Corrections or additions?
This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the April 23, 2003
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Life in the Fast Lane
For Sale: House with the Ultimate View
John Boulton made his fortune by installing home
in sumptuous mansions ranging from the White House to Saudi Arabian
palaces. He spent a fortune by building a dream house on 48 acres
on Canal Road in Griggstown, a house so eccentric — 17,000 square
feet on one floor, with floor to ceiling glass and no interior walls
to block the view — that it makes people gasp. So eccentric that
when it came time to sell, it needed a truly exceptional buyer: A
very wealthy person who requires privacy, loves nature, craves an
idiosyncratic environment, and values the "less is more"
Boulton and his wife, Princeton-born Prudence Morgan Boulton, have
hired Alabama-based J.P. King Auction Company, an internationally
known auctioneer of luxury properties, to sell Chalan Farm, their
glass mansion, at absolute auction. On Saturday, May 3, at 11 a.m.,
the rich and famous and the rich and not-so-famous — or their
representatives — will converge on the Boultons’ secluded
The price of admission is a $100,000 cashier’s check and the minimum
bid is $3 million.
"We were prompted by some articles in the Wall Street
says John Boulton in a telephone interview, "and found that for
large homes in Canada through Mexico, auctions are becoming the
method of choice."
What is this property worth? Nobody knows. There are no comparables.
Eighteen months ago, when this newspaper featured the glass house
on its cover (www.princetoninfo.com/200112/11212s01.html), the asking
price was $18
million, then it went down to $12 million. "The ultimate way to
determine the value of a property is in an open auction," says
Carl Carter, who represents the auctioneers. "Since the property
will have all the interested bidders competing for the value, that
will be the meaningful value. People come with the prospect of getting
a real bargain. Of course we hope they don’t. And at the end of the
day, the auction will have drawn the highest price that somebody was
willing to pay, and somebody sitting next to them had a price just
Boulton won’t say exactly what his costs were, but surely they were
staggering. Starting from the ground up, he has built an equal amount
of space (17,000 square feet) below ground as above ground, and his
property is two miles down the road from Trap Rock quarry, so you
know it was dug from quarry stone, not dirt. The 425-foot long
has a garage for eight cars, a 4,000 gallon liquid gas storage system,
a $1.5 million Honeywell HVAC system, a 25-line telephone feed,
studio, wine cellar, gym, and rows upon rows upon rows of industrial
shelving for storage of everything from socks to circuitry. It also
has space for more windowless offices, bedrooms, and baths.
Then consider the materials. Boulton grew up near Toledo, Ohio, the
center of the glass industry, and had a family connection to one of
the preeminent glass manufacturers, Libby Owens Ford Pilkington, so
he enlisted its chief engineer to write the specifications for the
14-foot exterior walls. Through this green tinted glass the sun, moon,
stars, and clouds create ever-changing patterns of light and shadow.
"Esthetically and technically, the glass allows the seamless
of all the natural design elements inside and out, as if there no
walls," says Boulton. "It also allows this building to have
remarkably low energy to run it."
As for the design, Boulton did the concept, emulating the 1929 World’s
Fair Barcelona Pavilion of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and commercial
architect James Kissane, based in Franklin Township, did the drawings.
Boulton had become enamored of Mies van der Rohe’s penchant for using
glass and a minimal number of other materials and colors when Boulton
helped the famous architect wire Manhattan’s Seagram building.
Unusual designs can present unusual problems. In
2001, when Chalan Farm went on the market for $18 million, and the
homeowners’ name was proscribed from being disclosed, interviews with
contractors revealed that the very exacting homeowner had disputed
some of their charges. Some of these disputes have apparently
to lawsuits. Caveats on the auctioneer’s web page, disclosing the
litigation, cast doubt on whether the curtain wall installer has
the integrity of the roof or whether the cement floor installation
jeopardized the heating and air conditioning system.
As for the scale of this house, Boulton had learned what it is like
to live on a grand scale when, for his business, he wired the mansions
of millionaires (his first customer was Laurence Rockefeller). He
wasn’t the first in his family to think big. Boulton says his father
helped lay out the federal highway system and engineered the
Boulton majored in electrical engineering at Columbia University,
Class of 1952, and founded Columbia Electronics, which at one time
employed 500 people in New York and around the country. "We made
gigantic remote control systems for wealthy families. One of the
I designed bore my name — Boulton Stereo. We had a retail
stores on Madison Avenue and Rodeo Drive. I wanted to retire before
I was 50, and in the early 1980s we sold to one of our customers
Gant, the shirtmaker), who sold it to Siemens in Germany," says
Boulton had been married before and has children. In the early 1980s
he was living in Center Bridge, Pennsylvania, just north of New Hope,
in another kind of dream home, the replica of a Tuscan farm house.
He met Prudence Morgan in the mid 1980s and they were friends for
a number of years before marrying. It was Morgan who challenged him
to build the home. "She’s the instigator of this house," says
Boulton. "I had never built anything."
Morgan, also, came from a family that did things on a grand scale.
Her great grandfather was the inventor of Hires root beer, and another
side of the family, the Flaglers, started Standard Oil. In the late
1920s her uncle tried to build bridges from Miami to Cuba. He got
as far as Key West before a hurricane and the Great Depression struck,
stymying his jumbo plan. In Princeton, her family owned Nassau Oil.
She took riding lessons as a child, and as an adult horsewoman, she
supported the establishment of dressage and three-day events in this
country, taught dressage, and built and endowed several stables,
the Princeton Riding Center on Cherry Hill Road (now owned by Hans
and Barbara Dressler) and one in Sergeantsville.
Chalan, the name of the couple’s farm, was the name of Morgan’s
horse, but because she developed back problems, she did not build
a stable here. After the sale the Boultons plan to move with their
prize-winning Airedale terriers to New York City, to be nearer to
her medical doctors.
Once you are clicked through the Boultons’ electronic
gate, you drive a half mile up the curved one-lane road, and as you
come around a bend, you think you are seeing a mirage. Overlooking
a pond is a breathtaking expanse of green glass, its lateral layout
and heavy white cornice vaguely resembling Monticello. It looks like
a golf resort or a desert spa, not a place for someone to live.
The inside reveals seemingly endless space. The floor-to-ceiling glass
offers a 360-degree view to the outside, broken up by injuttings and
outjuttings of octagonal glass pavilions. How much space is here?
A big four-bedroom house might have as much as 4,000 square feet.
This is 17,000 square feet on one floor, or about the same amount
of living space as the 45,000 square-foot home of Bill and Melinda
At one end the master bedroom has a bed, an in-floor lap pool, an
in-floor whirlpool spa, and a bathroom with an above-ground tub. Here
and there are clusters of furniture — here an office, there a
seating area, at the far end a kitchen, yet the distances seem vast.
Two staircases, one at each end, lead down to the 17,000 square foot
underground floor. Outside, there are provisions for a helipad, a
golf course, tennis courts, and riding trails. Nearby are walking
trails of the Delaware & Raritan Canal and nearby is Rockingham, the
historic house where George Washington once stayed.
The J.P. King Company has been property auctioneers for 88 years.
J. Craig King is a fourth generation president, and the officers also
include J. Scott King and Christy King Ray. The firm established its
reputation in the luxury property market in the 1990s when it sold
the legendary Calumet Farms, home of numerous Kentucky Derby winners,
for $18 million. Other major sales have been the Kiawah Island Ocean
Course in South Carolina ($27 million), Barbara Mandrell’s Nashville
mansion ($2.1 million), and a 600-acre apple orchard in Pennsylvania
that netted $2.34 million. That auction took place on March 21, the
day that the U.S. started the bombing of Baghdad, and spokesperson
Carl Carter claims this successful sale proves that the auction method
will overcome uncertain markets.
The auctioneers’ job is to whomp up interest, and they won’t take
a property that will sell for less than $1.5 million. Because they
know when the campaign will be over, they can budget their spending
efficiently. For instance, they staff an information line 24 hours
a day. They help prospective bidders with due diligence by arranging
visits for architects, bankers, lawyers, agents, and designers. They
plan a big luxurious event, with food, drink, and live music, and
sometimes people dress in black tie. "We are known for taking
care of all the bitty details," says Carter. "There is a great
deal of psychology on an auction deal. You want to set up an elegant
yet business-like atmosphere."
On the day of the auction the winning bidder must write a check for
the non-refundable down payment, 20 percent of the final bid or a
minimum of $600,000.
Closing must take place within 30 days, and at that time the new owner
will pay a buyers’ premium, 5 to 10 percent added to the highest-bid
price, to cover the sellers’ marketing expenses. For this property,
the premium will be 10 percent or a minimum of $300,000.
The auction company is not worried about the buyer reneging on the
sale. Unlike a sale through the conventional process, an auction sale
doesn’t depend on inspections, financing, or the sale of other
All has to be taken care of before the bidding starts. "In an
auction the sale is contingency free," says Carter. "People
don’t pay $600,000 lightly."
— Barbara Fox
1315 Canal Road. Lot size: 48 acres. Taxes: $47,600.
Listed, J.P. King Auction Company Inc., 800-558-5464. Www.jpking.com.
4 bedrooms; 4 baths; 17,000 square foot basement; 8-car
garage. More than 400 feet long with 14-foot ceilings, insulated
glass walls, indoor pool and Jacuzzi in master suite. $3,000,000
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