There are few fantasies more persuasive or alluring than that of the expansive estate. When you think of big houses, your mind may immediately jump to the McMansions of yore, those garish homes you’d expect to see on an episode of MTV Cribs. The ones we can’t stop daydreaming about more closely resemble graceful, though still boldly luxurious, homes like the central property of Downton Abbey or the setting of Bodies, Bodies, Bodies before the horror film took a dark turn. Below we highlight 12 properties featured in AD that contain enviable amenities, from indoor tennis courts and home spas to guest houses and verdant gardens.
In order to secure this gargantuan project, designer Emma Sims Hilditch presented a thoughtful proposal, keeping the spirit of the Georgian-style home with modern embellishments to gracefully provide a more contemporary edge. “In the end, I think [the client] chose us because of the [small] size of our practice,” Sims Hilditch, whose namesake firm has offices in London and Gloucestershire, shares. “He knew we needed the breadth” of a commission like this, adds the designer, who launched firm in 2009. Well, if there is one thing a 14,000-square-foot project can provide, it is indeed breadth.
The sprawling Northern England estate has been in the same family for more than 500 years. The current owner—Sims Hilditch’s client—inherited it from a distant cousin. In order to make the necessary repairs and updates, some of the property’s land was sold off in order to fund an extensive renovation.
The early stages of the project were its most exciting. “We uncovered so many parts of the house,” Sims Hilditch recalls with a residual giddiness—old stone walls were stripped back from false fireplaces, carpets were removed to reveal forgotten tiling.
Other aspects of discovery posed challenges: The center of the house, for one, was a rabbit warren of Victorian-era domestic spaces, meant mainly to serve the dozens of staff who would’ve been operating the house. A historical marvel, yes, but not exactly functional for a present day single-family home. —Sophia Herring
At first, the California-based couple, in Brentwood, were in the process of relocating to Greenwich, Connecticut, and requested “bright and white” for their new East Coast home. But their interior designer, Mike Moser, who works bicoastally, set them straight: “It’s a traditional Greenwich house,” he explains. “You can’t leave it white or it’ll feel unfinished. It requires more layers.”
Considering the size of the property—20,000 square feet in total—meant a lot more layers, albeit with an eye toward the homeowners’ initial interest in crafting an abode with a limited and refined palette. The faux Tudor Moser, with its at times Hogwarts-esque elements, had been through many hands in its 120-year lifespan.
The home needed a few updates for its new tenants—hedge fund owner Alicia Tranen, her husband, and their three children. (“The family bounces between Brentwood and Greenwich now, and I think that one-foot-in-both-coasts style is reflected here,” Moser explains.) Tranen says that even though the home is stately, she wanted it to feel “fun, relaxed, and casual,” with every space “worthy of a good hang.”
Case in point is the “Mary Poppins–like” over-scaled pendant in the dining room. Another example is the den, of which Moser says, “They really let me go for it. That’s the fun part of the job.” That’s not to say it was easy-going, particularly when it came to that room’s plaid wallcoverings. “We glued it over the moldings, almost as if it’s vacuum-sealed,” Moser explains. “It had to line up both vertically and horizontally. ‘Never again,’ the installer told me.” —Allison Duncan
Buying a château in France requires an immense amount of patience. First, to close the deal—because there is almost always a complicated backstory. And second, to restore the place—because big, old houses always need a lot of work.
Casa Lopez owner and artistic director Pierre Sauvage encountered these issues firsthand with his 15th-century estate in south Normandy and navigated them with his signature sunny style. The previous owners had been enmeshed in a decades-long row, which led to dividing the 80-acre property, with its manor house, stables, gardener’s cottage, chapel, and outbuildings, in two. Sauvage researched, negotiated, and waited until he was able to acquire both halves from the feuding brothers, then reunited them into one glorious seat.
By that time, it was in sorry shape. The grounds were overgrown, “and there was mold and humidity in the house,” Sauvage says. “The owner couldn’t keep it up, so he only used two rooms downstairs—the kitchen and a salon.” The upper floors were for storage. “You couldn’t enter the rooms because they were stuffed.” Clearly returning the domain to an elegant state would be a challenge—but one Sauvage found stimulating, even exciting. “Old houses are marvelous,” he declares. “But when we redo them, we wound them a bit. You have to find a way to keep the charm while making sure you can live in it and it can carry on forever.” —Dana Thomas
The location is, in a word, dreamy. Set on a hillside promontory high atop St. Barts in the French West Indies, the home of Kathrin Bruss, owner of Hamburg’s high-fashion emporium Petra Teufel, and her husband, automotive executive Oliver Bruss, commands seriously seductive views of the island pleasure dome. From one side, the house looks out to the venerable Eden Rock hotel and the cerulean waters of St. Jean Bay. From the other, it affords sweeping vistas of Saline beach.
The views in and between the various pavilions that comprise the Bruss compound aren’t bad either. Designed by Vanessa Alexander of Los Angeles–based Alexander Design, the home presents an idiosyncratic vision of classic St. Barts chic, with pitched roofs and exposed beams, peppered with glamorous accents and a few hints of flash. “It’s really my style seen through her eyes and vice versa. Kathrin brings a lot of personality and style, and she collaborated heavily on the furnishings. My job was to put it all into a cohesive story. The house has moments of glam, but it’s also really comfortable, livable, and elegant,” the designer says.
Alexander worked with local architect Johannes Zingerle of Design Affairs to craft the compound, which encompasses a series of interconnected pavilions that celebrate the best of indoor-outdoor living. The main pavilion—the only structure with a second floor—has a living room and kitchen on the main level and the primary bedroom suite above. Vintage Mario Bellini seating, upholstered in olive green leather, anchors the living room, accompanied by a striking Lindsey Adelman wall light/sculpture, a shapely Pietro Franceschini console, and a Paul Matter floor lamp. The primary bedroom on the second level radiates a similar vibe of restrained luxe. A floor of ebonized gray French oak coupled with walls sheathed in pale textured plaster create a backdrop of dramatic chiaroscuro for the furnishings, a spare assemblage highlighted with a jewel-like Gabriel Scott chandelier, a brass-lined portal to the primary bath, and other luminous accents. —Mayer Rus
It’s not always easy to craft a grand home for entertaining when there are four children running around—particularly when they range from four to twelve years old. Luckily, Connecticut-based designer Chauncey Boothby had worked with the family of six before, and knew just how to strike the perfect balance between a childproof abode and a residence that would truly wow. The resulting interiors are family friendly yet uncompromising in their sophistication and elegance.
For Boothby, it’s the little things that can make the difference. For example, in the case of the breakfast nook—a highly messy area for kids—the designer cleverly used indoor-outdoor fabrics to deft yet subtle effect. Elsewhere, a multipurpose guest room provides the perfect respite when needed, and an office downstairs makes for another quiet spot. “It’s those small spaces that people appreciate these days, especially post-COVID,” Boothby notes. “It’s a place you can go and have some peace and quiet. It almost has a library feel to it.”
Located in Fairfield County, the home is classic Americana. “It really is the quintessential Connecticut estate,” the designer says. “I would say our vision was to enhance that feel, but in a way that was livable and practical. While the house appears grand from the exterior, its 19 rooms actually feel quite contained and cozy [thanks to] sitting, family, and study rooms.” —Sophia Herring
Beverly Kerzner first met architect and designer Niels Schoenfelder over 20 years ago. At the time, he was 24 years old and had already built a stunning hotel in Pondicherry, India, that caught her eye. After tracking him down and initiating a fruitful conversation, she tapped him to build her dream home.
“Right from the start, Niels and I pushed each other. It was always a conversation, or a lengthy debate, getting to know the land,” Kerzner says. She spent years perfecting her vision with the young German architect.
Fast forward to 2017, when she purchased a vast plot of scenic land in the Hudson Valley. The sprawling hillscape contained two stunning barn structures, a river that runs through the property, a cabin, and a residential home. Just like in the far off regions near Pondicherry, this was a landscape that had to be appreciated, worked with, and understood. “I knew immediately Niels was the one for the job,” she recalls. —Sophia Herring
It’s a sunny summer afternoon in Ohio, and our host, a house-proud art collector, has taken to the fields. Across a meadow he goes, guiding me and his architect, Peter Pennoyer, single file into the forest and along a sharp ravine. The songs of bobolinks and the rush of the river break our silence as we continue down the narrow path, which remains uncannily level—a constant elevation of 950 feet. That, as artist Andy Goldsworthy discovered upon studying the site, is the only topographical line to cross the full length of the 140-acre property. “This is the most intimate way to experience the land,” the homeowner says of Goldsworthy’s installation, which follows the existing terrain. “Everything is changing around you but you.”
Today, this meticulously mapped footway is one of some 35 outdoor works (including pieces by Richard Serra, Ai Weiwei, Ursula von Rydingsvard, and Anish Kapoor) that dot the private sculpture park—an extraordinary and ever-evolving domain that has made him the envy of museums and the white whale of art dealers the world over. At the property’s heart sits a creative triumph of a different order: a 16,000-square-foot house designed by Peter Pennoyer Architects in the spirit of Czech Cubism. “Walking the land, that was our start,” Pennoyer recalls, noting the structure’s high perch, at turns visible and hidden along the approach, with sweeping views of the meadows and woods. From the beginning, the client’s ambitions were clear: a traditional structure with stucco massing, crisp geometry, and neat symmetry, all at an intimate scale for his family. “Every room had to count,” the homeowner explains. “No gift-wrapping room. No dog-grooming room. We wanted it to be warm and welcoming—I walk around in flip-flops and sweatpants.”
His initial design’s references zeroed in on historic English Arts and Crafts houses. But a visit to Prague introduced him to Czech Cubism, the city’s obscure, short-lived (1911–1914) spin on the avant-garde movement, which yielded chiseled, seemingly charged buildings, paintings, and objects. Never mind that plans for his home were already complete. He immediately called for more height, more angles, more oomph. “That was my ‘more cowbell’ moment,” jokes the client, referring to the iconic Saturday Night Live sketch. Back at the drawing board, Pennoyer and his team ramped it up. —Sam Cochran
The Mexican artist Bosco Sodi and his wife, Lucia Corredor, first stepped foot on Folegandros, a quiet Cycladic island known for its windy climate and mountainous terrain, during a family sailing trip in 2017. Taken with the tough beauty of the isle (some believe its name is derived from a Phoenician word meaning “rock-strewn land”), they decided to dock the boat for an extra night. In the port the next morning, Sodi skimmed the real estate listings. “At the very end of the island there was a small bay with a beautiful church—nothing else,” he says, recalling the parcel of land that caught his eye. After a quick look, he didn’t hesitate: “I said I would buy it.”
Settling into a rugged, untouched place was nothing new for the Brooklyn-based couple, who started building in Puerto Escondido, a surfing hot spot in Oaxaca, a decade ago, when a trip to the closest grocery store required a 15-mile drive down a dirt road. Sodi has since transformed the swath along the Pacific into Casa Wabi, an artist residency, foundation, and architectural wonderland, sprinkled with quietly stunning structures by Tadao Ando, Álvaro Siza, Kengo Kuma, and Alberto Kalach that blend into their surroundings (AD, December 2020). It’s here that Sodi creates his earthen paintings using sawdust, latex, glue, and pigment, as well as the spherical clay sculptures that he leaves to dry and crack in the hot sun. (Later this month, Sodi, who is represented by Kasmin Gallery, will fill the 16th-century Palazzo Vendramin Grimani with a range of new works for a solo show during the Venice Biennale.) —Hannah Martin
It’s hard to find le mot juste to describe this country home belonging to an éminence grise and tastemaker in the world of art and design. The terms eclectic, polyglot, and eccentric definitely apply, but they all feel too anemic in capturing the property’s mad medley of color and decor, its fairytale landscape and myriad coups de théâtre, and the outlandish imagination of the homeowner and his merry band of designer/enablers. Even the owner himself seems a bit astonished surveying the outré finery of his waterfront wonderland. “This house was an invitation to fulfill a fantasy I didn’t know I had,” he says blithely.
First, a little background. The residence, built in the early 1900s, is improbably situated on the North Fork of Long Island, an area traditionally regarded as the calm, unpretentious yin to the raging, extravagant yang of the Hamptons. Equally improbable is the dwelling’s Adirondack-inflected architecture, a style endemic to the forested mountains of northern New York, certainly not the Peconic Bay. “The house was a wreck, but it had such great, weird character and presence, it just said, ‘Buy me!’” the homeowner recalls.
After heeding that siren call, he quickly set about assembling a team of designers to conjure his vision of a modern Bloomsbury, chockablock with bewitching hues, lavish patterns, artisanal details, and romantic inspirations from far-flung sources. That roster of collaborators included interior designer Hadley Wiggins, color wizard Eve Ashcraft, landscape architect Ahmad Sardar-Afkhami, and architectural designer Louis Yoh. From there, it was off to the races. —Mayer Rus
As a child with an entrepreneurial mind, David Williams owned a lawn maintenance business. “I would cut grass at these beautiful Bucks County estates with stone walls and many outbuildings,” he reminisces, “and I always said to myself, someday I will have a farm like this.” After moving to Maryland for college, it became clear that the perfect location for this envisioned weekend getaway would be along the states’ storied coast. So when an old farm property on the Chester river went up for sale, everything fell into place.
Over the course of 10 years, perfecting the design and layout for his newly purchased compound became a passion. “He brought in a lot of magazine clippings,” recalled Cathy Purple Cherry of Purple Cherry Architects. “Unlike other clients who are very digital, he used his travels, books, and magazines as inspiration.”
Much was ultimately needed: Along with the renovation of four preexisting structures was the addition of 13 new ones, including a main house, party barn, carriage house, pottery studio, green house, and boat house. More than anything, Williams wanted a weekend retreat for his family of five, growing roster of grandchildren, and friends. —Sophia Herring
Hiking, canoeing, campfire sing-alongs—generations of Boy Scouts visited these 25 wooded acres on a glacial lake in Wisconsin. But one day in the 1980s Camp Delavan, named for the lake on which it sits, closed, then was divvied up and sold off. Besides a few moldering buildings and a landscape slowly being overgrown, all that was left were the memories of the boys who had spent time there.
Until 2005, that is, when Jennifer Litowitz happened upon a real estate ad. She and her husband, Alec, the founder of Magnetar Capital, had harbored a fantasy of creating a bucolic getaway for friends and family, including the couple’s four sons, Jack, Luke, Nick, and Jude, now ages 12 to 20.
Seeing the ad rekindled that dream. So they strapped baby Jude into his car seat, rounded up the other boys, and drove an hour and a half north to check it out. “This is it, this is it!” Jennifer remembers thinking. “But Alec was somewhat less enthusiastic. It was in rough shape—really, really rough.”
Even so, they took the plunge. Luckily, having recently completed their main residence—a Lutyens-inspired manse in suburban Glencoe, Illinois—they already had a great design team in place: architect R. Michael Graham and designer Bruce Fox.—Shax Riegler
Over the years, the interiors of this 1915 abode—located in the heart of Barcelona—have continued to shift, thanks in large part to different generations of the same family who have continuously inhabited the space. The current inhabitant, who lived in the enchanting estate as a child, returned to the house after his wedding to begin a new chapter of his life. To help revamp and revitalize the grand residence, he turned to designer David Lawrence and architect Carlos Garciavelez of Carlos David.
“The original design was like a lightened version, it was very traditional,” Lawrence says. “There was a lot of color and rugs and darker pieces of furniture. As the owners have evolved, they’ve wanted their home to be a little bit more clean.” Or “lighter and airer,” as Garciavelez puts it.
The current inhabitants happen to be two avid art collectors whose thoughtful collection highlights Spanish and Catalan artists. The colorful works that the couple owns helped inform the direction of Lawrence and Garciavelez’s vision.
“Our intention was to create serene and neutral spaces that provide layers of comfort while not distracting from the art—or the intricate stone and lacquer detailing of the interior architecture,” Lawrence says. “We strove to achieve this by using silk and cashmere fabrics, mixed with antiques spanning from the 18th century through the mid-20th century.” Ultimately, these elements are, the designer notes, “peacefully ensconced among prominent works by Joan Miró, Antoni Tàpies, Josep Guinovart, and Xavier Valls.” —Nick Mafi
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest
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