Abdul-Jabbar Gives Designers Tall Orders : He, Other Celebrities Want Homes With Custom Features

Times Staff Writer

When it comes to their homes, the rich and famous ask for some of the most fascinating features--such as the stairs Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had designed for his big feet and the shower seat he had built so high most people would have to jump up to sit down.

“When you design my shower, picture being 7 feet 2 and using a tub in a Holiday Inn that is 5 feet long and 2 1/2 feet wide,” he told architect Gus Duffy. “You wind up washing one leg at a time!”

The basketball star also had the back stairway in his Beverly Hills house built directly from his bedroom to the kitchen so he could get a midnight snack in a hurry, and those stairs--which Duffy jokingly calls the “giant steps” (after Abdul-Jabbar’s 1985 autobiography)--are tailored, he said, to a size 15 or 16 shoe.

Then there was the closet Martin Selko built in Beverly Hills for actress Jane Seymour and her business agent/husband David Flynn, which was--as Selko describes it--"two-gowns high,” to accommodate her 150 evening gowns. Seymour needed a pole to get the top ones down.


“The whole room was built with aromatic cedar. So, for the first two months, nobody could go in there without being knocked over by the smell,” Selko recalled.

Four-Story, High-Speed Elevator

Duffy and Selko also worked together on many homes developed in Beverly Hills by Columbia Savings, and one of those houses was sold to an executive who called Duffy back to design some revisions. “I thought it had everything,” Duffy said, “but after it was purchased, I learned that it didn’t.”

It had a four-story, high-speed elevator, which went--after the buyer added them--from a disco in the basement to a massage room and beauty shop on the top level. The buyer also added a two-story closet with a spiral staircase and security features Duffy would only say were “bizarre.”


Talk about extraordinary security: Waldo Fernandez says many of his clients ask him to design a “safe room,” a fireproofed area that can be sealed off from the rest of the house but has escape doors and is equipped with food, water, telephones, bedding and other necessities.

Fernandez also has filled requests for motorized chandeliers, which can be lowered for cleaning; motorized diving boards, which are retractable and telescope out; sensorized kitchen doors, which open automatically like doors to a supermarket, and a walk-in closet with glass doors in front of the clothes as an extra protection against dust.

Fernandez has worked for many celebrities--among them, Goldie Hawn and Elizabeth Taylor--but has been busiest these days on projects for Merv Griffin, whose planned, 59,000-square-foot home in the Santa Monica Mountains will even have some Fernandez-designed chairs.

Miniature Furniture

Reg Adams just finished designing some miniature living-room chairs for actor Chevy Chase’s two little girls. “He and his wife have a huge home in the Palisades, and they wanted a living room for the whole family,” Adams said. “So we designed it to have a grand piano, which he plays, and it’s also a video room, but the TV can be put away when it’s not being used.”

Architect Robert Earl, who is designing a Malibu ranch house for actor/producer/director Michael Landon, has had many requests for video rooms, but a growing number of his clients are now asking for double kitchens: one for catering, the other for every day.

Other clients have commissioned him to design a two-story library, with the first floor to be used as a museum; a 13-car subterranean garage, and what Earl terms “full health spas,” with hot tubs, steam showers and workout equipment just like a commercial gym’s.

Dietmar Kruger’s Ardsley Construction Co., which has catered to such big names as rock-star Sting, has designed remote-controlled hot tubs and lighting systems, bathtubs shaped to the clients’ backs, wet bars with foot-operated water controls, so--as he put it--"your hands are free while you mix your favorite drink,” and baths with automatic shampoo dispensers attached to the shower heads.


‘Bathing Pavilions’

“We did one incredible shower,” he remembered, “where we installed his-and-her temperature controls; two rain bars--vertical rods, where water coming out can be turned from a fine mist to a hard spray; soap niches with recessed lights, and a seat with a dispenser for chilled, filtered water so the client can drink ice-cold water while taking a steam bath.”

It sounds like Van-Martin Rowe’s “power shower,” which he predicts will replace spas in the ‘90s, “because people won’t have as much time to bathe.” (He still designs rooms, which he calls “bathing pavilions,” with Jacuzzi-type tubs.)

Rowe, who--like Reg Adams--works with Bobbie Everts’ Decorator Previews in West Hollywood, designed one “power shower” for James Orr, who co-wrote the screenplay for the Disney film “Three Men and a Baby.”

Orr had purchased what the designer remembers was a “fabulous house on Mulholland Drive, but the bathroom was the pits.”

Rowe turned it into a walk-in closet and created a shower room with a stereo sound system, three telephones, a TV, clothes hampers with chutes to the laundry room, an extra-large medicine cabinet and towel storage, which prompted Rowe to say, “I told Orr that he has more shelves than Thrifty’s.”

The room also has, of course, a shower. But what a shower! It’s 6 feet square and 15 feet tall with a skylight in the shape of a pyramid--"to give power,” Rowe explained. (Hence, the “power shower.”)

The shower can be turned into a steam bath, using any of several fragrances, and it has a bench, preset temperature knobs and two shower heads, though Rowe has designed a shower with as many as seven, including one--12 inches in diameter--mounted on the ceiling.


“Taking a shower under that is like standing under a rainfall,” he said.