By Adrian Justins
Why is the human story so often excluded from estate agents’ brochures? The number of careful owners is never given; the current inhabitants do not appear in the photographs; the reason for selling is not divulged. The canvas must be blank.
But when searching for my fantasy home the opposite is true. In the shop window of an imaginary estate agent I see vignettes of Covid-free fictional lives: in a Paddington basement flat, Alec Guinness’s perplexed George Smiley cleans his spectacles with his tie; at Stourwater Castle, an irate Kenneth Widmerpool, played by Simon Russell Beale, backs his motor car into his host’s urn in A Dance to the Music of Time; from her Tilling window seat, Prunella Scales as Elizabeth Mapp turns her gimlet eye on a links-bound Major Benjy, the object of her unrequited affection.
However, with the prospect of a culturally deprived, socially distanced British winter looming I dream of being transported to warmer, foreign shores.
In the 2008 Marvel movie of the same name, Iron Man’s billionaire alter ego, Tony Stark, played with relish by Robert Downey Jr, inhabits a spectacular property in Malibu, southern California. The house is itself a fantasy: the interior a sound stage construct; the exterior a computer-generated vision of production designer Michael Riva. His inspiration was the sculptural architectural style of John Lautner, who once worked under Frank Lloyd Wright and later built many modernist houses in California.
The Stark residence has a large, concrete canopy and a curved glass wall with panoramic views of the Pacific coast. It brings to mind the Elrod House, a Palm Springs property designed by Lautner that featured in the James Bond film Diamonds are Forever.
Like 007, and my favoured secret agent Smiley, Stark is at the sharp end of the war against wrongdoing. Having made a fortune in the arms trade, he has an epiphany when he sees his own missiles used in Afghanistan by the terrorists who have kidnapped him.
Stark liberates himself by illicitly constructing a high-tech Ned Kelly suit that allows him to shoot his way out of captivity and jetpack his way to freedom. No longer willing to risk his company’s weapons ending up in the wrong hands, he shuts down production and in his basement workshop builds a more advanced suit for a crusade against terrorists. Home for Stark, as for many of us now, is not simply where the heart is, but where the work is.
His home laboratory is equipped with state of the art tech, and, aided by augmented reality tools, a sardonic voice-assistant butler and a handful of obstreperous robots, he makes his Iron Man suits. Drawing on my own scientific background and interest in technology, I would spend my days in the house conducting experiments. Instruments of war have no appeal. In my fantasy, I will invent life-saving gadgets.
In lieu of living in the Stark lair I am tempted to take up residence in this five-bedroom beachfront Malibu property, on sale for $14.9m. Tony Stark would appreciate its voluminous living space with high ceilings and the wall of glass that provides unhindered views of the ocean from all the main rooms. The top level has a second master bedroom and private patio, which I would transform into a workshop.
Alternatively, down the coast in La Jolla, this $6.4m five-bedroom contemporary property has an unusual circular design motif and dramatic curved wooden ceilings. It offers ocean views and a 1,000 sq ft design studio, which will serve as a laboratory.
In either property I shall replicate the furnishings of the Stark residence — after a hard day’s lab work, I can relax at sunset on an Eames chair and read John le Carré, Anthony Powell and EF Benson under the glow of an Achille Castiglioni Arco lamp.
Or I will take solace by staring out at the tinselly sea, the watery horizon beckoning me back to normality and my London home, where my heart truly is.
Photographs: Moviestore/Shutterstock; Alamy; Leland Y Lee/Condé Nast via Getty Images; Sotheby’s International Realty; Roberto Zeballos