Spelling Manor in Los Angeles is one of the largest homes in the world. At 56,500 square feet, it is slightly larger than the White House, and more than 21 times the size of the average American house. The French chateau-style home has a bowling alley, a wine cellar and tasting room, and a beauty salon with massage and tanning rooms.
But actually living there is more complicated than it sounds, according to former resident Sam Palmer. Mr. Palmer, 37, lived in the house from 2017 to 2019 with his fiancée, the Formula One heiress Petra Ecclestone. While in residence, Mr. Palmer said he was surprised at the expense and difficulty of running the roughly 5-acre property, which requires 35 to 50 full-time staff members.
The experience of living at the Manor—which Ms. Ecclestone sold last year for about $120 million—inspired Mr. Palmer to start a company to address the challenges of running such a large household. Staffing Properties, a staffing agency for luxury homes, launched in January.
“Almost no one in L.A. can say they’ve lived in a bigger house than I have,” he said. “Because we’ve lived in a house like that, I can offer advice. A lot of people buy these big homes but they have no idea what it takes to run them.”
Spelling Manor was built around 1990 by legendary television producer Aaron Spelling and his wife Candy Spelling.
Ms. Ecclestone, daughter of the British billionaire and Formula One racing boss Bernie Ecclestone, bought the home in 2011 for $85 million to live in with her then-husband, businessman James Stunt, and their three children. She famously hired a team of roughly 500 workers to complete a massive renovation. She hired Gavin Brodin, an L.A.-based designer-builder whose past projects have included homes for Kate Beckinsale and Sylvester Stallone. The house was so big Mr. Brodin split it into seven parts to make the project more manageable.
Mr. Palmer is a British former electrician who later worked in the recruitment business. He met Ms. Ecclestone through a friend in 2017. Mr. Palmer said he clearly remembers his first visit to Spelling Manor. “I’m a person who’s not really overawed by things,” he said. “But when you see this property, it’s insane. It always reminded me of Disneyland when we opened the gates.”
Ms. Ecclestone had turned a room used by Ms. Spelling for her enormous china doll collection into a beauty salon, Mr. Palmer said. She did preserve other original elements of the house, such as Mr. Spelling’s barbershop room. She also kept Mr. Spelling’s film editing room behind the screen of the movie theater, along with shelving that had little notes marking where he stored his television reels and home movies, Mr. Palmer said.
After hitting it off with Ms. Ecclestone, Mr. Palmer moved into the house in 2017, and the pair got engaged in 2018. He quickly discovered the challenges of running such a large estate, in which most rooms “are about the same size as a normal house,” he said. The roughly 120-room property is so big, Mr. Palmer said, it is actually tiring to traverse. “It’s a lot of walking,” he said. “Everything is far away. Even to just go a couple of rooms down, it’s a few minutes’ walk.” The master suite alone spanned roughly 7,500 square feet.
While Ms. Ecclestone loved the property, he said, “for me personally, I don’t think anyone should live in a house that big.” He said it might have been better-suited to owners who entertained a lot or hosted large events. “I used to always think, it doesn’t matter how big the house is, you can only sit on one couch and you can only watch one TV.”
Running the house was more akin to operating a hotel than a private home, he said, requiring gardeners, house managers, laundresses, security staff, butlers and caretakers. Personal trainers and hair and makeup artists also regularly stopped by the property to provide services.
Mr. Palmer also noticed that many of the bills for work done at the house seemed higher than market rates. “Being in that house is like having a bull’s-eye on your back,” he said. “The price is one price when they’re driving to the job, and then 50 times more when they see the house. It can spiral out of control.”
Mr. Palmer said he took an interest in running the household. After a review of all the spending, he said he was able to reduce costs at the property by 50%, although he declined to specify the total cost of running the property. He also hired a new staff.
After realizing that the couple’s friends were experiencing similar challenges, he decided to launch Staffing Properties, which provides consulting services for people looking to staff large households. The company will also organize short trips to L.A. for clients, booking their flights and finding rental homes and staff such as masseuses, beauty therapists and personal trainers.
Ms. Ecclestone first put the house on the market for $200 million in 2016 and ultimately sold it in 2019. Mr. Palmer said she wanted to sell in part to be closer to her children’s’ schools. The unnamed buyer hailed from Saudi Arabia, according to people familiar with the transaction. Mr. Palmer said he couldn’t comment on the sale because of a nondisclosure agreement, and Ms. Ecclestone wasn’t available for comment.
The couple, who have a daughter born earlier this year, have since relocated to a smaller home, which spans roughly 17,000 square feet in the Brentwood area of L.A. They split their time between the U.K. and the U.S., and spent much of the spring holed up in their London home during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Palmer said.
It’s only in retrospect, he said, that he appreciates how special it was to live at the Manor. Before they moved out, he saw a tour bus drive past the famous property and allowed it onto the grounds so the tourists could get a closer look at the house. It was a move coined by Mr. Spelling, who was known for chatting with tourists who came to look at the property.
“Why not give them a memorable trip to L.A.?” Mr. Palmer said.