Location: Houston, Texas
The Skinny: Leave it to an eccentric, high-living Italian baron—who also happened to be heir to the Texas-sized oil fortune of wildcatter extraordinaire Hugh Cullen—to dream up something as fantastically and wonderfully tasteless as this gargantuan mansion/natatorium in the River Oaks district of (where else?) Houston, Texas. The chewy nougat center of this black gold-fueled confection is the 12,000-square-foot mall food court with a swimming pool drilled into its marble floors, around which the rest of the house orbits, trapped in the kind of gravitational pull that only a dense concentration of pure awful can generate. What makes the home truly remarkable is its embodiment of the spirit of the man who built it, the Baron Enrico di Portanova.
The late baron exploits, as documented in his Times obituary, are legend: he was a philosopher who once said that the best things in life are “sun, sex and spaghetti,” an international jet-setter who traveled the world in his very own Lear jet (which he called his “taxi”), and a loving husband who once tried to buy his wife a share in the “21” Club, and when rebuffed enclosed the garden of his home in glass, giving birth to the swimming and entertainment center we see before us today. After di Portanova’s death in 2000, the mansion passed into the hands of the current owners, who are asking $18.9M.