Cathy's World: Hollywood Real Estate

By CATHERINE SEIPP   |   June 12, 2002 at 12:14 PM
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LOS ANGELES, June 12 (UPI) -- What do Hollywood stars want in their homes today? They want gleaming, brushed-steel Viking ranges and sub-zero refrigerators and down-on-the-farm dining tables that cost $3,000.

They want sound-proofed windows. They want -- they all want -- family rooms off the kitchen, even if they don't have a family, and his-and-her bathrooms off the master bedroom.

"God forbid you should brush your teeth next to your spouse," says real estate agent Elaine Young, ex-wife of the late actor Gig Young, who got an early taste of what star power adds to property when someone offered her $50,000 more for her house if Gig Young's bed was included.

They want l-o-o-n-g gated private driveways that take half a city block to reach the front door. "In the luxury market, perception is reality and presentation is everything," says another top agent, June Scott, "and the longer it takes to get to the house, the more the presentation."

A cable TV show called "Driveways of the Rich and Famous" once spotlighted Barbra Streisand's interesting gated driveway, which was bordered by a fence topped with shards of broken Michelob bottles.

Outside the house they want land: a true estate needs at least 1.5 acres. The monstrous manor manque squeezed to the limits of its lot is out.

Inside the house they want everything mismatched and slip-covered and collectible in feeling -- as if they, and not the paid-to-keep-her-mouth-shut decorator, had the whimsical good taste and sharp eye to pick out that perfect "aren't-I-clever?" flea market find.

If they have children, they want fabulous, hilly views in a stroller-friendly area. A "sidewalky" area, as Steven Spielberg's wife, Kate Capshaw, once quaintly described their multi-million-dollar Pacific Palisades neighborhood. It's hard to get both -- rare is the hillside house with a sidewalk out front -- but those on the top of the Hollywood totem pole, like Spielberg, can get what they want.

Wait a minute. Don't they want ... a pool? Please. Ask that question and you can practically hear the real estate agents to the stars rolling their eyes over the phone. This is Hollywood. A pool is a given. Oh. Like tennis courts? No -- sigh -- not like tennis courts. Tennis courts are just not that important anymore. Tennis courts are for people who don't have friends with tennis courts who invite them to play.

Better to have a charming, sprawling garden, with a tasteful secret garden hidden somewhere on the grounds. That's what Gale Anne Hurd, producer of the "Terminator" series, insisted on when she moved into her Beverly Hills house with her small daughter. But for some reason the child ignored the secret garden and spent all her time playing on the tennis court. Go figure.

What don't Hollywood home hunters want? They don't want noise. They don't want traffic. They don't want to be near you -- not if you're not like them. That's why they don't want the Beverly Hills flats below Sunset anymore, or, even worse, below Wilshire. Although these properties still start at $1 million. Too accessible. Too touristy. Too...

Well, here's how the wife of one TV writer put it. "To tell you the truth, I get the creeps in the flats. You think Zsa Zsa. You think orthodontists. You think Iranians. Not that I've got anything against Iranians -- I love the guy who did my root canal -- but..." Her voice trailed off. The couple eventually bought in Brentwood.

The fine, free Beverly Hills schools are no longer an attraction to the Hollywood crowd, who prefer exclusive private schools. Once upon a time, Beverly Hills High was good enough for Frank Sinatra's children. One of my cousins was a classmate of his daughter Tina. No longer.

It's the "I" word again. Go to any Westside gathering and you'll hear it as soon as the subject turns to schools. Ask what's wrong with classes filled with students known for straight A's and high SAT scores and you'll just get blank stares.

Families who used to buy in the Beverly Hills flats now look in the quiet areas of the Pacific Palisades-Brentwood-Santa Monica golden triangle, where the air is better and life is perceived as being more low-key.

"Families think that if they're in Brentwood the family will stay together longer than if they're in Bel-Air or Beverly Hills," says broker Steve Shapiro.

Especially prized these days, especially among celebrities, is the panic room. They used to be called safe rooms, but then came the hit movie. The optimistic idea is that when the crazed fan -- or run-of-the-mill robber -- breaks in, the homeowner can run to the panic room and call the police.

"It's kind of kept quiet," one real estate agent told me. "But people want them." Of course, the problem is that if anyone knows about the secret room, it's no longer secret. The agent said that one couple wasn't told about the hiding place in their new home until escrow closed.

Today's young stars, it should be noted, don't always make the best neighbors. According to the National Association of Realtors, more people in their 20s have been buying homes now than in previous generations. Problems can arise when they suddenly arrive in quiet, family oriented neighborhoods.

I remember neighbors on a quiet cul-de-sac in Laurel Canyon complaining when Christina Applegate moved in. First came the loud parties, then the hideous fence, then the constantly barking dogs...

Screening rooms have become such a necessary status symbol that some buyers are willing to give up almost everything else to have one. A few years ago, producer Sherry Lansing and her husband, director William Friedkin, fell in love with a magnificent, chateau-like house.

It resembled a five-star hotel in the south of France, conveniently located in the hills above Sunset Boulevard. A house on trafficky Sunset Boulevard, by the way, hasn't been fashionable since the days of "Sunset Boulevard."

But the deal-breaker was that there was no room for a screening room. The rules for building one are rather stringent: You need a 32-foot throw, a dedicated bathroom, etc.

Before she married newspaper editor Phil Bronstein and moved up to San Francisco, Sharon Stone built a spectacular screening room, with the help of a Ralph Lauren design team, for her Hollywood Hills house. The inspiration was a favorite vintage dress from the '30s, and the walls were lined with gleaming pewter silk charmeuse.

Since the powder room was meant for gossip -- think of the classic 1939 film "The Women" -- it had no sink.

So does this mean that people don't wash their hands there after using the toilet? Is there even a toilet? Just asking.

Screening rooms are normally carpeted for sound quality, but Stone was willing to give that up for a polished ebony floor.

All this is a far cry from Hollywood at home in the old days. I once saw a picture of '30s film star Wallace Beery relaxing at home with what passed for a screening room then: a portable square screen on a tripod.

And every now and then I come across a famous old picture of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward when they were newlyweds in the '50s. He's scrambling eggs at the stove and she's playing with their dog. I'm always transfixed by this shot, and I finally figured out why: Those cramped quarters, that old tile, that skimpy counter space -- Hey, basically, that's my kitchen!

And it seems to suit these glamorous movie stars just fine. How far we've come since those days. But what have we lost?

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