The Best Homes in Classic Literature, from “The Great Gatsby” to “Matilda”


the buchanan estate, as seen in the 2013 film adaptation of the great gatsby

Warner Brothers

A plethora of classic novels boast beautiful homes as part of the setting—mansions, cottages, and countryside estates alike—and we would happily live (or quarantine) in any of them, although, some abodes are better than others (see: Gatsby’s château-style mansion that’s so grand the word ‘house’ feels like an insult). Below, House Beautiful has assembled a list of homes that we wish could jump right off of the pages and exist in real life, but the vivid imagery that depicts them will have to do.

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The March Family Home

Little Women, which is based on author Louisa May Alcott’s own life, is proof that something as simple (or as complicated) as being home with family can become a timeless story and a bestselling novel. The March family home was inspired by the very real Alcott family home, Orchard House, which still exists today, as a historic house museum in Concord, Massachusetts. Alcott set and wrote the story at Orchard House, where visitors can get an up close look at the desk where Little Women was written (fun fact: Alcott’s father built the desk). The circa-1700 structure was even recreated, inside and out, nearly exactly for last year’s film adaptation of the novel, directed by Greta Gerwig. If only our next door neighbor looked like Timothée Chalamet…

Jay Gatsby’s Mansion

There’s arguably no fictional home as famous and as desirable as Jay Gatsby’s Long Island mansion. F. Scott Fitzgerald sets the sumptuous scene just a few pages into The Great Gatsby, calling the property a “colossal affair” that “was a factual imitation of some Hôtel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower one one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden.” Historians believe that the since-demolished Beacon Towers mansion in Sands Point, Long Island, was the inspiration for Gatsby’s home. The building has quite the history, with former owners including Alva Belmont (who, along with her first husband, William Kissam Vanderbilt, counted Newport’s Marble House as their summer cottage) and William Randolph Hearst (best known amongst historic home aficionados as the creator of Hearst Castle).

The Buchanan Mansion

Although it might be eclipsed by the grandeur of Gatsby’s mansion, the Buchanan residence is another magnificent home in The Great Gatsby, with its own awe-inspiring charm. As Fitzgerald himself wrote (from the perspective of Nick Carraway), “The house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walls and burning gardens—finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run. The front was broken by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected gold and wide open to the warm windy afternoon…”

The Westbury House at Old Westbury Gardens fits this description noticeably well, which is why director Baz Luhrmann used it as the inspiration for the Buchanan estate in his 2013 film adaptation of the iconic novel.

Miss Honey’s Cottage

Long before cottagecore was a thing, Miss Honey’s cottage in Matilda set the precedent for the enchanting aesthetic that has since captivated Pinterest boards and Instagram accounts alike. Despite its small size (or, in part, because of it), this cottage is described in a magical, other-wordly kind of way, as though Matilda is entering a new realm: “It seemed so unreal and remote and fantastic and so totally away from this earth. It was like an illustration in Grimm or Hans Andersen. It was the house where the poor woodcutter lived with Hansel and Gretel and where Red Riding Hood’s grandmother lived and it was also the house of The Seven Dwarfs and The Three Bears and all the rest of them. It was straight out of a fairy-tale.” Roald Dahl also described this humble abode as being so tiny that “it looked more like a doll’s house than a human dwelling.”

In the movie adaptation of the book, set director Rob Howell brought this imagery to life in the form of a tiny abode that looks straight out of a fairytale.

The Woodhouse’s Hartfield Estate

This year’s film adaptation of Emma, directed by Autumn de Wilde, charmed design lovers everywhere with its fantastically colorful and rich (in every sense of the word) interiors, and we imagine Jane Austen would love it all, too. The Woodhouses call the (fictional) Hartfield estate home. Hatfield is part of “Highbury, the large and populous village, almost amounting to a town, to which Hartfield, in spite of its separate lawn, and shrubberies, and name, did really belong, afforded her no equals.” In de Wilde’s Emma, Firle Place, a Georgian-style manor in England, serves as Hartfield. Many dinner parties and tea parties are held here, with guests including those who are part of a quintessentially Jane Austen love triangle. Oh, to be surrounded by fanciful desserts, charmingly vibrant walls, and the unmistakable beauty that is Chippendale furniture.

Mr. Rochester’s Thornfield Hall

Although we don’t think hiding your ex-wife in your attic is a particularly great idea, Thornfield Hall is nonetheless an impressive home, and it plays a major role in Jane Eyre. Unfortunately, though, the home is ruined in a fire. As Charlotte Brontë wrote, “Thornfield Hall is quite a ruin; it was burned down just about harvest time. A dreadful calamity! Such an immense quantity of valuable property destroyed; hardly any other furniture could be saved.” She continues, “The fire broke out at dead of night, and before the engines arrived from Millcote, the building was one mass of flame. It was a terrible spectacle; I witnessed it myself.” This home adds to the gothic elements of Jane Eyre (even the name of the house sounds troubling), and it’s also part of Wide Sargasso Sea, which serves as both a prequel and a response to Jane Eyre, written by Jean Rhys. Two English manor houses may have served as inspiration for Thornfield Hall—High Sunderland Hall (which was demolished in 1951) and North Lees Hall (which still stands today), pictured.

Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House puts its ghost-filled mansion on the center stage, because the story revolves around this home. We’re willing to look past the supernatural components of this house considering its impressive decor and architecture, which includes “towers and turrets and buttresses and wooden lace on them, even sometimes Gothic spires and gargoyles,” as author Shirley Jackson wrote. Also in the novel is a description of Hill House from one of the main characters, Eleanor Vance, who says, “Almost any house, caught unexpectedly or at an odd angle, can turn a deeply humorous look on a watching person; even a mischievous little chimney, or a dormer like a dimple, can catch up a beholder with a sense of fellowship; but a house arrogant and hating, never off guard, can only be evil.”

Hill House is said to have been inspired by the Winchester Mystery House, a Victorian mansion in San Jose, California, that has its very own supernatural stories. The former owner of this home, Sarah Winchester, was the widow of William Wirt Winchester, who built his fortune through his firearm company. It’s believed that the Winchester Mystery House is haunted by the spirits of those who lost their lives because of the Winchester rifle (and we really can’t blame the spirits, if this is true).

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