Variety, By JAMES MCCLAIN
While he awaits the upcoming Supreme Court review of his high-profile $20 billion racial discrimination lawsuit against Comcast, media magnate Byron Allen has selected an upgraded location for residential relaxation. The owner and founder of billion-dollar Entertainment Studios — which owns The Weather Channel and Fox Sports Group, among other assets — has splashed out nearly $20 million for a brand-new mansion on a particularly prime street in the coveted Beverly Hills Flats neighborhood.
Built by Ken Ungar, the celeb-favored architect known for his lavish “contemporary traditional” builds in Brentwood and Pacific Palisades, the stately white brick manse was in escrow just two weeks after its initial list and weighs in with nearly 11,300 sq. feet of living space. Walls and gates surround the .38-acre mini-estate with an additional two-car detached garage out back and more off-street parking in front.
The soaring, double-height foyer will no doubt impress both guests and delivery people alike. Light brown oak floors flow throughout the three-level structure, which impresses with exquisite craftsmanship and sophisticated finishes. On the main floor are formal living and dining rooms, plus an expansive eat-in kitchen and a wet bar-equipped family room, which opens (via accordion-like French doors) to a loggia with an outdoor fireplace.
It seems basketball superstar LeBron James just might be fixin’ to make a full court press on Hollywood. According to uncommonly well-connected real estate yenta Yolanda Yakketyyak, and circumstantially affirmed with property records, the celebrated six-foot-eight Cleveland Cavalier, who made a big splash in Amy Schumer’s summer hit comedy “Trainwreck” and executive produces the loosely autobiographical Starz series “Survivor’s Remorse,” surreptitiously splashed out a sliver less than $21 million for an East Coast-style mansion on a plum block in an uber-pricey pocket of L.A.’s Brentwood community. Designed by mansion specialist Ken Ungar, and custom built in 2011 for a real estate developer and his family, the dignified, understated and architecturally asymmetrical six-bedroom and seven-bathroom Colonial measures in at a hefty but, by today’s bigger-is-better standard, hardly humongous, 9,350 square feet.
The stone and white brick-clad exterior gives way to a voluminous foyer flanked by ample living and dining rooms, both with fireplaces and honey-toned wide-plank wood floors. Less formal family quarters include a cook-friendly kitchen fitted with slab marble back splashes and every high-quality stainless steel appliance known to mankind, a breakfast nook set into a window-lined semicircular bay, and a family room that spills out through a bank of French doors to the backyard. The master bedroom shares a two-way fireplace with a private sitting room, and additionally offers a snazzy marble bathroom and private terrace. Deep verandas for al fresco lounging and dining overlook a slightly compact backyard decked out with a lap-lane swimming pool, open air cabana, and long, slender deck with panoramic sunset views over mansion-dotted mountains.
The enormously accomplished, endorsement-rich, and notably philanthropic two-time NBA champion sold a three-story waterfront contemporary in Coconut Grove, Fla., only a few months ago for $13.4 million, but continues to own a seven-plus acre spread in Akron, Ohio, anchored, according to tax records, by a 30,000-square-foot mega-mansion with six bedrooms and 14 bathrooms.
Reese Witherspoon is doubling down on fancy houses, buying her second multi-million-dollar estate in the last month, this time in Pacific Palisades, California.
Just last month, she paid $1,950,000 for a stately fixer-upper in her hometown of Nashville.
When Reese bought the big Nashville mansion last month, it looked like she was packing up the family and decamping to Tennessee, shedding her glamourous life in California. It seemed like a real possibility, especially since she and Jim had their Brentwood mega-mansion quietly on the market for $14 million. With this brand new West Coast purchase, it seems that Reese and Jim aren’t leaving the Golden State, they’re just changing things up and moving to a new pad!
For their new West Coast deal, property records show that Witherspoon and her agent hubby, Jim Toth, paid $12,705,000 for a 5 bedroom, 5 bathroom, 4,344 square foot home. The home was never publicly for-sale and the deal was an off-market transaction that closed on August 28, 2014.
The home was last sold in December 2012 for $4.9 million to award-winning “starchitect” Ken Ungar, who worked his magic on the property and created an estate worthy of an A-lister. Based on the sold price and the “before” pictures you can see above, Unger took a outdated estate and turned it into something worthy of a $12.7 million price tag, netting a nice profit when the deal closed.
Homeowners Melissa and Trent Overholt and Emily and Etan Cohen faced a similar problem. The Overholts, who own a half lot a block from the sand in Manhattan Beach, had a growing family that no longer fit in their 550-square-foot home. With three children, the Cohens, who both work at home in Beverlywood, needed decent office space for Etan, a director and screenwriter, and an art studio for Emily.
Their common solution: Build a basement.
Interest in basements, primarily in affluent areas, has come and gone during the last few decades in Southern California. The most recent wave of activity started about five to six years ago, after the city of Los Angeles enacted an anti-mansionization ordinance that limits a house’s square footage to a percentage of lot size but exempts basement space from the total. The Los Angeles City Council is considering closing certain loopholes in the ordinance that allowed “bonus” square footage if a builder met certain conditions. With the exception of one neighborhood, Los Feliz’s the Oaks, basement square footage would remain exempt. Other cities have taken steps to curb house size as well.
These limitations, coupled with the steep rise in land value and building costs, have made basement construction, never cheap, increasingly attractive to developers and homeowners alike.
“It is definitely, absolutely a current trend,” says real estate agent Marco Rufo of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, whose territory encompasses the Westside. “Five or six years ago, it was, ‘Oh, wow, you have a basement?’ Now it’s, ‘You have a basement, right?’ Buyers expect it now.”
Hermosa Beach contractor Kim Komick of KKC Fine Homes, which specializes in “constructing basements in sand sections” along the coast, reports that it has a basement in 80% of its projects. “When I do spec houses, it’s nearly 100%.” Similarly, architect Ken Ungar, based in Westlake Village, says that five years ago, “10% of my houses had basements. Today, it’s 75%. It’s not a question of whether you want a basement; it’s what you want to have in your basement.”
Driving the trend is the confluence of desire and dollar value. People want bigger homes, but the cost of teardowns plus new construction in light of size limits does not always equal a solid return on investment. Thus, the increased interest in basements.
“It’s free square footage in terms of the zoning code,” says architect Douglas Teiger of Culver City-based Abramson Teiger Architects, who designed the Cohens’ house and has six basements currently on his drafting boards.
These basements are not the dank, dimly lighted bunkers many from the Midwest and East grew up with. Architects have found clever ways to flood light in from stairwells and window light-wells. For the Cohens, Teiger structured the whole house around a central skylight atrium, then extended the basement’s footprint beyond that of the house to install a hip-high border of skylights.
The key to this generation of basements’ value is that they are fully integrated into the aboveground living space. They are functional as well as playful, and often contain media centers, bars, wine rooms, billiard rooms, gyms, home theaters, guest suites, offices or even golf simulators.
Such amenities can drive up the cost, from $200 to $300 per square foot to $1,000 and up. While the cost of building a basement depends entirely on the particular conditions of a site, it typically adds at least $150,000 to the price of new construction. Basement space, in fact, costs more per square foot than aboveground space to build and will appraise equally to aboveground space only if it is finished as well as the other floors.
Basements can be a way to add practical space. Some choose to create playrooms, laundry and storage areas.
The Overholts, who saved for years to be able to build their 2,300-square-foot home with a basement on that half lot, now have a multifunctional space they use for popcorn-and-movie night, Trent’s music studio and a Murphy bed guest suite. “It’s a very big deal for us,” says Melissa Overholt, who collaborated with Komick on the construction. “We worked really hard for this, but it was worth every penny.”
While many, if not most, basements are part of new construction, some homeowners are choosing to retrofit one in, a more complicated process but doable. The 38-year-old family-owned Weinstein Construction Corp. in Van Nuys, which specializes in earthquake retrofitting among other jobs, has a thriving business in retrofitting basements into existing homes. “Four years ago, we started retrofitting a basement underneath existing homes without damaging them in any way,” notes Vice President Jonathan Weinstein.
But it’s not for everyone. Weinstein inspector Scott Carlson points out that, before they can even estimate the job cost, there must be a soil report from a licensed soil engineer that the city charges to review, which, combined, can cost nearly $5,000 before you even know if you can build. Foundation design by a licensed structural engineer further kicks up the price. In some situations, reinforced concrete caissons may need to be sunk 30 feet deep. The ideal situation is strong soil type, such as clay; flat land; easy access; and shallow-sited bedrock. And then it takes patience: Add as much as six months to any construction.
Those who have them, however, can’t imagine life without them. “It was definitely more expensive than we thought it would be,” notes Emily Cohen, “but it has worked out beautifully for us.”
A big family needs plenty of space, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of style. Take this Brentwood Park, Los Angeles, stunner. A couple with four children decided it had more than enough room for the entire clan, but its Mediterranean aesthetic didn’t quite fit with the traditional look they had imagined. So they recruited celeb-favorite designer Adam Hunter and architect Ken Ungar to transform the home into a family-friendly retreat that blends classic elements with a bit of industrial edge.
The exterior was updated with white brick to bring an East Coast feel to the property; inside, dark-stained oak floors replaced dated tile, and the rooms were opened up to create a more modern flow. For the decor, Hunter mixed everything from pastel velvets to steel pendant lights. “I wanted to push the boundaries of a traditional Hamptons-style home and make it more contemporary and fresh,” he says. Hunter also kept comfort—and kids—in mind, opting for cozy textures and plush fabrics, particularly in the family room, where a sectional sofa and oversize cocktail table invite guests to put their feet up, and in the blush media room.
Shades of pale gray, navy, cream, and white dominate the interiors. “We used a restrained palette,” says Hunter. “But there are unexpected moments of color throughout the house—from the art to the custom furniture.” One of his favorite designs was, in his words, the “sexy” black range hood he devised for the kitchen, which catches the eye and provides a striking contrast to the Calacatta marble and crisp white cabinetry.
The colors, textures, and relaxed yet polished pieces all work together to make the large home feel intimate and inviting. “I had to make 13,000 square feet seem warm, which is hard to do.” says Hunter. “The design is effortless, clean, and cozy all at the same time.” Just right for a busy family of six.
A pricey trade between limited liability companies, a TV producer’s score above the Sunset Strip and the sale of a Hollywood director’s former home were among the high-water transactions recorded through the middle of November.
Here’s a larger look at the deals closed between Nov. 13-26.
A California limited liability company with ties to German television and film producer Timm Oberwelland sold a newly built traditional-style home to another LLC in a deal completed outside the Multiple Listing Service.
Tucked behind hedges in the 12000 block of Evanston Street, the Ken Ungar-designed home features an oversized chef’s kitchen that opens to a family room with a fireplace. A basement level holds a screening room, a gym and a second family room with a wet bar.
The master suite has his and hers closets and baths. Including a maid’s room and a guest suite, there are seven bedrooms and nine bathrooms.
Sliding glass doors extend the living space outside to a patio area and outdoor barbecue. A swimming pool and spa complete the setting.