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Zillowing Out

A $19 Million Home To Remind Us That Money Does Not Buy Taste

Chris Thompson/Defector

It’s been a bad week for plenty of reasons, but most of which I will not be going into here. The most banal of the bad things is that I extremely over-spiced the chili last night on account of having bought a different brand of spices and being distracted and frustrated. It was completely inedible, and that was enough to make me cry. I had to throw it out. That’s what I’m working with. That’s where we are. It’s okay. It will (probably?) be fine.

Everyone is having a bad week, so I know I’m not special. The news is fucking awful, the pandemic is doing whatever it has been doing for three years now. Everyone is absolutely exhausted, and now the holidays—with all of their problems—are here. Because of this, I have made the executive decision that you will not receive the spooky kind of terrible house you crave. Instead this week we will remind ourselves that no amount of money can solve all of your problems and that no amount of money can buy you taste. This week we will not envy the rich, but try to pity them. We will try to make ourselves feel better about the fact that we are stuck in a small apartment as the climate heats up with no hope of beauty in sight. What? Just me. Whatever. Let’s continue.

For the last installment of this column, I wrote about a house in upstate New York that I would like to own. But I should have specified that it was a dream house in the current life that I have. It is near enough to where I live and where my friends live; it is expensive in a “one lucky moment away” amount; it is lovely but attainable. What I really want, what I have ALWAYS wanted, is a ranch.

Probably part of the reason I want a ranch is because the rich children I knew growing up had them and I was jealous. I love the big sky. I love the earth. I love to have VIEWS. I am very good at hosting. I would be perfect for ranch ownership. I read Edna Ferber’s excellent Giant a few years ago and then a lot of biographies about big Texas ranches and immediately became infuriated. I would be so much better at ranch ownership than these people.

And this is where we get to the problem with most good ranches. If the ranch has great views or great land, it will have a bad house. If it has a good house, the design will be awful. If it’s in a nice location, it will have in some way destroyed the local economy or the local ecosystem.

For a long time, I thought my dream was to own a ranch in Texas because it is my home state and I feel equipped to handle the wildlife there. Snakes? Not a problem. But now I have lost my heat tolerance and the idea of never seeing snow makes me sad. I like snow. I like seasons so much. Which is why, a few years ago, I pivoted my dreaming about ranches to the West. This is how I ended up with Zillow alerts for Western Montana, Idaho, and Eastern Washington. They are good alerts. Even the shitty houses have something nice to see.

I’ve written about Montana once before for a moderately affordable house similar to the one I wrote about last week. But this week, we will visit a very specific kind of Montana: Montana for People Who Have Too Much Money.

This week’s house is located in Bigfork, Montana. Like all houses, it has some problems. Right off the bat, one problem it has is that it is a cool $19 million. This is almost certainly more money than I will make over my entire lifespan. It is an obscene amount of money. I asked Important Defector Business Man Jasper Wang if I could borrow $19 million and he completely dodged my question!

Before we get too far into the weeds, here it is:

Screenshot: Zillow

“Wow, fuck yeah,” you might be thinking, and you would be forgiven. At first glance I, too, was mesmerized by this property. The specifications on it are insanely good. Sure, it is $19 million, which is bad. But it’s on a beautiful lake. It has over 15 acres. It is called the “Golden West Lodge,” which is a sick name. It has 888 feet of frontage (which I assume means lake shore?). It has “7 cabins totaling 14 bedrooms, an entertainment lodge, gym, lap pool and 2 docks with a combined 7 slips. ” Everything seems good, doesn’t it? Look at the lake:

Screenshot: Zillow

Damn, that’s a nice lake! I would very much like to lounge on that chair and read my book and have a little cocktail. That would be very nice. Here, look at another cabin. Relish it because this is the last nice picture I will show you:

Screenshot: Zillow

At this point in the slideshow, I was feeling great. I was thinking about how I could wrap this up as a beautiful Christmas treat for us. I was making a pitch deck to send to Jasper to start a Defector Summer Camp. I was sold! Look at these nice statues of dogs! Look at those big-as-hell trees. Look at the hammock. Look at how the nice golden light of the sunset makes this look like an idyllic place to spend a month with your friends in a world where you don’t have to work because you are independently wealthy.

But then I went inside.

Here is a picture from the main house:

Screenshot: Zillow

I’m sorry. You’re telling me that this is a $19 million property and it has green carpets? At first I tried to have sympathy. It must be cold in Montana. Maybe the carpet helps with heat. But then I remembered that these people are filthy rich. Get heated floors, you jerks! On top of this, the wood either does not match or has fucking awful lighting. These built-ins look so ashy. These stones on the fireplace don’t even look real. All of these couches look like they were bought on Craigslist. Even the fern is sad!

Maybe, I thought, it was a fluke. Here is the kitchen:

Screenshot: Zillow

I recently learned about these appliances that are nicer and cooler than Viking stoves, called Big Chill. Now, despite renting and having the shittiest fridge of all time, I’m looking down my nose at these appliances. That dishwasher looks very small! The stove is nice I guess, if you like to have the same boring shit as everyone else. What is the POINT in being rich if you don’t buy anything cool! What is the POINT in having a $19 million house if you think the pinnacle of taste is having someone sand down the decent paint job on your cabinets to make them look more rustic and also choosing a color pairing that dulls every aspect of the room! Awful. Embarrassing.

At this point, I thought that maybe the cabins would be better. They are not. Here’s one:

Screenshot: Zillow

Jesus. Okay. So, to even get to this room where something bad but interesting is happening, I had to scroll through like 40 photos of all wood-paneled rooms. Is the wood the nice red cedar on the outside of the buildings? No. It is this cheap wood that looks all shiny for no reason. I also scrolled through a giant outdoor pool, which seemed nice, but this room is a perfect example of the problem with this ranch: the people who own it have no taste. I actually do like this wallpaper, but it’s used poorly and on too many walls. The picnic blanket comforter and matching curtains I don’t think have ever been trendy in anything other than Kohl’s catalogs, and we still have this terrible, terrible carpet.

At this point, I was confused. Here is a map of the property:

Screenshot: Zillow

Just looking at this map makes me upset now that I’ve seen the insides of these cabins because the map makes this seem like my dream ranch. It has everything you could need! It has a shop, which could provide revenue, and it has a WHOLE CHERRY ORCHARD AND BARN! Famously, I love cherries! Maybe it would get better?

Here’s another kitchen. This one is better:

Screenshot: Zillow

This kitchen is very interesting to me because green kitchens are very trendy right now because of Dakota Johnson. But this one is the same as the other one in that it has the same late 90s brushwork on the cabinets, with the same shiny appliances. It’s a perfect example of everything I hate about this house: it feels thoughtless.

This is a kitchen that is hard to work in. The distance from the sink to the stove is just too large and the table in the middle has such a sharp corner. I can already imagine the permanent bruise I would have on my hip from under-estimating its breadth as i carried something across to the stove. It is also open-plan. I hate open plan kitchens, but I especially hate them in very expensive homes. Open-plans are for people whose kitchens are tiny and need sight-lines into other rooms to convince them that the are not becoming claustrophobic. There is no need for this here! The real issue, really, seems to be that with $19 million, the owners of this house have decided to decorate it themselves. These are not the choices a professional makes.

When I got to this room, I had more questions than the listing could provide me answers for:

Screenshot: Zillow

This is one of the worst designed billiards rooms I’ve ever seen! The lamp isn’t centered and looks like it’s from a terrible Tuscan Kitchen era. The pool table itself looks too small. The signs aren’t even vintage. I was at a loss. I needed someone to talk to me about Montana!

Jasper—despite refusing, yet again, to allow me to buy any properties with company money—did connect me to a local expert. Meet Montana resident, and absolute icon, Ken. Ken, had the gossip.

Ken explained to me that this area of Montana does have a lot of beautiful houses: houses that were built by craftsmen in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. This house, though older, has been renovated poorly. Instead of maintaining any 1920s charm, it has been gut renovated. “Used to be these things were a little bit more of a work of art on the inside rather than just being wood veneer echo chambers decorated with everything but taste,” Ken said.

YES, EXACTLY. Apparently, this is a fairly common problem. Instead of these giant estates remaining as entertainment spaces or social clubs or camps for out-of-towners, they have been bought up by private rich people, bought and sold for profit, and never actually upgraded. According to U.S. Census data, Bigfork’s 2019 median household income was a little over $66,000. In 2000, it was just over $36,000. And that doesn’t count the abundance of property owned as second homes.

It’s sad because this property has so much potential. With someone who cared about it and put in some effort it could be a wonderful place to stay. With better design choices and more emotional investment, this could be my dream house! It could be a ranch for all of us to have. But as it stands, I wouldn’t buy it if I did have $19 million! It doesn’t seem worth it.

This week’s house has been listed on Zillow for 462 days for $19,000,000. If you buy this week’s house, please add me to your will. I would like to have some money. I can change this house.