Celebrities want us to want to be like them. They want us to wear their makeup and their jeans, drink their tequila and their collagen supplements, spritz ourselves with their perfumes and slather our skin with their face creams in the hopes some of their professionally honed glow will rub off on us.
They want us to spend our hard-earned money on their stuff, but in a post–social media age, when we have more access to famous people—and more skepticism about what they’re showing us—than ever, we find ourselves more curious about what they actually spend their money on. That might explain why video tours of their luxury mansions have emerged as the ultimate voyeuristic thrill, the last bastion of celeb-watching. Because despite their public-facing professions—or perhaps because of them—celebrities often understandably want to keep us all at arm’s length, preserving a private space to relax and be “normal.” But with the rise of the celebrity home tour, now we get to see inside.
Architectural Digest’s Open Door Series is the tippy-top of the celebrity home tour genre. Since former Teen Vogue editor Amy Astley took the helm of the stalwart magazine in 2016, almost 100 years after it was founded, its home tours have become decidedly more starry. In March of 2020, at the height of the first lockdown, Dakota Johnson’s L.A. mid-century modern house was featured, and it went viral.
It was transporting: Johnson, in a cute navy blazer and cropped bangs, walking us through how she recovered her vintage sofa with crushed mohair. Pointing out a photo of her “godfather” Hunter S. Thompson with prosthetic naked breasts on her office wall, beside a photo of grandmother, Tippi Hedren, with a pet tiger. Johnson was playful and charming, so charming in fact that she rolled with the set decorator’s addition of a mountainous bowl of limes in her covetable green kitchen. “I love limes, I love them,” she deadpanned. “They’re great. I love them so much and I like to present them like this in my house.” The following January, Johnson admitted to Jimmy Fallon that she is, in fact, allergic to limes and does not love them at all. This made the video go viral a second time. (Look, it was a bleak year.)
The episode revealed that there is (of course!) an element of play-acting in these seemingly realistic videos. But who cares when we are getting a peek at Cara Delevingne’s L.A. home with its many cocktail bars, secret doors and playrooms—some outfitted with sex swings and stripper poles, others with billiard tables or poker, plus a room full of plastic balls to jump in, Ikea ball pit-style. The standout of that tour last summer was Delevingne’s “vagina tunnel,” complete with a fringed labia-shaped passageway, built into a hidden wall behind a library shelf. The exit feeds through a pink washing machine into her bedroom. Genuinely enthralling stuff.
Just weeks ago came the pièce de résistance, the tour of tours: an AD peek into Gwyneth Paltrow’s new Montecito mansion. The lifestyle queen nods to her London years with a fireplace in most every room, including the jaw-dropping cream kitchen (despite, you know, it being California), and traditional black-and-white checkered entryway stone. Naturally, she commissioned fantasy hand-painted 3D wallpapers and commanded her lighting designers to unleash their creativity, creating “jewellery” for the living room.
Paltrow practically invented the careful celebrity share, so we get tidbits about her children’s favourite foods along with the shots of neat rows of braising pans. But it is her full home spa—not a bathroom, an actual, hand-tiled spa—that really took our breath away: after all, don’t we secretly want our celebrities to be awash in sunken tubs, personal saunas, cold plunge pools and brass-finished rainfall showers?
Getting a peek behind the guarded gates of celebrities’ sprawling mansions isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s what drove Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, which ran between 1984 and 1995. Then there was MTV’s Cribs, which began at the dawn of the millennium and was rebooted with new full-length episodes last year. But now that home tours can be shared and commented upon so freely, they enter our discourse and Pinterest boards in a flash.
In the middle of this home tour revival, I had a chance to speak with L.A.-based interior designer Adair Curtis, host of the Netflix show Styling Hollywood with his husband, fashion stylist Jason Bolden, who works with Yara Shahidi, Amanda Gorman and Cynthia Erivo. Together, on camera, Curtis and Bolden dress the bodies and houses of their famous clients, including Gabrielle Union.
Curtis and Bolden, who are co-founders of the fashion and home design firm JSN Studio, were in town to talk trends for, respectively, HomeSense and Winners. So I had to ask Curtis what we can learn from the celebrity homes we love, and how to adapt their big-budget ideas for our inevitably more humble abodes (like, ahem, my own farmhouse-in-progress).
“You can be inspired by celebrity homes but you don’t have to do it exactly the same way,” says Curtis, who began his career as an assistant for Russell Simmons, appearing on the Def Jam mogul’s reality show. Every celebrity project, and every home, is different, he says. “It is about getting to know the client. Do they love a rich, warm environment? Are they drawn to vibrant colours?” Ask yourself those big-picture questions, too.
As for determining style, Curtis says the location and the property will help guide you. “If you are going for a beach house look, or a farm, because that is where you are, you are going to feel what doesn’t feel good or right there.” In other words, just because you love Gwyneth’s London-meets-Montecito blend of traditional and contemporary, it may not work as well for a downtown apartment. Scale matters, and so does the view from the windows. You are telling a complete story, and those details should not be incongruous, he says.
Colour is one thing you can always take inspiration from. In the months after I saw Dakota Johnson’s kitchen, suddenly I started to see green kitchens everywhere. “The popularity of colours is certainly affected by social media trends,” says Sharon Grech, who does Colour and Marketing Development for Benjamin Moore in Canada. A trending colour speaks volumes about what is going on in the world. “Colours, materials and finishes that bring comfort, respite and joy are so relevant right now,” she says. “Green, naturally balanced and grounded, is the hue that so many of us are drawn to right now as it can be restful, nurturing yet also invigorating, while playing well with most any other colour.”
Speaking of kitchens: one feature that runs through Curtis’s own work, and that he has noticed across the board, is that celebrities like to hide their fridges and ovens. “There is a lot of custom cabinetry in celebrity homes, and it does hide most of the appliances” says Curtis. “It flows beautifully, and the look is definitely not that of a traditional kitchen.” The overall aesthetic is clean, but warmed, he says, by careful consideration of the cabinetry details.
That leads us to the most satisfying celebrity home tour aspect: the pantry reveal. All the stuff us mere mortals try to cram into our cabinets—the cereal boxes and the tins, the rice and the spices—are organized perfectly within their own spacious rooms. This is about elevating the humble—these pantries are as beautiful as the walk-in shoe closets upstairs. Just last week, the Kardashians raised the pantry bar a step further, with matriarch Kris Jenner revealing her dish cupboard on her daughter Kourtney’s Poosh site. Yes, a room, exclusively for displaying dishes. How can we ever keep up?
We can’t—we can only focus on making our own spaces true to our personal predilections. As Curtis tells every client, “If you buy what you love, you won’t go wrong.” Like Gwyneth, he believes that special pieces can act like jewellery in a room. “Find a focal point—that could be a sofa, or a hearth—and build vignettes around it.” He says mixing in “vintage and heirlooms, special pieces that reflect your life,” is what makes a house a home. “It’s important to create a narrative.”
He also points out that just as none of us wears or loves only one fashion style, we’re not all one home style either. Resolving those different styles we gravitate towards—like mixing Deco with mid-century, pairing rustic with glamorous—means finding a way to blend them, and that will take some old-fashioned trial and error. It’s also where an outside voice, like a home designer or stylist, can be a big help.
After falling down the celebrity house tour rabbit hole (there are 93 featured by Architectural Digest, which will keep you busy for a while), it’s clear that the ones that resonate are the homes where the design choices truly reflect the person who lives there. Which brings us to Curtis’s most important piece of home decorating advice: take bits and pieces, inspiration and ideas, from celebrity homes, but to thine own self be true.