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Surreal Estate

You’d think it would be enough to live in L.A. year-round, but come Christmas, it’s apparently time to decamp to even warmer climes like St. Barth’s. It might be a little late to ring in 2014 at this stunning price-on-request villa, but there’s always next year. Come aboard my (imaginary) private yacht as we sail to the French West Indies to take a closer look.

This is just how I prefer my pools: gleaming turquoise, expansive, surrounded by deck chairs aplenty and backed by incredible natural scenery. (If you’re wondering why there are so many deck chairs, they’re probably left over from the property’s stint as a hotel.) The listing claims the property is close to quiet Lorient beach, but it looks as though it’s atop a hill.

The heart of the property dates to the 1600s, when French settlers built a manor house on the site that stood through British rule, Swedish rule, French again, and  — fun fact — finally saw electricity in 1961. Today, the property has been completely renovated and is home to both the manor house, three separate bungalows and two offices.

Does it get any dreamier than this? The usual Caribbean palette is white paint against dark wood furnishings and floors, but designer Christina Rodriguez has the cabinets and upholstery meet in the middle, with medium wood and grey fabric. I love the resulting breezy, low-contrast look.

The same tones are carried through a slightly more enclosed dining area in a corner of the Gaggenau-outfitted kitchen. An old world painting is a reminder of the island’s European influences, but casually propping it on a kitchen shelf speaks to its current incarnation as a high-style vacation mecca.

What, doesn’t everyone have a Tulip table in their bedroom? I think I would get into laundry trouble if my closet was on a different floor — out of sight, out of mind — but then again, it’s always nice to have a break from everyday chores.

It’s a good thing there are seven bathrooms to match the seven bedrooms; I’d probably take a seat in that chair and spend all day just looking out the window. I would, however, make two changes to this room: add a larger mirror to admire my freshly tanned self, and swap out that faucet. (How do you think it actually works?)

What do you think? Would this house inspire you to vacation like a celeb?

Photo credits:
1–5. Laurent Benoît

For an actor whose roles and personal life have, occasionally, been a bit over the top, this is a surprisingly tucked-away jungle retreat. It’s on Playa Barrigona in Costa Rica, on a stretch of what looks like untouched coastline. So bring along both your sunscreen and bug spray, imagine a few howler monkeys rustling in the trees, and join me at Mel Gibson’s $31.5 million tropical estate.

Playa Barrigona curves along the Pacific on Costa Rica’s northwestern coast, in the middle of the verdant Nicoya peninsula. Though it looks miles from anywhere, it’s actually between the towns of Samara and Nosara, and the latter even has a small airport, plus a thriving expat community.

The estate includes three homes and a total of 11 bedrooms, but the main courtyard is lush and welcoming, with open-air hallways and large windows begging to be thrown open. I’m not sure how each house has the “full air-conditioning” the listing promises if half the rooms are open-air, but if you can afford to buy the estate, you can probably afford to cool it.

Inside, the living spaces are just as open and airy, with high wooden ceilings, pale tile floors and warm white stucco walls. I’m not crazy about the resort-esque orange and green upholstery, but it is cheery, and probably beach sand-resistant.

Dine indoors under a beamed ceiling, surrounded by old world dark wood furnishings, or outdoors, on a terrace overlooking the jungle. There are ocean views from some of the second-storey bedrooms, though, and much of the main floor is open to the pool. (Apparently, the actual beach is better suited to surfing than casual swimming.)

Bedrooms are done up in the same casual, sort-of Mediterranean style. Again, between the matching wrought iron furniture and striped chair fabric, this looks a bit like a room at a tropical resort, but I wouldn’t complain about vacationing here.

What do you think? Would a stay in the jungle give you a taste of freedom?

Photo credits:
1-5. Christie’s International Real Estate


Kristen Koch

A confession: I've never read Love in the Time of Cholera. It was, apparently, everyone's favourite book in university, but I never got around to it. So while I didn't really get the reference to the novel in this week's listing in Cartagena, Colombia, I nevertheless fell in love with the house. Whether you're a Gabriel García Márquez fan or not, this $12.8 million colonial beauty in the heart of the port city is worth a look.

Imagine yourself in a warmer climate, with a Caribbean breeze wafting through the palms and the fountain burbling next to you. I'm crazy about the orange walls — and the vines climbing them — paired with the blue tile. On the second level, one side is shaded by a roof, the other by a leafy pergola.

Here's the vestibule beyond the fountain — possibly one of the most charming spaces I've ever seen while combing through listings for this blog. I can't resist a good beamed ceiling, especially with the wood chandelier and stone floor. And that juliet balcony! Let's take a moment to just sigh over it.

The roof deck not only has a view of the Caribbean Sea, but a hot tub as well. (Though, sadly, no sea view from the hot tub.) In an 11-bedroom mansion, getting food from the kitchen up to this al fresco dining spot is probably a long haul. Luckily, there's an elevator to lighten the load.

Instead of drapes, this dining room has romantic curtains of vines. (Let's just pretend never drop their leaves or wither.) The scale is clearly grand — this table seats 18, and you could probably squeeze a nineteeth onto the chandelier — but the covered arches make the space feel like a hidden surprise.

A TV lounge off the courtyard is open to both the entry and adjoining room, but warm lighting and a plush cluster of seating create an inviting little retreat. For further relaxing, there's a gym, sauna, and spa-like area with a loose stone floor.

Upstairs, each of the 11 bedrooms has an ensuite bath. If the floor space and two seating areas in this room are any indication, though, the place could easily sleep 40 or 50.

Want to know more about this Colombian manse? The listing bills it as a single-family home, but a little searching reveals that it's currently a luxury hotel. Take a look!

Photo credits:
1–6. Casa Pestagua 

For another dreamy South American home, read about this Uruguay villa.


Kristen Koch

Let's get it straight from the start: even though this week's home has sweet cottage style, it's not really a cottage — unless a six-bedroom, 8,000-square-foot, price-on-request mansion is your idea of one. That said, it is an adorable getaway on St. Lucia, and well worth a look if you need a Monday escape.

The house's huge scale is pretty well disguised from this angle by greenery, and a blue and pink pastel paint job and gingerbread details lends it a grown-up dollhouse look.

On the other side, though, an infinity pool looks across the bay and out to the Caribbean Sea, and the stairs at right lead to beach access and a dock. According to the listing, the property is near the town of Gros Islet, at the island's northwestern tip, but the map puts it further down the west coast, near the city of Castries.

After a dip in the pool or the surf, rinse off in the outdoor shower and sit down to a meal in the open-air dining room. White louvers and cutouts conceal both a canvas that can be rolled down as a sun screen and a hurricane shutter system for windier weather.

I'm not sure if this is the 30' x 30' entertaining space the listing mentions, but interior designer Lane Pettigrew certainly filled the room with enough crisp white upholstery, dark wood floors, and curving palm branches for an authentic colonial look. If you don't have time to grab a book and put your feet up on that plush armchair, there's a separate home office.

What I love about this kitchen is that even though the bright light and palm fronds give it a tropical vibe, the design elements — pale stone countertops, white millwork, a fun, drippy chandelier and snappy black and white tile — would look fresh in any locale. A carved bracket under the shelves is quaint detail.

What do you think? Are you inspired by this Caribbean idyll?

For more real estate eye candy from St. Lucia, check out a previous post on the island's Belmont House.

Photo credits:
1–5. Savills


Kristen Koch

Today's house is a total escape: to a different climate, landscape and lifestyle. It's in Franschhoek, South Africa, a small town nestled in the mountains west of Cape Town that borders a vast nature reserve and is famous for its wine and cuisine. The property in question is a gorgeous country estate. It sounds pricey at 25,000,000 rand, but it works out to a (semi) reasonable $2.6 million Canadian. Let's take a look.

Here's the many-gabled house with its long, solar-heated lap pool. If the room doesn't have a pool view, it probably opens onto a terrace, faces a separate natural pond or looks up at the mountains.

The great room and dining area open to a more natural-looking pond, probably created by a small dam in the property's landscaping. A solar-powered fountain ripples the water, and the plant beds and trees are maintained by an automated irrigation system. When you're not mowing the lawn, you can relax and enjoy the mountain views, or take a special wine tram and taste the area's Cabs and Chards.

This looks more like a spot to sip those wines and chat than a place to open a beer and host a braai. But no matter what your entertaining style, it's hard to object to the wide glass doors or airy white space. Invite guests to stay awhile in one of the main house's two guest rooms or one of two separate two-bedroom guest cottages.

The kitchen is sleek, functional, and opens to yet another outdoor dining area. Just visible beyond the kettle is the great room and a two-sided fireplace. If you don't want to build your own blaze, just flip on the underfloor heating which — surprise — is also solar powered.

Much of the living space is one large double-height room with a loft above. Open-plan spaces tend to extremes: they're either too empty (so much space!) or too busy (so many rooms in one!) But this corner manages to find a nice, welcoming balance.

The monochromatic principal bedroom totally commits to the tufted upholstery trend with a fully upholstered headboard wall. Sliding doors open to the pool, while louvered shutters provide a bit of privacy. In case the view doesn't inspire you to hop out of bed and fit in a swim, the house also has a gym.

Would the views (either indoors or out) from this house inspire you to make a move?

Photo credits:
1–6. Fine and Country


Kristen Koch

I recently started watching a Lilyhammer, a TV show about an American mobster who enters the witness protection program in Lillehammer, Norway. While part of the humour lies in the fact that he chose to hide in some snowy mountains instead of a beach somewhere, it's also easy to see the appeal of the area: everyone races around on skis, dons chunky sweaters and lives in cosy wooden farmhouses with sprawling views of the hills and lakes. Personally, I wouldn't mind hiding out in this charming retreat just west of Lillehammer in the town of Heggenes. Let's take a look inside.

Nine traditional buildings are tucked into the hills on nearly three acres of land. Part of the property is currently being used as, charmingly, a Christmas tree farm, so I'm guessing some of the buildings are used for equipment storage. When you tire of paddling the canoe around that tiny pond, portage over to the dock on a much larger fjord.

This angle gives a better (and gorgeous) idea of the setting. I love the use of the exposed rock as a terrace, which makes it look like the house has been here forever. (And it may well have — the first building on the property dates from 1770.)

The current owners are decidedly unafraid of colour, and even brought in Norwegian artist Sigmund Årseth to paint the rooms. (I'd love to get just a bit closer and read what it says on the back of the door.) The combination of the unabashedly cheerful pink, blue and red with a fussy gold console and chandelier is intriguing; you might say mismatched, I'd say... spirited.

This panelled and painted dining room really drew me to the house; tidy cupboards and red chairs make the room seem tended, but unpretentious. For even more relaxed dining, there's a breakfast nook off the brightly painted kitchen (which may or may not have a wood-burning fireplace; I can't tell from the photos).

There's only one photo of the four bedrooms (and none of the one full bath or one half bath), but it's enough to convince me. As a kid, I would have loved tucking in to one of these bunks; as an adult, I could lounge on the couch and look out the window for hours. And with 2,600 square feet, there's probably a quiet corner for everyone.

What do you think? Would this charming country home inspire you to pay the $1.5 million asking price and start a new Scandinavian life?

Photo credits:
1–5. Regent Eiendomsmegling, via Christie's.


Kristen Koch

Since it's nearly Halloween, here's a house that's been home to a vampire and a wizard. Well, OK, just actor Robert Pattinson, who has played both. And the only thing scary about this house — besides the nearly $7 million price tag — is how lovely and well-maintained it is for a twentysomething guy's digs. Let's take a look inside this Hollywood villa.

The listing describes the gated property as "awe-inspiring without being overwhelming," and I agree. Built in 1922, the 4,000-square-foot Spanish Colonial-style house still has both plenty of room and many of its original details. Stucco walls around the lot, for example, charm visitors with blue tile details and a burbling fountain, but keep out crazed fans.

In back of the house, one-and-a-half acres of land stretch up in an elaborate terraced garden with views of the LA skyline to the south. Beyond the property's wall lies the 4,000-acre expanse of Griffith Park, so you can take in the sights in peace. The only downside? When actor Tim Curry owned this home in the '90s, he apparently had to hire a full-time gardener and garden consultant.

The pool, perched at the top of the garden, seems to be the source for a water feature that runs all the way down to the house. Sure, you do need to do some stair-climbing before going for a swim, but I think it would be worth it to lounge in this grotto-like oasis.

When you tire of exploring the gorgeous garden, retreat to this beautifully beamed living room. The doors at right open to an outdoor dining area, making the space ideal for entertaining and, since this is an actor's home in Hollywood, a screen drops down in front of the fireplace.

The dining room also opens to the courtyard. I'd happily linger over a meal under the barrel-vaulted ceiling here, but the sofa and chairs clustered around the outdoor fireplace are pretty tempting, too.

Here's another arched ceiling in one of the three bedrooms. I'm guessing the windows open to a second-storey walkway, and the arched doorways lead to a dressing room or one of the three bathrooms. And in case you didn't already suspect the house had been staged, the white bed linens and yellow rose upholstery don't exactly say 'hot young actor's bachelor pad' to me.

I'd be charmed by this house even without the celeb connection. What about you?

If you've fallen prey to a bit of Twihard streak, be sure to check out the listing, which has a time-sucking 65 photos of the lovely house and gardens.

Photo credits:
1–6: The Partners Trust 


Kristen Koch

Now that the weather's turning chilly in Toronto, my thoughts are turning to places where the mercury is rising instead. This week, they've landed in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, where this lovely, price-upon-request brick estate is up for sale. If you acted fast, you could probably close just in time to enjoy the summer there. Let's take a look inside.

Most signs point to this being a serious property. Known as Redcourt, it was built in 1888 by a glass and timber merchant. It still has grand, historic looks and a whopping seven bedrooms and eight baths. But that statue of kids playing leapfrog out front makes me think this house retains some spark and kid-friendly fun to it.

Indeed, the interiors might be best described as eclectic. (The listing names three separate designers, who seem to have ignored the idea that there should be some flow between rooms.) Still, most of the design actually works. This monochromatic living room could have been bland, but a wealth of textures makes it fascinating instead.

The dining room has a bit more of a traditional bent, with carved chairs and a gilded mirror, but I love the modern effect of the charcoal skirting board and over-dyed ruby rug. Given that the property includes a wine cellar, "meat and cheese room" and an organic vegetable garden, I'd bet that everything served here tastes amazing, too.

Australian celebrity chef Shannon Bennett supposedly designed the quiet, clean-lined kitchen; obviously, its Miele appliances do not date from 1888. The windows look out on the neighbouring coach house, which has been converted to a separate guest apartment. The property itself is in the sleepy-looking town of Armadale, so you might not have too many visitors, but then again, the city of Melbourne is just 30 minutes away.

One of the seven bedrooms looks like it still has its original moulding, though it's been decked out with illustrations from children's books. I might not recognize (or remember) all of the characters shown, but I still wouldn't mind sleeping here. Outside, there's a croquet lawn, tennis court and "secret walks" for kids to explore.

Would this Edwardian beauty draw you to the other side of the world?

For more great kids' rooms, check out Katie Hayden's blog.

Photo credits:
1–5: Ken Jacobs Real Estate.


Kristen Koch

Las Vegas often gets ridiculed for its architecture, a pastiche of nearly every style from Egyptian pyramids to Venetian fantasies. Step away from the glitz of the Strip and there are some interesting properties, like this gargantuan (in both price and square footage) $12 million mansion known as Arrowhead in the foothills outside the city.

The home may be sprawling, but instead of hulking over the landscape, it seems to rise out of the rolling terrain on which it sits. Weathered metal and glass echo and reflect the reddish landscape, and native vegetation proves that you don't need a green swath of lawn for a lush look in the desert. (It also blocks views — both ways — from the adjacent golf course.)

Plenty of Western homes try to pretend, through architecture and landscaping, that they're in a different locale. Here, architects Marmol-Radziner embrace the desert with a layout that's open to both a central courtyard and the views around the house. The rust-coloured geometric structure is identified in the listing as the "Sky Space," which, as far as I can tell, is just a fancy spot for star-watching. This being Vegas, there's also a basement-level basketball court.

Here's a view of that central courtyard and the living room beyond. Even this small patch of land is meticulously planted, due in part to "open-minded clients [and] a thick budget," according to the landscape architects. Want to skip the stairs? An elevator will shuttle you between floors.

The stand-alone "dining pavilion" has views on three sides, including a panorama of the Strip in the distance. At left, you can see the edge of the lap pool that runs nearly the length of the house. On the other side of the residential space, there's an outdoor spa off the principal bedroom, complete with plunge pool and outdoor shower.

The kitchen has enough counter — and cupboard — space to feed an army. And it's a good thing, too, since there are five bedrooms, a separate guest house, and parking for at least six cars. I really like those periwinkle cabinets on the far wall; it's an unexpectedly soft, watery colour to use in a desert home.

What do you think? Would this Las Vegas house make you feel like you'd won the jackpot?

Photo credits:
1–5: Scott Mayoral, via Crosby Doe Associates


Kristen Koch

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