At home in the Hol­ly­wood Hills

Jonny Beard­sall dis­cov­ers what, and where, the English ex­pats buy when the bright lights of Los An­ge­les beckon

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Front Page -

Alex Hard­cas­tle has taken the plunge. “Four weeks ago I moved into this crum­bling paean to bad taste in the Hol­ly­wood Hills,” jokes the award-win­ning 40-year-old tele­vi­sion di­rec­tor, who, at the press of a but­ton, mar­vels as his out­door pool cover rolls away at high speed. With the hit show, Lead Bal­loon and Not Go­ing Out among his cred­its, Hard­cas­tle’s ca­reer took him to Los An­ge­les four years ago. He sold his house in Chelsea’s Edith Grove and moved to the en­ter­tain­ment cap­i­tal of the world to di­rect the US ver­sion of The Of­fice, and later, the hit com­edy se­ries Parks and Recre­ation, screened in the UK on BBC Four. “When I first got to LA, I stayed in the hyp­no­tist Paul McKenna’s guest­house, who is a friend. I was there for a year, which is pretty nor­mal be­hav­iour over here,” he says. He then rented for two years near Chateau Mar­mont, the fash­ion­able ho­tel on Sun­set Boule­vard. Rent­ing was a mam­moth ex­pense. “I was pay­ing around $4,000-$5,000 a month, so de­cided I had to get around to buy­ing. In the States, mort­gages are taxd­e­ductible, which is ter­rific,” he says. In Christopher Dyson, he had en­gaged a top es­tate agent, or “real­tor”. “He’s orig­i­nally from Manch­ester – he found houses for Rob­bie Wil­liams and Gor­don Ram­say. I stressed I didn’t have their bud­gets but made it clear what I was af­ter,” he says. But most as­ton­ish­ing was how lit­tle Hard­cas­tle paid for this charm­ing Span­ish colo­nial re­vival-style house off leafy Lau­rel Canyon. In this ex­clu­sive dis­trict loved by the Hol­ly­wood A-list for al­most a cen­tury, homes ex­change for tens of mil­lions so the $1.7mil­lion (a shade over £1mil­lion) he paid for his ram­bling white-painted stucco fourbed­room home was a snip. There was no catch. “It was run­down and had this aw­ful Moroc­can­vibe – it was just a case of see­ing be­yond the worst bits,” he con­tin­ues. “I’m go­ing to try to re­cre­ate a Thir­ties feel to it in­side,” he says, aware that th­ese en­vi­rons are steeped in mo­tion pic­ture folk­lore. “Er­rol Flynn lived over there and An­thony Perkins al­most next door,” he adds. “It’s a su­per part of town – the other day I met Eric Idle, who lives very close.” In­side there is a large open fire­place be­side which sits a bas­ket of sawn logs. “I cut down some trees in the gar­den so I’ve a good sup­ply of wood that will last me five years,” he says. His pride and joy is a set of steel el­e­va­tor doors, which he be­lieves started life in a Frank Lloyd Wright build­ing, prob­a­bly sal­vaged from one of the sev­eral ac­claimed ar­chi­tect de­sign­ers in Los An­ge­les. “The pre­vi­ous owner wanted to take them with him but I wasn’t go­ing to let that hap­pen,” he laughs. His builders and painters are al­ready here. “I’m in­struct­ing ev­ery­one and gen­er­ally get­ting in the way,” he says. The gar­dens ex­tend to just over half an acre and are go­ing to look ex­quis­ite. “I’ve a friend who is a landscaper, who is go­ing to cre­ate a Mediter­ranean gar­den, On Franklin Av­enue with stun­ning views, two-bed­rooms, three­bath­rooms with pool, deck area, spa and fire pit. A dra­matic stair­case Hav­ing a vi­sion: Alex Hard­cas­tle could see the po­ten­tial in his new Span­ish-style villa in LA’s Lau­rel Canyon de­spite it be­ing a lit­tle run­down con­nects the two decks. $3.99m (£2.6m) (sothe­ An en­ter­tainer’s re­treat above the Sun­set Strip Con­tem­po­rary flair through­out a plant­ing or­ange, lemon and olive trees and stands of gi­ant aga­pan­thus, which will look amaz­ing.” But oth­ers with un­lim­ited bud­gets of­ten pre­fer the sea air. In Mal­ibu, the af­flu­ent 21-mile-long beach com­mu­nity in north-west LA, prices start at an eye­wa­ter­ing $15mil­lion and stretch to over $50mil­lion. Here I meet Jack Pritch­ett, the largest in­de­pen­dent agent in Mal­ibu who has been sell­ing to the stars for 40 years. “You can’t take pho­tos,” he warns, point­ing from his beach-front of­fice one-storey villa with re­sort-like pool ter­race with com­mand­ing, un­ob­structed views of the Los An­ge­les Basin to Down­town $5.99m (£3.85m) (sothe­ win­dow at Leonardo DiCaprio’s place, once home to the late Larry Hag­man. His of­fice is in The Colony, a gated com­mu­nity of 100 homes squeezed be­tween the high­way and seafront where, iron­i­cally, even the su­per-rich can­not pre­vent the pub­lic from strolling along the wa­ter’s edge. This is where John McEn­roe and Tom Hanks also have homes. Close by is Car­bon beach, also known as Bil­lion­aires’ Beach, which is just a mile long. This is where su­per-rich movie mogul Larry El­li­son has been spend­ing $200-$250mil­lion buy­ing man­sions and the only bou­tique ho­tel. “Amaz­ingly he bought eight to 10 of them in the last two weeks,” says the agent. Pritch­ett is an old hand. “In the Seven­ties, Bar­bra Streisand walked in one day unan­nounced. I sold her a house nearby at Point Dume and then three more.” he says. The pa­parazzi are never far away. “I’d once been show­ing a place to Brad and An­gelina near here. When we came out into the street, the doors of three parked cars flew open and out jumped a posse of pho­tog­ra­phers. It hap­pens all the time,” he says. This year he is cock-a-hoop. In the spring he com­pleted his big­gest deal when he sold a Mediter­ranean villa in six acres on Par­adise Cove for $36.5mil­lion in cash to an English­man. It first came on to the mar­ket at $55mil­lion, then down to $45mil­lion af­ter a year. “The owner picked the num­bers, which of­ten means noth­ing,” he ex­plains. “You just ex­pose a place and hope some­one comes.” So who did? “No chance. I can’t say but he’s huge in en­ter­tain­ment,” he chuck­les. So would Hard­cas­tle con­sider Mal­ibu? “The Colony is ridicu­lously over­priced and the houses are too close. If I had $20mil­lion – I’m just $19.9mil­lion short – I’d buy a big clifftop house with a long wind­ing stair­case down to the beach like the one Cher has. For now, Hol­ly­wood is closer to the stu­dios so I’m sit­ting tight.”

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