Here’s How Hollywood Builds a Malibu Dream Home—on a Vancouver Soundstage
As a film and television production designer, Daniel Novotny has brought military centers, haunted houses, and police departments to life, but designing an upscale residence is a rare opportunity. So, he jumped at the chance to create a Malibu dream home for The Arrangement, a new series on E! that tells the story of Hollywood royalty Kyle West and his $10-million-dollar marriage contract with rising starlet Megan Morrison. Novotny, who lives in Malibu himself, has a deep connection to the city and proposed to his wife on Point Dume, a protected bluff with ancient sand dunes and bay views, which is exactly where he sited the celebrity home of the character Kyle West—using visual effects. In reality, the set resides on a stage in Vancouver, Canada. Designed and built in six weeks with a budget of about $1 million, the A-list abode is an architectural feat that also exhibits the tricks of the film trade.
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With such a tight timeline, Novotny dove straight into research, compiling images from the web into a 200-page PDF that he then printed out in tiles. "We plastered the walls of the office and grouped them in categories: kitchen, bedroom, ocean view," he explains. "Then we took a pad of Post-its and put one on the images that felt right for the character and story." The show’s protagonist, Kyle West, is not only a famous actor, but also part of a cult-like organized philosophy called the Institute of the Higher Mind. Says Novotny, "He has a look on his face sometimes where he is just following what his guidance counselor is telling him to do." The home needed to seem palatial while reflecting the somber, austere elements of the character.
Novotny drew inspiration from iconic John Lautner designs and the Juvet Landscape Hotel, which was featured in Ex Machina. A friend in Malibu who was a client of Arthur Casas introduced him to the Brazilian architect’s work, and a site visit gave Novotny the view that would eventually become the backdrop for the celebrity residence. The resulting home features an open plan with a dramatically curved concrete staircase and floor-to-ceiling glass allowing expansive ocean vistas. For establishing shots, Novotny designed an exterior using SketchUp Pro that showed the residence nestled into the promontory. "I didn’t want it to feel like gluttonous," says Novotny. "It was about being controlled, organic, and feeling like part of the land."
"I didn't want it to feel gluttonous. It was about being controlled, organic, and feeling like part of the land." - Daniel Novotny
Working closely with Novotny, set decorator Renee Read took on the challenge of furnishing the dwelling with deluxe pieces on a budget of $150,000. The time crunch also limited sourcing options, since most high-end items are custom orders. "I focused on using shapes similar to the midcentury aesthetic of the house with more of a contemporary edge," she says. "Just like any build, this show is going to live on beyond the zeitgeist in which it was made." Every single item from side tables to lamps—and all the way down to forks and knives—underwent a discussion and approval process with the executive producer or director. For the artwork adorning the walls, Read hired local painter Graeme Berglund and his studio mate Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun to create the likenesses of canonical works. Each piece went through a legal procedure that she called "fascinating and mysterious."
"I don’t necessarily design a set the way I would naturally do a commercial or residential space," continues Read. She arranged the furniture to support how the characters would use the home; for example, scenes called for four characters to sit down at once, and for Kyle West to watch audition tapes, which led to the configuration of chairs and a mounted television adjacent to the main living area. There also needed to be space for the camera department to move around in.
Once filming had wrapped in Canada, Novotny hired a drone to shoot footage over Point Dume, which is prohibited without a permit. "It’s where I stood right when I proposed, it’s where my kids play all the time, and I still go there to surf and hike," he muses. "It was dream project and truly a Malibu dream house—we just did it in Vancouver."
The Arrangement airs on Sundays at 10 P.M. ET on E!