The Butler Did It

Couple in 50s seeking experienced household manager with high service standards to manage three homes, two homes in Texas and one in Colorado . . . Light culinary and extensive vendor management are must skills. Salary 100-120k.

Male couple seeking household manager with an assertive service style to manage their three homes: 9,000 square-foot penthouse, Wisconsin lake house and NYC hotel suite. Excellent administrative skills and travel schedule abilities required. 80k live-out.

Seeking a top-notch butler with knowledge of fine homes for a multiple-estate family. Must be willing to travel, focused on service, principals' needs, management and training of a twenty person-plus staff, wardrobe, valet, informal and formal dining, intimate events, and ensuring both home and travel run smoothly . . .

Jobs such as this, posted on Starkey International's website or in publications like the Caretaker Gazette, make a career in household management sound exciting and lucrative. And the position does come with many perks, says William Bennett, a former Starkey educator who's worked in several private households. "There's private airplane travel, living in a luxurious mansion and eating the same foods as them, since you are essentially preparing the meals," he says. "Your insurance is paid for. There is usually transportation provided for you. You can live in Palm Beach in the winter, Nantucket in the summer and Connecticut in the spring and the fall."

But the job isn't just jet-setting and gourmet meals. "You have to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he points out. "It's sometimes hard to get time off, because you are the glue that holds the household together." In a previous job, Bennett had to wake at 6 a.m., cook and lay out breakfast, do light housekeeping chores and make sure the car was running and its interior was a comfortable temperature — all before his employers or "principals," as they're called in the trade, started their day. If his principals planned a long ski weekend, he would shuttle their SUV to and from their destination while they traveled via private jet, along the way confirming via cell phone that the chicken pot-pie he'd prepared would be waiting for the mister and missus when they returned home. "It was all about anticipating what they wanted to do before they knew they wanted to do it," he says. "And make it seamless service. Make it just flow."

A household manager, or HM, also has to maintain careful boundaries. "You are pretty much like piece of furniture," explains Bennett. "You are of the house, but you are not a member of the house. The births, the deaths, the weddings, the parties — you are there, but you are not a part of the family."

As a former placement director at Starkey International and now co-owner of her own placement agency, Gail Hamilton has helped HMs get jobs in every type of household available: downtown penthouses and ocean-side retreats, sprawling ranches and Caribbean villas. Smaller households may require a single houseman who does much of the cleaning, cooking and valet services himself. Massive estates, encompassing two, three or more households located all over the world, often demand an estate manager who oversees dozens of staffers. And every employer requires a different style of service. Some desire a traditional butler who displays the finest etiquette while overseeing the maintenance of formal rose gardens, upkeep of the peacocks roaming the property and preservation of the priceless art in the in-house museum. Others prefer a more progressive servant who works behind the scenes to insure that the home movie theater, bowling alley, indoor and outdoor Olympic-size pools and flat-screen TVs/computer screens in every room all run smoothly.

"The clients are all unique. Whatever they want, they can have," Hamilton says, then adds with a laugh, "For a price."

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner