Jay-Z & Beyoncé’s Go-To Architect Paul McClean Shares His Most Over-The-Top Custom Designs

Following the release of his new book, McClean Design — Creating the Contemporary House published by Rizzoli, we sit with Paul McClean—the Los Angeles-based architect behind some of the most expensive homes ever built (including “The One” with a $500 million price tag) and Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s go-to architect—to discuss his design style, why he became the celebrity choice for contemporary residential design and some of the most over-the-top amenities he has built into his homes.

McClean DesignPhoto Credit: Nick Springett

Tell us about your signature design aesthetic, in your own words.

Our designs are all about connecting the user to nature and the surrounding environment. We use materials in a way that minimizes the barriers between indoors and outdoors, making the transition as seamless as possible. Our design aesthetic is all about playing with light, maximizing its potential and creating structures that are both light in appearance and light filled.

What are your top 3 celebrity home projects you have worked on and why? 

We unfortunately are not at liberty to reveal names but I have enjoyed working with a number of well-known artists and it is tremendously satisfying to work with people who are very creative themselves…The evolution of a design idea tends to become a collaborative process—this is something we want with all our clients but with people in creative fields it tends to delve deeper—everything is questioned more, which always helps to create a better solution.

What do you think it is about your work that led you to become one of the go-to architects within the celebrity world? 

Practically it’s about location really; we have been fortunate to work on projects in some of the most desirable neighborhoods in Los Angeles and that has helped us get noticed. It’s also where people in that world want to live. That and discretion, which is very important. All our clients have to feel comfortable sharing how they live with us, sometimes in great detail; they have to feel sure that we will not share that information.

McClean DesignPhoto Credit: Simon Berlyn

What are some new architecture trends that you’re seeing now and why do you think that is? 

There is definitely a movement towards warmer materials and more use of green elements in residential design which we welcome. People are also interested in entertaining on a bigger scale at home and having the capacity to do that. There is a move towards using more natural materials rather than sleeker, shin[ier] finishes. We try to make all our homes unique so we rely to a great degree on our clients to bring a material palette that suits them to the project. We concentrate on making the spaces work no matter how they are finished. It’s been satisfying to see some of our earlier projects recently reimagined and [to see] that the buildings themselves stand up well to the test of time.

You’ve established yourself so brilliantly within the Los Angeles market. What led to the decision to expand further into different parts of the U.S. and even in different countries and how did you choose these new regions?

They choose us. 😊 We are always excited to work beyond our home base, the different environments and locations help us to grow and make us question how we design. I’m in Canada right now where we have a couple of projects; we have to think about different climates up here and both our projects are in wonderful, natural locations, which are a joy to respond to. We have been fortunate to be well published the last few years and that garners attention around the world, which has led to projects in different places. I think there is a general appreciation out there for the type of Californian living that we promote in our designs and people are interested to see how it might apply to their own locations.

McClean DesignPhoto Credit: Simon Berlyn

How did you get your start into architecture? Please explain your journey that led you to where you are today. 

That’s a long story, I always wanted to be an architect growing up in Dublin. I found inspiration looking at homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as a young boy. While at college in Ireland, I discovered the works of Neutra and Schindler here in L.A. and began to explore in more depth the wonderful history of experimental design that has developed in California over the last hundred years or so and that is what attracted me to the area. After working for a few different firms, we established McClean Design in 2000 with our first project: a canyon house in Laguna Beach. A wonderful couple took a chance on us and we had a start with that house, soon there were others and here we are today.

Who was your first celebrity client and what project was that? 

Our first celebrity client was a well-known movie star who was a joy to work with—we ended up remodeling their entire house.

McClean DesignPhoto Credit: Simon Berlyn

What are some of the most impressive/over-the-top custom features that you have built into certain homes and can you explain some of them? 

We have had a lot of fun thinking of ideas that have never been done before in a residential setting. Sometimes, one idea leads to the next. For example, we first did a firepit floating in a pool at our Robin House and now we have something similar but a little different in many of our homes. At the large house we are working on known as “The One,” there are several pods in a water feature next to a major entertainment area, which has a direct relationship to that original idea at the Robin House. That house also incorporates an immersive aquarium feature with acrylic walls on three sides and the roof of a space. We have recently completed a house with a floating acrylic pool section that casts light in unique and wonderful ways, the water acting as a prism.

Describe your personal dream home and its features.

For me, some of the most important things are spaces that connect to their surroundings—views of nature, seamless walls of glass that disappear, water features that reflect the sky and bounce light into the spaces. Rooms that are uplifting and expansive that offer only a rudimentary feeling of shelter and then some contrasting spaces that are more intimate, where you can be a little bit cozier. The gadgets, bells and whistles are much less important.

What’s next for you and what can we expect from you in the near future? 

A few more houses. 😊 No seriously, we are working on some great homes and seeing more projects in different locations so expect to see more experimental residential ideas in far flung locations such as Canada, Thailand and the U.K.

McClean Design — Creating The Contemporary House
McClean Design — Creating The Contemporary House

Photo Credit: Nick Springett

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