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HOMEOWNERS — Russel and Linda Karlen


LOCATION — Las Vegas, Nevada

PROPERTY — An acre in a golf course community with views of the Red Rock Mountains and the lights of Las Vegas

LIVING SPACE — 15,000 square feet interior (20,000 ft. with garages and balconies)

HER FAVORITE SPOT — Her bathroom: tumbled marble, white-washed cabinetry, and granite countertops

HIS FAVORITE SPOT — The backyard: "Russ traded in his business suit for a swimsuit"

HER FAVORITE PASTIMES — Redecorating and entertaining

HIS FAVORITE PASTIMES — Working in the yard

WHY FRONTGATE? — "I love everything I've gotten from Frontgate. I give the address plaques as housewarming gifts."

Dining Room



Main Staircase

Las Vegas, Nevada — Exuberant by nature, Russ and Linda Karlen throw themselves wholeheartedly into every project they undertake — especially the building of this house. "We're more passionate because we're hands on," they say.

In a sense, the two of them lived in this magnificent desert oasis long before they ever broke ground. For years, they'd given careful thought to the house of their dreams, making list after list of all the features and amenities they wanted. "We were in real estate when we lived in Newport Beach," says Linda, "and we have a house in Palm Springs, so we've seen the best of the best in homes. We learned what was really good, and that's what we wanted. We had our visions and our dreams."

Whenever they traveled — particularly in Italy — they took pictures of homes they admired. They attended open houses and picked people's brains, asking, "What did you do to your house that you love? What didn't you do that you wish you had done?"

Eventually, they filled 20 albums with photographs, clippings, and ideas. "Every great thing has been done sometime, somewhere," say Russ and Linda. Their ambition was to document it all. Yet when the time came, they were unable to find an existing house that incorporated everything they wanted. After looking at hundreds of homes and coming away disappointed, they made up their minds to build.

The community that caught their eye, however, was still on the drawing board. "It was nothing more than desert when we first moved here," says Russ. "They were still grading the golf course, and there was no infrastructure. We bought a half-acre lot, but we couldn't get to it." Once the roads were developed, Russ and Linda were frequent visitors to their future homesite, often putting a ladder on top of their SUV to take pictures of sunrises, sunsets, and views, all in the interest of positioning the house as favorably as possible.

Supported by stone columns, the home's vaulted ceilings soar to heights of 35 feet. Shop Furnishings & Décor.

Homesites were so much in demand that purchase rights were awarded by lottery. Russ and Linda hit the jackpot. "We were the new kids in town, and we walked in and got the best property on the block: a one-acre golf course lot overlooking the lights of the city of Las Vegas. They're unbelievably bright! When you wake up in the middle of the night, you know the world is alive."

It would be another five years, however, before construction got underway. Russ and Linda took advantage of the delays to do even more research.


Topping their list of must-haves were a surprising number of practical considerations. Linda was keen on having "a kitchen within a kitchen" that would keep the mess out of guests' view when she and Russ entertained. "It has all the appliances: two warming drawers and two dishwashers, a cooktop, microwave, and double oven. The caterers love it! They don't have to keep their stuff in the garage, and there are pocket doors so they can do a pass-through if they want. And my pretty kitchen stays clean and beautiful all the time."

It was important, too, that everyone have their own full-scale office, including their teenage daughter. "I attribute her straight As to her homework-and-hobby room," says Linda, who feels strongly that kids shouldn't have Internet access in their bedrooms. "It's near the kitchen so she could feel close to everybody. She had a computer station and containers for all her art supplies. She could just close the door and leave everything in there."

"It was nothing more than desert when we first moved here."

Russ and Linda also wanted a separate guest wing accessed by a separate staircase. "We wanted guests in their own quarters so we didn't run into each other when we got up in the morning," Russ explains. Each of the guest quarters has laundry facilities, a parlor with microwave and refrigerator, and built-in televisions. The main bedroom wing, meanwhile, was to be served not only by the circular staircase, but also by an elevator. "It's great for sending up luggage and other heavy stuff," says Russ.

Looking to the future, he and Linda had computer hook-ups installed anywhere they might even remotely consider placing a desk. Linda was sure to include two computer stations in her own office so that her daughter could work alongside her. Russ and Linda also wanted a walk-in storage area off any room that might need one — Linda's office, for example, has a walk-in for her fax and copier.

Other essentials included drip-dry areas in the laundry rooms for hanging delicates and hand washables, his-and-hers master baths with cedar-lined walk-in closets, and a smart-house Lutron lighting system. "We push the keypad button labeled 'Entertain', and every light in the house comes on, or we can select low or pathway lighting for the main hallways. With a house this size, it's nice not having to walk around at night worrying about lights."


Russ and Linda contacted several architects, giving each of them a composite of ideas gleaned from their wish list. "One of them came up with a rendering that was exactly what we were looking for," says Russ. "The floor plan fit our needs with one exception: we totally flipped it so the right rooms got the right views. There's only one thing we did wrong — we should have made the upstairs laundry bigger than the downstairs laundry, because we use it more frequently."

Russ and Linda visited the construction site each and every day of the 18 months it took to build the house. "We were in such a hurry to get in here," explains Linda. "It's the decisions that take time, and the builders have to wait if you're not there to make them. It just delays construction."

Making on-the-spot decisions required flexibility. "When we found out that they'd have to dynamite boulders in order to dig a basement, we said, 'Forget it. Let's just move the media room, theater, and wine cellar elsewhere.'"

The Karlen home's Mediterranean styling exhibits "the best of the best" features they admire
in Italian architecture. Shop Outdoor Living.

The stonework alone proved to be an immense undertaking. "We had our own airplane while we were building the house," says Russ. "I'd like to add up all the miles we went just to find the marble and granite." Meanwhile, he discovered that every stoneworker in the area was already occupied building hotels and casinos. "We couldn't find one anywhere. We finally brought in workers from a company out of San Antonio and paid for them to live here for a year. We'd fly them back every month and a half to visit their families. There's no way we could have done what we did without them. We had chiseled cantira stone around every window, 110 stone columns, and 32 columns holding up 12 groin vaults. It took 15 months in all."

Nearly all of the floors are stone, too — only offices and bedrooms are carpeted. "We did stone because stone stands the passage of time. Think of all the great old museums — as stone gets older, it gets more beautiful." The living room fireplace is a detail-by-detail replica of a stone fireplace they'd seen in Prague's Carlin Castle. Segments were fabricated in California, then assembled on site.

The artisan who did the fireplace also took on the challenge of building the grand circular staircase. "I pictured my daughter walking down it on her wedding day," says Linda. "The guy built it from scratch, first drawing it on the floor and then making his own stringers." After fabricating the stone foundation, faux-stone exterior, and limestone treads, he told Russ and Linda he could also do the wrought-iron railings. "The staircase was totally freestanding. We had to go to the city to get it approved. At the end, we added a steel beam just to be on the safe side."


Though Russ and Linda basically served as their own decorators, they didn't hesitate to call in professionals when they needed assistance. "We had a designer in the construction phase," says Linda. "Our architect was more contemporary, and he wasn't familiar with tray and barrel ceilings and some other traditional Old World things from Europe that we loved. So we hired a designer to help with renderings and drawings when we were in the framing stage." Referring to the scale and proportions of the house, he told them, "When you see something you like, make it three times bigger."

She asked a second designer to walk through the house and help her figure out what to do with the walls and woodwork. "To give the woodwork an antique look, we decided to make it a satin white color glazed with linseed oil and stain." Windows are trimmed in five-inch moulding, while baseboards are 10-14 inches high. Recessed lighting concealed behind crown moulding "creates a nice effect at night."

"We're still in the process of furnishing, We keep buying stuff, but it just disappears in a house this size."

The house is loaded with built-ins, all of which, along with the cabinetry, were done by an outfit just outside Salt Lake City called Cottonwood. Cherry was the wood of choice, and finishes vary according to the surroundings; Linda selected a white-washed cream color for her bath, while Russ chose mahogany. All cabinetry is customized to the location: certain drawers have interior electric outlets, for example, and trash receptacles are concealed in pull-outs.

"We're still in the process of furnishing," says Linda. "We keep buying stuff, but it just disappears in a house this size." Trying to keep within budget continues to impose certain constraints. (The canary palms, two-story library, and stone window casements were the most costly items.) "We looked into having a dining room table custom made. The price was ridiculous! So we kept searching until we walked into a furniture store that had big-scale stuff and found the perfect table. Right now it seats 12 or 14, and there's still one more leaf."


The home's dramatic setting reflects everything Russ learned during his 10 years as a landscape-and-pool contractor. He and Linda love having people over, so the layout and amenities are conducive to entertaining a few friends — or a few hundred. "We do a lot of fundraisers here," says Russ. "We've had as many as 600 people." While the house was under construction, he and Linda would fire up the pizza oven and BBQ at week's end for anyone who happened to be around. "We'd feed everybody on Fridays," says Russ, "from city inspectors to roofers."

The pool is a water-lover's paradise, complete with waterfalls and a wet bar. Shop Pool & Beach.

He and a local pool contractor designed every square inch of the sprawling pool area. The real-as-life boulders are in fact constructed from steel, netting, cement, and stained plaster. "The pool area took a year and a half to build," Russ says. "At the shallow end, there's an octagonal gazebo that's equipped for bartending with a fridge, sink, and icemaker. The bar is built out into the pool with bar stools on land and water, and there's a volleyball net. A stone bridge leads to the other end where there's a 23-foot tube and a slide that lands four-and-a-half feet above water, both built into the stone so they're out of sight."

Also hidden within the boulders is a cave-like getaway furnished with bench and table, accessed via steps or waterfall. The spa has its own separate recirculating waterfall that's fed from a pond 10 feet above. Planting the canary palms proved to be an almost insurmountable challenge. Each was 20-45 feet tall, and the fronds were up to 20 feet wide on top. Because an 80-ton crane was needed to install them, the trees had to be planted as the pool was being built, since equipment that big couldn't be brought in afterward. "We'd plant four of them," says Russ, "then come in the middle of the night and bring the hose to water them, then grade for the pool, plant more trees, then dig the pool." Linda says that Russ was like a palm tree doctor. "He talked to them, watered them, and kept them alive."

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