US$250m Los Angeles luxury mansion awaits buyer with deep pockets and a taste for chainsaw art and classic cars

Bruce Makowsky used money from sale of fashion business to Hong Kong’s Li & Fung in 2008 to get into speculative property development; his latest offering is 38,000 sq ft, with 12 bedrooms, 21 baths, a cinema, and 150 artworks

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 12:59pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 12:59pm

A new mansion that developer Bruce Makowsky is selling for US$250 million comes with 150 pieces of original artwork, US$30 million worth of classic cars (his estimate), a dozen high-performance motorcycles, and a deactivated helicopter.

Makowsky, who in 2008, along with his wife sold their fashion infomercial business to Hong Kong-based Li & Fung for a reported US$330 million, says the mansion in Bel Air, Los Angeles, California, offers 38,000 square feet of interior space, including 12 bedrooms, 21 baths, a 40-seat home cinema, and a four-lane bowling alley. That works out to more than US$6,500 per square foot. By comparison, one lavish Los Angeles spec house (one built for open market sale rather than one that is custom-built to a buyer’s specifications) changed hands last year for US$100 million, or about US$3,300 per square foot.

I understand how rich people want to live, because I’m very wealthy
Bruce Makowsky

Makowsky maintains that the house is worth it. “It just reeks of quality and looks absolutely spectacular,” he says. “It gives you the feeling you can only get if you go to heaven.”

He came to this business via fashion and cable television. He spent three decades designing women’s shoes and handbags along with his wife, Kathy Van Zeeland, hawking them on TV infomercials.

Makowsky started ploughing his money into Los Angeles spec homes after 2008. His biggest hit so far: a 22,300 sq ft Beverly Hills mansion he sold for US$70 million to Markus Persson, creator of the video game Minecraft.

For sale: HK$819m house on Hong Kong's Peak is world’s most expensive per square foot

He isn’t the only one building homes on spec.

In 2014, developer Jeff Greene listed a 10 hectare Beverly Hills estate with 53,000 square feet of living space for US$195 million. In 2015, movie producer Nile Niami said he had broken ground on a 74,000 sq ft mansion, equipped with “almost every amenity available in the world”, with a plan to sell it for US$500 million. And last year, houses were listed for more than US$100 million in California, Florida, New York, and Nevada – part of a super-luxury market defined by sellers boldly asking for sums that would have seemed outrageous a few years earlier.

At such levels, a listing price doesn’t always give an accurate estimate of the price a property will actually command. Hugh Hefner sold his Playboy mansion in Holmby Hills, California, last year for US$100 million – half what he’d originally listed it for. And the house Makowsky sold to Persson was originally listed for US$85 million.

Bunnies not included: Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion sells for US$100 million

“I just believe that if you build the very best, there will be a buyer,” Makowsky says, adding that his homes are filling a void in the Los Angeles market.

The super-wealthy, he argues, are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on yachts and aircraft which they might use for only a few weeks a year. “And yet these super-wealthy people are living in US$20 or US$30 million homes. It’s because no one has built homes for billionaires.”

Judging from the sort of art and toys Makowsky has used to fill his new house, those underserved billionaires may be in the market for shiny surfaces, tasteful nudes, and wall-mounted candy dispensers. Among the objets d’art sprinkled judiciously across the home’s four floors are jewel-encrusted guitars, giant black-and-white photographs of Cher, and an onyx stone sculpture of an Hermès Birkin handbag.

At times, the house appears more homage to the wealthy than a place in which they’d live. Photographs provided by the developer show one seating area roped off by a velvet cordon and adorned with blown-up images of Brad Pitt, Jack Nicholson, and Angelina Jolie.

In one master bedroom, a glass-encased cashmere Hermès blanket is mounted on a wall. In another room, a modified chainsaw, its blade replaced with Rolls-Royce car ornaments, sits atop a pedestal; behind it is a giant photograph of a model seated in an orange-upholstered car, wielding that same saw.

These are not, in other words, works of art that will be appearing anytime soon at Christie’s.

Makowsky, for his part, remains confident that the home’s combination of location, design, and art curation will help him land an extravagant buyer.

“I understand how rich people want to live, because I’m very wealthy,” he says. “The right person is going to walk into this house and lose their mind.”