Some people like a brand new home that they can make their own. They don’t want a place filled with other people’s memories. Others, however, prefer a home with a little history. Whether it is an old film set or one of America’s supposedly haunted houses, a home with a backstory can certainly make for fun dinner conversation.
Celebrity homes, in particular, are often quirky, strange or downright dark places that really tell a story. Maybe their home choices can be blamed on the theatricality of their jobs. Maybe the price was right and they just decided to go for it. One thing is for sure: You won’t catch these celebrities living like the average Joe.
Jared Leto's Cold War Military Compound in Los Angeles
According to Variety, in 2015, Jared Leto purchased a 50,000-square-foot, eight-bedroom, 12-bathroom compound in L.A.’s Laurel Canyon for $5 million. Believe it or not, the home’s best selling point isn’t that it’s big enough to sleep Leto’s band — 30 Seconds to Mars — plus a handful of roadies. The house actually has an incredible backstory.
Built in the 1940s, the building, sometimes referred to as Lookout Mountain Air Force Station or Lookout Mountain Laboratory, was used as a military film studio. A select group of photographers and filmmakers made training films centered on the atomic bomb tests for the military in the 60s. Though the property is replete with a lagoon-style pool, art galleries and a spiral staircase, the industrial exterior still reflects its former purpose.
Nicolas Cage's Torture Mansion in New Orleans
In the 19th century, New Orleanian Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie committed heinous acts of torture and violence against the slaves in her household. “American Horror Story” fans will remember that Kathy Bates portrayed the blue blood in the “Coven” season, and AHS producers certainly didn’t spare audiences any of the gory details.
Before Bates became synonymous with LaLaurie, however, another celebrity was interested in her. Nicolas Cage, somewhat of an oddity collector, purchased the murderous socialite’s 10,000-square-foot, six-bedroom, seven-bathroom mansion in April 2017. Of the decision, Cage told the New York Daily News, he loved Disneyland as a kid and the French Quarter-style Haunted Mansion ride influenced his decision to buy. “You know, other people have beachfront property; I have ghost front property — that’s what I always say,” said Cage.
Unfortunately, the actor lost the property in 2009 due to foreclosure, according to CNN Money. Appraised at $3.5 million, Regions Bank purchased the property for just $2.3 million.
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Naomi Campbell's Eye-Opening Home on Cleopatra Island, Turkey
Naomi Campbell is not one for subtlety. She and former-boyfriend Vladislav Doronin have owned some pretty bold residences, including a spaceship-like home on the outskirts of Moscow. However, nothing quite compares to the eyeball-shaped eco-home Campbell received from Doronin as a 41st birthday gift. The home, located on the island Playa de Cleopatra off the coast of Turkey, is in an Eye of Horus design and features a glass dome ceiling, 25 bedrooms and five lounges. The photovoltaic panels and geothermal system, when combined, provide all the energy the home needs.
What makes this place so unique isn’t the Egyptian design, however, it’s the Egyptian history. “The sand on Cleopatra Beach is said to be exceptional, and different from other nearby beaches. Local legend has it that Mark Antony imported the sand especially for Cleopatra herself, who would not set foot on any land that wasn’t Egyptian,” wrote CNBC.
Katy Perry's Convent in Los Feliz, California
Though pop star Katy Perry doesn’t prescribe to any one organized religion, she has deep religious roots. In fact, she started her career as Christian musician Katy Hudson and even has the name “Jesus” tattooed on her wrist. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that, when searching for the perfect home, she was drawn to a sprawling Spanish-Gothic convent.
Perry purchased the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary convent for $14.5 million from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, with $4.5 million of that dedicated to finding the nuns who lived there a suitable new residence. Unfortunately, that didn’t go over too well with the nuns, who didn’t approve of Perry’s image and claimed it would be a sin to sell to her. They even attempted to sell the property out from under her, which caused Perry and the Archdiocese to take the ladies to court. Things got even uglier when a nun, Sister Catherine Rose Halzman, pleaded in court for Perry to cancel the sale — and then fell over dead. Yikes.
Though the deal is still in the works, it is looking like Perry will soon be the owner of the convent, where she plans to live with her mother and grandmother, according to Forbes, and presumably new fiancé Orlando Bloom.
Christopher Meloni's Haunted House in Beverly Hills, California
In 2014, former “Law and Order: SVU” star and current “Happy!” lead, Christopher Meloni, bought a famous Hollywood landmark. The home, purchased for $5.25 million, was the set of “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” from 1952 to 1966 and later became the home of character Ari Gold in HBO’s “Entourage.” However, a little tinsel town magic isn’t what makes this home so special. It is actually said to be haunted.
According to Curbed, several former owners of the residence have reported strange happenings, such as flickering lights, faucets turning on and off and previously locked doors being found open. What’s more, Ozzie Nelson’s model train, which has been passed down to each new homeowner, has evidently turned on multiple times and run of its own accord. Whether these reports are to be believed or not, Meloni seems unfazed. He’s yet to mention any sinister occurrences — at least publicly.
Julian Schnabel's 'Palazzo Chupi' in New York
As far as celebrity homes go, this one is pretty unique. Julian Schnabel, artist and director of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” decided to go bold with his property in New York’s Greenwich Village. He built a Venetian-style palazzo atop his original building, painted the addition a vibrant red — much to the chagrin of his neighbors — and filled it with artwork in hopes of making it into a luxe celebrity apartment complex of sorts. Taking inspiration from his Spanish wife’s nickname, he named the building “Palazzo Chupi.” Over time, the building has faded from a vibrant red to a Pepto Bismol pink, causing some to refer to it as the “Pink Palace.”
Though the home itself is pretty wild, the storied history of the building is even more noteworthy. According to Vanity Fair, the original building — not the additional palazzo — was once a horses’ stable, as well as a perfume factory. Fitting for boundary-pushing artist Schnabel, the building was also once owned by ’60s pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.
Leonardo DiCaprio's Eroding Island in Belize
About 15 years ago, Leonardo DiCaprio fell in love with Blackadore Caye, a small island off the coast of Belize, and purchased it for $1.75 million. Though the unpopulated island was beautiful, it also was in bad shape due to its history. According to The New York Times, over the years, “it was a popular spot for fishermen, who would stop on their way to markets in Mexico and cut mangrove, using the wood for fires to smoke their catch and the conch that they took from the reef, littering the island with thousands of empty shells.” The island’s palm trees were also uprooted to landscape the grounds of San Pedro’s many hotels. Overfishing damaged the reefs and all the deforestation caused the coastline to erode.
DiCaprio decided he could work with the island’s history. In fact, the eco-friendly star decided he would turn the island into a luxury resort dedicated to its restoration. He hired scientists and engineers who came up with a plan to plant 20,000 mangrove trees and reintroduce native species to the island. “Half of the land will be set aside as a wildlife preserve, and a research station will be established to host scientists conducting ecological studies. Guests will also be invited to work on some restoration projects if they choose,” The New York Times said.
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Robert Downey Jr.'s Windmill House in the Hamptons, New York
Robert Downey Jr. and his wife, Susan, didn’t want to live in just any old house. They told designer Joe Nahem to keep his eyes peeled for a whimsical, unique home in the Hamptons that would accommodate their family. Nahem more than delivered.
The Downey family ended up moving into a fully-furnished home that included fanciful artwork, a pool and accompanying deck and a giant praying mantis sculpture in the front yard. Oh, and it is also a windmill. That’s right, according to Architectural Digest, the family inhabited a windmill that had been built in the 19th century as a playhouse. It had later been transformed into a complete home “by way of structural additions grafted onto the building in the decades following its construction.”
Taylor Swift's Cinematic Mansion in Beverly Hills, California
Taylor Swift has one heck of a real estate portfolio, including a Greek Revival home in Nashville and a two-unit duplex in Manhattan. However, nothing tops her mansion in Beverly Hills. The nearly two-acre property boasts a tennis court, a swimming pool, six bedrooms and an impressive legacy. It was previously owned by none other than Samuel Goldwyn Sr., Hollywood’s first independent film producer. Goldwyn produced such films as “Guys and Dolls” and “The Pride of the Yankees,” and is the reason there is a “G” in the middle of iconic, lion-roaring studio MGM. According to Variety, Swift slammed down $25 million in cash for the glitzy celebrity mansion.
Meg Ryan's Photogenic Apartment in New York
When Meg Ryan was on the hunt for a new apartment, she came across one that she had, oddly enough, attended a party at more than 15 years previously. “I remembered immediately having been there. It was all quite different back then, and the space had been through many eras,” she said in an interview with Architectural Digest. Not only was it a blast from the past, but it came with a pretty awesome backstory too.
The loft, reimagined with the help of designer Monique Gibson and architect Joel Barkley, had once been home to famed American photographer Cindy Sherman. Her evocative photography has been challenging identity stereotypes for over 30 years and has been featured in numerous galleries and museums — most notably The Broad in Los Angeles. As if this weren’t cool enough, Sherman used to work out of her home. “In fact, what’s now my coatroom was her darkroom,” Ryan said.
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Jessica Chastain's Victorian Apartment Filled With Baked Ziti Memories in New York
In 2015, Jessica Chastain and husband, Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo, bought their 19th-century Victorian apartment in New York for $5 million, according to home inspiration site Lonny. The apartment, which includes sparkling Tiffany glass transoms, 14-foot ceilings and expansive bay windows, has an impressive past.
The home was once owned by famed “West Side Story” composer Leonard Bernstein. It also housed comedian and TV star Larry Storch, film star Lynn Redgrave and others.
As if this weren’t enough, Chastain said in an interview with Architectural Digest that the couple had purchased the apartment after receiving two good omens. First, she realized that she used to eat amazing baked ziti right across the street from the apartment when she was a student at Julliard. Second, the person selling the property turned out to be Adam Guettel. Chastain used to play his 1999 record “Myths and Hymns” when she was feeling homesick for her native Northern California.
Ellen Pompeo's Civil Rights Lawyer's Cabin in Sag Harbor, New York
“Grey’s Anatomy” star Ellen Pompeo purchased her vacation home in Sag Harbor nearly a decade ago. “I loved the history of the property. There was a cabin, which was built by a woman who was a civil rights activist lawyer. She actually built it with her own two hands,” she told Architectural Digest.
Pompeo noted that the overhaul she has done on her little vacation spot has been fun, and that she much prefers the design to other celebrity houses in the Hamptons. “It’s decorated in a way that’s a fresh look compared to those Hamptons places that all look like they’re owned by 60-year-old Hampton billionaires, with the shingles and the light columns. They all put me to sleep,” she told Architectural Digest.
Ellen Pompeo's Silent Film Star Abode in Los Angeles
Pompeo sure loves a house with history. In 2009, she purchased a 1930 Mediterranean-style villa in Los Angeles’ Los Feliz neighborhood that had once belonged to film star Antonio Moreno. The actor got his start in silent movies but eventually transitioned to modern pictures, often playing the smoldering love interest. He appeared in films like “Creature From the Black Lagoon,” Laurel and Hardy’s “The Bohemian Girl” and “The Searchers,” alongside John Wayne.
Not only is the former resident of Pompeo’s home famous, but the architect is as well. Paul Revere Williams designed numerous celebrity homes. His clients include Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and more.
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Beyoncé and Jay-Z's Church in New Orleans
Beyoncé and Jay-Z seem to be taking over New Orleans one church at a time. According to the city’s news outlet, WDSU, the power couple purchased a 10,000-square-foot residence in the Garden District in 2015 that was formerly a house of God. Three years later, they scooped up a building in the French Quarter, also a church. This one, the Seventh & Camp Church of Christ is a century old, with a stone facade and hardwood floors in dire need of repair. The congregation — what little there was left — sold the property for a mere $100, according to Curbed New Orleans.
It should also be noted that there are suspicious circumstances surrounding both of these purchases. Curbed New Orleans claimed that the Nobel Jones Trust, Not Knowles and Carter, actually bought the French Quarter church. That said, the paperwork was signed by the couple’s friend Vernell Jackson Keys who is in charge of the trust. Further, the mailing address provided was actually Knowles’ sister Solange’s home in New Orleans. Is it a vacation home for the couple? Is it going to be some part of a nonprofit? Is Solange actually the one moving in? While the intentions of the property grab are still unclear, it’s safe to assume the churches have ties to Queen Bey and her king.
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Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi's Celebrity Mansion in Beverly Hills, California
Power Couple Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi have a bit of an obsession with real estate. In fact, they confided to Architectural Digest in November 2011 that they had lost count of how many homes they had purchased together over the years. One that stands out, however, is their mansion in Beverly Hills.
The home was built for actor Laurence Harvey of “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Man on the Run” and more. Later, the home belonged to “Dynasty” star Joan Collins. And, right before DeGeneres and de Rossi took over, it belonged to “Will & Grace” co-creator Max Mutchnick. That’s quite the star-studded lineup.
Laura Dern's 1950s 'Tree House' in Los Angeles
Actress Laura Dern always had a secret dream: She wanted to live in a tree house. After several successful movies and television shows, the star decided to make that dream a reality. She purchased a three-bedroom, 2,464-square-foot home tucked into Brentwood’s Mandeville Canyon. Architectural Digest noted in 2017, “lush and jungle-like, the piece of land looked like it could have come straight from the set of ‘Jurassic Park.'”
Though Dern has since made it her own, complete with surfboards, impressive movie memorabilia and a “little bit of hippie,” its start came from Calvin Straub of the famed architectural team Buff, Straub and Hensman. He created the home in 1953, a decade before he would leave the firm to become a professor of architecture at Arizona State University. The home’s bones will always reflect a bit of Straub’s mid-century, minimalist sensibility.
Naomi Watt and Liev Schreiber's (Flooded) Artist's Loft in New York City
Before their 11-year relationship ended, Naomi Watts and beau Liev Schreiber lived together in a loft in New York. They started with one apartment and then expanded when the artist’s loft next door became available. Unfortunately, it had seen some pretty rough times. According to Architectural Digest, after closing the deal, Hurricane Sandy hit the city hard and the entire loft was flooded. For months they weren’t able to enter the area. The place had been so completely trashed by the storm that it remained a raw space for the next two years.
Fortunately, the pair was able to hire a design team, Ariel Ashe and Reinaldo Leandro, to completely rework the loft. In a space of 10 months, the firm created a homey space, complete with a library and screening room.
Kat Von D's Film Set Manse in Los Angeles
Tattoo artist, reality TV show star and beauty mogul, Kat Von D is known for her romantic, Gothic aesthetic. Her previous home featured velvet-upholstered furniture, dripping pillar candles, a huge candelabra and, of course, a scythe in the corner. So, some might find it surprising that the home she purchased in 2016 for a sizable $6.5 million was the set of a family comedy.
Built in 1890, the 12,565-square-foot home, featuring 11 bedrooms and 10 bathrooms, was once the set of the movie “Cheaper By the Dozen,” starring Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt and Disney star Hilary Duff. Von D was no doubt drawn to its turn-of-the-century roots and less to its film set past. Then again, who knows? Maybe she is a big fan of excessively large families. Von D and husband, Leafer Seyer, just welcomed their own bundle of joy in December 2018. Time will tell if 11 siblings will join the family.
Winona Ryder's Not-So-Charming 1920s Home in Beverly Hills, California
At the peak of her success, Winona Ryder purchased a home in Beverly Hills. The home had a long history, dating back to the ’20s, and sadly, history hadn’t been kind to it. The property “had been nearly stripped of its Mediterranean charm by insensitive modernizations,” according to a 1994 Architectural Digest article. “It was creepy,” said Ryder. “I could never stay there by myself.”
Ryder took issue with her generation’s aversion to beauty for beauty’s sake. Starring in films like “The Age of Innocence” had made her fall in love with romantic design details. So, with the help of friend Kevin Haley, Ryder decided to restore the place to its former 1920s glory. This included removing an orange-toned stain from the ceiling and rescuing “graceful wrought-iron hardware and curtain rods from the garage,” according to Architectural Digest. Ryder has long since moved on from this place, but the current owners surely appreciate her returning the home to its roots.
Mel Gibson's Tudor-Style Mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut
Mel Gibson has owned several homes over the years, but arguably none so intriguing as his Tudor-style mansion in Connecticut. True to the era, the home features rich, dark, wood-paneled walls, 40-foot-tall vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows and something called a “rathskeller,” which is basically an underground stone tavern. However, what is interesting about this period-piece home is that it’s actually from an entirely different period.
The mansion, known formally as “Old Mill Farm,” but referred to as “Wayne Manor” by Gibson, was built in 1926 by architect Charles Lewis Bowman. He designed it for another Charles, banker Charles L. Ohrstrom. While the ’20s construction date might leave you feeling deceived, it’s worth noting that Bowman used oak paneling from the 1600s, which is pretty impressive.
Gibson has since sold his castle-like home. But, if you’re interested, it’s currently back on the market for just under $20 million.
Pharrell Williams' Former Physicist's Home in Beverly Hills, California
In May 2018, singer and former “The Voice” coach Pharrell Williams purchased a mansion from another noteworthy star, actor and director Tyler Perry. The home, complete with floor to ceiling glass windows and a grotto, cost the N.E.R.D. frontman a cool $15.6 million. However, there was an arguably even cooler former resident of this modern home: a physicist.
Billionaire scientist, inventor and philanthropist Alfred E. Mann lived in the Williams’ new home from 1992 until his death in 2016. A giant in the scientific community, Mann was CEO of company Mannkind and involved with more than a dozen others. His nonprofit was dedicated to developing medical products for a variety of different fields.
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