By Matthew Power. Bill Blanchard of Christopher Homes has never seen anything like it. As the builder in charge of the 2003 HomeDestinations at Southern Highlands project, ("home" seems too small a word), he roams the vast confines of this speculative 16,500-square-foot custom home, like the foreman for an ambitious Pharaoh, alternately wielding the whip and the papyrus.
"Everything out here [in Las Vegas] is engineered, even the way you spell your name," Blanchard says, only half joking. "Our footings are 5 feet wide and loaded with steel. Out here, it's crazy: 20 grand won't even buy your footings."
Not unlike the pyramids, this home is being built by sheer force of will. There's no client. Instead, Christopher Homes owner J. Christopher Stuhmer is footing the construction bill on this Builder-sponsored project, which will be open for viewing during the International Builders' Show this January. Only in Las Vegas would a builder--even a flamboyant one--take a $7 million (asking price) gamble on a spec home.
"This is what the owner of the company wants," says Blanchard, choosing his words carefully. "He has made his mark in business, and now he has very definite things he wants to see in this project."
Part of the responsibility for the home's plan goes to architect Mark Scheurer. He and Stuhmer created this grand plan through an escalating game of creative one upsmanship. They want HomeDestinations to be remembered as the mother of all show homes.
"There's so much product going in here, it's going to be different from anything anybody's seen," says Blanchard. "We have 6-foot-thick, barrel-vaulted brick archways. Even for Vegas, this goes way beyond the edge."
Thanks to the efforts of a largely Hispanic labor force, averaging 35 to 50 men at any one time, (working six and seven days a week) the home is on track--at twice the normal construction pace as planned. It should be completed in under eight months. Construction manager Ken Sailey has been practically living on the jobsite.
"It's the toughest project I've ever done," he says, "but a great experience. The biggest thing is the deadline," He pauses, considering his words. "Every time there's a change, I have to think about it for a while, to think about all of the things it will affect."
For example, he says, he's had to store thousands of feet of wood flooring. "It has to be kept climatized in a trailer down the road," he explains, "a climate that will match the inside of the house. Those are the kinds of things that happen when you're building a project this fast."
Matters of scale
While Sailey deals with daily progress at the house, Blanchard has his ear glued to the phone, arranging for the convoy of semi-trucks that stream into the arid, dusty site. That means 20,000 square feet of Eldorado stone veneer, 90,000 square feet of tile from Walker Zanger, thousands of linear feet of trim from White River Hardwoods, 45,000 pieces of Boral Brick. And that's just for starters. He estimates that the home has $1 million worth of finish flooring alone.
There's nothing small about this house. Although the masonry helps keep interiors cool, it still includes five air-conditioning units, featuring a dedicated wine cellar unit. "We have 32 tons of air conditioning altogether," notes Sailey.
"This house is just the first one in this development," he adds. "There are 20 more lots here, and we have to put in a lake. The truth is, we had to permit this one house with all of the land first. Then we came back and subdivided so we could build the rest."
"In the end," Blanchard continues, "this is a house that won't show its true colors until it's done."
Engineered to reduce noise and withstand earthquakes and intruders, HomeDestinations makes good on its fort-like appearance.
Photo: James F. Wilson
Seismic strength: The parallel strand lumber rafters (Parallam PSL) in the open dining room ultimately will be boxed and painted for cosmetic purposes. A Trus Joist product, they include metal reinforcing hardware from Simpson to balance the loading and meet the region's strict seismic requirements.
Photo: James F. Wilson
Code of silence: The owner of this massive trophy home won't be awakened by noisy servants. Built with the Owens-Corning QuietZone system, the wood framing is a Trus Joist double-stud product joined with a metal clip. The post-tension engineered floors are covered with Owens-Corning sound-deadening material, then capped with more than an inch of Gypcrete from USG. Bottom and top plates are caulked, not nailed.
Photo: James F. Wilson
Double jeopardy: The home includes two reinforced safe rooms located on different floors; a sanctuary from bad people who manage to get past the motorized gatehouse, the security system, and the desert heat. These simple rooms include independent phone systems, along with bulletproof armor shielding (layered between drywall) from Gainesville, Ga.--based New Necessities.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Las Vegas, NV.