Lena Headey’s Off-Camera Castle
You might expect Lena Headey to live in a Norman manor in Yorkshire or on the beach in celebrity-studded Malibu. But the Game of Thrones star, whose portrayal of the villainous Cersei Lannister is one of the wickedly entertaining high points of the HBO hit series, is right at home in the San Fernando Valley on a suburban street remarkable for its sheer normalcy. "One of my oldest pals said it’s like the neighborhood in E.T.," she says. "It’s kid heaven." And instead of calling in a big-name designer, the British actress was closely involved in her home’s renovation, working with a builder to transform it into an airy retreat that combines elements from England, the south of France, and one of her favorite spots on earth: Ibiza.
Low-ceilinged, with artificial turf indoors as well as out, the 1950s house that originally occupied the property didn’t immediately summon images of carefree island living, but Lena knew it was something she could build upon. "When I walked in, I said, ‘This is perfect.’ I could see the light it needed, and I could see the space we could create. I could see everything. And that was it."
Her first California residence was a midcentury modern in the Hollywood Hills, but it proved to be too big. "In England, we live in boxes that you pay millions for," says Lena. "So when I got to L.A., I was like, ‘My god, everything is huge.’" After a divorce, the actress lived in a string of rentals, but she was itching to put her mark on her own place. Friends suggested hiring a designer, but she demurred ("It’s so un-English," she says), calling on Ted Broden, of West Hollywood–based Envision Design Build, to give shape to her dream.
"I just wanted the house to feel like I’m on holiday. There are no goblets, but there are some wine glasses." —Lena Headey, resident
She began by handing him a three-ring binder brimming with ideas, from pictures of organic materials to light-filled rooms with exposed framing. On the first page was an ad showing a woman holding a very large kitchen knife and crying. Underneath, Lena had scrawled, "This is me if you f--- it up." She laughs at the memory. "I have a biting sense of humor," she says, "but I wasn’t kidding."
Architectural designer Arthur Page drew up several floor plans featuringa full second story. Though it offered the square footage she wanted, Lena resisted what she calls "grand Los Angelean" features. "It’s not my vibe," she explains. The remodel evolved into the addition of a partial second floor, making space for a master suite and bedrooms for the children. But they were careful not to overwhelm the site. "Lena didn’t want the house to stick out like a sore thumb," Broden says.
With that goal in mind, he devised an interior that emphasizes openness and a connection with the outdoors, while also comfortably accommodating friends and family from abroad. Making it kid-friendly was another priority (Lena’s son, Wylie, age six, was joined in 2015 by baby sister Teddy, who now sleeps in what was meant to be the master sitting room). "Here I’ve incorporated my Ibizan self and my practical parent self," Lena says with a sly smile. "I can’t be sitting around drinking rosé."
"What I originally liked about the house was that it had good proportions. It’s not too big. You can’t get lost. And yet you can have a minute." —Lena Headey
Once work began, Broden, formerly a construction project manager at Marmol Radziner, uncovered asbestos ceilings, water damage, and a serious mold infestation, which prompted taking the structure down to the studs and rebuilding. At Lena’s request, they kept existing elements like the patterned concrete block wall out front; the expansive living room windows, which were replicated elsewhere; and the pool. Although the kitchen sits in the same location as it did originally, it is now completely open to the family room, which sported an enormous curved bar, a pizza oven, and faux beams when Lena bought the place. During framing, the actress decided she liked the exposed rafters so much that Broden rebuilt the roof at a higher pitch and finished it off by whitewashing the new beams. When Lena asked if they could open the rear of the house to the backyard, Broden, Page, and structural engineer Alexandre Basso revised the plan to expand the home’s footprint and add a shear wall upstairs.
Lena wanted whitewashed wood flooring throughout the home. "We did lots of experiments but couldn’t get it right," she recalls. Then she suggested herringbone. Using reclaimed oak from a Kentucky tobacco farm, Broden’s team laid the floors by hand. It’s a detail that delights Lena: "It feels so good on your bare feet; it’s really soft wood." She also asked Broden to leave the structural beams that were installed during construction in the kitchen and family room as is, without finishing them with plaster. "They have writing on them and rusty old bolts," she marvels.
"Visually, I like the simplicity of midcentury design. I like the lines of it more than the other styles you see here in L.A." —Lena Headey
The kitchen and bathrooms feature encaustic floor tiles in three blue-and-white designs. While on location in Ireland for Thrones, Lena saw a dandelion-patterned tile on Pinterest. She forwarded the image to Broden, who tracked down the tile to a Swedish manufacturer and installed it in the master bathroom.
"Lena’s very specific about her taste," Broden explains. "When she doesn’t like something, she has reasons for it, and they’re hilarious." For instance, when he asked about putting a fireplace in her bedroom, she balked. "It made me cringe," she recalls. "I like it when you’re skiing. It’s a bit porno in the Valley." Likewise, when she first saw the tub she’d chosen for the master bathroom installed and ready for use, she told Broden, "This looks like a showroom." It now sits in the garden, ready for outdoor soaking.
Lena admits her taste is "not super standard," adding that she favors things "a bit rough and not totally finished." To pieces she’d kept in storage for years she’s since added one-of-a-kind light fixtures found at shops around Los Angeles; she’s also partial to "scrappy" Moroccan rugs and lounge-y upholstered furniture. "The house doesn’t feel forced," Broden says of the mix. "It’s in line with Lena’s personality. She doesn’t want to show off."
Now that she has a real home to return to between shoots, Lena says she thinks it might be fun to try her hand at flipping houses—not so much for economic gain, but to counter the McMansions that seem to be proliferating overnight. "They’re ruining neighborhoods that are unique and visually pleasing," she says.For now, she’s enjoying being part of a community, even if area residents look twice when they realize the woman ferrying her son and his friends to school is none other than Queen Cersei. Then again, they probably already knew they had an original in their midst. After bringing them wine and gift cards during construction, she explained what they could expect having her asa neighbor: "You may see us naked, and you may hear us fighting. Those are two things that will probably happen."
Kelly Vencill Sanchez
Dwell's Los Angeles-based contributing editor.