I grew up in a duplex. Our four-person family occupied one side of a 1,392-square-foot, pre-World War II bungalow purchased in 1964 in Columbia, Tennessee, for about $8,000 â€” which in today’s dollars is $64,000, about the cost of a high-end kitchen remodel on HGTV.
Our side of the house was probably 800 square feet, which meant that privacy was out of the question. If someone was clipping their nails at one end of the house, you could hear the snips at the other end. This is not conducive to good mental health.
Meanwhile, both my grandmothers occupied the other side of the house at different times. In between, there were renters. I used to judge them based on how hard I had to scrub the bathtub in the “apartment” with Brillo pads when they moved out â€” the renters, not the grandmothers.
My bedroom was near the back of our side of the duplex, with only a flimsy wooden door separating my bed from the tenants. I grew up going to sleep to the rise and fall of their muffled conversations. Once in a while, the sentences would filter through clearly, but out of context. I’d hear a tenant say . “Dang it, Jimmy!” and have no idea what Jimmy had done wrong.
This drove me crazy. I think this is why I became a reporter â€” to find out what Jimmy did. If anybody knows, please call our news tip line.
Zillow estimates the house is now worth about $105,000, which I find dubious since it sold out of foreclosure for $66,000 only a couple of years ago. (Zillow, I’ve decided, would make an excellent name for an anti-anxiety drug or a stuffed zebra from Build-A-Bear.)
The point is that, growing up, we lived in close quarters with one small bathroom about the size of a phone booth. The washer and clothes dryer were in the kitchen, where they doubled as countertops for the Crock Pot and stand mixer and Mom’s recipe box, which could have been labeled “Cooking With Bacon Drippings and Campbell’s Mushroom Soup.”
For most of my life, the house was paid for, which was a comfort to my parents. My father, who had grown up in the Depression, was disabled, so money was always tight. My mother was a frugal banker. Not having a mortgage enabled them to negotiate financial hardships and keep tough cuts of meat in the Crock Pot.
All this is to say I’ve always been fascinated by people who live in mansions. I suppose the wealthy have their reasons for building them â€” we used to call it “conspicuous consumption.” It’s long been my theory that some wealthy people crave notoriety, a form of social currency, and houses are one way to project success. Or maybe they discovered fossil fuels with a shotgun like Jed Clampett.
By virtue of my job as a reporter, I’ve been in hundreds of houses during my 38-year career, and I’m always bewildered by people who buy big houses that look like they were furnished by Goodwill. These are the same people, I’ve noticed, who drive Lexus automobiles with treadless tires.
A couple of weeks ago, I rented a 2012 documentary called “The Queen of Versailles,” about one couple’s attempt to build a 90,000-square-foot house in Orlando, Florida, modeled after the Palace of Versailles, where France’s kings once lived. The builders are David and Jackie Siegel, who set out to construct one of the largest single-family houses in America.
David Siegel made his millions as the owner of Westgate Resorts, a business that sells time shares to vacation properties across America. The documentary was shot during the Great Recession as Siegel’s business began to wane, delaying construction of his Orlando mansion. Things got so bad that at one point Siegel began chastising his family for wasting energy at their current home by leaving the front door open and too many lights on.
I have since read that Siegel’s business has rebounded and the house â€” which some have valued at over $100 million â€” is on track to be completed in coming months. I’m assuming the power bill is no longer an issue.
The house is said to have 10 kitchens and a closet that’s 5,000 square feet, or about twice the size of our current house.
I hope the Siegels enjoy their big house. I really do. But I don’t need 10 kitchens. If we had 10 kitchens in our house, I’d weigh 300 pounds.
And I’d convert that 5,000-square-foot closet into a five-lane bowling alley.
Let Zillow try to grind out a comp for that.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-757-6645.