October 9, 2015

$500 million residence under construction, Bel Air, California (photo by McClean Design/Caters News Agency

Down my street, a colossal house (if you can call it a “house”) is under construction. Staggering statistics. Completing next summer, this 112,000-square-foot speculative house will list for $500 million. You read it correctly: not $5 million or $50 million.

But Five Hundred Million Bucks!

Brought to us by Hollywood-film-producer-turned-home-builder Nile Niami, the contemporary estate has a main residence with three additional homes, a 5000-square-foot master bedroom suite, four swimming pools, a 30-car garage, and a lawn the size of half a football field. This modern day castle will come not just furnished, but fully styled. Not only will the dining chairs be selected and window treatments installed, the artwork will be curated and procured. Even the toilet paper will be carefully specified, and presented on handmade dispensers by Italian millworkers.

Persson residence, Trousdale Estates, California, by Roman James Design Build (photo by The Pinnacle List)
Persson residence, Trousdale Estates, California, by Roman James Design Build (photo by The Pinnacle List)

In comparison, the recent sale of the nearby $70 million Trousdale Estates residence to Minecraft creator Markus Persson seems like a modest hillside condo. Because Persson came to the deal with hard cold cash practically in bags, he beat out Beyonce and Jay-Z who lacked this leverage and nerve.

I think that it is unfortunate that Persson’s new home is merely 23,000 square feet and has only one swimming pool.

Okay, another head-scratching trend: Micro-Apartments.

In opposition to grandiose excess in design, comes this current desire for smallness. Many want Micro-Apartments—from carbon-footprint-minimizing hipsters, to efficiently-living single professionals, to prudent young couples.

Micro-Apartment (photo from EconomicPolicyJournal.com)
Micro-Apartment (photo from economicpolicyjournal.com)

As essentially one room, the architecture is definitely no mansion. The typical design is only 50 to 200 square feet. You read it correctly: not 500 square feet or 5,000 square feet.

But Fifty Square Feet!

Micro-Apartment, Venice, California, by Vertebrae Architecture
Micro-Apartment, Venice, California, by Vertebrae Architecture

This tiny single space combines living and dining areas, kitchenette and sleeping zone, which is sometimes a Murphy wall bed. Other domestic components play a game of Transformers. A dining table drops down from a wall like an ironing board. A cantilevered desktop slides out from under a window sill. On demand, full height screens slide and reconfigure to one’s daily needs.

As clever as these compact homes are, urbanists highlight many drawbacks. For example, the high density of Micro-Apartments in one city block delivers ten times more cars, congestion, consumption and waste.

What is California Dreamin’? Is it the biggest luxurious estate you can dream up? Or is luxury in the form of an ingenious shoebox condominium?

Luxury estate in Beverly Hills, California, by Martin/Poon Architects
Luxury estate in Beverly Hills, California, by Martin/Poon Architects

At Poon Design, we have designed California homes that are over 35,000 square feet comprising a dozen buildings. We have also designed studio apartments in Crenshaw for young professionals whose proud possessions are only an iPhone and a futon.

With either, who is to judge the appropriate quality of life?

Extra-large vs. petite, both proven successful by sales—these two trending philosophies represent a continuing dividing society. Imagine the homeowner with twenty Ferrari’s living in a 100-sqaure foot house. Similarly, imagine the young self-proclaimed savior of our planet trying to live at a property with three homes and three swimming pools.

Both fantasies are amusing, but tragic allegories.

© Poon Design Inc.