When it comes to a home’s square footage, compact, efficient, and “right-sized” is the name of the game ‘round these parts. Of course, every so often, I blog about private homes of mind-blowing proportions and those are generally ones that do tout sustainable features. Not that painting all 30,000-square-feet of a mansion with low-VOC paints and installing dual-flush toilets in each of its eight bathrooms is a get-out-of-jail-free card, but massive eco-estates do make for interesting conversation. In the end, people aren’t going to stop erecting egregiously sized, ostentatious monuments to their wealth, but at least they’re making some kind of effort and investing in emerging green technologies in the process.
And then there are ginormous homes with seemingly no redeemable qualities, green or otherwise. Such is the case with Versailles, the totally humble, 13-bedroom Windermere, Fla., abode constructed by timeshare mogul David Siegel and his much younger, former beauty queen wife, Jackie. Ringing in at 90,000-square-feet (yes, you read that right), Versailles is (or was to be) the third largest private home in the country behind the Biltmore Estate (135,000 square feet) and Oheka Castle (109,000 square feet). Versailles beats out the fourth-place contender, the luxurious tornado-proof concrete bunker in the Ozarks known as Pensmore, by about 18,000 square feet. No small feat, I guess you could say.
And what do you know, David and Jackie Siegel and their uncompleted-because-of-the-economic-downturn dream home are the subject of a new documentary film from acclaimed photographer Lauren Greenfield called “The Queen of Versailles.” The controversial film recently premiered to a sold-out crowd at Sundance and has been snatched up by Magnolia Pictures for distribution. This is all much to the chagrin of David Siegel who is suing both Greenfield and Sundance for defamation. Needless to say, “The Queen of Versailles,” described by Hollywood.com as “the ultimate ‘Real Housewives’ tale,” looks like most excellent but not necessarily easy watching.
Here’s what Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress has to say of this "rags-to-riches-to-rags" story:
The hook for the movie and the source of the title is Jackie and David’s thwarted ambitions to build the largest house in America, modeled after Versailles and based on a sketch David drew on a private plane on the way to Las Vegas. The design is a monument to bad taste, as are the hilariously tacky portraits that litter the house they’re still living in, of Jackie as a Greek goddess and David as a Roman warrior.
But it’s also a testament to waste. Rather than using any room for multiple purposes, Jackie and David tacked 10 kitchens onto their monstrosity so they can have a sushi bar as well as other specialized cooking spaces. The house has a wing for their children, a place Jackie plans to ‘visit’ in one of the unintentionally callous things she regularly says about her brood. The basement is stacked with $5 million worth of Chinese marble, and Jackie has a warehouse full of decor she plans to use in it, from French furniture to giant replicas of Faberge eggs. Those piles of junk, and scenes of a garage full of unused bicycles for their children, or post-recession Jackie being coaxed into spending less for Christmas by her nannies and still walking out of Walmart with three sets of the game Operation (among other things) have blown past abundance or fulfillment straight to gorged.
Yikes. Still, Greenfield doesn’t consider her film to be a straight-out, Bravo-style gawk-fest centered strictly around outrageously conspicuous consumption and hideous interior decor. In the video interview below, she claims that the Siegels' real estate woes, despite revolving around a half-realized Orlando mansion with a bi-level wine cellar and a 20-car garage, is “really similar to what many of us went through in the economic crisis: having to downsize, having to deal with the possibility of losing our homes, having to deal with significant changes in life and also the stress on relationships.”
Think you'll catch "The Queen of Versailles" when it hits theaters? And I suppose I should mention that Versailles is still on the market for $100 million (finished) or for $75 million in its current, unfinished state.