The Academy Award-winning star of Affliction and his wife, Paula, filled their Beverly Hills house with furnishings reflecting their love of Eastern cultures
The piano lounge is often used for dancing. Scalamandré cut velvet and Christopher Hyland damask cover the armchairs next to the fireplace.
Posted September 9, 2016
This article originally appeared in the April 2000 issue of Architectural Digest
He arrived in California in the backseat of a Model A Ford piled high with his family’s belongings. It was 1932, the worst year of the Great Depression, and the Coburns had just driven all the way from dusty Nebraska looking for luck.
Even as a kid, James Coburn was an actor who projected an engaging air of menace: His first role was as King Herod in the school Christmas pageant. Over the years he studied with Stella Adler and Jeff Corey, did advertising gigs and played dozens of supporting roles, working with everyone from Audrey Hepburn and Steve McQueen to Sam Peckinpah and Bruce Lee. The Magnificent Seven (1960) made him a famous cowboy; he was an American-style James Bond in Our Man Flint (1965). Last year, at seventy, Coburn finally found his luck, winning an Oscar for his savage, haunting portrayal of an abusive father in Affliction. A Jaguar and a Mercedes have replaced the family Model A in his gated driveway, and from the gardens of his Beverly Hills hacienda he looks down on the lights of Sunset Boulevard and the Pacific beyond. He’s a man at the top of the world, and now he has a house to match.
“This is a house for a movie star,” his wife, Paula, says of the baronial five stories, built into a steep hill and arranged around a wrought iron-balustraded stairwell. “It’s magic here.” At the heart of the house is the Coburns’ paneled library; the Oscar sits on a reproduction lotus table in front of brocade draperies that frame the terraced gardens. “It’s a rush,” James Coburn says of the feeling he had when his name was announced. “You don’t believe it, and then you’re on the stage.” One of the best things about winning, he says, was taking Paula to the Academy Awards ceremony. She had always wanted to go.
Coburn constructed Affliction’s Pop Whitehouse from bits and pieces of his own experience, as well as from the Paul Schrader script and the novel by Russell Banks. He also drew on his memories of working with Sam Peckinpah on Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. He cut his white hair and wore padding for the part. Schrader asked him to speak through his nose, a shift that changed Coburn’s sexy growl to a threatening adenoidal whine. “When you’re acting,” Coburn explains, leaning back in one of the oversize leather chairs in the library, “everything you’ve done becomes worthwhile.”
“This is a man’s smoking room, the kind of room where you would retreat for an intimate chat with friends, or end up having an after-dinner liqueur,” says designer Craig Wright, who consulted with the Coburns on decorating. The leather chairs swivel to face a movie screen hidden in the paneling and are opposite a long chenille-covered sofa with throw pillows. “I like to sit up straight; Jim likes to slouch,” says Paula Coburn. “We wanted everyone to be comfortable.”
An antique Chinese cane bed used as a table holds candelabra made from Japanese altar sticks, an inlaid tortoiseshell Portuguese box and two bronze disciples of Buddha—part of the actor’s collection of Buddhist art. A calligraphic blessing from a Tibetan monk hangs on the wall. “I’ve always been interested in the esoteric side of religion,” says James Coburn, who has been acquiring Oriental art for thirty years. “All that stuff works for me. There are levels of understanding. It doesn’t all come in one flash of enlightenment.” Continue reading