Kendall Jenner gets a lot of love for her gold bathtub. Dakota Johnson is at war with her neighbours about the height of her bamboo.
The banal clues celebrities let slip about themselves while guiding Architectural Digest’s nosy cameras around their mansions reveal more about their person than any longform magazine profile could ever hope to.
We see the art they choose and the places they sit and watch TV and where they keep their books (for Dakota, it’s the shelves she had built on the wall opposite the photograph of her dad’s best friend, Hunter S. Thompson; for Kendall, it’s in three neat stacks at the end of her bed, surrounded by copper rings, for energy). Rarely promoting their work and only sometimes promoting a home they’re about to sell creates the perfect ecosystem to truly get a sense of who a celebrity is when they’re out of the public eye.
This week it wasn’t AD but Instagram that lifted the curtain on a celebrity’s home and raised many significant questions in the process. Namely, “why does your glam chair look like it was ripped from the set of Sweeney Todd?” and “how did you find a pen that big?” and “is that… macaroni?”
According to her caption, supermodel and mother-to-be Gigi Hadid finally finished designing her “dream spot” in New York City before she retreated to her family’s farm in Pennsylvania – the setting for a recent Vogue shoot. She thanked architecture firm Gordon Kahn, a handful of her favourite creatives and her mother, Yolanda – designer of tiny painted canvases and enormous glass refrigerators – for helping realise this passion project. The result was entirely Gigi – but not in the way we might’ve imagined.
“You can feel Gigi’s presence in the home she designed,” says Cait Raft, host of the podcast Hot and Rich, where she frequently discusses the intriguing choices of the rich and famous. “Does it look like a 2004 era college dorm with an unlimited budget? Yes. And I’m sure there were people begging her to not put a billiard ball basket on the kitchen counter; I’m sure she got some eye rolls when she picked out two completely different eras of skis for the living room ski basket. But she soldiered on in the face of adversity. I respect it, honestly.”
Lucy Feagins has spent over a decade sharing images of people’s homes with her readers on The Design Files, and can spot the difference between the work of a decorator and the fingerprints of a home’s inhabitant a mile away. And the clues are less about what you can see than what you can’t.
“Many interior designers will say their job is more about editing and removing things than it is about adding things, which is a bit sad when you think about it; you’re basically saying, ‘If you want your house to look better, you have to get rid of half the stuff you liked at the time you bought it’,” Feagins says. “They’re going to refine and edit, and you’re going to be left with less of your personality on show.”
The amount of personality splashed across Gigi’s walls is, in some ways, the most we’ve ever seen of her. A model since she was a teenager, her role for the past decade has been that of a canvas, a vessel for the whims of whatever designer or creative director she’s working with at the moment. Besides famous friends and her baby daddy (whose own artistic choices are very well-documented) and the odd interview, it’s rare to fully grasp who she is and what she values. Even models’ street-style – that off-duty model look you hear so much about – is never more than jeans and a white T‑shirt. Being professionally beautiful is to have an absence of creativity, so this glimpse into her truest aesthetic choices is perhaps the first time we’ve truly seen how her personal style manifests. “It’s sort of a pulling-back of the curtain,“Feagins says. “Like, Oh! This is the true you. What are we seeing the rest of the time?”
“Money doesn’t buy you taste,” Raft asserts. “It can buy you a good interior designer, but it can’t buy style. What I love about Gigi’s bad style going viral is it points this out! Just because a celebrity has a nice house or nice clothes does not mean they are inherently chic, stylish, or interesting. It means they have money and they hired the right people.”
For Kendall, she mentioned an interest in painting sometimes, so her team artfully arranged a neat painting room where she can live out her Under the Tuscan Sun fantasies. The personality on display comes in the form of an art collection that includes a James Turrell in the entryway, a couple of Barbara Krugers (chosen not for the commentary on sexual politics and capitalism, but because Kendall says she likes “really just colourful stuff that makes you feel good”) and the Tracey Emin penis size neon she bought a few years ago. Because she wouldn’t be a Jenner without a Tracey Emin neon!
And there’s a real joy in being able to see all of this up-close – particularly now, when we’re all staring at the same four walls for an infinite number of days.
In some ways, Gigi’s apartment is incomparable to Drake’s Dubai mall of a house – they were both presented with pride and met with shock – but in other, more vulnerable ways, they both represent the purity of stepping back and saying, “Here is where I go when I’m alone, and what I most want to surround myself with when I go to sleep at night.” Gigi assumedly sleeps well with a large looming shadow just outside of her door that is not an intruder, but a colossal ballpoint pen. Being allowed to witness a celebrity with limitless budget stand proudly behind something either curated or clumsy is a giddying kind of voyeurism, and indulging in it is the most fun we can have from our own terrible apartments.