The Hancock Park home of Hollywood’s foremost power couple has seen film’s finest attend fundraisers and screenings. C Magazine gets an exclusive tour of their historic mansion.
Words by KELSEY McKINNON
Photography by MICHAEL CLIFFORD
A classic colonnade overlooks Nicole Avant and Ted Sarandos’ courtyard swimming pool, which is surrounded by potted gardenias and bougainvillea. The iron hanging lantern is original to the house.
From his wood-paneled library, Ted Sarandos, co-CEO and chief content officer of Netflix, surveys the parklike lawn that sprawls in front of his historic Hancock Park house, where he and his wife — Nicole Avant, the filmmaker and Former U.S. Ambassador to The Bahamas — host most of their events. Pre-COVID times, there was a steady stream of high-profile Democratic fundraisers, movie screenings, benefits and birthdays. There’s Sarandos’ annual star-studded toast for the Emmys and his beloved dinner for Netflix’s nominees for the Grammy Awards for comedy: “Allie Wong calls it the Avengers dinner,” he says, referring to the superhero comics in attendance, and chuckles at the memory of Jamie Foxx doing a drop-dead impression of Dave Chappelle for Dave Chappelle. But one event stands out over the years. In May of 2017, they co-hosted a fundraiser for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures with Leonardo DiCaprio and Laura Dern. Dorothy Gale’s ruby slippers were on display, as was Cleopatra’s gilded headdress (both on loan from the museum), and Dern and Bob Iger gave testimonials for Los Angeles’ anticipated new cultural landmark. By the time the night was over, Sarandos had all but convinced billionaire philanthropist Haim Saban to write a $50 million check to the museum, which is set to open its doors this fall.
In the formal living room, two Vladimir Kagan swivel chairs cozy up next to a 1950s Pierre Chapo coffee table, all from Galerie Half.
Entertaining at this level is second nature to Avant. A glimpse into her rarefied upbringing can be seen in Netflix’s The Black Godfather, a critically acclaimed documentary she produced about her father, Clarence Avant, the legendary former chairman of Motown Records. “It’s a very strange and wonderful convergence, that for me with film and television and Nicole with politics and music, basically every cultural touchpoint comes together,” says Sarandos, who initially met Avant at a fundraiser when she was working as the Southern California Finance Chairwoman of the Obama Campaign. The pair married at the Beverly Hills courthouse in 2009 and together constitute a Hollywood power couple with unprecedented influence. “There will be books written on how individually Ted and Nicole have impacted so many different areas. The idea that these two extraordinary people found each other is quite remarkable,” says Dern, who has also become a close friend of the couple. “I have only ever seen a dynamic like this in the Obamas. These two are always up for debate with each other. They challenge and question each other and are in constant conversation about trying to help the world be a better place.”
Manicured English boxwood and white roses line the perimeter of the lawn.
The epicenter of their nonstop lives is a stately 15,000-plus-square-foot home with its own Hollywood pedigree. Designed in 1925 by Gordon Kaufmann (the architect commissioned for Greystone Mansion and the Hoover Dam), the classic Mediterranean Revival-style manse is a veritable fortress on the edge of Hancock Park, with gracious coffered rooms centered around a private courtyard boasting elegant arched colonnades. When they bought the house from Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith in 2015, Netflix had just moved its headquarters from Beverly Hills to Hollywood, and Avant and Sarandos both wanted a place where they could entertain on a grander scale.
Sarandos and Avant in the handpainted “Magic Room,” a name the home’s former tenant, actor Melanie Griffith, bestowed upon the ballroom, which now acts as a salon.
The house (which is often referred to as the Netflix Embassy) needed upgrading. They started by carefully overhauling the 1970s A. Quincy Jones kitchen (Sarandos is the chef in the family) and all the bathrooms. Over the years, Avant worked with a melting pot of top L.A. design talent, including Estee Stanley, whom she has known since she was a teenager, Emily Ward of Pierce and Ward, Brigette Romanek and Brenda Antin. But during the COVID-induced pause in the social schedule, Avant took stock of the house and decided to start fresh. This time, she turned to Trevor Cheney of Galerie Half to lighten the space, infusing various rooms with rare and important icons of French and Danish midcentury design. A pair of shearling-covered Philip Arctander clam chairs mix with Pierre Jeanneret pieces and Avant’s pearly-white vintage piano in the living room. Across the courtyard in the salon (which Griffith dubbed the “Magic Room” — a name that stuck), a 19th-century curved sofa, Danish shearling chairs from the 1930s and a primitive-oak coffee table provide the perfect balance to the space’s oversize limestone fireplace, handpainted frescoes and a wall of rounded medieval-style leaded windows (none of which, thankfully, had been touched by any of the home’s seven previous owners).
From left: A curved 1960s Illum Wikkelsø sofa, a French 18th-century oval table and a pair of 1950s Federico Munari chairs, all from Galerie Half, mingle in the wood-paneled library. A passageway to the dining room features the home’s original terra-cotta floors.
Among the couple’s vast contemporary art collection (Avant also sits on the board of trustees at LACMA), Avant’s most prized possession is certainly a photograph of Frederick Douglass in the library, beside a handwritten letter he penned in 1877, that was a gift from her parents. Pictures throughout the room testify to their multifaceted lives, including images of Avant’s beloved stepchildren Tony and Sarah (from Sarandos’ first marriage); friends and luminaries including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Oprah, Mohammed Ali, Sidney Poitier, George W. Bush and Barack and Michelle Obama; and Sarandos with some of his superheroes, including Eddie Murphy and Jerry Seinfeld.
A work by artist Chaz Guest presides over the dining room, which features original handpainted coffered ceilings. The table and chairs were both sourced from Lucca Antiques.
When they bought the house from Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith in 2015, Netflix had just moved its headquarters from Beverly Hills to Hollywood, and Avant and Sarandos both wanted a place where they could entertain on a grander scale.
“I joke people always compliment me on the decor of the house, but this would likely be beanbags and futons if it was me.”
In all his homes over the years, Sarandos has ironically never had a screening room until now. Avant gave him free rein to design the space, a privilege which was quickly revoked after she bore witness to the disastrous results. “I joke people always compliment me on the decor of the house, but this would likely be beanbags and futons if it was me,” he says. Most nights, Sarandos can be found with their rescue Labradors, watching the big screen from the sectional on the landing above the kitchen. Avant will join when it’s something they both love, most recently High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America and this fall’s Hand of God.
Avant turned to Trevor Cheney of Galerie Half to lighten the home. A pair of shearling-covered Philip Arctander clam chairs mix with Pierre Jeanneret pieces and Avant’s pearly-white vintage piano in the living room.
“I have only ever seen a dynamic like this in the Obamas.”
Avant remembers in the early days of their relationship when Sarandos told her that “streaming” and “binge-watching” were going to big one day. “I thought it was crazy,” she recalls, but still, she supported his vision, even giving him her cut-up Blockbuster card as a Valentine’s Day gift one year. Once House of Cards happened, she knew he was right. “He reminded me of my father in that way, where he was going to figure things out and do something great,” she says.
Avant relaxes on a 1950s Pierre Jeanneret sofa from Galerie Half in the living room.
“Ted reminded me of my father in that way, where he was going to figure things out and do something great.”
Sarandos grew up lower middle-class in Phoenix, Ariz., the fourth of five children. His dad was an electrician and his mom stayed at home. On scorching-hot days, he would go to the multiplex and sneak between movies for hours, then stay up half the night watching TV (“I never slept a lot,” he says — “even as a kid, maybe 5 hours a night”). “So yeah, my entire career trajectory could be traced back to bad parenting in some form or another,” he jokes. In hindsight, he was laying the groundwork for what was to come. He joined Reed Hastings at Netflix in 1999 after managing a chain of local video stores, and in the years since has been a key figure in disrupting Hollywood’s studio-controlled power structure, changing how content is both produced and distributed. Over the years there have been creative partnerships with titans from Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes to Michelle and Barack Obama and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and hits like The Irishman, Roma, Orange Is the New Black and The Crown. With over 200 million subscribers, this past year Netflix netted a staggering 35 Oscar nominations (more than any other distributor), 42 Golden Globe nominations and 129 Emmy nominations.
In the Magic Room, a 19th-century Italian sofa, a Gustavian chaise and a pair of 1930s Danish shearling chairs are arranged around a primitive-oak coffee table (all sourced from Galerie Half).
After that pivotal Academy Museum fundraiser at the house, the institution’s board of trustees (with such high-profile members as Tom Hanks, Ryan Murphy and Laura Dern) elected Sarandos its chairman last fall, a move that speaks to the industry’s reverence for Sarandos and the importance it places on Netflix going forward. “The fact that we’ve only been really doing what we’re doing in the film space for about 5 years — 10 if you include documentaries — it’s symbolically interesting that so much change has happened,” he says. For his part, Sarandos was more than happy to take the lead. “The industry and the city of Los Angeles have been very good to me, and I’m just glad to be able to pay back a little bit and put in some work for it.”
“The industry and the city of Los Angeles have been very good to me, and I’m just glad to be able to pay back a little bit.”
The bar features a framed cover of The Hollywood Reporter’s Hollywood & Politics issue and a photograph with close friend Laura Dern holding her Oscar.
Pierre Fremont’s The Goddess, which the couple found at Trigg Ison Fine Art, greets visitors in the central foyer.
His museum work also dovetails with Avant’s lifelong commitment to service. Currently, she’s teamed up with the likes of George Clooney, Kerry Washington and Don Cheadle to establish the LA Unified School District’s new magnet project, the Roybal School of Film and Television Production, in addition to developing a new animated series and a documentary based on the book Before the Mayflower — an inspiring account of Black history from before colonial American days to the civil-rights movement to the present. “I take the history of America and history in general very seriously,” she says. “And so for me, I’m like, ‘Guys, this freedom is not a joke.’ We are the luckiest generation to come along. We have it good and we need to enjoy it.”
The stairwell of the 15,000-plus-square-foot classic Mediterranean Revival-style manse designed in 1925 by Gordon Kaufmann, the architect commissioned for Greystone Mansion and the Hoover Dam.
Feature image: Nicole Avant and Ted Sarandos’ courtyard swimming pool, which is surrounded by potted gardenias and bougainvillea.
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of C Magazine.
Discover more DESIGN news.