Viva Las Villa!

Builder Paul Lambert's dream house is the hit of the show homes, but homebuyers and creditors are raining on his parade.

Suppose, for a moment, that you're in the market for a seven-figure custom house.

Nothing fancy, mind you. Just a little something for the missus and the wee tykes, now that you've outgrown that quaint pied-à-terre downtown. Something different, something fresh. Something to make your friends weep with envy.

Seeking the luxury you deserve, you head down to the seventeenth annual Parade of Homes, which opened Labor Day weekend at Daniel's Gate, a spanking-new subdivision on the southern fringe of the metro area, halfway between Highlands Ranch and the edge of reason. Sponsored by the Denver Metro Home Builders Association, the event is a promotional extravaganza, showcasing the latest in upscale housing conceits while building traffic for the surrounding development.

John Johnston
Up at the villa: The backyard pedestal lineup.
John Johnston
Up at the villa: The backyard pedestal lineup.

Of course, most of the folks milling about aren't cash buyers like you. They're proles, plebes, working stiffs. They pay their nine bucks, gawk and gape and cadge decorating ideas they can knock off for a fraction of the price, then maybe swing by the empty lots being marketed on a nearby cul-de-sac, dreaming of the day they might retire in rough proximity to such opulence. But, hey, they can dream, can't they? You're not here to rain on their parade, but to join it. This year's experiment in excess features seven big-ticket homes by six builders, each of which strives in its own way to transport you, to somewhere else.

You might consider the charming subtleties of the Tango, which offers something called a rejuvenation room and a grand stone entry tower that is supposed to remind you of the hills of Bordeaux. Or maybe you're a sucker for the understated elegance of the Monticello, which "formally presents itself to the rest of the world," according to the official parade program, while hiding behind an "intriguing motor-court entrance."

Then there's the Tuscany, "a visual trip to Western Italy," complete with two-story rotunda foyer and open-air courtyard where you, yes you, can be sipping Chianti "and reading poetry by Dante or Petrarch." Or the Roaring Fork, with all those travertine tiles, warm earth tones -- "kisses of mercury, brick and chocolate," it says here -- and stair railings that "appear to be abstract bundles of flowing grass," or at least one blurb writer's notion of such a thing.

The Home for the Holidays house is an orgy of exposed timber and hand-hammered copper ceilings, where "the knotty pine magic of earlier times stands beside high technology's best." The Villa Il Sogno is so chock-full of Old World ambience, from the four-sided travertine fireplace to the terraced patio with six-tiered waterfall, that it's "hard to choose where to enjoy your gourmet meal." (Don't you hate it when that happens?)

But if you're a serious player -- a high-roller, an operator, a cuff-shooting guy who not only appreciates excess but understands the need to flaunt it -- then there's only one home that matters in this year's parade. That's the Villa Bellagio, a cute little number that has more of everything: more kitchens (three), more bathrooms (eleven), more space (9,100 square feet), more class. Especially if your idea of class has less do with Bellagio, Italy, than a certain Las Vegas hotel that goes by the same name.

Amid all the pricey cliches of this year's parade, from the obligatory two-story foyers and heavy-slabbed kitchen islands to the de rigueur home theaters and cavernous master baths, the Bellagio truly stands apart. It's not just the sheer size of the place or all those toilets (which suggest that the prospective owner is either planning on hosting company-wide keggers or hiring a chef who specializes in Ipecac Alfredo). It's not even the $4.1 million price tag, roughly triple the cost of the 6,000-square-foot monstrosities in this year's show.

No, what makes Bellagio unique is its wealth of over-the-top amenities and elaborate details. The grand entrance of all grand entrances, with two balconies and a massive chandelier overlooking the fray. The 27,000-gallon swimming pool with a thirty-foot "vanishing edge" that spills over to a trough below, creating a waterfall best viewed from the "casino" and wet bar on the lower level. The lavish mother-in-law apartment above the four-car garage. The Wolf stove and built-in Miele cappuccino maker (reverse-osmosis purified-water supply courtesy of Culligan), the granite counter for the outside barbecue station. The snug study with fabric window shades, perfect for a quiet consultation with the family consigliere.

Most parade homes have a giant fireplace and wide-screen TV placed side by side; the Bellagio has two such packages. Add to that the as-yet-unfinished Roman spa and arena-sized his-and-her master baths, as well as the proliferation of pillars, pedestals and impedimenta; all that's missing is the vomitorium. One procession of pedestals lines the back edge of the property, as if awaiting the arrival of busts of Caesars or perhaps CEOs, who can then gaze out across Daniel's Park, with its buffalo herd and 5,000 acres of open space, to the mountains beyond.

The parade program calls the Bellagio "a kaleidoscope for your senses" that will "speak to your heart of opera and classical Italy." But despite all the imperial touches, the villa speaks to a different sort of sensibility, more Lake Mead than Lake Como, more Tony Soprano than Enrico Caruso. (One of the arias piped into the place is the same syrupy tune Tony's wife, Carmela, listens to during idle moments on the hit HBO drama.) From its mirrored bar to its handsome stonework and crown moldings, from the painstakingly copied mosaics to the gewgawed billiards table, the villa is a stunning homage to the Hotel Bellagio -- one of the most luxurious Strip resorts, to be sure, but a mélange of styles just the same. It's a piece of Vegas on the prairie, right down to the actual Bellagio soap and shampoo in the powder rooms (complimentary to hotel guests) and the Ocean's Eleven poster outside the home theater.

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