Seeing into the megamansions of celebrities

The wealthy often live in large and lavish houses. Today, we have more access to some of these houses and the lives lived inside because the homes are part of what it means to be a celebrity:

Photo by Ingo Joseph on

Sprawling celebrity homes exist across North America – like Drake’s 50,000 square foot Toronto mansion that’s large enough to house a regulation NBA basketball court (and does); John Travolta’s Ocala, Florida, property that makes up for its modest 6,500 square footage with two private airplane runways that lead straight to his front door; or Taylor Swift’s 11,000 square foot beachfront Rhode Island estate, which she immortalized in song-but the epicenter of celebrity real estate has always been Los Angeles. And homes there are only getting larger and more extravagant…

“American culture, to begin with, is unusually spacious, in the sense that people think of space as part of American culture,” Sonia A. Hirt, a professor of landscape architecture and planning, told The Atlantic in 2019. “This is partially part of the American promise-that you can have more room.”

But in the age of COVID-19, witnessing celebrities cloister inside their obscenely large houses and pander with “Imagine” sing-alongs can provide new reasons to scoff at their out-of-touch lifestyles. “Seeing celebrity homes [in 2020] took on new meaning in a potentially negative way,” said Andreas McDonnell, co-author of Celebrity: A History of Fame. “The pleasure of voyeurism was overshadowed by those feelings of resentment by regular people who are going through a really difficult time and are also confined to the home a lot more”…

As Instagram Lives and Zoom interviews allowed a more unfiltered look inside celebrities’ daily activities at home, the New York Times speculated that 2020 would bring about “the swift dismantling of celebrity culture.” But it’s unlikely they’ll stop buying insanely large homes any time soon. Luxury home sales surged nationwide in 2020, and Oppenheim noted that L.A. buyers have been eager to shed properties in cluttered, central neighborhoods like West Hollywood and seek more space and privacy further afield.

Homes are part of a package of conspicuous consumption: people with means can buy and do things in ways that others cannot and they can also display that to the world. A celebrity living a modest life may not get as much attention as someone flouting their purchases and lifestyle.A big house in a particular location denotes money, status, an interest in living near other elites. With social media and reality TV, part of being a celebrity today is inviting people into your life in more intimate ways. Through different mediums, observers can see the home and household. Yet, this leads to different expectations from viewers who have the opportunity to comment and critique.

Along similar lines, inviting people to see your home is a different kind of celebrity or status than an ability to stay out of the public view and not be observed. Some powerful or famous actors prefer to stay out of the limelight and physical residences are part of this. Perhaps it involves never allowing cameras inside their large home. Perhaps it means finding a home that is secluded and away from public attention, whether the house has gates and security or the residence is a unit in a high-rise that very few people can enter. Celebrity can bring the option of keeping the world out to a certain degree or inviting the world in, including into their home, in a way that very few people could.

Is there a connection then between seeing a celebrity megamansion and wanting something similar? It is one thing to observe the homes of celebrities. It is another then to act on acquiring a larger home and the life that goes with it. If Americans do see celebrities and others in media as reference groups, people with whom they compare their lives, then the megamansions might not just be fun; it may be part of a larger system that Hirt references where people expect that a higher status equals a bigger house.

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