Monday, February 25, 2008

Two Americas

John Edwards was partially right about the "Two Americas". America definitely has "haves" and "have nots". Edwards' mistake was in thinking these two groups could ever be combined into one jolly community. If we add the "have mores" into the mix, there is no hope whatsoever. So, let's leave those Bush Pioneers out of the equation, and contemplate the mere "haves"...

For I have seen the other America and have survived to tell the tale. Yes! I spent last week immersing myself in the total greed-fest known as the Annual Home Show here in SW Utah. The original intent of this spectacle was to allow local builders to strut their stuff. About 25 builders participate, each one taking a year to construct a visionary home, with every detail considered and every option exploited, decorated and landscaped to the hilt.

Since I want to custom build our next home, I have attended these events in years past to obtain ideas I might like to incorporate. Things like custom stove hood vents, dream kitchens and bathrooms, and unusual window or ceiling treatments have all been added to my future home wish list. I felt fortunate to be able to "kick the tires" of various home options without having to learn the hard way what can & cannot be done within a budget. Oh, how low my sights were set!

I am sorry to report that this year's experience was nothing short of SOUL-KILLING. It seems the participating builders decided that, given the awful real estate market we are all experiencing, they would concentrate on mansions ... because ... believe it or not, the people who can afford such huge luxury homes are not in the least affected by mundane things like subprime mortgages or whole neighborhoods becoming blighted with foreclosed houses. They are not concerned about having to sell their current mansion into a rapidly declining glutted market. They don't have an ounce of insecurity about their economic situation, current or future. They would've been right at home eating cake with Marie Antoinette ... never mind that creaking guillotine slowly edging its way into their world ... as long as they can gate it out of sight, they will continue to party on the backs of the poor and middle class. They are the other America John Edwards warned us about.

The way our Home Show here works is, you purchase a pass that allows you to walk through every home once ... kind of like a private showing ... if you consider being jostled and hustled in a moving sea of oooh-ers and aaaah-ers to be private. The homes are totally tricked out. Nothing is spared in an effort to wow the viewer. The homes this year were mostly 8,000 - 10,000 sq ft in size and $4mil - $5million in price. The largest home was 21,000 sq ft (that's almost half an acre of home)! Its towering 3-stories of somber dark wood resembled an old european cathedral. Who buys these homes? Obviously none of my dining mates at the local Red Lobster or fellow Costco shoppers.

Here are some of the BIGGER things I saw at this year's Home Show: 10-bdrms/15-baths in one home; stadium home theatre rooms that vibrate the very house foundations (some homes had more than one of these rooms); a home with 28 total TV's; sports bars/grills with enough seating for a whole neighborhood of sports fans; huge floating window walls; an underground massage cave complete with dripping wet mossy rocks; 100-yr old olive trees transplanted from a Napa Valley grove; a secret catacomb archeofaux "roman ruin" with 12-person steaming spa amid crumbling coliseum columns and Phantom of the Opera piped-in music; a neon-lit basement full-size 2-lane bowling alley; a children's theatre stage with enough equipment to dazzle broadway; circular kiddy tube slides traversing floor-to-floor to land on an indoor trampoline in a rock climbing room; gas fireplaces in every possible nook & cranny; ferraris and hummers in the garages ... well you get the idea.

I'm not even going to talk about the furnishings and decorations, the imported carrera marble countertops 3-story tall indoor waterfall, or lalique glass lighting fixtures guaranteed to inspire lust & envy.

Here are some things I did NOT see: more than lip service paid to the concept of environmentally concerned building techniques. Only a couple of homes had solar power panels or geothermal heating and cooling. Water reclaimation or recycling? Don't make me snort! This is a desert and yet these people don't give a fig about overt wastefulness. I can't even imagine what the monthly home utility bills for these homes will be. But then you know the old saying: if you have to ask, you probably would need electro-shock to recover from the answer (or a dip in this steaming lava tube pool):

******************************

OK, just to prove it wasn't a total bust, here are the architectural plans of my favorite home this year, if I had a spare $5million & could manage to live in a mere 6,000 sq-ft with a forever view:

click up "burning bush" pic--->

Even though I loved this home, I could not shake the sad feeling that while freezing homeless people are sleeping on heating grates every winter, the people who buy this house will be comforting themselves in a steamy 10-head shower while enjoying a view of an outdoor burning bush consuming our precious natural gas in order to compliment their pampered lifestyle, especially in cold foggy rain like we encountered on our tour day.

I will now try to forget my week of being reminded that there are Two Americas and Never the Twain shall Meet. Please click on any pic to enjoy the full experience while I resume my quiet peaceful life. And yes, I do realize those home prices are a bargain compared to places like San Francisco, New York or Honolulu.

11 comments:

A Ball of Light said...

nice post DK... those views are fantastic, even tho the conspicuous consumption those dwellings represent is rather obscene (to me)...
as for kicking tires, environmentally concerned building techniques and such, on the other end of the consumption scale may be http://www.earthship.net/

D.K. Raed said...

Ball of Light: hey, nice to see ya. That "earthship" link is quite intriguing, kind of an expansion of the "earth homes" that barely started to come about in the 1970-80's. Earth homes were built into the ground on 3-sides & made extensive use of thermal mass to save energy. I made plans for a couple that were never built. Ahead of their time, I guess, although there was some concern over radon gas. Yes, it's about time for a come-back ... just need a better govt program of incentives. Or maybe just a better govt.

Cart said...

A timely commentary. I was drawn into a conversation today about mud brick dwellings. It moved on to hay bail and old tyre constructions.
Personally I like the concept of part underground construction, from an energy conservation view point.
Mind you, hard to do the burning bush underground.

d. chedwick bryant said...

Great post. I have been living in series of small manageable homes (with great views) and dream of building simple green cabin to retire in someday. --while my friends sit in their 1 to 4 million dollar homes with a cleaning and landscaping staff...
dreaming of something bigger, better, more.
And they consider me "odd"

Fran said...

Ohh a chance to see how the other side lives. I'm always amazed--- Wow! One closet in this master bedroom is bigger than my bedroom & closet space combined! These must be the Doctor/Lawyer type places where money is no object. How many people actually use all that space though?

It would be fun to act like the design is inferior - sure 2 home theaters & a bowling alley, but no Olympic heigth diving board, and arena? The burning bush is amusing, but where is the conservatory and ice rink?

D.K. Raed said...

Cart: I wonder just how much a person needs. The previous inhabitants of this hostile desert, not having access to old tires or hay bales, made use of wattle and daub lean-to's built into earthen hillsides. They did not try to make an artificial tropical oasis on mars.

D.K. Raed said...

D. Ched B.: Haven't seen you before ... Welcome! Yes, one of the more irritating things about being wealthy must be having to put up with a serving staff, a cleaning staff, a landscaping crew, nannies & valets. How do they EVER find a personal moment to enjoy their outrageously sybaritic surroundings?

D.K. Raed said...

Fran: I really don't know WHO ends up with these houses. The one I liked best this year was located next door to the one I liked best last year, which I heard was purchased by a Microsoft Executive. The homesite alone was $1mil. It is a gated development that "somehow" gained access to BLM land abutting a state preserve. Good old boy networking, I'm sure.

OMG, you are right! They missed a royal opportunity to put in an ice rink. Can you imagine THAT when we hit 115 in the summer?

A Ball of Light said...

Thanks DK... glad to see you and your incisive words too.

My small (1450 sf), passive solar, semi-green pumicecrete house is about an hour from the Taos earthship community... it is quite a sight to see those organic looking shapes rising out of the mesa in which they are embedded. Maybe it's time to dust off those dormant plans and get ready to live off the grid.... :)

After reading this post i went on a free-association google trip visiting several building with earth and rammed earth sites and ended up actually finding out WHO lives in those houses and seeing what it would be like to have been born rich and be part of that one percent, but instead settled for reading about the rich man's Michael Moore and wishing i had HBO so i could schedule my leisure time better... :P

so many dreams, too little innate rapaciousness...

Cart said...

You know d.k., I've always had a hankering to turn and old airplane into a home. I've seen converted 707s and 727s in home configurations.
I sort of fancy an old freighter with its tail nicely buried in a hillside and my computer room in the cockpit.
Ahhh, the fancies of boys...

D.K. Raed said...

Ball of Light:
thanks for all the good info! The home design I'd like to build next is passive solar & geothermal & cork flooring (renewable resource). I'm looking fwd to that Jamie Johnson new movie "One Percent". I saw the previous one he did about all his rich cohorts & thought I was gonna hurl. He gets it. His rich friends do not.

Cart:
Sounds fun, go for it! I can just visualize you sitting at your computer in the cockpit, controlling the world, heheheh. I've never seen an airplane home, but there's a beautiful old church around here that was built from a ship turned upside down. And, what about those undergrounders in Coober Peady? Seems to me they are onto something. I once threatened to send my brother there.