On a Bel Air plot overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a real estate developer who got rich producing Steven Seagal movies is building an on-spec megamansion that will soon hit the market for half a billion dollars. If it sells for anywhere near that, it will far surpass the present record holder for most expensive property, a London home that sold for the relatively paltry sum of $221 million. So what do you get for a half a billion dollars? A weird mixture of too much and not enough.
Construction on the house isn’t done, so the final product could be significantly different from what the developer, Nile Niami, has described. But as it stands, the house is shaping up to be a sprawling complex more than an actual home. In photos, it looks like a suburban high school, or an airport terminal. Encompassing 100,000 square feet (for scale, the White House is only half that), there are three guesthouses on the property, five swimming pools, and (metaphor alert!) a 20,000 square foot Astroturf lawn. The main house will have twenty bedrooms and thirty bathrooms, as well as a gym, a hair salon, a two story indoor waterfall, a temperature-controlled room for flowers, a casino, a 45-seat IMAX theater, a nightclub with an outdoor dance floor, a four-lane bowling alley, and a glass-walled library with vaulted ceilings. (The books will be strictly for show, though; “Nobody really reads books,” according to Niami.) Instead of walls, the living room will be enclosed by huge tanks of jellyfish, and the entire house will be surrounded by a moat. (“To make the house seem like it’s floating on water,” says the developer. Definitely not to keep out a post-apocalyptic mob of bloodthirsty peasants!) The master bedroom suite alone is planned to be 5,000 square feet; it’s going to be like sleeping in the Astrodome. If you wake up in the middle of the night and want to go to the bathroom, you’ll have to take a golf cart. I don’t care how grandiose your self-image, that sounds annoying. It will probably have a champagne room (one of Niami’s previous properties came with a “Cristal room” stocked with $250,000 worth of bottles), but none of the press releases and articles mention a kitchen. This makes sense; Russian oligarchs who drop half a billion on a house (and Niami’s buyers always pay cash) don’t cook. But I’ve got bad news for you; if your home doesn’t have a kitchen, it’s not a home, it’s a glorified hotel suite.
So who buys houses like this? Perhaps not surprisingly, people who don’t actually live in them. Niami himself has described the megamansions he builds as investment vehicles, places for foreign oligarchs to park a few hundred million dollars out of reach of regulators in their home countries. One of his previous megamansions – he’s built 23 in just 16 years – sold to a wealthy Qatari who only visits the house a couple weeks a year. Niami’s homes come fully furnished; his previous sale, a $100 million mansion named “Opus” (of course he names them) included a gold Lamborghini, a gold Rolls Royce, and four Damien Hirsts. This doesn’t sound that weird at first, but if your friend went into the Gap and bought a head-to-toe outfit off a mannequin in the front window, you’d give them serious side-eye. When most people think of their dream home, they think of something personal and unique. So isn’t it weird that the dreamiest, most expensive house in the world will be the opposite of that – an unbelievably upmarket but creatively bankrupt vision of luxury that seems like it was focus-grouped in Des Moines? What does it mean that appealing to the elitest of the elite still means playing to the cheap seats?
This latest house, the half-billion-dollar one, is named ‘The One.’ Part of the logic behind the name, no doubt, is the singular status it will bestow upon the owner. But there’s a more literal meaning, too. When Bel Air residents saw that sheer size of the house, they quickly formed a neighborhood association and successfully lobbied the city to change zoning laws to forbid the construction of future houses anywhere near this big.