clients to fully participate in the design process, stating, “I think we do a better job when they’re more involved.”
The firm’s projects continue to be concentrated in Southern California, where Hefner believes the Mediterranean climate and the indoor-outdoor lifestyle it encourages affords him a genuine freedom of creativity. However, Studio William Hefner has designed residences in countries as disparate as South Korea, Turkey and Israel, and is currently undertaking projects in Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Photos courtesy of Laura Hull, James Ray Spahn, and Tyler William Parker