SC Johnson heiress Karen Keland drops $10 million on a Malibu blufftop

Towering far above “Billionaire’s Beach“, Pacific Coast Highway, and trendy local watering holes like Nobu is a tiny enclave that is accessed by an alarmingly steep and narrow winding road. Though less than 5 minutes’ drive to PCH, the gated community is wondrously secluded on its cliff and even the vast majority of Malibu residents are unaware it exists.

There are only 8 homes in this gated enclave — Villa Costera, they call it — all of them large, multi-million dollar properties. Some of the structures are portly enough to qualify as mansions.

View from the Villa Costera gated community

A few months ago, a designer-renovated house in Villa Costera sold for a fat $10,125,000. And wouldn’tcha know, our longtime friend Vlad the Revealer at Celebrity Address Aerial quickly came a-knockin’ on Yolanda’s door with news that the property had transferred to a mysterious blind trust that links back to a Chicago law firm. Who could it be, Vlad wondered.

Well, it took Yolanda many moons to sort it all out, but eventually our investigatin’ revealed that the new owner is a woman named Karen Henrietta Keland. And while y’all may have never heard of the gal, you probably are familiar with the products her family produces. In fact, you probably have some in your house right now.

Ms. Keland, you see, is the great-great-granddaughter of S.C. Johnson, the fellow who in 1886 founded his eponymous Racine, Wisconsin-based household products company. The firm is the maker of a whole bunch of cleaning supply brands like Ziploc bags, Saran Wrap, Drano, Glade, and Raid. And many more.

Anyway, the S.C. Johnson company grew, and grew, and then grew some more. More than 130 years later, the company rakes in an estimated $7.5 billion in annual revenue and employs a staggering 12,000 people. Yet some things remaind unchanged: the firm is still headquartered in Racine, Wisconsin — albeit now in a substantially larger facility — and remains owned and tightly controlled by the Johnson family, now in their fifth generation of leadership. As they say, it’s “S.C. Johnson, a family company“.

Despite her vast personal wealth, Ms. Keland — who occasionally goes by “Henni” — remains steadfastly low-profile. We couldn’t even dig up a photo of this lady, and not for lack of trying. Yolanda does know, however, that she is in her late 60s, is unmarried, and has no children. She does, however, have one niece (whose name, confusingly, is also Karen Keland. But she goes by her middle name, Onnolee. We digress). Ms. Keland’s niece either attends or recently graduated from UCLA, so maybe she’ll be coming out to Malibu to visit her aunt’s swanky new digs.

Ms. Keland seems to have had a very enviable childhood, and not just because her late mama (also named Karen!) was a multi-billionaire. Her childhood, you see, was every architectural lover’s wet dream: she was born and raised in a Frank Lloyd Wright house — a house that he custom-built for her mother in 1954. Let’s digress real quick and rewind.

The grandfather of Ms. Keland was a guy named Herbert Fisk Johnson Sr. In the 1930s, while already a wealthy CEO from his S.C. Johnson co’s success, Mr. Johnson met ol’ FLW himself. They would forge a friendship that eventually led to Johnson commissioning Wright to design him a house near his company headquarters in Wisconsin. That house became known as Wingspread and was one of the most expensive and elaborate Wright-designed homes ever built. And construction was overseen by a young John Lautner!

Wingspread, built by Frank Lloyd Wright for Karen Keland’s grandfather

Today, Wingspread is owned by the The Johnson Foundation, who have essentially bequeathed it to the public: the property is open year-round for public tours. Additionally, the 14,000-square-foot behemoth was designated a historic landmark in 1989.

Mr. Johnson’s daughter Karen Johnson Boyd — Ms. Keland’s mother — spent her teenage years growing up in Wingspread. She loved it so much, apparently, that in the early 1950s, as a 20-something-year-old heiress, she hired Wright to design her very first home.

Keland House, built by Frank Lloyd Wright for Karen Keland’s mother

Ms. Johnson Boyd’s father initially was reluctant to hire Wright for her — although he was a personal friend of FLW, the architect had a reputation for mismanaging money and his own home had gone way over budget — but Karen was insistent and Wright was reportedly very excited to design a home for her, as he had known her since she was just a young child.

Thus was born the Keland Houseas it is known. It is a multi-winged, mostly single-story sprawler and one of the largest examples of Wright’s Usonian homes. Ms. Johnson Boyd evidently loved the place — she lived there for over 60 years, until her death in 2016 at the ripe old age of 91.

But we digress. Let’s chat about the new Malibu house that her daughter — Ms. Keland — just purchased.

At 3,910-square-feet, this is actually one of the smallest homes within the Villa Costera enclave. And online marketing materials provide almost no photographs of the home’s interior — the only ones Yolanda could find are of some of the public spaces, as shown above. We do know, however, that the structure contains 3 beds and 3.5 baths.

From what we can tell, the home has been fully renovated and offers open-plan indoor spaces with vaulted ceilings, newly-installed hardwood floors, and a renovated kitchen with a large center island and marble everything. There’s also a small table with a huge ceramic “foot”, which could be a good conversation piece.

Clearly designed for outdoor livin’ and entertaining, the house wraps around an immense courtyard of crushed gravel and enough seating options to accomodate anything from a large baby shower to an intimate, candlelit dinner party.

The property also offers a self-contained 1 bed/1 bath guest house with garage parking for two vehicles. The landscaping was designed by noted architect Maureen Barnes and the grounds boast a water feature, olive and palm trees, liquid amber trees, and a rose garden. The rambling estate additionally boasts numerous pathways and hidden outdoor nooks and crannies. Perfect for slipping away for some privacy with your hot cup of cocoa in the dewy mornin’.

The estate comprises more than four acres of land and the birds’ eye views of the coastline it provides are really rather spectacular. There are crystal-clear vistas from Point Dume all the way down to Palos Verdes. And then there’s that sea air without the traffic and audio annoyances that come from living right on the sand and/or PCH.

When she is not sunning herself in Malibu, Karen Keland bunks up in Chicago, But lo, it seems that she might be planning to desert the windy city permanently! Her longtime duplex apartment recently (in January 2018) popped up for sale.

Ms. Keland would very much like someone to pay her $2,995,000 for this duplex unit. What does one get for almost $3 million in Chicago? A fully gut-renovated apartment with 4,720-square-feet of living space (that’s way bigger than most houses, FYI) and 3 bedrooms/2.5 bathrooms.

The unit is actually a combo of two apartments (and a portion of a third) that Ms. Keland spent years renovating and piecing together to form one cohesive space. She knocked down walls ‘n shit to build this minimalist place!

Anyway, there are acres of polished white oak floorways, miles of windows, and no furniture whatsoever. Clearly, Ms. Keland has already made her move out to Malibu. (Oddly enough, she left behind thousands of books in her custom library, along with a bunch of expensive-looking artifacts).

Beware of vertigo, but the high-floor apartment (it’s located on the 55th and 56th stories!) has stunning southeast views that take in Lake Michigan and a portion of the Chicago skyline. There are also uber-expensive Viking, Miele and Gaggenau appliances in the chic kitchen, and the master bath has not one but two giant gold Buddhas watching over the toilet.

Honestly, we find the Buddhas rather creepy. We don’t like the feeling of those little gods peeking at us as we perform our ablutions. But that’s just Yolanda.

Listing agent (Chicago): Jennifer Ames, Coldwell Banker
Listing agent (Malibu): Ellen Francisco, Coldwell Banker
Selling agent (Malibu): Melanie Sommers, Pacific Union


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