The $65m dowry for any man who can woo Cecil Chao’s lesbian daughter
Hong Kong property tycoon Cecil Chao wants granchildren to inherit his business so he is offering ‘a moderately deluxe life’ to any man who can woo his daughter
By David Pilling
The wrought-iron gate at the top of the path leading to Cecil Chao’s waterfront mansion says “Happy Lodge”. And Chao, a Hong Kong property tycoon, certainly takes every opportunity to be happy. Colourful even by the flamboyant standards of the city’s billionaires, the 76-year-old claims to have slept with 10,000 women – and to be adding regularly to his tally. A lifelong bachelor, he made headlines last September by offering a $65m bounty to any man who could woo and marry his lesbian daughter, Gigi. It turned out that he was not so much offended by her sexuality as in want of grandchildren to whom he could pass on his business.
I had caught a glimpse of Chao soon after he made his novel proposal. I was visiting friends in Pok Fu Lam, a quiet residential neighbourhood on the western edge of Hong Kong island. They lived in Villa Cecil, a collection of apartments owned by Chao with stupendous views of the Lamma Channel. A Rolls-Royce pulled up to the gates of Happy Lodge at one end of the complex. It bore the licence plate “Cecil”. In the front sat Cecil himself, waving delightedly to someone. In the back were two glamorous young women.
Now I was sitting in Cecil’s living room. (Hong Kong is a friendly place where almost everyone refers to each other by their first name.) The gate to Happy Lodge had been set ajar, so I had wandered down the path past a fishpond full of koi carp. The little door to his house was also open. In the living room was a grand piano, a tall, simply decorated Christmas tree, two large modernist statues and lots of glass and chrome. The far wall was glass, behind it a beautiful sea view. It reminded me of the Isla Negra house owned by Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet enamoured of the ocean.
There didn’t seem to be a bell. It was warm, even in early December, so I stood outside until, after some time, I was greeted by a Filipina maid who ushered me inside. The enormous room was round with an improbably high ceiling in black mirror. Overlooking it was a balcony with an entertainment area and a banqueting room. You reach the top floor by a winding staircase. As the entrance is on the third floor the staircase also winds down to the staff quarters and to Cecil’s bedroom, site – almost inevitably – of a round bed.
Cecil eventually appears from below and we sit on one of three sofas arranged in discrete areas of the room. He looks improbably young and easy of movement for a man of 76 – a youthful appearance he attributes to his regular basketball sessions and nocturnal activities.
He’s wearing a brown suede jacket, a sweater, cravat and casual trousers. He calls one of his staff – he has eight in total, including a driver – to bring him his “light” sunglasses. A maid appears with a pair of Ferragamo.
Cecil designed the house himself some four decades ago when he returned from studying architecture at the UK’s Durham University. “It started with very contemporary thinking: black mirrors, stainless steel, high ceiling, skylights,” he says. “But when you get older you like Chinese and European classical culture,” he adds, gesturing to the assortment of antique furniture, ink paintings, Chinese lacquerware and Buddhist statues around. “We also have a Japanese garden.”
The house, at around 16,000 square ft, was designed to let in lots of natural light and to incorporate the sea view. “We tried to keep both sides light, mingling in the green environment,” he says. “So you have an interior garden mixed with an exterior garden and a waterfall outside.” He notices the waterfall is not operating and picks up a white telephone from the glass coffee table. “Julia, can you turn on the waterfall,” he says, his instructions transmitted through loudspeakers as though he were a Bond villain. “Our guest would like to see the sharks,” I imagine him saying. “Julia, can you please release them.”
We walk over to his terrace for a better view of the ocean. Below is a kidney-shaped swimming pool with a small stone elephant poised as if about to dive in. There are rocks and coral on the pool floor. “So we can snorkel,” he explains.
to be continued
$135 Million Dallas Palace Is America’s New Most Expensive Home For Sale
While rumors swirled Friday about the alleged sale of a $117 million home in Woodside, Calif., another abode far from the center of the tech universe quietly began attracting attention as the new most expensive home for sale in the United States.
The Crespi-Hicks Estate, which is being quietly shopped off of the Multiple Listing Services, wants a staggering $135 million. The best part: it’s not located in San Francisco, or even New York City. America’s new most expensive home for sale is in Dallas, Texas.
The Dallas estate sits behind wrought iron gates in the ultra elite Mayflower Estates neighborhood. Spanning 25 acres, the compound boasts roughly 42,500 square feet of living space including a five-story main house, a two-story guest house and a three-story pool house. It’s owned by Thomas and Cinda Hicks, former Forbes 400 listmakers whose personal net worth swelled as large as $1.4 billion in 2008.Tom Hicks is the former chairman of private equity firm Hicks and current chairman of Hicks Holdings. He is also the former owner of several professional sports teams including the Dallas Stars, Texas Rangers, and Liverpool Soccer Club.
The Crespi-Hicks Estate, commissioned by Italian Count Pio Crespi, was the last residential creation of architect Maurice Fatio before his death in 1943. When the Hicks purchased the property 16 years ago, they enlisted architect Peter Marino to restore it. The process reportedly took nearly a decade and as much as $100 million.
Among the home’s outrageous amenities are a a library paneled in 19th-century Italian walnut and burl, a main kitchen tiled in 10th-century Dutch Delft manganese tiles, a mirrored art-deco bar room, and an exercise room. The pool house boasts an outdoor living room and kitchen, an indoor catering kitchen, a massive game room, and a home theater spanning an entire floor. The grounds encompass two guest houses, a tennis court, several greenhouses, a tree house, rose and vegetable gardens, and a second hidden driveway entrance onto the property.
“In this home, one experiences an awe-inspiring majesty along with a gentle warmth and intimacy. The formal rooms have accommodated throngs of guests and received United States Presidents and international dignitaries,” writes Douglas Newby, the real estate agent representing the property, adding that the home is “warm and fun.”
According to Dallas real estate blogger Candy Evans, land in Mayflower Estates commands a lofty $2 million per acre, accounting for $50 million of the asking price; the buildings are valued at $85 million. Mayflower Estates is home to Dallas’ richest and most powerful residents, including former President George W. Bush who is rumored to have moved here to be close to the Hicks family. The home is minutes from downtown Dallas.
It’s not necessarily surprising that the opulent spread has come to market now — and toting such a stratospheric price tag. Billionaires have been plunking down extravagant sums for trophy homes the country over since 2011, injecting would-be sellers with confidence to try their hands at turning a hefty home sale profit. Since the beginning of January alone, two confirmed record-breaking sales have transpired: a $27 million Miami, Fla. penthouse purchase (the area’s highest price ever paid for an apartment) and a $75 million Malibu, Calif. beach house purchase (the city’s most expensive sale ever). And if the blogosphere is indeed correct and a Woodside, Calif. house fetched $117.5 million, then the country even has a new most expensive home sale.
At $135 million, the mega mansion’s asking price tops the $125 million Fleur de Lys estate in Los Angeles, which has been the single most expensive home publicly listed for sale since Miami’s Casa Casuarina reduced its price tag to $100 million in November. Other uber expensive listings include the $100 million CitySpire penthouse in New York City, two additional $95 million apartments in New York, and the $95 million Beverly House in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Views just one of home’s luxuries
By Beth Sitzler
It was these features that drew Hazel and Alfred Coelho to the 1.23-acre property, located on a cul-de-sac in the gated Coronado Ridge Subdivision.
“We came here from the Palm Springs (California) area,” Hazel Coelho said. “It was one of the first houses we looked at.
“My husband really liked it. We had built several homes ourselves, so we recognized the quality of the finished work and we liked the floor plan a lot. And we loved the everchangingview.” As luck would have it, the couple was able to sell their California home in a matter of months and began 2007 in their new Las Cruces residence.
Located at the bottom of the cul-de-sac, the residence features a flagstone path that leads past a wrought iron gate into the enclosed front courtyard. Not skipping any detail, the entrance of the courtyard is lined with a Southwest-inspired tile trim.
“It is used around the doors and windows,” Coelho said. “(Coyle) took the indoor theme and brought it outside.” Coelho said the courtyard is a nice feature of the home because it offers privacy as well as a relaxing environment thanks to its waterfall and pond, which provides ambiance, easy-tocare- for landscaping and abundance of covered seating space.
“We really enjoy the front courtyard in the warmer weather,” Coelho said. “It’s a wonderful place to read the paper in the mornings.” Inside the large, carved front door, guests are greeted by tall ceiling accented with skylights and a breathtaking view of the Organ Mountains courtesy of a large window found in the living room.
“Everyone mentions the view when they open the front door,” Coelho said. Tile covers the floor and a mosaic element with stone inlays and granite chips is located at the entrance, which looks into the living room.
In addition to showcasing a framed glimpse of the Organ Mountains, the living room also contains several large wood beams along the 20-foot-high ceiling. A Southwestern-inspired fireplace is placed in the corner. “He did a wonderful job with all of the formal areas with all of the trim and details,” Coelho said.
Along with Venetian plaster covering the walls, the formal areas include other artistic details. “There is this chiseled-edge flagstone throughout,” Coelho said. “He also did these rounded corners. It has a soft, Southwest feel, but is still very Italian.”
Connected to the living room is the dining room. Coelho said a lot of detail is featured on the ceiling, which showcases a tray element lined with latillas. While the room includes a large window peering out to the backyard and Organ Mountain view, window shades cover it and other windows in the home to block the heat of the sun.
The dining room opens to the kitchen, one of Coelho’s favorite areas. “I love this kitchen,” she said. “It has tons of storage and a big gas, Thermador range with a griddle and pot filler, which comes in handy.”
Granite composed of pink, black and spots of green covers the countertops as rich cabinets with inlays and crown molding fill the room. The cabinetry features fully expanding drawers as well as pullouts.
In addition to the elegant elements and high-end appliances, including a wine refrigerator and warming oven, the kitchen has good lighting, Coelho said. Accompanying a skylight, the room features cast lighting along the top and bottom of the cabinets as well as ornate pendent lighting. Off the kitchen is a bonus room.
“It’s a wonderful room to watch TV with the fireplace and view,” Coelho said. The home features a split floor plan with two bedrooms, which include their own bathrooms, located down a beam-covered hallway.
Across the way is the media room, which includes access to a half bathroom accented in red paint and has a copper sink bowl. In this area is the oversized three-car garage as well as the master suite.
The master bedroom features a red accent wall that Coelho added to make the architectural element around a window pop. There is also a door that leads to the covered patio. Electronic nightshades cover the windows.
The master bathroom has a snail shower lined with tile and etched glass. A five-jet bathtub is located beneath a window between the his-and-her sinks. Walk-in his-and-her closets complete the bathroom. One of the closets connects to the laundry room, a feature that has provided convenience to the couple.
Coelho said the home has a sound system throughout, which extends to the front and back exterior of the residence.
The covered patio extends the length of the home and includes several different areas for dining, grilling and relaxing by a fireplace.
“This is great for parties,” said Coelho, adding that the patio is in the shade in the afternoon.
Coelho said they wanted low-maintenance landscaping, so in addition to the native plantsthat are scattered among the rocks is artificial grass.
While the home features an abundance of amenities, another great feature is the Picacho Hills area, Coelho said.
“The country club is a wonderful place for socializing,” she said. “The golf course is a fine golf course and there is a swimming pool and tennis courts. You can make friends and participate in the sport you like. “This is the best side of the valley to live on.”
Traditionally-built with a countryside outlook
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There is a large garage with planning permission for further development which will include two double garages and an apartment above.
The house has a stunning entrance hall with hardwood parquet flooring throughout and a feature oak staircase with handmade wrought-iron balustrade.
The lounge has a fireplace built in limestone and granite with a limestone-flagged hearth incorporating a wood-burning stove. There is open-plan access through into the kitchen/dining/family room.
This feature room which occupies the full width of the property has hardwood parquet flooring throughout.
The dining area is dual aspect and has ample space for large table and chairs.
The kitchen is fitted with a range of modern cabinets with matching fascias and hardwood surfaces, a black four-oven range cooker with granite and stone surround beneath an oak lintel with brickwork above. An oak door opens into the pantry.
There is a conservatory with full-height window to the rear overlooking the garden and countryside beyond.
On the first floor is a spacious landing providing an extravagant approach to the bedrooms and bathroom. A feature stained-glass window has an oak surround.
Bedroom one has sliding doors to the rear which open on to a balcony, which has far-reaching views over the garden towards the surrounding countryside. There is also an en-suite shower room.
Bedroom two has an en-suite shower room and there are two further bedrooms.
The family bathroom has a free-standing double-ended bath, wash hand basin and wc all in white, plus a ceramic tiled floor.
The attic room has roof-set window to the rear and eaves storage throughout. Plumbing has been facilitated for an en suite.
Outside is an area laid to chippings providing off-road parking for two cars. A granite and stone wall with timber gate to side opens into the front garden which has areas laid to lawn and chippings together with paving.
The rear garden is laid to lawn and overlooks the surrounding South Hams countryside. At the end of the garden is a stone-built summerhouse with French windows.
Two different approaches to four-season living
The 129-year-old Connaught School building on Napier St. into four condo units known as Duke Lofts. Two of the residences will be built in the original school building and will have two or three bedrooms, original wood staircases and original tin high ceilings. The other two units will be three-level residences and will be built in an addition.
All four residences will have a private courtyard, a garage plus surface parking and the old school yard will be landscaped using brick pillars and iron rod fencing.
Interior finishes will include two-storey entry foyers, natural or engineered hardwood in the kitchen, living, dining area and den, choice of porcelain or tile in the foyer, bathrooms and laundry room. Kitchens will feature granite or quartz counter tops and stainless steel appliances. Each suite will have individual climate control system with high efficiency furnaces.
The other project under construction is Dwell, a new build by Devonleigh Homes. Located on the corner of Sixth St. and High St., Dwelll is in close proximity to the shopping areas on the west side of town and only a few blocks away from Collingwood’s heritage main street.
The new grand mansion style condominium building is three storeys and will include an elevator, says Devonleigh marketing manager Jim Funston.
Owners of the top-floor units will enjoy views of the ski slopes at Blue Mountain and the private Osler Bluff ski club, says Funston.
Dwell is the final phase of Devonleigh’s 280-home Creekside development and will form the cornerstone of the development. It will feature brick piers and wrought iron fences and irrigated lawns “to set the tone of the neighbourhood,” says Funston.
Dwell is aimed at empty nesters and families who want to be close to skiing at Blue Mountain and the area’s golf courses and beaches.