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Henson home combines steampunk and green-tech features Kermit the Frog would love

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LOS ANGELES, CALIF.—Steps descend to a wood-and-steel bridge that leads over a pocket garden to a bronze door in a cedar-clad wall.

This is the curtain-raiser on the house in the Sherman Oaks neighbourhood that was built by Brian Henson — scion of the Henson Muppet empire and director of this past summer’s puppet film The Happytime Murders — and Mia Sara, a poet and actress who starred as Sloane Peterson, the girlfriend in the 1986 cult film, Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.

The L.A. home hugs the hillside, and its windows offer a stunning panorama of the city.
The L.A. home hugs the hillside, and its windows offer a stunning panorama of the city.  (TREVOR TONDRO / The New York Times)

The house was designed by Kristen Becker of Mutuus Studio, an architectural firm known for its embrace of natural settings and materials, artisanship and “kinetics” — industrial-scale, movable building elements, like hand-cranked skylights on chunky hinges.

Becker had previously remodelled the couple’s loft in Tribeca, N.Y.C., and grasped her clients’ shared esthetic, which Sara, 51, calls “archaic” and Henson calls “contemporary medieval.”

Just over the threshold, a kitchen area — dark with blackened steel and walnut veneered cabinets — is at the back, dining is in the middle and living at the sunny end of the large home. Light pours from black-framed and mullioned windows and clerestories on three sides. The far wall is glass and looks south onto a stunning panorama of Los Angeles.

Mia Sara and Brian Henson in their home overlooking L.A.'s San Fernando Valley.
Mia Sara and Brian Henson in their home overlooking L.A.’s San Fernando Valley.  (The New York Times)

The room is filled with idiosyncratic objects: Henson’s cast from a childhood bone break, covered in cartoons by his father, Jim, and displayed in a case like a relic; a bronze table; African masks chosen by Sara’s father, Jerome Sarapochiello, a former photographer, one-time draftsman for industrial designer George Nelson and now, as Sara describes him, “picker extraordinaire.”

Over coffee at a teak dining table by Danish designer Finn Juhl, under a chandelier made of bicycle chains, the couple explains why their 900-sq.-ft. dining room is the heart of the house.

“Mia loves to cook,” Henson, 54, says. “We also just felt like the whole grand-room lifestyle for a family really keeps you all connected, particularly today when everybody vanishes to different corners of the house.”

The couple took architectural cues from an Irish medieval tower keep, called Bunratty Castle.

The 900-sq.-ft. dining-great-room is in the middle of the home, surrounded by walls of windows.
The 900-sq.-ft. dining-great-room is in the middle of the home, surrounded by walls of windows.  (The New York Times)

“I didn’t want to do some oldy-worldy, strange, medieval-looking thing in the middle of Los Angeles,” says Sara. “But I liked the feeling because there are certain very elemental things like a central hearth and one big room with a sort of great hall.”

And, this being Los Angeles, the “great hall” has an indoor-outdoor aspect that Henson reveals as he turns the wheel of a heavy metal gear-and-chain contraption and makes a west-facing window pivot like a garage door — opening up the room to a terrace for outdoor dining and to a zigzag pathway down to the pool and guest rooms.

The house, in other words, is both steampunk and greentech, Arthurian and Manhattanite.

The kitchen is dark, with blackened steel and walnut veneered cabinets.
The kitchen is dark, with blackened steel and walnut veneered cabinets.  (The New York Times)

Inside, blackened steel mixes with brass and copper. Floors and stair treads are antique-fumed oak; the master bath and bedroom upstairs are separated by a sliding screen made of woven copper strips. The building, composed of intersecting volumes that step down and hug the hillside, has walls that are cast-in-place concrete or clad in stained cedar siding.

And with the exception of a mound of stuffed Muppets in the room of their 14-year-old daughter, Millie, and two stone stools on the deck with monster feet, the house does not scream goofy creatures.

Growing up, “we always owned workshops and those places are where you would find all the creatures and that feeling. But home was always home,” Henson said.

Their home, which also has a grey-water system, delivers a “super-luxurious lifestyle” while being “environmental without being weird,” Henson says. “Weird,” he explains, describes “the people who can never turn their air-conditioners on,” even “when it’s really, really hot.”

That lifestyle is also about occupying a reasonable amount of space. The house, with its garage and mechanical systems, takes up about 4,200 square feet, on an almost 12,000-square-foot site. The family uses about 3,000 square feet, down from 5,000 in their previous home, and an area they believe is just right.

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Victoria real estate agent disciplined for false advertising, encouraging cash deal to avoid taxes

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A Victoria real estate agent is facing $9,000 in fines and a 60-day licence suspension after breaking several professional rules during the sale of her father’s half-million-dollar property, according to a decision by the Real Estate Council of B.C. 

Whitney Garside’s missteps — outlined this week in a disciplinary decision posted on the council’s website — included falsely advertising the property as being almost twice its actual size and advising the buyer they could avoid the property transfer tax if they paid cash directly to the seller.

The property on Burnett Road in Victoria was being sold in 2016 by the real estate agent’s father. That relationship was disclosed and isn’t among the reasons she has been disciplined.

According to the disciplinary consent order, Garside told the buyer — whose name is redacted — that by paying $42,000 cash on the side, the value of the property could be reduced to avoid paying the property transfer tax.

That cash arrangement was not shared with Garside’s brokerage, Re/Max Camosun, a failure that contravened the Real Estate Services Act.

The council also ruled that she “failed to act honestly and with reasonable care and skill” when she advised the buyer the property transfer tax could be avoided by paying cash directly to the seller. 

The council’s discipline committee also found that Garside committed professional misconduct when she failed to recommend the seller and buyer seek independent legal advice, specifically regarding the property transfer tax and the cash agreement.

Another issue the council considered professional misconduct involved the size of the property in question.

The council ruled that Garside published false and misleading advertising and failed to act with reasonable care and skill when the property was advertised as 8,712 square feet, when in fact a portion of the lot belonged to the Ministry of Transportation, and the actual size was just 4,711 square feet.

The discipline committee ordered Garside’s licence be suspended for 60 days, which will be completed Jan. 3, 2021.

She has also been ordered to complete real estate ethics and remedial classes at her own expense.

Garside was also fined $7,500 as a disciplinary penalty and $1,500 in enforcement expenses.

She agreed to waive her right to appeal the council’s discipline committee’s decision in September.

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Frisco apartment community sells to Canadian investor

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A Canada-based investor has purchased a Frisco apartment community as part of a larger Texas deal.

The 330-unit Satori Frisco apartments opened last year on Research Road in Frisco.

BSR Real Estate Investment Trust bought the four-story rental community that was built by Atlanta-based Davis Development.

Satori Frisco was more than 90% leased at the time of sale. The property includes a two-story fitness center, a car care center, a dog park and a resort-style swimming pool.

The Frisco property sold along with Houston’s Vale luxury apartments in a deal valued at $129 million.

“BSR recently exited the smaller Beaumont and Longview, Texas, markets and also sold noncore properties in other markets,” John Bailey, BSR’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We are now using our strong liquidity position to invest in Vale and Satori Frisco, modern communities in core growth markets with the amenities our residents desire.”

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House prices on Prince Edward Island continue steady climb

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Residential real estate prices on Prince Edward Island continue to climb at a rate higher than the national average, according to the latest report from a national organization. 

The Canadian Real Estate Association released monthly figures for November 2020 on Tuesday.

They show that the average price for a resale home on P.E.I. is about 21 per cent higher than it was a year earlier. 

Only Quebec had a bigger year-over-year increase, at about 23 per cent. Overall across Canada, prices were up 13.8 per cent year over year in the ninth month of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For the fifth straight month, year-over-year sales activity was up in almost all Canadian housing markets compared to the same month in 2019,” the report noted.

“Meanwhile, an ongoing shortage of supply of homes available for purchase across most of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces means sellers there hold the upper hand in sales negotiations.”

That lack of houses coming onto the market compared to the demand means that in those provinces, there is “increased competition among buyers for listings and … fertile ground for price gains.”

There have been anecdotal reports for months that Prince Edward Island’s low rate of COVID-19 infection and looser rules around social activities have been encouraging people to buy homes on the Island. 

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