DIVORCE BY DESIGN: Speculating On The Future Of The Kardashian-Wests’ Minimalist Mansion
It was April 2019 when Kim Kardashian-West, dressed in a dove-toned skin-tight two piece with the approximate shape of a particularly sexy Star Trek costume, allowed Vogue to film inside the home she called a “minimal monastery” — a cavernous ex-McMansion whose interiors, either white or almost white, had been refitted to resemble something halfway between Patrick Bateman’s 55 West 81st Street apartment, and a mental institution from the future. In the foyer, one small smudge about the size of a child’s finger on the hip of her culottes, Kim looked tanned and ultraluminous — somehow both perfect and at ease — as if she had been placed quite suddenly in front of a white photographic background for a shoot, a hot Madonna with three gorgeous, grey-clad children and the carefully-shaded cheekbones of a Patrick Nagel drawing. “There’s no such thing as a lazy day here,” she explained, saying a mouthful not only about the necessary maintenance involved in being Kim, but the staggering discipline required to live in such a house. Her children, playing with Kanye West, appeared frolicking on a cloud-white bed; the hallways, tall and arched, looked green-screen-eerie, like VR. The Kardashian-Wests’ Steinway, which Kim had not learned to play, was the blanched color of a kitchen in a Nancy Meyers movie, putty-ish and faintly 90s. All the tables, very low and very chic, were made of marble. Vibrancy, like laziness, was evidently not a concept held in high esteem in Hidden Hills, Calabasas.
Reactions to the house on Twitter, to say nothing of the aggregated press, were as uniform as its décor, albeit rather less restrained — commenters called it “cold and creepy,” “horrifying,” and “a serial killer’s house,” its smooth, unbroken lines and vacant walls seemingly purpose-built to drive inhabitants to near-distraction. “Making art is a form of madness,” the Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave wrote in his newsletter last year, very correctly, on the subject of his love of Kanye West. “There is no musician on Earth that is as committed to their own derangement as Kanye, and in this respect, at this point in time, he is our greatest artist.” Kanye’s home — a passion project for the husband in this power couple, and not for the wife — has been interpreted by many as a vast, expensive symptom of that committed derangement, a monument to his obvious blend of genius and eccentricity. Conceived by architects Dong Ping Wong and Oana Stănescu (under the firm Family) together with the Belgian designer, art dealer and gallerist Axel Vervoordt, it took seven years to rework and remodel; its unnerving emptiness makes it appear not simply difficult to live in, but actively hostile to its inhabitants, a rebuke to the idea of being comfortable or human. A few months after the Vogue video went live, Kim had to make a follow-up about the avant-garde flat basins in their bathroom, saying in her pretty Californian purr that “everyone” had been “confused about our sinks.” The mere possibility of being confused about the usage of a sink — of sinks being complicated enough to allow for any kind of ambiguity or bafflement — feels like the very definition of a wealthy person’s problem, an absurdity of the specific kind not generally experienced by civilian people: What if the new horse I bought dislikes my other horse? What if I have made an update to my face by the time my new magazine cover comes out, thus rendering my three-months-ago face irrelevant and dated? What if my toddler draws a frowny face in purple crayon on my million-dollar Jean Royère Polar Bear sofa?
“The proportions,” West suggested in an interview with Architectural Digest, “are the decoration.” It may not have escaped some readers’ attention that the same might also be said of his wife — her tendency to endow Mugler and Celine with the same bursting, sexpot energy, the way her body is so recognizable without her face that she has chosen to produce a perfume bottle in its shape. The house that West built makes more sense if we imagine it less as a family home, and more as a bespoke white-cube created for the purposes of showing off a single artwork with a 750-million-dollar value: Kim Kardashian. As Jeff Koons had Ciccolina, so West has his glossy bauble of a bride, impending divorce notwithstanding. To see Kim in front of the uncluttered backdrop of their home is to experience the feeling that its decor is in some way making room for her outrageous, outré shape, her fearful symmetry and clever engineering somehow more extraordinary in a vacuum. The art critic Jerry Saltz, writing for New York Magazine in 2013, placed the couple’s visual style in a burgeoning genre that he dubbed “The New Uncanny,” characterized by an "un-self-consciousness filtered through hyper-self-consciousness, unprocessed absurdity, grandiosity of desire, and fantastic self-regard.” He concluded that the lovers both “perform…are removed from, and embody the culture all at the same time. What they do makes a grand gestural show of doing away with concealment, modesty, and self-consciousness, in ways that leave us only with two truly concealed, rather than revealed selves.” The house, too, makes a show of modesty — both of the Kardashian-Wests have referred to the idea of a monastery in describing it — as well as being grandiose, absurd, self-conscious in its impossible blankness, and studiedly-unselfconscious in its nominal rejection of traditional celebrity excess. Just as Dolly Parton confirmed that it took a lot of money to maintain her glorious, maximalist sluthood, this aggressive brand of “uncommercial” minimalist chic requires cash, a trick on par with spending millions of dollars on creating realistic clouds or water with the use of CGI.
When Kanye West and Kim Kardashian finally divorce, who keeps the monastery-cum-mansion? “A source,” Page Six reported, “said the biggest sticking point in the Kimye divorce settlement talks could be over their Calabasas, California, family home, which underwent a total redesign masterminded by Kanye and was heralded by Architectural Digest as ‘an oasis of purity and light’… Kim is trying to get Kanye to turn over the Calabasas house to her, because that’s where the kids are based and growing up. That is their home. She owns all the land and adjoining lots around the house but Kanye owns the actual house. They’ve both put a lot of money into renovating it.” Their split ownership of the land and house is, real-life practicalities aside, a perfect premise for a comedy of remarriage, Kim and Kanye jostling for supremacy like Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, but with plastic surgery and Lexapro instead of pantsuits and martinis. Curiouser and curiouser: the idea of the house being purchased by another famous person, who would then presumably either return it to its original state as a McMansion, or else fill it with their own offbeat and non-monastic objects. Somehow, this might be more poignant than the very dissolution of their union — an enormous, 40-million-dollar metaphor, demonstrating how unnerving it can be when so much time and so much money is devoted to denying the existence of, or smoothing over, the real, human mess of living. Marriage, privately, is almost never as clean or as stainless as it looks on Instagram.
Text by Philippa Snow.
Images courtesy various sources