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The creation of Dorian Homes, the Villa Bellagio is largely the personal vision of Dorian's 48-year-old president, Paul Lambert. A former restaurateur who's been building custom and semi-custom homes in the Denver area since 1989, Lambert is also an enthusiastic patron of Vegas's Bellagio; he and his wife, Liza, held their wedding there two years ago. He's seen the remake of Ocean's Eleven, which was filmed there, five times, and he enlisted several artisans involved in the resort's construction to bring its look to Douglas County.
"I love the architecture, the mosaics, the gardens," Lambert says of his villa's Vegas counterpart. "I love the quality of construction. The idea was to give the place a resort feel outside, so you would never have to leave home -- to make it real nurturing and real custom. Many people have said it's the best parade house they've ever seen. I've heard that 25 times. It's gratifying, especially since we did it in five months instead of eighteen."
Not everyone has been bowled over by the villa, particularly in this economically troubled, drought-ridden season. But Lambert defends the house with paternal pride: "A swimming pool -- are you ready for this? -- takes 18% as much water as grass does," he says. "We used companies that offer top quality and are environmentally sensitive, too."
Yet for all its size, there is something oddly cramped and oppressive -- not to mention disorienting -- about the Villa Bellagio. Considerable space was sacrificed to the huge foyer; once you get past the grand view from the entrance, the thrill shrinks. You can play handball or slaughter cattle in the baths, but many of the rooms turn out to be relatively small, their dimensions diminished further by all the overstuffed furniture and high-end electronics, like the pop-up wide-screen TV at the foot of the master bed. The two upstairs bedrooms and the mother-in-law apartment are reached by separate staircases, like individual suites for Frank and the boys. Enough patio furniture to seat a platoon crowds the pool area, leaving little room for kids to romp. The entire affair sits on a half-acre lot, a puny estate for such a proud palazzo.
Lambert says the small lot is a fair tradeoff for the spectacular view of Daniel's Park and the Front Range. The floor plan, he adds, reflects the kind of owner he had in mind -- a family with older children who value their privacy. In fact, Lambert originally planned for his own family to occupy the villa.
"We could have connected the upstairs, but then it wouldn't have made for as grand an entry," he says. "Because our kids are older, we felt separating it was better. My kids love it. They're going to kill me if I sell it."
But Lambert says he has several prospects interested in the villa and is now "100% certain" that he will sell it. Like a lot of builders, Dorian Homes has been struggling through the economic downturn of the past year, and selling the villa will help extricate Lambert's company from certain financial difficulties.
Not that those difficulties are, by Lambert's account, all that worrisome. He has 27 lots in Daniel's Gate slated for semi-custom homes in the $400,000-$600,000 range, and his brochures stress Dorian's reputation for high standards and personal service. "Dorian Homes takes the extra time to make a home 'feel right' by managing the construction process closely and making sure all the pieces fit together flawlessly," one blurb proclaims. "Although other builders may try to imitate Dorian, there is no substitute for passion and excellence."
"I would say I'm the best in town," Lambert boasts. "[Tom] Martino used to rave about me on the radio." (Consumer reporter Martino says he doesn't remember ever mentioning Lambert or his company on his radio show: "I don't recall him at all. There could have been a problem, and I called and he took care of it. When people do that, I try to thank them on the air.")
But not all the raving about Lambert and his company is complimentary. A less flattering version can be found in court files in two counties, where Dorian is being sued by various subcontractors and suppliers for money owed to them, and in the accounts of several unhappy homebuyers, who claim they've had problems with defects in their dream homes, problems getting warranty work performed or, in one case, a problem getting a $30,000 deposit returned.
"Here he's building a $4 million home, and he was telling us he didn't have any money," says Maggie Stover, who lives down the street from Lambert in a subdivision filled with Dorian homes. Stover and her husband filed suit against Lambert over a dispute concerning her sewer line, a case that was resolved last year. "He's my neighbor, but he doesn't talk to anybody. He just threatens you with his lawyers and tries to intimidate you."
Lambert says that he's working out his debts with subcontractors and that the complaints about him are unfounded or overblown. He sees himself as a maverick champion of quality homes, taking on the big boys like Richmond and US Homes and outdoing them.