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Secrets of America's most expensive home


A present-wrapping room. What a perfectly lovely idea. A permanent home for those messy rolls of paper, string and tags is one of those little luxuries that we all need but never realised, until Petra Ecclestone, Bernie’s younger daughter, showed us by buying, reputedly, the most expensive house in America as her second home.

With her £56m (€64m) Chelsea home undergoing a two-year renovation, the F1 heiress can now nip off to her new pied-à-terre in LA to give a boost to her model/actress/designer career plans. With Manor House in Bel Air – on the market for $150m (€106m) – she has bagged the essence of the look-at-me-I’m-rich aesthetic. With 56,500 sq ft of floor space, this 1988 chateau is larger than Versailles, but considerably less classy.

There’s a tragi-comic video on YouTube of the agonisingly face-lifted vendor, Candy Spelling, taking us around the home she created for her late husband Aaron, producer of Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty and Beverley Hills 90210. Passing from one characterless, cavernous space to another, Candy titters about how the house grew as she didn’t have any idea of scale on the plans. The result is a mere 123 rooms, because Aaron knocked a whole wing off, thereby releasing parking space for 100 cars. Even so, he was able to quip: “Big? I’m still trying to find the bathroom.”

In an interview earlier this year, Petra – who sounds both fragile and determined to be a businesswoman – said that what she most likes doing with her fiancé, 29-year-old entrepreneur James Stunt, is watching TV. Should that pall, they will have a bowling alley, fruit machine arcade, barber’s shop and beauty salon, four “wet” bars and an indoor skating rink, as well as the museum Candy built for her dolls.

If, after their wedding in August, the Stunts tire of cosy suppers à deux, the kitchen can cater for 800 guests. James, an enthusiastic collector of Château Pétrus, can show them the wine-tasting room. After the meal, guests can repair to the Spellings’ pride and joy, the viewing room, with a vast screen and projectors that appear from behind pictures.

Petra will never have to battle her winter woolies into vacuum packs, because a whole floor is given over to walk-in cupboards. Clutching one of her 400 handbags, she can then descend the double staircase designed with Gone with the Wind in mind.

Is all of the above enviable or grotesque? It depends on whether you buy the dream of acquiring and flaunting extreme wealth. Taste comes into it, too. The house was put on the market in March 2009, and the gossip is that Petra may have got it for a knock-down $75m to $85m (€53m to €60m) because it was hard to shift. Even she who has been called the “most spoiled girl in the world”, was not prepared to pay over the odds for a vast mock-up, on a smallish plot of land, with no views.

The Playboy Mansion is three doors down but, should the Stunts have been planning all-newly-weds together sessions with Hugh and Crystal Hefner, they will be disappointed. Only a couple of days ago, Crystal thought better of marrying a man 60 years her senior. There’s a danger that they may end up as lonely in The Manor as Candy Spelling, who has not been on speaking terms with her daughter Tori since Aaron died.

Houses so large that a GPS is needed to find the bedroom are not conducive to intimacy. But let’s not be too down on Petra’s new toy. Bernie Ecclestone may feel a little dwarfed by the 30ft ceilings. Petra may find her favoured colour scheme of black and gold a trifle oppressive on this scale. But there are upsides.

If the new Mr and Mrs Stunt limit themselves to 120 children, each can have a bedroom of their own. Nor will there be any shortage of places for wedding presents. Perhaps they should consider an unwrapping room as well?