Jay Griffith is one of Los Angeles's most sought-after landscape designers, with clients like Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz. He's also one of the most irreverent. "I mistrust any occasion for which you have to buy new clothes," he says, paraphrasing Thoreau, as guests arrive for one of the impromptu weekend parties at his Malibu, California, retreat. For these events, Griffith extends "day-of" invitations to whomever springs to mindneighbors in Venice, where he keeps another home, friends from the entertainment world, former and current clients, and as many friends, children and pets as people feel like bringing. At a recent gathering, the group included film director Stephen Gyllenhaal and his wife, the screenwriter Naomi Foner; art collector Cecilia Dan; production designer Michael Riva and his wife, Wendy; and novelist Mona Simpson.
The Malibu property is certainly a great place for parties. Walk through the modest 1950s ranch homeits clean modernist lines punctuated by splashes of green and blue glassand step outside, and that's when you get the view: a six-acre stretch of green grass and trees that runs straight from Griffith's living room to the cliffs that drop awayinto the ocean. In an uncanny way, the flow of the land makes it seem as though Griffith has sole title to both the ocean and the sky. "It's an old landscaping trick, borrowing vistas," he explains. Foner, one of Griffith's newest clients, is less reserved. "When I saw this view for the first time, I cried," she says.
Gyllenhaal is a bit more wary than his wife about the prospect of working with Griffith, who has a reputation for completely disregarding his clients' ideas about what they might want. "He's freaking me outI'm a director, I like a script," Gyllenhaal says. Overhearing this, the other guests, many of whom are repeat clients, smile knowingly.