11 Home Lessons We Learned at the Movies
Sometimes the house is as much the star of a film as any of the actors—and usually there's a lesson in homeownership that you can take away from it
Oscars aren't handed out at the Academy Awards for best bathroom renovation or best converted barn, which is too bad, since over the years many silver-screen houses have outshone the stars. In fact, these dwellings offer the house-wise viewer the kind of life lessons you can learn from a statue-winning character.
The Old, Deep South loves well-built Greek Revivals, and nowhere in movieland was this as apparent as in Civil War blockbuster "Gone With the Wind." Scarlett O'Hara's (Vivien Leigh) stately white house, Tara, named for the hall of Irish kings, is certainly regal in its proportions, with four huge columns fronting a wide front porch.
Moral: Though the Union forces were unrelentingly destructive to Southern plantations, they spared Tara; even Yankees recognize good craftsmanship when they see it.
Jim Blandings (Cary Grant), an urban transplant renovating his just-bought Connecticut home (an 18th-century farmhouse), runs into a host of problems, like a waterless well, a flooded basement, doors that lock on the wrong side, unintelligible carpenter's lingo, and of course, huge cost overruns. Best quote: "And if it can happen to me, what about the guys who aren't making $15,000 a year?"
Moral: Dream renovations cost more than you can afford, no matter how much you make.
Motel owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) lives in a run-down old house (a mansard-roofed Second Empire) with his overbearing "mother." After a motel guest disappears, a private detective who's looking for her gets suspicious and noses around the creepy Bates home in search of evidence.
Moral: People don't tend to snoop around houses that look lived in. Clean windows, a fresh coat of paint, and trimmed hedges can improve a home's curb appeal and deter intruders.
Even though Mr. and Mrs. Paul Bratter (Robert Redford and Jane Fonda) seem to be perfect, carefree newlyweds, they suffer annoying household problems like the rest of us. In fact, the leaks are so bad in their apartment (a sixth-floor New York City walk-up) that snow actually drifts through a hole in the roof; and, of course, the super's nowhere to be found.
Moral: Home ownership comes with home-improvement hurdles; but then again, so does renting—and you don't get to cash in on any equity when the lease runs out.
Wild toga parties and motorcycle rides up the stairs took their toll, to be sure, on Faber College's Delta house (a ramshackle Queen Anne) in this comedy classic starring John Belushi and Tim Matheson. And using the lawn as a parking lot didn't help the landscaping. No wonder the snooty, wealthy Omegas wanted their rowdy neighbors out.
Moral: Good fences make good neighbors. Even though a classic picket would stylistically go better with a Queen Anne, a tall privacy fence will keep the neighbors happy.
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), with his family in tow, holes up in the Overlook Hotel (a rustic mountain lodge) as winter caretaker in order to write a book, but finds household chores eat up a lot of time—when he isn't locked in a garage-size food closet.
Moral: An extra-capacity storage lock-in is a nice convenience, but better to size your pantry to something that suits the scale of your home.
A young couple (Tom Hanks and Shelley Long) moves into a mansion (a Long Island Georgian) previously trashed by rock stars and tries to make it livable, even though a home inspector tells them it's literally falling apart.
Moral: When an inspector tells you a house is better off being razed than renovated, listen to him.
Claire Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer) has visions of a dead blonde girl at her new Vermont home (a former farm with lake and mountain views). In the end, she might have been better served with visions of how to modernize a troubled upstairs claw-foot Victorian bathtub.
Moral: Wide-plank floors, six-over-six leaded-glass windows, and weathered wooden docks don't mean a thing without good bathroom plumbing.
34 Bisgrove Street (a cliffside ranch) becomes a tax-sale battleground between the home's former owner, Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), and its new deed holder, Behrani (Ben Kingsley). Not only has Kathy lost the emotionally grounding house, she has to watch from the sidelines as a disproportionately large roof deck is added to maximize the ocean views.
Moral: Pay your property taxes on time, or the county could seize your home and put it up for auction.
Two heartbroken singles (Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz) swap houses for the Christmas holidays. Amanda (Diaz) tries out the charming English cottage owned by Iris (Winslet), while Iris can't believe her good fortune at getting the run of Amanda's L.A. mansion. Both are way out of their elements, but eventually find love in their new locales.
Moral: Keeping your home comfortable for guests, with things like extra blankets and blackout blinds, guarantees that they will be able to rest easy and enjoy their stay to the fullest.
A bored girl goes exploring in her new home and finds a locked and papered-over door leading to a bricked-up opening. But that night she discovers that it's actually a portal to a parallel universe, where her "other" family and friends seem much more fun and interested in her than their original counterparts. Until things take a sinister turn, that is.
Moral: Home renovations don't always have to be about doing away with later changes and taking a house back to its original version. Houses are meant to evolve, and sometimes sticking with a second or third owner's revisions make the most sense.