The holidays – a time of overindulgence and leisure. Around this time of the year, many people find themselves sprawled out on the couch by a roaring fire toting an oversized bowl of popcorn while watching one of the season’s holiday classic films. These movie storylines are usually as memorable as their characters, but have you ever bothered to consider the setting of those films? As a kid I didn’t, but as an adult and Millennial first-time homeowner who is juggling mortgage payments, chores and all the other bits that come with homeownership, I can’t help but wonder: Just how did these people afford those homes?
1. Home Alone
“This is my house; I have to defend it.”
The 671 Lincoln Ave. address has become an iconic landmark in Chicago thanks to the 1990’s film Home Alone starring Macauley Culkin. By Toronto and Vancouver pricing standards, this infamous red brick Winnetka, Illinois-based two-storey Georgian almost seems attainable if you have a little over $1.585 million (as of 2015) burning a hole in your pocket. At six bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms and 4,234-sq. ft., this home has retained its original floorplan, but has received a much-needed facelift to fit modern standards. (Goodbye green tiled kitchen counters and red floor runners.) Reality aside, what exactly did the McCallisters do for a living that would allow them to be globetrotters and own a then-$874,000 home (based on 1990s prices)? Todd Strasser’s novelization of the film depicted Peter McCallister as a prominent businessmen (vague), and Kate McCallister as a fashion designer (which would explain the sharp 90’s fashion sense.)
“Fra-GEE-leh…it must be Italian!”
The address at 3159 W 11th St. in Cleveland, Ohio is home to an incredible 19th century Victorian that was the setting of the 1983 film A Christmas Story, which takes place in the early 1940’s. The home was bought in 2004 on eBay by a fan for a paltry $150,000. The house, which had previously been reconfigured to incorporate modern windows and wood siding to cover the original vinyl, was returned to its near-replica film glory. In addition, the home across the street was purchased and converted into a museum that features many notable props from the film. While it’s never been entirely clear what the Old Man did for a living outside of fight with the coal furnace, the median yearly salary for men in the 1940’s was $956 as per the census – imagine buying a home on that? (What mortgage stress-test?)
3. The Holiday
“I need to get out of town. You know, I think I need some peace and quiet…or whatever it is that people go away for.”
The premise of this 2006 rom-com movie is based on a concept that Airbnb has come to dominate since its inception in 2008. House swappers Iris and Amanda exchange homes during the holiday season in pursuit of R&R and soul searching. Whether you prefer a whimsical English cottage, or an opulent, practically palatial L.A. villa – the settings of this film fulfilled the best of both worlds.
Here’s a fun fact, though: only one of these properties existed. The other was entirely constructed for the purpose of the film. In two weeks’ time, the Rosehill Cottage based in Surrey, England was erected and ready for exterior shooting. The interiors for the cottage were created entirely on a soundstage in Culver City, California. Its fictional inhabitant, a society columnist editor for the Daily Telegraph, is portrayed by Kate Winslet. A comparable cottage of the same price in Surrey today goes north of £600,000 (about £422,000 in 2006) – next to a one-bedroom London flat at £350,000 (£246,000 in 2006.) Based off similar salaries available on Glassdoor U.K., one can wager Winslet’s character earned approximately £40,000 per annum.
Across the pond is Amanda, portrayed by Cameron Diaz, an affluent and newly single owner of a thriving production company that specializes in movie trailer creation. She resides in a Mediterranean-style mansion that is not only very real, but sold for an estimated $9.5 million in 2019 (approximately $7.4 million in 2006.) Located at 1883 Orlando Rd., much of the interior of Amanda’s home was constructed on a separate soundstage to the very inexpensive tune of a $1 million – and that’s without any utilities or exterior walls.
While it’s entirely plausible that Amanda could have afforded to rent a more luxurious home in the English countryside, the film’s house-swap premise has less to do with exerting one’s affluence, and more to do with what the experience of adopting something new provides its leading ladies with: an opportunity to get away from their problems for a bit, and find a new lease on life along the way. (Which would you choose? I fancy myself as a charming cottage kind of girl.)
Whether you aspire to own a red-bricked two-storey Georgian mansion, a nearly 100-year-old Victorian house, a cottage in the bucolic English countryside, or an extravagant L.A. villa – these homes and their inhabitants all have one theme in common: they evoke the spirit and warmth of the holiday season.