By Carolyn Weber. Click here to view HomeDestinations' Web site. Ah, Las Vegas, land of make believe, fantasy castles, faux European cities, all-night neon, grand marquees, fabulously feathered showgirls, and big dreams of striking it rich. How could a single custom home ever compete with all that?

That was the challenge BUILDER faced when we embarked on our annual show home to premiere at the International Builders' Show 2003 in Las Vegas. This home had to be exciting enough to lure show-goers from The Strip. More important, it had to exceed the expectations of sophisticated buyers in Sin City's million-dollar-plus market. Talk about pressure.

Focus groups were in order. Three moderated hours with wealthy Las Vegas women revealed that their needs were no different than most: They craved convenience. But their cravings were a little more high-brow--a place to drop papers and mail when a friend came over to drink wine in the kitchen, a place to have their nails done, an easy-to-operate home automation system.

If these buyers wanted the easy life, they wanted to live the charmed life as well. They expected an architecturally distinct home, preferably built with stone and with European design influences. And they desired a home with the amenities of the upscale resorts and clubs where they holiday.

Team and Project Sponsors

Although it's not a vacation home, this 13,000-square-foot desert oasis is truly a destination. It's also a series of destinations, with breezeways that lead to an adult lounge, a third-story lookout, an in-home spa, and a fabulous double-island kitchen with wine on tap. "There's a sense of discovery everywhere you go," says Chris Stuhmer, CEO of Christopher Homes, our builder on this project. With the stakes so high, BUILDER assembled a dream team. The squad starts with Christopher Homes, which dominates the luxury market in Las Vegas, earning a national reputation for progressive production building. The architectural team, Scheurer Architects, is one of the most celebrated high-end production firms of the last decade. For the interiors, we tapped Design Tec Interiors, one of the most consistently creative in the field. The Collaborative West, known for its artistic-yet-functional designs, did the landscaping. And Borm Associates Structural Engineers made sure all of the elaborate concepts could be built.

The entire team was on board from the start, the way it should be with any project, especially a home of this magnitude. In a two-day design charrette, they turned the wish list of our affluent test group into a reality, creating a home that, instead of trying to compete with the glitz of The Strip, offers a refined rustic respite from the hustle and bustle. It's a place to entertain, to retreat, to play, to work, and to rest, all without leaving home.

Architects Bob White and Scott Brown drew HomeDestinations in an eclectic, Old World style. They blended a seemingly disparate pallet of materials--stucco, stone, clay tile, brick, and even lap siding--to create a home that looks hand-crafted and built over time. But if the architecture creates an air of permanence and value, it emphasizes low maintenance as well.

Photo: James Wilson

Given the balmy climate and broad vistas, indoor/outdoor relationships were crucial. Every major room was designed to capture maximum sunlight, cross ventilation, and views to outdoor spaces. Interior spaces relate to a series of intimate, private, layered courtyards, to the rear yard loggia and pool terrace, and to the golf course and mountain views beyond. Water audibly binds indoor and outdoor spaces. "The acoustics of the courtyards are so interesting," says Collaborative West project manager Mark Lenning. "Even if you can't see water, each time you step out of a room you can hear it."

The floor plan of the home (9,842 square feet air conditioned and 13,035 total "under roof," including outdoor loggias, sky room, etc.) is zoned from formal to informal. It features a private parents' wing, a kids' wing, and some unique rooms that challenge the typical house program. The plan starts with a great room core, with breezeways linked to specialty appendages. "The formal dining, adult lounge, wine cellar, and wellness center are just luxuries that come with the ability to work with larger square footages," says White.

The plan is broken into pieces based on how people really live, with formal entertaining areas separated from rooms used daily. The beauty of the concept is its flexibility. Parts could be shrunk, expanded, or deleted depending on lot size or climate. Stuhmer believes the architecture will deeply influence custom and luxury production builders. "Once people experience this house, they'll really latch on to its design," he says.

Photo: James Wilson

Although the house is large, luxurious, and costly (it was built at over $400 per square foot), it is also restrained, especially by Las Vegas standards that stress tall ceilings and big scale. The home redefines conventional wisdom about "drama" in a luxury home. "A typical Las Vegas house of this size and in this price range, would give away all the surprises at the front door," says White. "This house gives you a little bit at a time."

High design is Christopher Homes' signature, and always a priority for Stuhmer, who pays meticulous attention to each and every detail in the 100 homes his company builds per year. A custom home like this one, with so much square footage and so many details, would usually take 18 months to build. But the Christopher team, skilled at luxury production as well as custom building, pulled this one off in just eight months, even with hundreds of change orders. "We got the building permit on March 26 and finished in mid-November," says Christopher's construction manager Bill Blanchard, seemingly still dazed by the feat.

The building team met the tight deadline by working long hours and employing a swat team of top-notch subcontractors whose expertise was tapped during the design phase. "We call it the 'never been done before house,'" says Stuhmer, who laid down a challenge to his trades: Marry the latest science with exemplary workmanship.

The people who built this home suffered steep learning curves. They worked with unfamiliar materials to fashion one-of-a-kind details. They laid metal in marble floors, bolted down new engineered lumber products, put brick facing inside arches, and installed a new, high-tech lighting system. Creating a new design look with unfamiliar materials fostered countless change orders, many of them from Stuhmer himself. The work seems to have paid off. Subtle details make all the difference in this house.

For Stuhmer, one of the most rewarding aspects was working hand-in-glove with the trades. "They rose to a monumental task, using new products and materials," he says. "They did so many things for the first time and got it all done with great cooperation and a tremendous attitude."

Plan Specs

Total under roof--13,035 square feet

First floor--5,921 square feet

Second floor--3,129 square feet

Total livable space--9,842 square feet

Basement--792 square feet

Garage/Sport court--1,631 square feet

Passage from garage to courtyard entry--180 square feet

Covered rear loggia--752 square feet

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To request the plan package, call Scheurer Architects at 949-752-4009 or go to

Sky room--349 square feet

Exterior stair to sky room--217 square feet

Secondary gatehouse at motor court--61 square feet