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

theaters

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"

esthetic.

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

property.

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

Journal,"

says John Boulton in a telephone interview, "and found that for

large homes in Canada through Mexico, auctions are becoming the

marketing

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

lower."

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

basement

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,

recording

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

blending

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

December

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

escalated

to lawsuits. Caveats on the auctioneer’s web page, disclosing the

litigation, cast doubt on whether the curtain wall installer has

compromised

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

now-famous

Route 66.

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

products

I designed bore my name — Boulton Stereo. We had a retail

component,

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

(Eliot

Gant, the shirtmaker), who sold it to Siemens in Germany," says

Boulton.

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,

including

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

favorite

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

Gates.

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

properties.

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

exterior

glass walls, indoor pool and Jacuzzi in master suite. $3,000,000

plus.

Corrections or additions?


This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

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