The block on 81st Street between Third and Lexington Avenues looks fairly ordinary: there’s a small nail salon, a dry cleaner, and tall, skinny apartment buildings and townhouses nestled in rows on either side of the shady street. But look a little more closely, and that’s when you’ll notice the wall—and once you see it you’ll wonder how you missed it. It’s 10 feet tall, black, and mounted with a row of metal points. Then you’ll notice that what’s behind the wall is no ordinary apartment building or townhouse. It’s a hybrid: three red brick townhouses seamlessly merged together to form a single, very roomy mansion.
This is the townhouse that Madonna built.
Madonna: the name is synonymous with international pop-culture superstardom. With a network of fans that extends to the farthest corners of the globe, Madonna is frequently on the move (her most recent world tour, the MDNA Tour, wrapped in December 2012). But when the pop icon isn’t jetting from country to country and continent to continent, she’s hanging out with at least some of her kids and her staff, at her home, which these days is on New York’s Upper East Side, in and around her supersized dream home at 152 East 81st Street.
Then again, you might be none the wiser. Known for maintaining an extremely private personal life (understandably), Madonna’s East 81st Street neighbors report that sightings of the Queen of Pop are few and far between.
“The only thing that happens is the garage gate occasionally opens, and there will be an impressive-looking SUV waiting outside,” says Max, 24, who has lived in an apartment across the street from Madonna’s mansion since July 2012. “That is the extent of Madonna’s appearance.”
“I live across the street from her,” a young woman tells us. “I’ve seen her maybe twice in three years.”
Andrew, 23, who moved onto the block a few months ago, says he never even knew he was neighbors with one of the biggest stars in entertainment history. “I knew she lived on the Upper East Side, but I had no idea that she was literally across the street,” he says. “She doesn’t advertise that she lives there. There isn’t paparazzi outside 24/7 or anything. You wouldn’t know she lives there.”
So much for the neighbors.
Addicted to Sweat
It’s no secret that Madonna is, and always has been, a fitness fanatic. She once mentioned in an interview that as long as she had a really good workout, she felt that the day was not wasted.
Determined to find out more about the entertainment icon’s luxurious and extremely low-profile Upper East Side lifestyle, we talked to Madonna’s personal trainer, Nicole Winhoffer, who is a superstar in her own right. A born and bred New Yorker, Ms. Winhoffer is also a professional dancer (she danced for Shakira during MTV’s VMAs at Radio City Music Hall, for example), and started working with Madonna on her Sticky & Sweet tour back in 2009. Since then—as is clear from the Material Girl’s tip-top physique, even as she climbs into her mid-50s—Ms. Winhoffer has spent countless hours being active and working up a sweat with her mega-famous client.
Ms. Winhoffer trains Madonna six days a week, for two hours a day; when Madge isn’t on tour, the Upper East Side sees all the action. Most of the workouts take place in a private fitness facility right inside Madonna’s huge townhome, in a space that is, shall we say, more than adequate.
“It’s beautiful!” Ms. Winhoffer enthuses. “It’s a large dance studio with the perfect dark ‘soft’ wood flooring. Because we do a lot of dance, conditioning and stretching, it’s important the surface has a ‘give’ in its bounce to support our impact. The studio is mirrored, with windows that bring in the sunshine.”
Ms. Winhoffer describes a typical session in Madonna’s dance studio. It starts, she says, with yoga stretches on a mat, to see which parts of the performer’s body need special attention. (At 54, she’s bound to have a few trouble spots.) Then they move to a full-body warm-up, which gets the blood flowing and mobilizes the joints. Next comes a series of eight to 10 dance-based movements, which combine endurance with raising the heart rate (“They are ALWAYS extremely challenging,” Ms. Winhoffer points out). Then there’s an ab workout, followed by some dance cardio, and then—finally—the cool-down.
“Sometimes to mix things up, we add jump ropes, battle ropes, or movements with balls toward the end for an extra kick,” Ms. Winhoffer says. The pair’s fitness regime has been so successful that Ms. Winhoffer and Madonna have even collaborated on a series of fun, challenging workout DVDs called “Addicted to Sweat.”
And with her home just blocks from Central Park, it’s no surprise that Madonna’s also known to take her exercises into the great outdoors.
“Nothing is more beautiful than NYC in the spring and summer days,” Ms. Winhoffer says. “Once a week, we will take our bikes through her favorite trail in [Central Park]. We use this as our cardio and make sure to do at least a 45-minute trail. It’s nice to change things up, take advantage of the outdoors, hear the sounds of nature, people-watch, and be free.”
You are what you eat
It takes more than exercise to maintain Madonna’s age-defying figure. She also keeps a healthy diet—made easy by the prevalence of health food stores in the neighborhood.
“The Upper East Side is filled with amazing health food store options,” Ms. Winhoffer says, although she also admits she wishes Whole Foods would open in the neighborhood. “The best green juice is the health food market on 81st and 3rd, called Natural Frontier. They have everything and are super-helpful. They always have stock of my favorite post-workout protein bars. They have a wide selection of supplements and exotic drink selections. I am always in this store finding new imports to the market.”
The employees at Natural Frontier Market report frequent sightings of Madonna’s staff in their store, located just steps from the singer’s mansion. “One of her staff keeps coming here,” a Natural Frontier staff member tells us. “They buy the groceries.”
When it comes to health foods in Madonna’s neighborhood, Ms. Winhoffer is also a big fan of Candle Cafe and Juice Generation. “[It’s] always fresh and quick,” she says of Candle Cafe. “They make the BEST soups.”
With the numerous quality restaurants on the Upper East Side, Madonna is sometimes known to venture outside her home to eat. We popped into Antonucci Cafe, a cozy Italian restaurant at 170 East 81st Street—right down the street from Madonna’s mansion. Two of the restaurant’s employees told us that Madonna is an occasional diner, as are some of her family members and their friends.
The Material Mama
Speaking of Madonna’s family, let’s not forget the pop sensation is also the mother of four kids: Lourdes, 16, Rocco, a 12-year-old soccer player, Mercy James, 8, and David, 7—it’s no wonder her mansion is so big!
Lourdes—who goes by “Lola”—is currently a junior at LaGuardia High School, the city’s premier arts school on the Upper West Side. LaGuardia is no stranger to students touched by celebrity: Jonah Bobo (who acted in Crazy, Stupid, Love) and Timothée Chalamet (who has appeared on Homeland) are both current students. As a fellow drama major, Lola hobnobs with them, and friends say she is a talented singer and a great dancer. She appeared in the school’s 2012 production of Sweet Charity. Her mother, likely still wrapping up her MDNA tour, was not able to attend. But her dad, personal trainer Carlos Leon, was there, and frequently attends school functions.
Still, Madonna is not completely uninvolved with her daughter’s school. She made an unusual and very valuable donation to the school’s annual auction one year.
“Madonna donated some thigh-high, very dramatic boots to the school auction,” says Laura Langner, an alumna of LaGuardia’s vocal program, who used to pass Lola in the halls between classes frequently.
“When I was there, she wore some intense outfits, like black fishnets and heavy eyeliner, [and] lots of British flags,” Ms. Langner says. “She had a stylish, grungy look.”
Since then, Lola has apparently toned it down, often coming to school dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, wearing a lot less makeup and looking like a pretty normal high school student. And there have been reports that Lola wants to live independently from her mother, and escape some of the showbiz glitz that surrounded her for much of her childhood.
But she has not given up fashion altogether. And Lola still sometimes visits Mandana Custom Designs and Creations, a clothing and alterations shop at 80th Street and Lexington Avenue (just steps from Madonna’s home).
“[Madonna’s] daughter comes,” says manager Lucia Ortega. “[She has] things fixed.” She also has bought herself some fur scarves at the shop, accompanied by an unidentified woman.
Still, the store’s owner, Davar, said Mandana has seen no sign of Madonna.
“I was surprised because my stuff is good for her, especially the hats,” he says, sounding a little disappointed. “I see the guy who is in charge—he lives there 24 hours. I told him bring [Madonna’s clothes] in, I give you commission. I was hoping, you know, we [could] go to those people.”
Davar has come to believe that Madonna must be taking her tailoring needs elsewhere. That hurts.
Shopping Haunts and Habits
But the original Material Girl has to shop. Lucky for Madonna, Madison Avenue—the high-end shopper’s heaven—is just steps away. Though the staff at J. Crew on Madison between 79th and 80th couldn’t officially comment on their clientele, the Daily Mail published photos last year of Madonna and boyfriend Brahim Zaibat exiting the store after purchasing a hat. And when it comes to workout gear, Ms. Winhoffer says she’s always on the lookout for “new finds” for Madonna. Her favorites include scoop and V-neck shirts from Nike Pro, compression tops from Spanx and three-stripe cut-off bottoms from Adidas.
And with that humongous house, quality home décor is obviously a must, including fresh flowers. At Lenox Hill Florist at Lexington Avenue and 79th Street, where intricate, graceful flower arrangements dance from floor to ceiling, one of the shop’s owners, George, cites Madonna as a past client. He says he has made a couple personal trips to the star’s home to put together her flower arrangements.
“[The arrangements were] very minimal—one type of flower,” he says. “She has some cool vases up on the second floor, [in] different spots—in her walk-in closet, the stairs, at the side of a painting—very cool vases, very minimal, like two, three flowers here, five flowers there. It wasn’t like your typical mixed arrangement stuff. [There was] a lot of security when you walk into the house. The only thing they didn’t ask me was my Social Security number!”
Having gained access to the inner sanctum, George also describes Madonna’s magnificent property. “They have a beautiful backyard and everything, [and] a beautiful walk-in closet,” he said. “It’s huge—as big as the store.”
We don’t know about you, but we’d definitely like to live in Madonna’s material world. If we got down on our knees (and asked really nicely), do you think she’d take us there?