By Elsa Court
In this new FT Residential series, our writers take inspiration from fictional properties to imagine their fantasy home.
Lockdown has spawned many new pastimes. Who, mere months ago, could have predicted a world of Zoom quizzes, hoarding toilet paper and face-mask fashion? For me, stuck with flatmates in a city apartment and a 20-minute walk from an overcrowded park, my own new diversions include indulgent dreaming of a home in the countryside. Or by the sea. Or anywhere, in fact, with space to breathe.
The go-to escape route, Instagram, is not my friend here. Scrolling through my feed, I can barely repress my envy of those spending lockdown in bucolic surroundings. Instead, I flee to culture: the swimming pool of The Big Lebowski, the landscaped gardens of Jane Austen; the spacious Italian kitchen in the 2017 coming-of-age film Call Me by Your Name.
But in this moment of uncertainty and collective self-isolation, my greatest fantasy is to live in a home where I can host a large and lavish party — something entirely removed from the mean little screen-bound gatherings of the lockdown.
In planning this bash, I take my cue from that most memorable of party hosts, fictionalised by F Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby. In the celebrated 1925 novel, dashing, mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby hosts exuberant receptions each weekend at his opulent home in the fictional West Egg, on New York’s Long Island. His aim is to gain enough kudos to win back his former sweetheart, Daisy Buchanan, who married into old money.
The reader views this social drama through the eyes of Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s more modestly housed neighbour. For him, the Gatsby mansion is “a colossal affair by any standard”, “a factual imitation of some Hôtel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool and more than 40 acres of lawn and garden.”
On summer nights, the setting sun renders the grounds “blue gardens”: champagne flows, flappers engage in exuberant discussions with failed writers and millionaires, and the space fills with guests revelling in their slice of the American dream. In Carraway’s eyes, these parties immortalise the decadence and idealism of the roaring twenties.
In Baz Lurhmann’s flamboyant 2013 film adaptation, Gatsby, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, overlooks the assault on the senses taking place in his gardens from his library window. Smoking a cigarette, he schemes a future reunion with his lost love. As an introvert, there is an appeal in throwing a gigantic party and then retreating at leisure to my lair.
This five-bedroom waterfront estate on a 10-acre peninsula on Long Island, listed at $14.8m, would be the ideal setting for my Gatsby-style event. Welcoming guests under the rotunda of the entrance hall, I would give the order to keep the champagne flowing while withdrawing to the wood panelled study to enjoy whiskey and poker with a select few.
Alternatively, this €6.5m, six-bedroom house in Dalkey, Ireland, has a Gatsby-esque pool, lawns and turret.
It does not hurt to let your imagination run wild, especially at present. Now that I have my venue sorted, I just need to work on my spectacular guest list.