“I am entering a very exciting phase of my life, if I do say so myself,” says Ellen Pompeo. The actor is referring to her recent decision to take a step back from Grey’s Anatomy, the phenomenally popular ABC series she’s starred in since 2005, appearing on just a handful of episodes this season. “I’m starting on a new show for Hulu in March, but right now I have a lot of free time,” she adds. Given that she’s spent almost 20 years at the same day job—Grey’s debuted the same year as YouTube, two years before Netflix streamed a single video—who could begrudge her?
Pompeo’s neighbors in Malibu, where she and her husband, Chris Ivery, an executive at sportswear company Sergio Tacchini, have a beach house, have surely noticed the actor hanging around a bit more these days, whether strolling the shore with her dogs or wetsuited and bobbing on a boogie board alongside her three kids, Stella Luna, 13, Sienna May, 8, and Eli Christopher, 6. The couple purchased the teak-sheathed modernist structure, designed by midcentury architects Conrad Buff and Donald Hensman, from Friends cocreator Marta Kauffman as a weekend getaway nearly a decade ago. “I like to say I manifested this house,” Pompeo jokes.
She actually first went to scope it out several years earlier, when the house was originally up for sale and Grey’s was still in its infancy. “I knew I couldn’t afford it, but I didn’t tell anyone that,” she confesses. She swooned over its incredible bluff-top location and “perfect proportions,” but had to walk away. The house came back on the market in 2013, and she seized the second chance. It didn’t hurt that Pompeo was by then one of the highest-paid actors in television—a nice position to be in if your passion is beautiful houses.
As her fans know, Pompeo is a bona fide interior-design enthusiast whose weakness for real estate has resulted in the renovation of a series of stunners, including a modern barn in Sag Harbor and her main residence, a 1920s Mediterranean-style villa in Los Angeles (AD, November 2014). “I truly enjoy the craft and art of houses,” she says. “It exercises a different creative muscle.”
More often than not, AD100 designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard—the British-born maestro behind pleasure palaces for Cher, Elton John, and several members of the Kardashian family—has been her partner in these pursuits. “We’ve been in each other’s lives for so long we know what the other will like before even showing it to them,” says Bullard, pointing out that the beach house marks his fourth project with Pompeo. After so many collaborations, he considers her one of his closest friends.
Built in 1979, the house is modestly sized—currently about 3,000 square feet, after a later addition—and designed more as a machine for living than a mogul’s mansion. But what it lacks in magnitude it more than makes up for in intimacy and drama, thanks to its central courtyard and phenomenal ocean views. “We didn’t change its flow or footprint,” says Bullard, “but it did require updates.” He recloaked the exterior in fresh teak and swapped the weathered doors and windows for sleek black powder-coated metal ones that now, once opened, seem to disappear. In place of the terrazzo floors (“too slippery”), he installed earthy concrete. And though Bullard may be best known for his fanciful Morocco–goes–to–Beverly Hills aesthetic, he proved he could pull off midcentury utilitarian chic with the compact, gleaming white kitchen, an apt match for the house’s modernist spirit.
Whatever the project, Pompeo’s main decorating principle is “personality,” as she puts it. “Some people want a sterile home that makes them feel like they’re at a spa. But I love design that tells a story.” The Malibu house connects to some of her favorite aesthetic touchstones: the Mediterranean style showcased in back issues of her favorite French decorating magazine, Maisons Côté Sud (“I literally have every issue of the last 10 years”), and the sexy swagger of ’70s fashion she grew up admiring as a wide-eyed kid in Boston. “Big Lincoln Continentals, giant fur coats, thigh-high boots,” she says with a laugh.
Bullard landed such scores as the seductive, low-slung vintage leather de Sede sofa in the living room; the 1970s cutting table from Yves Saint Laurent’s atelier that stands in the entry; and the framed photographs of iconic figures like Diana Ross and Grace Jones. But it’s the lavish stonework that gives the house its fiercest va-va-voom. Bullard used a richly veined rare Brazilian marble known as Black Agatha to sheathe walls in the living room, dining room, and primary bedroom and employed what seems like a quarry’s worth of Arabescato Vagli in the primary bath to create what he calls a “modern take on a Turkish hammam.” In a final sybaritic touch, even the swimming pool is lined in pristine white marble. Outside, landscape designer Stephen Block of Inner Gardens removed the “overly yellowy, overly tropical” greenery that had been struggling against Malibu’s rough winds and sometimes arid climate, and planted plenty of flowing grasses like miscanthus and sesleria as well as a citrus orchard.
With a house this glorious, one wonders, who could bear to leave? As it turns out, Malibu neighbors will be seeing even more of Pompeo in the months to come, as she and Ivery recently purchased the property directly behind the house, where Bullard is already dreaming up a tennis court, extensive gardens, and a more capacious house with a bedroom for each child. “It will give Ellen a true Malibu estate,” he says with satisfaction. It will also give them yet another project to work on together. Exciting times, indeed.