If there’s one steadfast rule which the past 200 years or so of history has revealed to us, it’s this: the rich get richer, and richer, and richer. The wealthiest man in the 1820s was the banker Steven Girard, whose net worth would be worth a paltry 180 million USD today.
Fast forward to the present day, and we have over 2,200 billionaires worldwide, with the very first trillionaire well on the way. Scientists estimate that Karl Marx is currently spinning in his grave at a rate of 100-120 rpm and rising.
And as the piles of money grow taller, the homes become wilder, with owners seemingly competing to make the stately homes of the past look more and more like run-down trailer parks in comparison.
While the bulk of us have to cross out fingers and hope our real estate agent isn’t hiding a termite infestation or damp problem, billionaires can instead look forward to bowling alleys, ballrooms, and even private health clinics.
After the first billion, you enter a new world entirely separate from the rest of humanity. So let’s try to contain our jealousy as we dive headfirst into that world, and look at five of the most expensive, most outrageous billionaire abodes.
1. Xanadu 2.0, USA
Although the idea of Bill Gates as the world’s richest man now seems quaint, the man’s multi-billion-dollar fortune remains vast nonetheless. His sprawling home base on the shore of Lake Washington is testament to that fact.
Worth somewhere between 120 and 150 million dollars, the house covers over 66,000 square feet (6132m²), with 2,500 of that dedicated to the gym alone! The project took 7 years to complete, and was helmed by design firms Cutler Anderson Architects and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.
The name of the house references the home of the titular tycoon from the film Citizen Kane, with the version number for this new iteration tacked onto the end, of course — what do you expect from the king of the 20th century nerds?
When he’s not out trying to eradicate preventable diseases in the developing world or — depending how much tinfoil your hat is made of — launching nefarious plans to inject every US citizen with mind-controlling microchips, Gates can be found here enjoying his pool with underwater music system, display panels in the walls connected to a vast digital library of artworks, and an intelligent lighting system which adjusts the ambiance as you walk through the house.
Despite all that Xanadu 2.0 doesn’t look particularly ostentatious from the outside. That’s in part because it’s designed to be a so-called “earth-sheltered” house, integrated with the natural surroundings to conserve energy. Although, the environmental credentials of this crib are somewhat dubious overall, seeing as the private beachfront is covered with sand imported all the way from St Lucia in the Caribbean!
2. One Hyde Park, England
We’re hopping over the pond now, to sunny London. And if you’ve ever had to fork out for London rent prices, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that the world’s most expensive apartment is found here.
But, unlike your average cramped studio in Croydon, this place offers a little more bang for your buck. It’s located in the most prestigious building in town: One Hyde Park — a secretive microcosm lorded over by foreign investors and billionaire city tycoons.
It was built by real estate developers the Candy brothers in cooperation with the former prime minister of Qatar (so you can imagine the kind of money we’re talking)— 1.1 billion GBP all in, to be precise. Since its completion, the development has been the place to live in London if your bank balance is in the 9 or 10 figures.
In 2010, the Ukranian billionaire Rinat Akhemetov forked out over 216 million USD for his slice of the elite property pie: a penthouse which was at the time the most expensive property ever sold in the UK.
What does 216 million dollars buy you in London, you ask? Bulletproof glass windows of course— ex-Soviet oligarchs have a higher risk of sniper assassination than your average Joe. That’s why the building also has SAS-trained soldiers as security, and panic rooms in case the riff-raff storm the gates.
Aside from that, all the usual luxury trappings are included: a swimming pool, nice balcony views, a gym, library, cinema, and the like. Oh, and Kylie Minogue as your neighbor.
But despite seemingly being in such good company, there’s a good chance you might be feeling a little lonely if you land an apartment here. That’s because about three quarters of the residences are actually owned by corporations as investments, so it’s unclear if anybody even lives in them at all.
There’s surely a poignant point to be made here about gentrification and wealth distribution, but I’ll leave that up to you in the comments section.
3. Taohuayuan (Peace Blossom Land), China
Now for something a little bit different. No contemporary rich list is complete without a nod to the east, and the newest superpower on the world stage: China. While the everyday people of the country have enjoyed its newfound wealth trickling down through society in dribs and drabs, the country’s upper class are bathing in ever-bigger pools of luxury.
Although it is technically a little easier to become a billionaire in China, with their currency trading around 7 to the dollar, the price tag of its most expensive home is still enough to blow you away: a cool 154 million USD.
You’ll find it perched on its very own private island in China’s biggest lake, where you might mistake it for a historic tourist attraction. That’s because it’s designed the style of an old Chinese castle compound, a task completed by the company Xiangshanbang Traditional Architectural and Building Skills according to authentic historic techniques.
Think classic Qing Dynasty style sloped roofs and white-plaster walls encasing beautifully manicured gardens. Gardens which are arranged according to feng-shui principles, with arched bridges, misty cobalt-blue ponds filled with pricey koi carp, and even the island’s own waterfall integrated into the design.
Inside the 72,400 square-foot house itself, there are 32 bedrooms and 32 bathrooms, which is exactly ten times more than any house really needs — but again, different rules apply. Hence the enormous wine cellar concealed below. So if you’ve been browsing all of the elite housing websites in Europe and North America, and feel underwhelmed by the same old mansions, infinity pools, banquet halls. Why not spend your spare 150 million on this utopian island paradise in China instead?
4. Villa Leopolda, France
We’ve seen a lakeside mansion, a glass and steel high-rise, and a Qing Dynasty replica —now for a touch of European old-money prestige. The Villa Leopolda is located in Villefranche-sur-mer, near the city of Nice in France.
The expansive country house was built by King Leopold the Second of Belgium, and its opulence proves that being a fully-fledged colonial supervillain paid well. When not busy looting the Congo, old Leo could be found kicking back at this 20-acre riviera retreat with the mistress he housed here.
A few decades after his death, the original 1902 build was modified by architect Ogden Codman, who unified the dozen or so structures into one huge mega-villa looking out across the Ligurian Sea from a forested hillside. A few decades more, and it became a favorite film location in the mid 20th century, with Hitchcock and others setting up their tripods on the grounds — it’s easy to see why.
In its current state, the villa features 19 master bedrooms, 14 bathrooms, a large greenhouse, 12 pools, 8 hectares of garden, and large open terraces. On top of that, the interior is a picture of antique decadence, with the fixtures and furnishings in any one room worth more than many people will make in a lifetime.
The current owner is a woman named Lily Safra, whose husband purchased it in the 80s for the euro equivalent of 750 million USD. She attempted to sell it on to the Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov in 2008, but he pulled out following the financial crisis and lost a whopping 39 million euro deposit.
5. Antilia, India
We’re finishing with the biggest, maddest, and boldest billionaire building project of them all: one man’s personal Tower of Babylon which stretches up high into the smoggy sky of Mumbai. Continuing the billionaire tradition of naming your home after a mythological utopia, this one references a fabled island in the Atlantic said to have silver in its sands.
Rather than silver, the owner and mastermind of this project, Mukseh Ambani, made his fortune in petrochemicals, retail, and telecoms. Today that fortune stands at just shy of 37 billion USD, although it used to be a lot higher.
With that kind of money, you can afford to drop over a billion dollars on your own personal construction project, and claim the world record for most expensive home. In fact, no other home on earth even comes close in terms of construction costs and market value.
US-based firm Perkins and Will took on the project, presumably making enough for each employee to buy a mega-mansion of their own in the process. To cover every feature which they included in the 27 stories and 400,000 square feet of the complex would take a separate video in itself, but here’s a quick rundown:
There’s the ballroom; the 168-space garage split across three basement levels; an on-site temple; a whole hospital and wellbeing floor; a cinema; and no less than four helipads for reasons known
only to those who regularly travel by private helicopter. It’s thought that it takes over 600 members of staff just to keep all of the facilities running!
So it’s pretty clear that, while the Americans might have been super-rich for longer, Indian billionaires are the ones who really know how to do it in style.
So that concludes our whistle-stop tour of some of the most decadent — the most expensive — and, let’s face it, the most downright impressive homes out there.
Depending on your political leanings, you might be feeling motivated to go start your own multi- billion business empire, or grabbing your megaphone to go pound the pavements in protest. Whether you’re a budding tycoon or a revolutionary in the making, thanks for joining me today.