TALES FROM THE CRIB: The Celebrity House Tour Phenomenon
If the hearth makes a home, what’s your domestic heart center? A greedy speed demon garage full of the sickest Ferraris and Land Rovers? That 75-inch high-def flatscreen? Some stocky Le Corbusier club chair? Drooping tulips? A quartet of Ikea Billys? How you live — well, there’s no better way to show who you are. See the photographs of Klaus Biesenbach’s 18th floor Lower East Side apartment, published in W Magazine in 2009: White walls and dark floors, chillingly spare save for a mini fridge and mattress, a closet full of Jil Sander suits. Biesenbach, then a curator at MoMA, told the magazine, amusingly, “Small objects make me nervous.” As someone whose work concerns the acquiring, handling, and physical placement of art, he caveated his spartan living arrangement with, “I actually think this space is about making no decisions.” A strategic choice, to eliminate your options.
Donald Judd’s homes, so much a rigorous extension of the artist himself, down to the self-designed furniture and particularly selected jumble of dishes and cutlery, are now both museums and stations of the aesthetic cross for a certain kind of acolyte. If “lifestyle” has always been a slippery-to-possess commodity, with Judd it’s a vaunted cultural institution. Seeing how others live — especially the celebrity and artistic class — it’s less about anthropology and more about voyeurism. There’s nothing better than discreetly snooping through a medicine cabinet at a party and turning something up. And whether through an official Architectural Digest tour, or on Instagram, where every Story is a stage for a Lambo joyride, rhinestoned closet visit, or Sottsass’s Ultrafragola and Ligne Roset’s Togo modular sofa tableau, salient details seep in through the set-up — a show and tell of your very own Barbie Dreamhouse.
One of Jackie Kennedy’s canniest PR moves was the 1962 special A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy, the first time, through television, that the American public was invited into the White House. While its official purpose was to showcase the $2 million renovation the First Lady had overseen during the first year of her husband’s term — complete with Empire-style mantelpieces and a Franklin Roosevelt-designed piano — the effect was a deft lesson in self-branding, cementing the young political couple — and Jackie, especially — as accessible, aspirational, and modern. (The success of A Tour of the White House would inspire Grace Kelly to film her own television special, A Look at Monaco, which broadcast in the US the next year — featuring a guided tour of the Prince’s Palace and a visit to the Monaco Zoo.)
Even with the smoke and mirrors of a deep clean and some light prop styling, the best house tours reveal key details about their owners. But the most gratifying version is when something that you long thought to be true is finally confirmed. Of course Drake would live in a W Hotel lobby of a mansion, the entryway flanked by KAWS sculptures with that long-rumored Birkin collection enshrined in his two-level closet. Of course Dita von Teese has constructed a delicious lair in a Los Angeles Tudor Revival, full of taxidermied swans and tactile tassel-edged railings, rough like a bondage rope. Of course Michael Kors, amiably flaunting some vessels in his Greenwich Village penthouse, would gush, “We’re bowl and box and basket obsessed.” Of course Barbra Streisand houses her antique collection in a mall in her basement. Of course James Charles made a “Good and Fresh” poster for his kitchen in Photoshop and printed it at Staples. Of course.
Kim Kardashian West, whose taste trajectory neatly bifurcates into the periods Pre-Kanye and Post-Kanye, has distinctly pivoted from the McMansion-friendly amethyst chandelier and stripper pole she showed off in a 2007 episode of MTV’s Cribs at the dawn of her celebrity. It’s the frisson of the switch from Juicy to Mugler, an Extreme Home Makeover of the soul. In a Vogue “73 Questions” walk-through, she casually refers to the largely Axel Vervoordt-designed Calabasas estate she now shares with West as a “minimal monastery.” Cloistered off on the proverbial mountaintop, high above us all, this makes sense. The Kardashian-West bubble, we understand, has got to be hermetically sealed.
The 1980s introduced Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and the pre-financial crisis early aughts brought us VH1’s The Fabulous Life…, and of course, Cribs. While The Fabulous Life... stacked up not only the real estate and fitness regimens of the Hollywood elite, but the cost of their Kitson shopping binges and the carat count of their genital jewelry, Cribs served as an entrée to perhaps the most intimately staged (or unstaged) moments of celebrities at home. Take, for example, Pamela Anderson, gesturing to the tchotchke’d out living room in her Malibu beachside bungalow and admitting to being a “swap meet whore,” or Redman, who met the camera crew at his Staten Island pad seemingly having just woke up. While 50 Cent opened a fridge full of his own variety of Vitaminwater and Shaq hyped his 30-foot-wide circular bed emblazoned with the Superman “S,” Mariah Carey, the consummate professional, catalyzed the format with a devoted one-hour special.
Carey’s tour of her 11,000-square-foot art deco Tribeca penthouse, filmed in 2002, is said to be the most watched and replayed episode of Cribs. Painted in “non-jarring” shades with glazed walls that look like “candy” (quotes directly from Carey), and designated Butterfly, Mermaid, and Moroccan rooms, the most stunning thing in the house is Mariah herself, who, after various wardrobe changes, takes a dip in her Jacuzzi tub and exercises on a vertical climbing machine in a strappy black heel.
Paris Hilton, in a glaring omission of an era obsessed with the bedazzled T-Mobile Sidekick, never filmed an episode of Cribs. But the socialite did give access to Sofia Coppola to use her sprawling Beverly Hills compound in Coppola’s 2013 film The Bling Ring, a fictionalized account of Nancy Jo Sales’s Vanity Fair article about the the burglaries of Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Audrina Patridge, and other stars by a crew of luxury-hungry Calabasas teens. Hilton may be absent but the gilded interiors themselves — with an in-house club, throw pillows with Hilton’s flawlessly airbrushed face on them, floor-to-ceiling closets packed with Louboutins, and mirrors, mirrors everywhere — say, with a smile, come on in.
WATCH DOUBLE MACCHIATO’S HOUSE TOUR FEATURE WITH RAFAEL DE CÁRDENAS, FELIX BURRICHTER, AND CAROLINE GAIMARI:
Colleen Kelsey is a writer and editor living in New York City. She’s contributed to T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Interview, Garage, Surface, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, amongst others.
Watch the full episode of Double Macchiato’s “House Tours” here.
Various photographers and credits.