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Garmin Founder’s Son Buys $22.5 Million Architectural Compound

Ken Kao House Beverly Hills
Joe Fletcher/Shutterstock
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  • Seller: James Wang
  • Location: Beverly Hills Post Office, Los Angeles, Calif.
  • Price: $22.5 million
  • Size: Two houses totaling approx. 10,381 square feet, 6 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms

Arguably one of the most beautiful newer estates in Los Angeles — or at least one of the most visually intriguing — is an estate by architect Noah Walker. Sited in the semi-remote mountains high above Beverly Hills, on a perfectly private 3.5-acre lot dotted by 130 native live oaks, the two-structure compound is chicly contemporary without being cold, and blends into its natural environment, embracing the land’s rugged hillside topography.

The striking house was built on speculation by Nathan Frankel, a businessman and concert violinist who made his fortune in the scrap metal industry, and completed in 2015. It quickly sold for $19.9 million to Chinese film financier James Wang, one of his country’s most successful and high-profile producers. Wang, for his part, only held onto the property for about four years before flipping it in a $22.5 million, all-cash deal late last year.

Though the identity of the home’s spendy new owner remained a mystery for months, a deep dive into records now reveals the buyers were American film producer Ken Kao and his wife, Japanese fashion model Jessica Michibata.

Kao, who co-founded production company Arcana with Ryan Gosling, is the only son of multibillionaire Min Kao, the Kansas-based tech tycoon who co-founded GPS giant Garmin. According to Forbes, the elder Kao’s net worth currently exceeds $4 billion. Michibata, for her part, is probably best-known for her short-lived marriage to Formula One superstar Jensen Button.

The house has an atypical floorplan. In the 8,000 sq. ft. main house, all the public rooms are actually located above the bedrooms, which are semi-submerged into the hillside, under a “green” roof of edible herbs. The 75-foot swimming pool is an architectural feat, infinity-edged on three sides and set directly under one of the largest oaks on the property, though the pool boy probably curses Walker’s name every time he cleans up after the notoriously messy tree species.)

The two-story guesthouse, spanning about 2,000 square feet, consists of a rehabbed barn set beneath a wood-clad upper floor. Like the main house, this structure effectively blends into its natural surroundings and offers walls of glass and open-concept living areas.

But perhaps the property’s most visually arresting feature, at least to this author, is the sunken triangular courtyard embedded into the main house. Accented by a firepit and little other visual distraction, the meditation-ready space is framed by concrete walls soaring up to the blue sky above.

Though they closed on the house six full months ago, Kao and Michibata have not yet moved into the property. Instead, they’ve commissioned Noah Walker to give the place a thorough remodel that has involved extensive work on both structures. But details of what they are actually changing — and reasons why the compound requires a renovation when it’s barely five years old — remain murky. In any case, the new Michibata-Kao estate lies in a securely gated community famed for its large number of celebrity residents.

But the Kao family is hardly new to the Los Angeles area or high-end real estate in general. Last year, Kao’s older sister Jen Kao made real estate headlines when she paid Jodie Foster $15 million cash for a large house in the Coldwater Canyon region of Beverly Hills. Kao’s parents also own one of the largest estates in the Beverly Hills Flats neighborhood, purchased in 2013 for $15.4 million, which was formerly owned by Kirk Douglas. And back in 2011, Min Kao paid a whopping $40 million for a penthouse at 15 CPW, one of Manhattan’s most prestigious residential buildings.

Tomer Fridman, Adam Rosenfeld and Michael Chen of Compass held the listing; Zach Goldsmith of Hilton & Hyland repped Kao.