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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Take a Sneak Peek Inside Tommy Hilfiger's Apartment

Tommy and Dee Hilfiger show off their flair for fashion and decor in their new apartment at the Plaza in New York.

Perhaps it’s only fitting that the Hilfigers’ new home is perched on one of the highest floors of one of New York’s most iconic landmarks, the Plaza Hotel.

“We tried to incorporate as much of the history of the building as we could,” says Tommy Hilfiger's wife Dee of the luxurious two-floor condo they bought in 2008 and the hotel’s roster of storied guests. “From Marilyn Monroe to the Beatles to Jackie O., it makes you think, if these walls could talk,” she muses about the hotel and residence at the corner of Central Park South and Fifth Avenue.

Playing to his forte of re-creating the past, Tommy elaborates on his apartment’s decor: “We had a vision to create an old-world atmosphere complementing the old-world Plaza.” And they did just that, with a wink, of course

Following a gut renovation, the grandiose, European-influenced apartment has a cozy feel. “We have bought almost all of the furniture together,” says Dee. “We like to go shopping on the weekends. It’s been a real collaboration.”

Littered with megawatt pieces like the noir Maison Jansen dining-room table, the antique lacquered desk in the living room, and the crystal sailing-ship chandelier in the baby’s room, the grand interior surprisingly does have a welcoming feel.

Andy Warhol’s portraits of Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor hold court in the living room, while a jovial Mickey Mouse hangs in the guest bedroom and Marilyn Monroe graces the second-floor hallway. They have more than 20 pieces of his work in total, as well as a Jean-Michel Basquiat in the entry. But Tommy isn’t done yet. Fittingly, he has had his eye on a Jasper Johns American-flag painting.

The original French Renaissance-style turret features an Eloise mural by Hilary Knight.

The bistro-inspired kitchen.




Off to work! Tommy kisses son Sebastian good-bye in front of the Basquiat painting.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Best Places to Live: Top-Earning Towns

Bethesda, Md., residents pull in more than $170,000 a year. Which other places in our Best Places database have high incomes?

1. Bethesda, MD

Courtesy of Bethesda Urban Partnership

Population: 56,763

Median Family Income (Per Year): $172,541

Median Home Price: $725,000

There's a party for every season in this commuter town: Enjoy concerts and ice sculpting in the winter and Taste of Bethesda in October; schmooze with Pulitzer Prize winning authors at April's literary festival; and enjoy the strains of delta blues, soul and swing in the summer.

Year-round a dozen art galleries and hundreds of diverse restaurants woo suburbanites away from cul-de-sac comforts for days and nights downtown. An abundance of home fashion stores and graduate degrees (one in two residents has one) sets a swanky tone for this small community with big city style.

2. Greenwich, CT

Kindra Clineff

Population: 59,484

Median Family Income (Per Year): $164,807

Median Home Price: $997,498

This tony town is the epitome of coastal chic, with beaches and yacht clubs lining roughly 30 miles of shore. Wealthy residents enjoy lavish penthouse condos and multi-acre estates overlooking the Long Island Sound. Home prices soar into the millions of dollars.

But luxurious nests are only part of Greenwich's appeal. A well endowed arts scene includes the Greenwich Library, Bruce Museum, and two symphonies.

3. Palo Alto, CA

Courtesy of City of Palo Alto

Population: 60,089

Median Family Income (Per Year): $153,615

Median Home Price: $1,180,000

Palo Alto is awash in high tech prosperity. Stanford professors, Facebook engineers and venture capitalists are neighbors in this Silicon Valley town. It's home to the historically preserved garage where David Packard and Bill Hewlett launched the HP empire in 1938, as well as eight-figure Tuscan-inspired manors with pinot noir and chardonnay grapes out back.

Natural beauty is another of its keystones. Named for its tall trees, Palo Alto boasts spectacular nature trails, preserves and gardens, many of which offer it well-heeled residents Peninsula views and bird watching.

4. Newport Beach, CA

Kevin Steele

Population: 79,661

Median Family Income (Per Year): $144,917

Median Home Price: $1,008,000

Many Hollywood elites, professional athletes and business moguls who prefer life south of Beverly Hills and Malibu call sunny Newport Beach home.

Some locals flock to Fashion Island to clean the racks of luxury shops located within the open-air shopping plaza with Pacific Ocean views. Others dock and dine, catch an independent flick or stroll through the art galleries along the brick sidewalks of Cannery Village. Virtually wherever they go, residents have a picturesque setting at their backs.

5. Lower Merion, PA

Courtesy of Township of Lower Merion

Population: 56,789

Median Family Income (Per Year): $144,686

Median Home Price: $240,000

Located along the Main Line of the historic Pennsylvania Railroad, Lower Merion has long been a refuge from city life for the well-heeled. In the mid-19th century, railroad scions, merchant magnates and metal and oil industry tycoons began erecting grand homes throughout the area.

Some of the sprawling estates, from Georgian-inspired mansions to Scottish-infused castles, still stand. But McMansions, condos and townhomes now dot the landscape to house today's professionals.

6. Newton, MA

Courtesy of City of Newton

Population: 82,139

Median Family Income (Per Year): $138,070

Median Home Price: $625,000

The roots of this moneyed town of academics and executives date back to New England's earliest settlers.

Called the Garden City for its trees and parks, its lush landscape contributes to the town's refined bearing. So does its distinguished history -- Jackson Homestead, a stop on the Underground Railroad, is a point of community pride.

Famous residents have included literary giants Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson, athletes Ted Williams and Larry Bird, and actors Jack Lemmon and Matt LeBlanc.

7. Fairfield, CT

Courtesy of Fairfield

Population: 56,537

Median Family Income (Per Year): $127,920

Median Home Price: $483,500

This town launched its "clean and green" program in the '90s; today city officials cruise in hybrids, and citizens get incentives for energy efficiency and conservation. Strict emission standards are par for the course. The middle school, and even the wastewater treatment plants, run on clean energy.

But living green isn't cheap. A spacious harbor-side estate with 19th century roots might have an eight-figure price tag, while a contemporary Arts & Crafts-style showstopper with water views runs in the seven figures.

Locals with more modest accommodations can still feel rich amid nature's plenty. They have their pick of forests, lakes, meadows, rivers and wetlands --1,100 acres of town-owned open space to be exact.

8. Greenburgh, NY

Courtesy of Westchester County Tourism

Population: 89,604

Median Family Income (Per Year): $127,376

Median Home Price: $518,750

This well-to-do town prides itself on providing concierge-level service to all residents. Dial Democracy lets residents call into Town Board meetings live and Town Supervisor Paul Feiner and staff make house calls to address community concerns.

One of a handful of communities with a AAA bond rating from Moody's and Standard & Poor's, local government keeps taxes low and spends money where it counts.

Mixing business with pleasure, Greenburgh is home to numerous biotech firms, 30 art exhibits and training facilities for the Knicks, Rangers and Liberty. As one-time Greenburgh resident Cab Calloway sang, ain't that something?

9. Burke, VA

Courtesy of Burke Center Conservancy

Population: 54,974

Median Family Income (Per Year): $127,036

Median Home Price: $335,000

This upscale community is a haven for government officials and federal contractors seeking a break from the capitol. But it also attracts residents who work for local businesses in nearby Arlington.

The living is easy in this town, which puts shopping, pools, sports fields and footpaths within convenient reach. The prototypical suburb, it boasts great schools, high-end shops and well-tended footpaths.

Burke Centre Conservancy, a 1,700-acre planned residential community with 5 neighborhoods, pools and community centers is at the heart of it all.

10. Naperville, IL

Courtesy of City of Naperville

Population: 143,117

Median Family Income (Per Year): $125,702

Median Home Price: $330,000

A river walk runs through this idyllic suburb of Chicago. Complete with winding brick paths, covered bridges and shepherd's-crook light poles, this downtown attraction marries Naperville's historic past with its rich present.

In the surrounding tree-lined neighborhoods, you'll find a mix of quaint historic homes and mammoth McMansions. Locals enjoy recreational options from paddleboat tours to bocce courts. Great schools, a nationally acclaimed library system and charitable neighbors provide the cherry on top.

11. The Woodlands, TX

Population: 65,491

Median family income (per year): $124,939

Median home price: $214,593

Situated within 28,000 acres of forest, this master-planned community marries natural ambiance with rich luxury. An air-conditioned water taxi and complimentary trolley service help the masses navigate through it all. You'll also find ritzy sedans and SUVs parked at 12,000-square-foot estates with million-dollar furnishings tucked inside.

Major employers include Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Fox Sports Network, Hewitt Associates and Chevron Phillips Chemical.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Mansions in the Middle of Nowhere

Ultra-high-end homes are on the market for tens of millions in Door County, Wis., and other unexpected spots. What are they doing there?

Homes that cost $10 million or more are expected to boast certain luxuries, and the gated compound called the Brentwood has all the amenities a trophy home should: a three-tiered screening room, billiards hall equipped with wet bar, master bathroom with a fireside Jacuzzi and 10-spigot shower, guest homes, lushly wooded surroundings, tennis court and boat dock.

In Pictures: Middle-Of-Nowhere Mansions

What's unusual about the Brentwood is its location: Big Chippewa Lake, Minn. Two hours outside Minneapolis, it is worlds away from moneyed areas like Beverly Hills, Calif. or Vail, Colo., where the vast majority of astronomically expensive homes are clustered.


Yet millionaires, moguls and well-to-do families have installed estates worth double-digit-millions in places where no nearby home comes remotely close in price. Why would anyone put so much money into a property with a location that makes it exceedingly difficult to resell? The answer is often personal.

When the Brentwood's publishing industry owners decided to build a sprawling, homey family retreat, they eschewed more glamorous locales; their Minnesota roots span generations. The wealthy couple hosted children and grandchildren at the property, which is decorated with whimsical brass sculptures of deer and prancing children, until the family outgrew it. Now Realtor Greg Antonsen, of Christie's Great Estates, says it's a perfect buy for a family or anyone looking for a little solitude.

"You have all the privacy you want--it's its own world," says Antonsen. "When you're on this lake, it's you and you alone."

In most parts of the country, even the most expensive homes cost less than $10 million. But some rich families, when deciding where to settle, choose sentimental value over deluxe areas, resulting in homes so opulent they often stand out like sore thumbs.

Southways Estate

The Price of History

Another Minnesota home with a shocking price tag, the Southways Estate, was built by the Pillsbury family in 1918 and occupied in the 1990s by Minnesota Vikings co-owner James Jundt and his family. The Jundts have been trying to unload the storied family home for two years at $53 million, and attempted to sell it in a much publicized December 2009 auction.

But in spite of its sweeping views, period details and architectural significance, the auction hasn't yet resulted in a sale. Perhaps that's because in uncertain economic times, few real estate investors want to take a chance on a grand home in an out-of-the-way place.

Age and backstory lend cachet to a number of mansions off the beaten path. A former plantation is on the market in Charleston, S.C., for $10 million. In Foxburg, Pa., a restored 1828 home, built by the descendants of George M. Fox, who founded the Quaker religion, is being sold for $24 million.

Chateau du Lac

The Chateau du Lac, a mansion that will appeal to eccentrics, is in an unlikely place: Door County, Wis. At $23 million it's by far the most expensive home in the scenic area, but that's not the only strange thing about it. The home's buyer will also receive all its contents, like a kitchen full of antique silver and cutlery, and a collection of evening purses. Should they be pet lovers, there's space for the family's departed dog in the home's adjacent mausoleum. The home's owner, 90-year-old businessman Frank Spitzer, bought it sight unseen for his wife Erlys, who has since died.

"It's just an expense at this point," says George Chakmakis, Spitzer's lawyer, in an e-mail. "He has still never been there."


A Resale Challenge

A mansion that's far from millionaire's row can offer seclusion, uninterrupted views and more bang for your buck. But selling ultra-high-end homes can be tough in areas where few are looking to put their wealth on display. The universe of buyers for homes this expensive is already small, and it shrinks even more when the location is obscure. The Jundts' inability to sell Southways, even with aggressive tactics, demonstrates the difficulty of marketing grand homes in modest places.

"The people who are going to live in Minnesota are the people who already live in Minnesota. There's a nine out of 10 chance that whoever buys that home is from there, has roots there, or already lives there and is moving up," says John Brian Losh, CEO of "That buyer is there right now, but they just think the price is too high."