Issue 4, 2017 Last Nail: Homes of the rich and famous

Last Nail

By Dennis McCloskey

Homes of the rich and famous

Have you ever noticed that the homes of the rich are the same as ours? Only different? Every home on the planet has an entry door, a hallway and living area of some sort, a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom. Rich people put their pants on the same as us—one leg at a time—but what makes their “similar” homes different is the size, location and quality of materials. Other than that: same diff!
In the quarter century I have been writing about beauteous homes for this magazine from coast to coast, I have developed an uber curiosity not only about gorgeous and well-built homes, but also their owners. I’m a lot like Albert Einstein (I’ve always wanted to say that!) in that he once said he has no special talents, he is only “passionately curious.” That’s me. P equals C-squared. Passion equals curiosity multiplied many times over.
That’s why I have developed something of a hobby for scoping out homes of the rich and famous because I believe a home reveals what kind of person you are. I once took a tour of Hollywood Celebrity Homes and the words tacky, ostentatious and garish came to mind. I’m not sorry I took the tour because it satisfied my curiosity. American author Linus Pauling said “satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”
Some of my happiest moments during past vacations in the U.S. have occurred when visiting homes of the rich and famous that are now museums, such as the Hemingway House in Key West, Florida (which I wrote about in my last column.) Two years ago I toured The Casements in Ormond Beach, Florida, which is a home built in the early 1900s and purchased in 1918 by John D. Rockefeller, the Standard Oil billionaire. He lived there in winters until his death in 1937 at the age of 97. It was named for its charming casement windows but what struck me most was that it was so unostentatious. I felt the same when I saw the family home of Woodrow Wilson in Columbia, South Carolina. While it was the former President’s former boyhood home built by his wealthy doctor father, the distinctive circa-1871 Italian villa-style residence is the opposite of gaudy and garish. It is no Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s lavish and pretentious Winter White House in Palm Beach. I have no intention of ever seeing that estate in person because there is no “green in my eye” for this showy sight for sore eyes.
Similarly, I was not envious when I strolled past the stunning yet charming historic homes of Charleston, South Carolina. I have visited this enchanting city twice and I am in awe of its elegant homes, especially the ones on Tradd Street, South Battery, Meeting Street and Broad Street. Some were built in the 1800s in the grand architectural style that reflected the prosperity of their owners.
In Canada, I have indulged my hobby of snooping at the mansions of rich and famous Canadians, mostly in the Greater Toronto Area where I live. I should stress that I’m just being a nosy parker when I walk by or drive by a famous person’s home. I am not intrusive by any means, just inquisitive by nature.
I am pleased to say that for the most part, the homes of wealthy Canadians that I’ve seen are tasteful, quiet and reserved, just like most of us Canadians! My favourite place for celebrity-home watching is in the Annex area of Toronto, near the University of Toronto.
Several years ago, Toronto Life Magazine published a photo feature about how the east Annex became Toronto’s trendiest neighbourhood. Since they also published the addresses of some of this country’s most well-known businesspeople, authors and politicians, I took a stroll along some of the tree-lined streets in this tony ‘hood, including Admiral Road, Boswell Avenue, Bedford Road, and Bernard Avenue, home to such luminaries as grocer Galen Weston and members of the Eaton family. Lowther Avenue was my favourite home spotter street as I saw the stately yet distinguished bay-and-gable Victorian and Edwardian homes of several well-heeled Canadians, including Belinda Stronach. During my walk, it was neat to see that acclaimed author Margaret Atwood and former Governor General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson, are practically neighbours.
On other home-spotting days, I have done drive-bys of Conrad Black’s swanky digs in Toronto’s Bridle Path and also the grandiloquent home of the eloquent Heather Reisman, Indigo founder and CEO, and her billionaire husband, Gerald Schwartz.
The most magniloquent abodes I have ever seen in Canada are “cottages” in the Muskoka Lakes region. Two summers ago, I was given a weekday tour of “Billionaire’s Row” at the north end of Lake Joseph. My tour guide zipped us around the lake in a 4-seater jet ski and he pointed out the $10-$14 million cottages that line the shores of this star-studded body of water, naming the celebrities and business titans who own them.
At the end of the eye-popping tour, I said, “I hardly saw anyone puttering around their cottage, lounging on the dock, or boating. To which my guide replied: “They are probably in Toronto earning money to pay for these places!”