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Homes that Steal the Show

It’s hard to compete with the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Sean Connery when it comes to celluloid appeal. But here are some architectural masterpieces that may even outshine their glamorous co-stars. Houses that served as movie locations, but weren’t torn down when the film crew called it a day. Design gems, from Capri to Canada, that are still standing today.

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The ultimate movie house may be Casa Malaparte, which stars in Jean-Luc Goddard’s Le Mépris (1963). An implausible red rectangular block perched on Punta Massullo on the Isle of Capri in Italy, it was conceived by architect Adalberto Libera for Italian writer Curzio Malaparte, then actually built by Malaparte and a local stone mason.

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Understandably it’s controversial, just like its former owner, and is loved and loathed in equal part by students of architecture. Today, though it opens occasionally for cultural events, it is mostly only visible from afar.

Unlike this other classic movie house, which can be spotted  in avant-garde American artist Man Ray’s short film, Les Mystères du Château du Dé

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It’s the Villa Noailles (above and below) in Hyères, southwest France, an early modernist home created in 1925. It was designed by architect Robert Mallet-Stevens for voluptuously-monikered art patrons Arthur Anne Marie Charles Vicomte de Noailles and his wife Marie-Laure Bischoffsheim.

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Today, it’s an arts center:

Fast forward to the Seventies to find one of the most unsual houses ever built, which starred in one of the oddest movies ever made. The striking Sculptured House (below) was created by architect Charles Deaton on Genesee Mountain, Colorado, in 1963. ‘People aren’t angular,’ said Deaton. ‘So why should they live in rectangles?’ Good point. The curvaceous beauty took a start turn in Woody Allen’s 1973 orgasmatronic comedy Sleeper. It was recently given a makeover and sold for $5.5 million.

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In the 1971 Bond flick Diamonds are Forever, architect John Lautner’s striking Elrod House (below) in Palm Springs doubled as a villain’s lair, and has set the tone for movie villain accommodation ever since.

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The house, with its domed roof and curved concrete walls, was built in 1968 for interior designer Arthur Elrod, and is still privately owned.

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Not surprisingly, the work of Frank Lloyd Wright has been featured in a movie or two. The Ennis House (below), an extraordinary 6,000 square foot textile block house in LA’s Los Feliz neighborhood, appeared in 1982’s iconic Blade Runner.

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The house, built for Mabel and Charles Ennis in 1924, is an architectural landmark, inspired by the ruins of Uxmal in Mexico. It has been restored extensively, but due to rising costs, the non-profit that manages it has been forced to put the house on the market for sale. For $15 million. And that doesn’t include the $5 million+ estimated costs of restoring it.

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Three years after that, the Gamble House (below) in Pasadena, California, appeared in a wildly different form of sci-fi as Doc’s house in Back to the Future (1985). Built in 1908 as a retirement for David and Mary Gamble, it was designed by the legendary Charles and Henry Greene, leaders in the Arts and Crafts movement. It’s open to the public, but photography of the inside is not permitted. As a result, interiors for the movie were shot at the nearby Robert Roe Blacker House, another Greene and Greene creation.

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On the other side of the country, the Ben Rose house (below) in Highland Park, Illinois, played a starring role in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in 1986.

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It’s a goofy film, but there’s nothing goofy about this stunning modern design in steel and glass that’s cantilevered over a wooded ravine. Designed by A James Speyer and David Haid, it was recently offered for sale at $1,650,000.

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If you’ve seen Curtis Hanson’s LA Confidential (1997), you’ll have noticed the dramatic white house that Russell Crowe visits to interrogate an upmarket pimp. In real life it’s the Lovell Health House (below) in Los Feliz, and was built by Richard Neutra in 1929 for physician and naturopath Philip Lovell.

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In 2000, kitschy Charlie’s Angels featured a replica of the John Lautner Chemosphere house in LA (below) – as, surprise, surprise, a villain’s lair. It’s easy to see why.

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However, three years later, when its sequel (Charlie’s Angels II: Full Throttle) came out, a real Lautner home made an appearance.

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The Sheats/Goldstein house (above and below) in Benedict Canyon, Beverly Hills, was completed in 1963, and has also appeared in The Big Lebowski.

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Twilight fans will be very familiar with the Cullen house (below), home to a family of sullen white-faced vampires. It’s in Vancouver, is really called the Hoke House, and was recently listed for sale at just under $3 million.

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Interestingly, the trees in the picture above were added in post-production to make the scene look dark and moody, and the real house, designed by Jeff Kovel of Skylab Architecture, looks more like this (below).

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Even more interestingly, the house wasn’t used in the sequel, New Moon, and a similar property, designed by Arthur Erickson, was found (below). It was also listed for sale recently at just over $3 million.

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Another recent movie that didn’t make quite as huge an impact on popular culture, but did feature a great house is Atom Egoyan’s Chloe (2009). It is set all over the Ravine House in Toronto (below), designed by architect Drew Mandel. In the movie you’ll see inside and outside, though some exterior shots actually used one of the neighbor’s houses instead.

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Then there are those properties which just keep on popping up in movies. Take the impossibly beautiful Villa del Balbianello (below). This 18th-century Italian villa on the southwest coast of Lake Como has appeared in at least two blockbusters: Bond flick Casino Royale (looking like itself) and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (CGI-ed, of course).

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The great news is it belongs to the National Trust of Italy and is therefore open to the public, so you can grab your lightsaber (or an Aston Martin) and go visit.

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