Celebrity power couple Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady's chateau-inspired hovel in L.A.'s chichi Brentwood section managed to raise a few eyebrows earlier this year not just because of its elephantine size — a staggering 22,000 square feet — but also that Bundchen, a noted environmentalist, reportedly planned to outfit it with as many eco-friendly bells and whistles as possible including solar panels, rainwater recycling systems and energy-efficient lighting and appliances. This, of course, led to the inevitable question: Can a $20 million palace with eight bedrooms and a six-car garage still be considered "green?"
The jury is still out on that one, but we do know that chez Bundchen and Brady would be a heck of a lot greener if they shaved, oh, about 15,000 square feet off the home's total size. But hey, at least they tried. And look at Larry Hagman. The recently passed actor best known for playing a despicable Texas oil tycoon went and built himself in 1992 a massive mansion (18,000 square feet) that sports a just-as-massive solar array (77.5 kW). So in some cases, perhaps building green and building big can work.
That said, not every celebrity-owned property with energy- and water-saving features also suffers from inflated square footage syndrome. In recent years, many a famous folk have built or remodeled homes that are decidedly more modest in size — around 4,000 square feet and under — and deep green in design. From Daryl Hannah's off-the-grid Colorado hideaway to Bryan Cranston's beachfront passive house to Lisa Ling's carbon-neutral contemporary abode in Santa Monica, we've rounded up six inspiring and intriguing celebrity homes (to be fair, some are second homes) that boast some serious eco-credentials without the egregiously excessive square footage.
Is there a deep green, non-ostentatious piece of celebrity real estate that we left off this list? Tell us about it in the comments section!
We suppose it's only fitting that Lisa Ling, the acclaimed television journalist who hosted CNN's 2008 documentary series "Planet in Peril," built her Santa Monica home to have an itty-bitty environmental footprint. Ling and husband Dr. Paul Song's stylish and sustainable new digs are not only LEED Platinum certified — the Marco DiMaccio-designed home, dubbed PUNCHouse 234, is also believed to be the first carbon-neutral residence in the entire city.
"My husband and I are building the first carbon-neutral, LEED Platinum certified home in Santa Monica. We buried a 5,000-gallon water tank, we have over 60 soar panels, we're not having any grass — all succulents," the erstwhile "View" chatterbox and current host of OWN's "Our America with Lisa Ling," told MNN back in February 2011. In addition to the aforementioned eco-features, the recently completed 4,300-square-foot home boasts passive cooling (no AC!), high levels of insulation, LED lighting, radiant heating, zero-VOC paints and finishes, an EV-charging station, a heat island effect-reducing white roof and much more. Additionally, the existing structure on the property was deconstructed with the project achieving a goal of 100 percent waste diversion in the process, meaning that absolutely nothing went to the landfill. Building materials not reused in the new home were donated to Habitat for Humanity.
All mighty impressive stuff, but our favorite aspects of Ling and Song's stunning green digs? We're mighty fond of the sunken conversation pit in the front yard that's covered in faux turf and the giant lamp near the front entryway that's made from 2,000 upcycled Chinese take-out containers.
Although he hasn't reached the "green guru" status achieved by another hardworking, Emmy-winning television actor who appears on this list, "Breaking Bad" star Bryan Cranston has his own mighty impressive net-zero energy residential building project in the works. The ultra-efficient, 2,450-square-foot beachfront retreat in Ventura, Calif., is replacing a leaky 1940s-era bungalow that was carefully deconstructed to ensure that a majority of the building materials were salvaged and little demolition waste was landfilled. In addition to remnants of the old structure, the new home will include rooftop solar panels, high levels of insulation, rainwater recycling, high-performance doors and windows and a host of energy-saving features.
Cranston describes the under-construction home that's targeting both LEED Platinum certification and recognition from the Passive House Alliance U.S.: "My wife, Robin, and I want to combine both form and function, and show the world that sustainable living doesn't mean that there's no indoor plumbing or that it will impinge on a modern lifestyle. We have qualified for the highest level of 'green' building in the country, and will strive to achieve the highest level of style and comfort too. We know we will have succeeded if our guests ask incredulously, 'This is a green home?'"
Earlier this year, Cranston appeared at Dwell on Design along with the home's architect and builders to discuss the project (naturally, the omnipresent Ed Begley Jr. was also a featured speaker at this year's conference).
Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Brad Hall
Apparently, working with Jerry Seinfeld isn't the only thing Bryan Cranston and self-described "devout environmentalist and bleeding-heart liberal" Julia Louis-Dreyfus have in common. Both Cranston and Louis-Dreyfus, who can be seen on HBO's acclaimed "Veep," went to great lengths to ensure that their second homes tread oh-so-delicately on the planet.
While Cranston went the full-on deconstruction route in Ventura, Louis-Dreyfus and husband, the actor/writer Brad Hall (anyone remember him in "Troll?"), decided to treat their beachfront bungalow in Montecito, Calif., to a deep green renovation back in 2003. Said Hall of converting an inefficient, 1930s-era structure to a state-of-the-art green home that produces most of its own energy: "Having a second home is itself an appalling excess, so we figured if we're going to do it, we better be as environmentally responsible as we can.'"
Described by The New York Times as "a study in haute green, an earnest beachside do-gooder with movie-star gloss," the renovated Louis-Dreyfus/Hall residence features energy-efficient appliances, rooftop photovoltaics, solar water heating, ample natural daylighting, sustainable hardwoods, and a retractable sunroof or "thermal chimney" that draws hot air up and out of the home. Additionally, a bulk of the pre-renovation materials was salvaged and incorporated into the new design or donated. For the remodel, Louis-Dreyfus and Hall worked with interior designer Kathryn Ireland of "Million Dollar Decorators" fame and Santa Monica-based David Hertz, the sustainable architect behind Malibu's jaw-dropping Wing House.
Although we haven't heard much chatter regarding "Battlestar Galactica" beauty Tricia Helfer's green building project in her native Alberta, Canada, as of late, her yet-to-be-seen off-the-grid retreat is still worthy of inclusion on this list primarily because you don't hear of too many celebrities who have considered building solar-powered vacation homes out of straw.
In the end, the frequently scantily clad actress/model and her attorney husband Jonathan Marshall apparently decided against straw bale construction and are leaning toward a glass-heavy prefab home designed with passive solar in mind. However, it appears that they're still mighty keen on outfitting their remote getaway with photovoltaics, rainwater collection systems, masonry heaters and a host of other green technologies.
Helfer, who admits to knowing very little about "being green," explains the motivation behind the project: "When I look back at my childhood, when I think back to the days growing up on the farm, I find myself smiling," she writes. "I was instilled with an appreciation and admiration for the land, family and honor. My goal is to build a house that respects the land in its entirety — to live in comfort while respecting the very view that I build my deck to overlook."
If Tricia Helfer and her hubby ever complete their Canadian vacation home and need a bit of sage advice from a truly seasoned off-the-gridder, we can't imagine a more perfect resource than biodiesel queen Daryl Hannah. The statuesque, popular-in-the-'80s Hollywood actress who has since largely committed herself to championing various environmental causes (climate change, animal rights, mountaintop removal mining protests, etc.) and been arrested a handful of times in the process, calls a renovated stagecoach stop in the Colorado Rockies home sweet home (she recently put her other home, a rustic Malibu compound, on the market for $5 million).
Located outside of the celeb-heavy ski resort of Telluride pretty much in the middle of nowhere, Hannah's modestly sized mountain residence incorporates both passive and active solar technologies and boasts an extensive organic garden, gray water recycling, and a backup biodiesel generator, naturally. When asked by Natural Home and Garden in 2008 why she renovated an existing structure using found, recycled and nontoxic materials, Hannah responded before rattling off a list of common household chemicals: "Common sense — who wants to live in a toxic box?"
Perhaps Hannah caught the off-the-grid living bug from ex-boyfriend Jackson Browne, who famously owns a solar- and wind-powered ranch house in the L.A. area. However, we seriously doubt that Browne, like Hannah, has a moss-covered stone couch in his living room or an alpaca hanging out in his front yard.
Ed Begley Jr.
Prior to be sainted as the virtuous elder spokesperson for low-impact living, getting his own reality TV program, launching his own natural cleaning product line, writing a couple of books and appearing at just about every green-related trade show and conference out there (hey, you have to pay those nonexistent electric bills somehow), Ed Begley Jr. worked as an actor in film and television. Anyone remember "She-Devil," "Transylvania 6-5000" or "Amazon Women on the Moon?"
Despite the ubiquity that comes attached with being Hollywood's preeminent electric bike-riding eco-ambassador, Begley has championed environmental causes for decades now (yes, his activism predates the "St. Elsewhere" era) and, to be fair, he still picks up the occasional paycheck as a working actor. And naturally, the solar-powered 1930s-era Studio City bungalow that Begley shares with his wife, Rachelle Carson, and daughter, Hayden, played a central role in the Planet Green series "Living with Ed" … all 1,600 square feet of it.
After all the years spent retrofitting his modest two-bedroom/one-bathroom home and frequently bickering with his wife about it in the process, Begley is now in the process of constructing a new LEED Platinum-targeting residence — it's being dubbed as "North America's greenest, most sustainable home" — with nearly double the square footage as his old home and just as many energy- and water-saving bells and whistles. Says Begley of the net-zero energy project that's being documented, natch, in a new web series: "We've shown how most people can make their house efficient in an existing structure, and now I want to show how it can be done from the beginning."
Click for photo credits
Ling: Getty Images
Cranston, Louis-Dreyfus, Helfer, Begley Jr.: ZUMA Press
Hannah: Agence France-Presse