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Ultimate Mystique
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Ultimate Mystique

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WaterShapes LogotypeEric Herman

One Saturday during the summer of 2000, I sat down for breakfast in Santa Monica, Calif., with Suzanne and Ron Dirsmith. They had just published the first of what have now become several articles in WaterShapes and had flown in from Chicago to visit family in southern California. I was eager to meet them in person and happy that they’d invited me to join them for a beachside breakfast.

It was a great meeting. I already knew that the Dirsmiths were designers of international renown and had worked around the globe for more than four decades, but I soon discovered that they are also enormously engaging conversationalists – among the most entertaining storytellers I’ve ever met.

During our discussions that morning they regaled me all sorts of stories about their work and travels. That alone would have been memorable enough, but then they casually mentioned that they had spent years working on a unique project in the hills right near the UCLA campus.

That project, it turned out, was the famous Playboy Mansion West, home to legendary publisher Hugh Hefner. Without any pretense, Ron and Suzanne casually explained that they had personally designed and managed the construction of mansion’s interiors spaces as well as the sprawling exteriors – including the famous swimming pool and the legendary grotto.

The conversation was amazing. We talked about the site, the pioneering naturalistic pool design and their experiences in working with Hefner, who, they explained, was a remarkably creative, sensitive and demanding client. Shortly after we started this discussion, I began thinking about the possibility of publishing a feature article on the project and, after a while, worked up the nerve to broach the idea.

They politely demurred and suggested instead that we proceed with publishing articles about myriad other projects – many of which have, in the years since, appeared in these pages. But they’d left the door open, and as the years went by, I occasionally reminded them of our desire to publish the mansion story whenever they were ready to tell it.

Years passed until, in the spring of 2005, the Dirsmiths made contact at my urging with Brian Van Bower, my good friend and WaterShapes columnist, who was in the process of lining up marquee speakers for Genesis 3’s educational program at the Aqua Show, which takes place in November in Las Vegas. The Dirsmiths signed on – and decided as well that the time had finally come to publish the Playboy Mansion West story in WaterShapes.

It is with genuine pride that I introduce this feature (click here). It is a remarkable story of a great site, a fascinating client, a fabulously innovative design and an execution that embodied genius from the initial presentation to placement of the last plant.

In preparation for the story, publisher Jim McCloskey and I were granted the privilege of a private tour of the mansion’s grounds, and I can say without reservation that, 30 years out, it remains one of the most remarkable built spaces to be found anywhere on the planet. The detail, the continuity of design and the sheer creativity make the project a true masterpiece of modern design.

And when you factor in the mystique radiated by the property and its owner, the place is truly the stuff of legend. Enjoy!

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