Purchased by Reese Witherspoon purchased a historic Wallace Neff ranch, named the Libbey Ranch, located in Ojai, California in 2007. Ojai is a bucolic village in the foothills north of Los Angeles, which served as Shangri-La in the 1937 film Lost Horizon. The property sits on seven acres that include a swimming pool, a barn, a horse paddock, and guest cottages. Originally built in 1923 as stables for Edward Drummond Libbey, who was a big player in the glassware industry, the hacienda is one of the earliest works by Neff, best known as the designer of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks's mansion, Pickfair. "His method was a subtle painterly approach that gently topples the design over into the world of romance and fairy tale," wrote historian David Gebhard in his foreword to Wallace Neff: Architect of California’s Golden Age.
"When you buy a beautiful piece of art, you don't really own it...You're just the caretaker." Witherspoon says of the hideaway, where her family spends weekends and holidays.
It seems that the Libbey Ranch provides a serene setting to be with her family, and looms large in her approach to parenting, because Witherspoon also wanted her home to be very ‘kid friendly'. Indeed, Witherspoon has turned Libbey Ranch into a menagerie. A Friesian horse and a chestnut pony share the paddock. There are donkeys, goats, pigs, chickens, and four whimsically named dogs: Hope, Nashville, Coco Chanel, and Hank Williams. In L.A., the actress lives in a Mediterranean-style home with her husband, talent agent Jim Toth (whom she married in March 2011 at the Libbey Ranch), and Ava, 12, and Deacon, 8, her two children with ex-husband Ryan Phillippe. She and Toth are expecting their first child.
"It reminds me of growing up in Tennessee, where we spent all day outside," she says. "I wanted my children to have that experience, to get muddy and hang out with the animals."
Seeking traditional interiors with a modern edge, Witherspoon turned to her friend Kristen Buckingham, a designer with experience decorating Spanish-style homes. Neff's original architectural elements — brick and stucco walls, Spanish tiles, exposed beams, and elaborate iron light fixtures and hardware that were forged almost a century ago in a foundry on the property — had been well maintained over the years. So Buckingham searched for compatible pieces, including European antiques, rustic accessories, and animal-themed art, as well as custom-designed upholstery.
The great room typifies Witherspoon's style. A simple country kitchen opens onto a dining area with a long table and a mix of Swedish chairs, tufted leather benches, and his-and-hers linen wing chairs. "We had 20 people here for Thanksgiving last year," says the actress, "so there has to be plenty of places to sit."
Buckingham has an affinity for Hollywood homes from the 1920s and '30s, and she transformed the long, two-story living room into two distinct spaces — an intimate sitting area by the massive fireplace and a more casual area with a games table and bar. A staircase with tile-accented risers leads to a loft den with deep-green and denim-blue seating, ikat pillows, and overlapping Turkish rugs. "It feels fresh and youthful even though it's traditional," says the designer.
On a typical weekend, the grown-ups gather outside and watch their kids run around, or they play rummy indoors. "Everyone congregates around the stone fireplace in the great room. It's cozy and warm," says the actress. "In the summer, it's the coolest room, because of the stone."
To Witherspoon, the house is more than just a beautiful home. "It's meditative and restorative," she says. "As soon as I drive through the gate, I relax. The air is fresh, the phone isn't ringing, you can't access e-mail. Time slows down. Within an hour I'm lying on that couch taking a big fat nap. It's like having a little bit of Tennessee in California."
Photos and article courtesy of Elle Decor.