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Image: Bill Gates' home
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Bill Gates' 66,000-square-foot compound is built into a hillside on the edge of Lake Washington, near Seattle.
updated 4/25/2010 1:09:34 PM ET 2010-04-25T17:09:34

Warren Buffett epitomizes living modestly in today's tough economic climate. Despite a $47 billion fortune, the legendary investor — and the world's third-richest man — lives in the same five-bedroom, gray stucco house he bought in Omaha, Neb.’s Happy Hollow suburb in 1958 for $31,500.

This folksiness is in line with his famous investing philosophy. "If you don't feel comfortable owning something for 10 years," he once told a reporter, "then don't own it for 10 minutes."

But Buffet, who also professes a love for pub fare like burgers and Cherry Coke, is the exception. Few billionaires are as frugal. Even in these tough times, modesty is a relative term among the superrich.

Computer mogul Michael Dell is a prime example. Dell claims to live simply, yet his Austin, Tex., residence built in 1997 is a 33,000-square-foot manse — a home that locals call “the castle" because of its high walls and tight security that guard the 20-acre estate.

Megamansions
With an estimated billion-dollar cost, Mukesh Ambani's under-construction 27-story Mumbai skyscraper eclipses previous records for the world’s most expensive homes.

No two floor plans for the inside of the lavish tower — known as Antilla — are alike and each space uses different materials, such as one bathroom’s Gingko-leaf sinks with stems guiding the running water into their leaf basins.

In the U.K., Russian-Israeli diamond magnate Lev Leviev owns the Palladio, an extravagant 17,000-square-foot manor outside London, which he bought for $65 million in January 2008. (That works out to $3,824 per square foot.) The home has a bulletproof front door, a gold-plated pool, an indoor cinema and a hair salon for good measure.

Nifty amenities like these drive up a home's price, something steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal knows all about. In 2004 he shelled out $124 million to buy his 12-bedroom spread in London's posh Kensington neighborhood, replete with extravagant Turkish baths and garage space for 20 cars.

American estates
On this side of the Atlantic, Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison built a 23-acre, 10-building, Japanese-inspired imperial villa in Woodside, Calif.

But he didn’t stop there. In recent years Ellison has spent an estimated $200 million more snapping up a dozen commercial and residential properties to create his own compound in the ritzy beachside enclave of Malibu, Calif.

The West Cost is also home to Bill Gates' 66,000-square-foot compound in Medina, Wash. Visitors to this estate have the option of climbing 84 stairs to get to the ground floor or simply riding the personal elevator.

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Some billionaires, such as Star Wars director George Lucas, put their mansions to good use by both living in and working from them. Lucas’ 5,156-acre Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, Calif., houses his personal residence as well as Skywalker Sound, a postproduction outfit that even has its own fire brigade.

Star sightings are the norm here. In 2000 Tom Hanks taped sound effects for "Cast Away" and Sean Penn paid a visit before releasing "Into the Wild" in 2007. Hollywood memorabilia, such as Charlie Chaplin's cane, a prop whip used by Rudolph Valentino and Indiana Jones' Holy Grail, can also be found in the main house.

Of course, no list of billionaire homes would be complete without mention of real estate magnate Donald Trump. His penthouse apartment in Manhattan’s Trump Tower is a monument to marble and gold and has an entire floor designated to Trump’s fifth child, Barron. This floor’s décor is inspired by — who else — Louis XIV.

Despite the costly details, Trump might say his apartment’s best feature is its location, which allows him to ride the elevator to his offices in the same skyscraper. That’s the true luxury of being a billionaire: an extravagant home and a short commute.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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