May 3, 2010
“I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel.”
One afternoon in late October, Haim Saban, seated in his wood-panelled library, contemplated the results of a fourteen-month renovation of his estate. It consists of a main house and two smaller buildings—one for guests and entertaining, one for his wife’s parents. He lives in Beverly Park, a gated community above Beverly Hills that is popular among Hollywood celebrities and moguls for its security and its exclusivity. With the help of an architectural firm, Saban’s wife, Cheryl, had transformed the interior of the twenty-three-thousand-square-foot French-style country manor house. “Only the outer walls were left—it looked like an airplane hangar!” Saban told me. The large foyer opened into a vast space comprising a living and a dining area, with minimalist modern furniture. Near the white upholstered sofas was a floor-to-ceiling display case filled with antiquities from Israel, and large Chagall paintings hung on the walls. “We have only Chagalls,” he said.
Saban enjoys playing the part of a man exasperated by his wife’s extravagance. “She left only the Jerusalem tile in the guest bathroom, and she left this room, but she made the wood darker, and she put leather on the ceiling,” he told me. He pointed at the ceiling high above us. “I said, ‘Why do we have frigging leather on the ceiling? You can’t even see that it is leather!’ But then I stopped myself. Marriages break up over renovating a house. Really, they do. So I decided, I will not say a word.” Minutes later, he heard music blaring from the outdoor sound system. “What is this, a bar mitzvah?” he declared, and went to investigate. “New speakers?” he said to the technicians. “What was the matter with the old speakers?” He shrugged, and gestured toward the “back yard,” which had been his project—an expanse of emerald lawn adorned with nine hedges, many trimmed in the shapes of life-size animals (a horse, a hippo, an elephant). He murmured, “My Versailles.”
Read the full story at NewYorker.com.