From The Playboy Mansion To YOLO Estate: The Lure Of Backyard Grottos

From The Playboy Mansion To YOLO Estate: The Lure Of Backyard Grottos

Welcome to the YOLO Estate, the $US7.7 million residence in LA’s Hidden Hills that was recently purchased by Drake. But it wasn’t necessarily the home itself that caught the eye of the rapper/songwriter/Degrassi alum, according to a recent interview with Rolling Stone. It was the grotto.

A hundred feet from the patio, across his enormous swimming pool — the rippling waters of which contain two very big statues of voluptuous women, on their knees, in bikinis — what was a pummelling cascade becomes a whispering drizzle. Behind the falls, you can now see a man-made grotto, tricked out with a wet bar, illuminated wading pools, flatscreen TVs and a dozen other details that take time to register fully. Are those iron torches, affixed to the grotto’s interior walls, belching flames? They are.

Drake is obsessed with residential pools; in the interview he says one of his goals in life is to have the largest residential pool on the planet.

And that’s how he became acquainted with the grotto — his natural, stone-walled, chlorinated soulmate — in the first place: “This house was the desktop image on my computer years before I bought it. I was like, ‘What are the world’s craziest residential pools?’ and when I searched online, this came up.”

From The Playboy Mansion To YOLO Estate: The Lure Of Backyard Grottos

Yes, this is Drake’s grotto, from the real estate listing that first entranced him

Drake isn’t the only multimillionaire fulfilling his fantasy of turning his home into a YOLO Mt. Splashmore. Grottos are the wet dreams of the nouveau riche, firmly entrenched as the preferred residential water feature of choice for hip-hop stars, smarmy tech bros, and porn industry titans everywhere. Modelled on the natural caves that Italian culture first adapted into shrines or baths, the grotto has come to represent the ultimate adults-only playground — a real estate realm saturated with fantasy, Champagne, and lube.

The contemporary grotto craze actually can be traced four decades back to the Los Angeles neighbourhood of Holmby Hills. Here, a man named Hugh Hefner had just purchased a 1927 Gothic estate and he wanted to install a pool. “I would like this place to be something that nobody else has, and everybody can dream of having: a fantasy land, a dream land, just like my own philosophy about Playboy magazine,” he told his design team. “And when it is finished, it should look as though it had been here forever.”

This grandiose brief was delivered to Suzanne and Ron Dirsmith of the Chicago-based Dirsmith Group, who designed and built the grotto in only 121 days.

From The Playboy Mansion To YOLO Estate: The Lure Of Backyard Grottos

From The Playboy Mansion To YOLO Estate: The Lure Of Backyard Grottos

Sketches and photos for the Playboy Mansion grotto by The Dirsmith Group, see more photos here

After the pool was first photographed in 1973 — and subsequently featured throughout the years in Playboy spreads — homeowners and hoteliers everywhere clamoured for their own man-made lagoons. The Playboy Mansion essentially invented the modern residential grotto genre. It also helped brand the grotto, first as a harmless bacchanalian pursuit, then as a CDC-wary cesspool: In 2011, an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease was traced back to the Playboy Mansion’s grotto. 123 people “fell sick with fever and at least one other symptom, such as headache, cough, shortness of breath or aches.”

Not that something like waterborne diseases should deter you from building a backyard grotto. What should deter you is the cost. A typical “swim-in grotto” costs $US10,000, which includes installation of a foundation to support that rock weight. There is a cheaper option: “A rock waterfall without a grotto costs $US3,000 to $US4,000 since the water can just be cascaded over the rock,” according to Mike Giovanone, president and CEO of Concord Pools & Spas. That also doesn’t include the price of the slide, of course. (Drake’s, with multiple caverns, was definitely more than that.)

But with the wide range of orgy-ready pool options available, why go grotto? The Playboy Mansion’s rock walls were erected 40 years ago. Surely the trend has been supplanted by the infinity pool, the tanning shelf, the splash pad, and the Japanese-style soaking tub?

From The Playboy Mansion To YOLO Estate: The Lure Of Backyard Grottos

This grotto features “dive-in” movies, a “wet bar” and physics-defying “flaming water”

Gizmodo reached out to Estately, the real estate listings site, where a search for “grotto” yields 14 properties currently for sale in Los Angeles. (A deeper investigation revealed that some pools claiming to be grottos were decidedly more grotto’d out than others — while the definition of a grotto is fairly loose, our experts agreed that natural rock features, tropical landscaping, and a waterfall were required. Waterslides, flat screens, and tiki torches are optional but encouraged.)

Before you start building a Survivor set in your backyard, know this: It turns out that demand for grottos are on the wane, according to Galen Ward, Estately’s CEO.

From The Playboy Mansion To YOLO Estate: The Lure Of Backyard Grottos

Seriously, who knew that fire water was such a big thing?

“Building a grotto pool is a lot like giving your car a custom paint job,” he says. “If you want an airbrushed dolphin on the hood, then that’s your prerogative, but the number of car buyers out there who share that taste is considerably fewer.”

That’s why houses with grottos actually sit on the market for a longer period of time. “Swimming pools on their own offer a negative return on investment,” says Ward. “Many home buyers simply don’t want one because of their dangers and upkeep costs. Grotto pools have the same issues, but they’re also so personalised they reduce the buyer pool even more. These homes are harder to sell because most people desiring a grotto pool want to design it to fit their unique specifications.”

The lesson to be learned here is that grottos, although alluring in their freaky-fabulous ways, are not actually very good investments. Unless, of course, you plan to remain in your personalised cave of sex and moisture until the end of your home-selling days. [Curbed LA]

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