Face of Malibu Rebuilds: Rachel Mumford

Rachel Mumford

Face of Malibu Rebuilds is a series from artist Johanna Spinks, featuring Malibu residents and their experiences before, during and after the Woolsey Fire. If you have a fire story you would like to share with The Malibu Times, a person of note or courage, or a person who just needs some cheer around this difficult rebuild time, to be sketched for this series, please contact Spinks at johanna@johannaspinks.com or The Malibu Times Managing Editor Emily Sawicki at emily@malibutimes.com.

Spinks, a professional portrait artist and longtime Malibu resident, is donating her time to this series for the interviews and sketches. Readers may remember her original Face of Malibu portrait series that ran monthly in The Malibu Times for five years. You can see more examples of her portrait work at johannaspinks.com.

A woman of class—with some sass—Rachel Mumford used her street smarts to co-create the global brand boutique fitness empire Barry’s Bootcamp, favored by many Hollywood celebrities. Rachel’s “Cinderella rags-to-riches story” culminated in her finally being able to buy her ideal 5,800-square-foot French farmhouse-style home in her dream zip code. That all came to an end when this fitness guru, 48, with fairytale youthful blonde looks, lost her beloved home to the fires. 

What is your back story with Malibu? Tell us a little about your life and old home.

Malibu was always my dream zip code. When I saw this house (on Selfridge Drive) I fell in love with it. It was my dream house and now it’s my everyday nightmare.  I had it for just three years. It seems so unfair. What did I do to deserve that?  For me, success meant being able to open my eyes and see I had arrived in my dream house because, before, my other houses had never been quite right. They had always been a project. All my life I have been traveling the world building studios. I worked for 20 years almost around the clock, hardly every sleeping. We had only one studio and now we have over 60 studios around the world. We are just opening one in Paris and we are going to build 10 to 12 more this year. I was an aspiring actress, so I needed to say in shape. I was going to a gym in West Hollywood. One day, I showed up and it was closed down and padlocked. This guy who worked there (Barry Jay) called and offered to personal train me. Then we came up with the idea together. It’s a Cinderella rags-to-riches story. We didn’t even have a computer; we had index cards!  I wasn’t someone who went to Harvard Business School.

I had a difficult childhood, growing up. I never knew my father. My mother had me as a teenager; there was no parental support. My ex-husband, John, gave me his retirement money to open the business. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by putting myself out there, and there we would be, on Park Avenue, meeting private equity companies! Our business sold for $100 million, (between four partners) and I still own a little less than 10 percent of it.  Hard works pays off. Then, when this happened—it blew my mind. 

What was your direct experience of the Woolsey Fire?

I was on my way to Paris to visit my boyfriend and at LAX I noticed people were posting about their houses being on fire. Never, ever, thinking it would reach Point Dume, I landed in Paris the next day. Emma (daughter, 18), called me and said it is getting really serious, you should watch the news, so at 1.30 a.m. we are watching TV on my boyfriend’s phone. I literally watched as the fire jumped PCH and is right behind my house. I am paralyzed. I knew right then and there I am toast. My son Alexander (28) called and I could hear the sound of death in his voice. He said the fire is in your back yard and the house will be gone in an hour. 

I felt completely empty when I first saw the house. I was with my kids. They were running around, finding things in the ashes. I felt like I was outside of my body watching this. Kids are very resilient; they get on with their lives. I carry around this shattered heart that no one can see. Your pain feels invisible. People in the store don’t know that someone behind them may have lost their house, and they are laughing about life.

What will your rebuild look like?

I was insured, but not enough. I think I was insured for a ranch house in the valley!  My house was totally remodeled, turn key. It was a custom house. I had never seen anything like it in Malibu. I started talking to general contractors and that’s when I realized it was a simple calculation of $500 per square foot to rebuild. Mine was insured for about $250. I just didn’t know any better at the time. Moving the debris is my focus right now. Demolition will be the first sign of hope for me. The ash is a constant reminder. It’s like visiting a dead relative every time I come here.

What has been the hardest aspect of this experience for you?

A part of me died with that house. I wasn’t given this; I had to work really hard for this. I am not going to be fine for a while. 

To hear my daughter crying, because she lost her journals and her baby photos. (Rachel has a third child, Jackson, 17). The hardest part is letting it go. (Crying.) People don’t understand how hard it is to scrape it, clean it, let go of that dream and get a new dream. There is definitely a grieving process. It’s not enough to just go to town meetings. There needs to be a therapy group for people like us. I have been thinking about doing that.  

Any shining moments?

There are little things and big things.  My daughter went to Chaminade. The principal of the high school and the middle school called me and my daughter, spent an hour on the phone with us, and gathered donations from other parents who wanted to help. The National Charity League also called and collected donations for us. They just keep sending love and support. They don’t forget. It’s a lifelong sisterhood. 

What is the biggest challenge ahead for you?

Trying to build my house for half of what I need. My plan for that is to sue SoCal Edison. I am already privately suing them. You have to do a memory book where you list every fork and spoon for the case against them in order to come up with an accurate list of what is lost. My goal is to finish that in the next week or two. I have been avoiding it, as I have to walk through the ashes of the house like a ghost.  

Any suggestions or advice for others displaced by the fire?

Insurance. I was really fortunate that Alexander is an attorney with Novian and Novian. If it wasn’t for him, there is no way I would have already collected my insurance money. You cannot sit back and wait for insurance. You have to be assertive, calling every day.