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"This is the front door," actress Dakota Johnson says in a dramatic flourish as she greets a visitor to her Los Angeles home. “And so is this,” she says, opening an identical front door next to it. “And this one too!” The fact that an entire wall of her living room is a series of oversized front doors is just one of the unique quirks that drew Johnson to this midcentury-modern house buried in the trees of a sleepy Los Angeles cul-de-sac. The wall opposite it consists of three floor-to-ceiling windows that open like garage doors onto a lap pool. “It’s like a tree house. On a boat,” she proclaims.
The house was built by architect Carl Maston, and Johnson bought the residence four years ago, the second one that her realtor showed her on the single day she went to see L.A. properties. “I was immediately drawn to how it was clean but also cozy,” she says. “I thought, I’ll never want to sell this place.” She also liked the backstory: “Maston was buddies with Lautner and Neutra, and they’d all go to Musso & Frank’s together because there was a hostess that they were all in love with. Carl ended up marrying her, and this was the house they lived in.” (A more recent previous owner was producer Ryan Murphy.)
If there’s one thing Johnson is familiar with, it’s fascinating Hollywood provenances. Her mother is actress Melanie Griffith, who is the daughter of famous Hitchcock heroine Tippi Hedren. Johnson’s father is the actor Don Johnson, who married Griffith twice (once in 1976 and again in 1989), and Spanish actor Antonio Banderas became her stepfather when she was six. (Griffith and Banderas divorced in 2015.)
Johnson was born in Austin, where her father was making a film, but essentially grew up on movie sets. When her parents separated, she started splitting her time between their homes. Indeed, Johnson’s childhood was defined by being on the road: She remembers delivering an Easter basket to Madonna in 1996, when Banderas was filming Evita in Budapest.
As a kid, Johnson says, she enjoyed “the gypsy lifestyle.” And now, as an in-demand actress herself, she dips into it when working. (She is currently in a relationship with Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, who knows a thing or two about life on the road too.) However, she admits one reason the first major purchase she made with her salary from the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, which she started filming when she was 24, was a place to put down roots: “I thought it would be healthy to have a base,” she says. “And, at the very least, have one place where you know your stuff is, as opposed to 10 places.”
Johnson does have a lot of stuff, especially for someone who only recently turned 30. “I guess I’ve had a big life already,” she says, shrugging. On a single shelf in her ground-floor office, she has the following framed memorabilia: a seating card Patti Smith gave her with her phone number on it; a photograph of writer Hunter S. Thompson, who was a close friend of her father’s; a note from Hedren signed, “Love, Mormor,” which is “grandmother” in Swedish; and a portrait with Zack Gottsagen, the actor she costarred with in last year’s The Peanut Butter Falcon, which tells the story of a young man with Down syndrome who runs away from home to be a pro wrestler. The most surreal memento: a photograph from her appearance on Saturday Night Live’s 40th-anniversary show in 2015, where she’s surrounded by Taylor Swift, Derek Jeter, Sarah Palin, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and 50 Cent. “Isn’t that the craziest photo of all time?” Actually, yes.
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Tucked around the house are additional personal effects, including a large Harmony Korine painting in the dining room. She’s a friend of the artist and director, who’s best known for filming sordid stories, and she was taken by this work because of its sensitive figures. “They’re scary creatures, but they still need love,” she says of the hand-holding monsters in the foreground of the painting. The David Hockney piece in the master bedroom was a gift from Griffith, and in a cabinet in her living room is a vinyl record collection, which she sheepishly admits to having recently alphabetized.
The design firm Pierce & Ward, which has offices in L.A. and Nashville, helped execute Johnson’s wish list. Emily Ward, cofounder of the company with Louisa Pierce, met Johnson when she was living in Nashville, and they became pals before the design firm was founded. “Dakota was extremely fun to work with because she had a very clear vision of what she wanted,” Ward says. “We basically made mood boards and came over for fabric-selecting. And wine.” The biggest renovation challenge was the second story. “The upstairs floor was made entirely of cork, which was really cool but wasn’t salvageable,” Ward says. They installed wood flooring in the master suite, which includes the bedroom and wardrobe, and for the bathroom, the same concrete as downstairs.
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A previous owner had installed a urinal, which gave Johnson reason to redo the entire master bathroom. She was particular about what color she wanted the cabinets to be painted: “a dusty-rose camel.” And when Pierce & Ward couldn’t find a swatch that captured that hue, she provided a beloved The Row sweater to duplicate. Her other two requirements for the master bath were a big tub and two separate vanities. “Candle, book, and a salt bath, every night I can,” she says of the former. “Also, I think the key to a healthy relationship is double sinks.”
Johnson says her roots are still growing. Whether she’s away on a film set or spending time in Malibu, where Martin has a home, she’s thinking about her tree house. “With my job and the velocity at which my schedule can change, it’s important for me to have a place to go to and it be mine,” she says. “Psychologically, I’m moored somewhere. This place is my anchor.”
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest