He’s not exactly a household name in the vein of, say, Chris Martin or Julia Roberts, but Los Angeles local Damien Sabella is a principal heir to one of Asia’s richest dynasties, a Hong Kong real estate empire worth billions that was recently subjected to a series of elaborate lawsuits — and extensive tabloid chatter — after a bitter power struggle erupted between the family patriarch’s two billionaire daughters.
Sabella was raised primarily in the U.S., where his mother has owned a large estate in L.A.’s San Marino neighborhood for decades. Now in his 30s, he and wife Brandee have made Malibu their new hometown, where the couple recently dropped $9.3 million in the same neighborhood that’s home to Martin, Roberts, and countless other celebrities.
Located atop Malibu’s scenic Point Dume peninsula, the gated Mediterranean-style estate sits on a nearly 1.1-acre landlocked lot, though the house still flaunts a coveted ocean view. From the street, a notably long driveway hewn from decomposed granite leads past rows of majestic eucalyptus trees on its way to the house, set at the very far rear of the lot.
The sprawling structure was built in 1958, but it’s been heavily renovated and expanded over the ensuing decades, most recently by local architect Doug Burdge, who designed its clean-lined, contemporary interiors. The compound last sold in 2014 for $7.4 million to Goldman Sachs managing director Simon Osborn and his former wife Sundae Jahant, who initially asked a brash $12 million for the place before coming back down to earth — where they met the Sabellas’ offer.
A motorcourt dominated by two olive trees fronts the all-glass entryway, which opens immediately into a great room with two massive wrought iron chandeliers, a fireplace, built-in bookshelves, and four sets of French doors, all of them spilling out to a patio area with mesmerizing whitewater vistas.
For catering large events, COVID allowing, there’s a substantial chef’s kitchen with a vaulted, skylit ceiling, custom cabinetry, the full retinue of top-notch stainless appliances, and not one but two center islands, both of them with marble countertops and eat-in breakfast bars. The kitchen opens to a casual noshing area at one end, and to a more formal dining room with a crystal chandelier at the other.
Perhaps the estate’s coolest feature is the double-height den, which does double duty as a groovy lounge and boasts an arched fireplace, a skylit ceiling, and French doors leading to the full-size outdoor tennis court, which is sunken and fully lighted for nighttime play.
There are even more French doors in the upstairs master bedroom, and in the seven additional family/guest/staff bedrooms scattered throughout the compound, which includes two detached guesthouses. Other luxurious amenities are not limited to a swimming pool with inset spa, and firepit surrounded by a built-in banquette.
As a grandchild of Chen Din-hwa, the reclusive multibillionaire tycoon who regularly ranked as one of Hong Kong’s wealthiest men prior to his 2012 death, Sabella was born into vast wealth but a fractured family. According to Forbes, Chen spent decades grooming younger daughter Vivien to take over his Hong Kong business, while older daughter Angela Chen Sabella — Damien Sabella’s mother — lived in America, handling overseas investments.
Following Chen’s death, Vivien became locked in a years-long, multimillion-dollar legal wrangle against her mother and Angela over Chen’s assets. The battle ultimately resulted in a major defeat for Vivien, who was ordered to pay more than $1 billion to her mother, though Forbes still ranks her as one of Hong Kong’s richest women. The Chen dynasty continues to control an empire comprised of hundreds of corporations and commercial property in Hong Kong and London, plus global investments in the U.S. and abroad.
As for Sabella, records reveal the $9.3 million Point Dume spread is not the only house he maintains in L.A. or in Malibu, for that matter. Earlier this year, he dropped another $2.7 million for an 8-acre ranch in Topanga Canyon, tucked into the semi-remote mountains between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley. And back in 2017, he forked out $3.8 million for a small ranch elsewhere on Point Dume.
Angela Chen Sabella continues to reside in the San Gabriel Valley community of San Marino, on a 3-acre estate she originally purchased sometime in the early 1990s. The three-house compound, which includes two swimming pools, four motorcourts, and numerous accessory buildings, is one of San Marino’s largest and most lavish estates.
For more than a decade, Chen Sabella has been locked in another nasty legal war, this one pitting her against the city of Pasadena. In 1996, she purchased the landmark YWCA building in downtown Pasadena, originally designed by pioneering female architect Julia Morgan in 1921. According to Pasadena, she then left the historic site vacant and allowed it to decay for 14 years, until the city invoked eminent domain to pay her $8.3 million for the now-derelict property in 2010. Ten years later, however, the building remains vacant, and Chen Sabella is still fighting Pasadena over title to the property.
Cherie Iseppi and Aaron Kirman at Compass as well as Mike Cunningham of Pinnacle Estate Properties held the listing; Lady Michael McCraine at Compass repped Sabella.