The sprawling retreat of California natives Brandi and James Perse and their family offers a stylish twist to living on the land
Words by CHRISTINE LENNON
Photography by SAM FROST
To anyone familiar with the James Perse aesthetic, it should come as no surprise to learn that the designer and his wife, Brandi, like to keep things casual. Perse’s 20-year-old line of sportswear, a collection of easy, comfortable clothes that have become synonymous with low-key luxe SoCal style around the globe, all began with a handful of perfect T-shirts, after all. The truth is that it’s rare to find the Perses at a function where the dress code requires clothing more formal than what James designs.
“We live a real family life in Malibu,” says Brandi, whose primary residence is in the coastal enclave. “We don’t go out to parties much. We’re not really involved in the fashion world. We both grew up here in L.A. and we moved to the beach so we could get away from that hectic lifestyle. We like to spend time with family and friends. And we love to escape to the ranch.”
“We both grew up here in L.A. and we moved to the beach so we could get away from that hectic lifestyle. We like to spend time with family and friends. And we love to escape to the ranch”
While the Perses may live informally, they do not live without serious style, and that is apparent everywhere you look around the 25-acre property in Hidden Valley, an enclave of sprawling horse ranches in Ventura County.
Two years ago, they purchased the property as-is—including most of the furniture—from Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, known not just for their celebrity but also for their flawless taste in home design. It’s a very specific kind of place, dotted with small structures including two antique-filled barns for entertaining, small guest cottages, a screened-in yoga pavilion, and a modest family cottage that looks down the hillside to a just-completed, 140-foot-long pool that doubles as the property’s emergency water supply. It is small on ego and huge on rustic charm.
The fact that the primary function of the property and its beautifully renovated stables and corrals is to host Brandi’s fledgling nonprofit, A little Rescue (an organization that rehabilitates ailing horses found at auction—sometimes just minutes before “kill buyers” snatch them up and send them to the slaughterhouse for meat) makes it even more appealing.
“I’m really a beginner when it comes to riding. I took lessons when I was a kid but then started up again with a trainer after my first son was born,” says Brandi. “But I really just connected with the horses. I was amazed by how intelligent and sensitive they were. I was renting a horse at first, and then decided that I wanted one of my own, but that it had to be a rescue. My trainer took me to my first auction and when I got there, I just knew—I knew I was meant to care for horses.”
Louie, the first horse she rescued, is a gray, thoroughbred gelding and the picture of a healthy, well-kept animal. That wasn’t always the case. “When we first saw him, he was 300 pounds underweight, sick and filthy. He had been so neglected,” Brandi says. For the first several months she owned him, she didn’t even approach him with a saddle. “I would go visit him every day to brush him and talk to him. He was treated by a vet. He was eating healthy food, and we just let him heal,” she says.
The experience was so rewarding that she didn’t want to stop with one horse, particularly after she realized how many animals were in need. That’s what motivated Brandi to find a property where she could do more—rescue more animals, nurse them back to health, give them proper training and then place them with a family or organization that will treat them with love. The little Rescue success wall boasts seven names of horses that have been placed, and the stable is filled with five more waiting for the right match. In a nearby corral, three donkeys, including a mother and her foal (Brayonce and Ivy) that were rescued from a feedlot in Texas, play together with a large rubber ball. The saga of adopting them is documented on the organization’s Facebook page.
“We almost lost Ivy to pneumonia before we got her out of there,” says Brandi. Launching a 501c3 that cares for large animals is no small feat, but Brandi is undaunted by the uphill battle. “I think people may see what I’m doing and get the impression that it’s just a hobby,” she says, “but it’s a lot of work, and I am very committed to it. It’s all me. We don’t have fundraisers yet, but I’m figuring it out one step at a time.” In the meantime, the neighs of happy horses can be heard all throughout this bucolic retreat, a vacation home that’s a unique blend of old California and modern luxury. If the horses are as smart as Brandi believes they are, they must realize they are living the good life.