Hunt Slonem’s dramatic and whimsical art has been represented in more than 250 galleries around the world. A self-described Neo-Expressionist, he’s best known for his clusters of framed bunny rabbits and butterflies as well as for his historic figures. His mansions are far less widely known but perhaps even more wow-inducing (if also, occasionally, befuddling.)

A new book, The Spirited Homes of Hunt Slonem, by Brian D. Coleman, reveals them all. There’s also a chapter on his pristine New York studios.

An abstract James Audubon—he collects and paints exotic birds—Slonem has a persona that is equal parts Truman Capote, Liberace, Andy Warhol, Willy Wonka, and Sydney Greenstreet. Attired as if he were going to a drawing room to spin ghost stories with snifter-clutching grumps, Slonem is always in formal repose, figuratively and literally keeping it close to the vest in his bespoke blazers.

For Slonem, painting the bunnies that made him wealthy is a morning ritual.

The son of a navy officer, he was born in Kittery, Maine. After moving about, due to his father’s job and his own youthful wanderlust—Nicaragua (as an exchange student), Mexico, Hawaii—Slonem attended Vanderbilt University before ultimately earning degrees in painting and art history at Tulane. He changed his name from “Slonim” to “Slonem” in the 1970s because of something to do with numerology. (T.M.I.)

And his residences mirror his chameleonic personality. Color, color, color! And, yes, there will be antique harps and suits of armor. His aesthetic reflects both a boyish innocence and a curmudgeonly opulence; he’s a man of wealth and toucans. He’s also a cosmopolitan who buys up mansions in oft bleak places—the Watres Armory, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, is the result of a bigger makeover than Madonna’s.

At Lakeside, the gardens have their own flair.

His oldest estate, Lakeside, is an 1832 mansion buried away in the Louisiana backwoods. Slonem delved into its restoration, imbuing it with color, which Coleman describes as “Mykonos blue, Pompeian red, corals and tangerines.” Those walls are covered with 19th-century portraits surrounded by Gothic Revival furnishings. Slonem’s signature paintings—bunny colonies, aeries of exotic birds and butterflies—are juxtaposed with more traditionalist-leaning portraits of Lincoln, Churchill, Queen Elizabeth, and, well, Rudolph Valentino.

Belle Terre, a 1906 Georgian Revival house that was once the summer home of copper baron James McLean, is located in New York’s Delaware County. When it went on the market, Slonem drove through a snowstorm to see the 35,000-square-foot behemoth. It once hosted Eleanor Roosevelt, who held a party for 6,000 there. After a three-year renovation, it’s now crammed with Georgian antiques, period frames, and Staffordshire figurines.

Just a few of the 40 rooms at Searles Castle, in western Massachusetts.

Slonem bought Searles Castle, in western Massachusetts, in 2021. It’s a case study of the Gilded Age, overseen by Stanford White: seven turrets on a circa-1915 stone castle, which includes 40 rooms and 36 fireplaces. It’s surrounded by a stone wall and set on a 70-acre plot.

His aesthetic reflects both a boyish innocence and a curmudgeonly opulence; he’s a man of wealth and toucans.

But the bombshell is the Watres Armory (circa 1900), in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Slonem nabbed it in 2015, principally to be used as a storage space for all of his antiques. The Romanesque-revival structure encompasses approximately 102,200 square feet. Before he took it over, it was a dark and musty military storage facility. (His psychic adviser, who had ice-skated in the armory as a child, said he should go for it.) Today, it’s a color explosion crammed with furnishings. What on earth does he do with seven dining rooms?

Collectively, Slonem’s homes make Downton Abbey manors look like Seaman’s Lodges. Although they are all distinct, they share quintessential Slonem trappings. There are more marble busts than in a Hustler Club. There are enough bunnies to launch a thousand Easter parades. Human-wise, Slonem favors paintings of statesmen, mixing it up with Roman Catholic saints and sinners of the silver screen.

What’s one to do with 100,000 square feet in Scranton, Pennsylvania? Slonem had his way with Watres Armory, to dazzling effect.

For 15 years, John Berendt has been among his close friends. “Hunt makes it a practice of not telling people much about himself, or where he got his money. It’s part of his mystique,” says Berendt, the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. “[Painting] the bunnies are like his morning calisthenics. He does, like, six of them before he gets going on the larger works.”

His career has been very successful; in addition to the galleries, his work is held in the permanent collections of more than 50 museums, including the Guggenheim, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

After spending time with this book, one could argue that his homes are his true masterpieces. “Somehow, he can put a Lincoln next to a leopard on his walls,” says Berendt. “There’s a force field there.”

The stuff of dreams at Madewood, a 10,000-square-foot mansion on Bayou Lafourche, in Napoleonville, Louisiana.

Now the Slonem-curious can experience one of them in the flesh: Cordts Mansion, a Second Empire behemoth perched on a hilltop in Kingston, New York, has been converted to a summer retreat and restaurant known as Edgewood.

Slonem sold it two years prior to publication of Spirited Homes. When asked why he is so discreet about his money, Slonem says, “I’ve made every penny of it on my own! Some have thought I was once a drug dealer. Why explain?” It’s a rare break from his droll delivery. “I made 100 percent of my money purely from the sales of my art.”

“I’m the most grateful person on the planet,” he continues. “If I was a car, I’d be a convertible without a roof.” Roofs? Surely he has enough of those already.

The Spirited Homes of Hunt Slonem, written by Brian D. Coleman and photographed by John Neitzel, is out now from Gibbs Smith

Steve Garbarino, the former editor of BlackBook magazine, began his career as a staff writer for The Times-Picayune. Once again based in New Orleans, he now contributes to The Wall Street Journal and New York, and is the author of A Fitzgerald Companion