F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, "The rich are different from you and me." Here's one way -- they live differently, as the nearly 10,000-square-foot, $7.3 million "HomeDestinations" show house at the recent International Builders Show in Las Vegas makes abundantly clear.

Jointly sponsored by Builder and Home magazines, HomeDestinations was designed for an exclusive group, the ultra-wealthy. The targeted buyers are a couple who live in a huge house full of the latest gizmos and must-haves, yet still have a lingering malaise about their home. It's big, but it has no soul.

It's not the type of problem that faces a typical homeowner, but with a $7.3 million budget, it's the kind of challenge that most architects and home builders would kill for.

The lucky ones who got this commission were Mark Scheurer of Scheurer Architects in Newport Beach, Calif., and Christopher Stuhmer, a Las Vegas builder of custom luxury homes.

Scheurer's first step in creating a place that would make the couple happy was to give this new house a past. Instead of a big 10,000-square-foot box that rises out of the Las Vegas desert, HomeDestinations is made up of one- and two-story wings separated by interior courtyards and enclosed breezeways. As a result, the house appears to be an agglomeration of rooms and wings that were built over time as successive owners added on to meet their needs.

To heighten the illusion of age and add a layer of European sophistication, the architect team designed the house in the style of the centuries-old stone houses of Tuscany, Italy. This might seem an unusual choice, but not in Las Vegas. With near perfect reduced-scale recreations of Paris's Eiffel Tower, Venice's Doge's Palace and Bridge of Sorrows, and Egypt's pyramid and Sphinx, a bit of the Italian countryside blends right in.

The house is also classic Las Vegas in the way that authenticity and artifice were combined to create the Tuscan look. U.S. Tile's dark, reddish-brown clay roof tiles are the same type that has been used in Tuscany for hundreds of years. The Boral bricks are new but look 350 years old. The El Dorado stone walls are synthetic, but they look so real that even a Tuscan stonemason would be taken in.

The stone used for the interior steps, some floors, the courtyards and the paved areas behind the house is imported French limestone, a material that says "old and European" to the traveled eye, and one that has a long history. It has been used in the cathedrals and castles of Europe for more than a thousand years, as well as in the houses of Tuscany.

The architect also incorporated some thoroughly American 21st century details, including large expanses of glass and walls entirely made of French doors. The house has more natural light than any old house in Tuscany, but the light is all indirect and carefully controlled to insure that the house never becomes uncomfortably warm. (In summer, outdoor temperatures typically rise above 100 degrees.) Scheurer did not depend on natural cooling alone, however. He also included a very sophisticated nine-zone heating and cooling system.

At the same time Scheurer was creating a sprawling mansion that looks old, feels stately and oozes character, he had to rein in individual spaces so that the rooms would not be so big that they would overwhelm the owners or feel empty when only a few people were around.

The biggest challenge in this regard was the great room-kitchen area. At 950 square feet, it's big enough for a party of 75 to 100 people. It's also the heart of the house and a space that the owners will use every day.

Scheurer's solution was to separate the two functions with a 24-inch-thick stone wall that is pierced with a single, unexpectedly wide 15-foot brick arch. To shrink things further, interior designer Chris Johnson (also of Newport Beach) used oversized furniture pieces, dark colors (which always make a space appear smaller) and textured surfaces so one never confronts large expanses of blank wall or ceiling.

With the choices that a $7 million budget affords, the materials include the unusual and the exotic. The great room ceiling, which had to be high or the space would feel like a bowling alley, is made of dark-stained cedar decking supported by four large and elaborate trusses held together with bolts and pounded wrought iron connector plates. The floor is distressed black walnut that looks at least 300 years old. The kitchen floor is dark brown Italian Embrato marble crisscrossed with black pounded-iron inlays. One of the two very large kitchen islands has a black walnut butcher block counter; the other island counter is made of Spanish gold marble.

The appliances in the kitchen also give some indication of the generous budget. Not only are there two large Sub-Zero refrigerators, there are also two Sub-Zero freezer drawers, a Sub-Zero wine cooler (so the owners won't have to make frequent runs to the basement wine cellar when they are entertaining), a separate bar sink with two Fisher & Paykel dishwasher drawers for washing wine and cocktail glasses, a huge 48-inch Wolf professional range with both a convection and a conventional oven, a built-in Miele cappuccino maker and a Briva KitchenAid dishwasher that can hold 14 place settings. The only odd thing I noticed in this otherwise fabulous kitchen was a warming drawer so low to the floor that bending over or squatting to use it would be a pain.

To shrink the 1,200-square-foot master suite to comfortable proportions, the architect held the sleeping area with its fabulous view of the mountains to a modest 350 square feet (about the same size found in most mid-priced single-family houses) and compartmentalized the rest of the area into smaller spaces, including a lobby, an entry foyer, his-and-hers walk-in closets, two bathrooms and a makeup area with natural light.

The house also boasts a suitably scaled "wellness center," an exercise room with a curtained area for a visiting masseuse and a place for a manicurist to do nails. After a relaxing massage, the owners can hop into the outdoor whirlpool in the adjacent patio from which they can look at the fire pit surrounded by water and listen to the comforting sound of water trickling down the walls that enclose one end of this space.

When they're ready for company, this couple can entertain a few friends in the adult lounge. They can play cards, enjoy a drink or push a few buttons, wait for the movie screen and projector to pop out of the ceiling, and watch a home movie. The adult lounge is large, but again Johnson cleverly scaled it down by using oversize furniture, dark colors and a dark-stained beamed ceiling, raising half the floor area two steps and incorporating a large bar in a far corner.

Did the architect, the interior designer and the builder succeed in creating a home with soul? They created a quite amazing house, but life here may not be all that our couple had hoped for.

They will have great parties, whether they're entertaining a group of five, 15 to 20, or a blowout crowd of 200. But the surfeit of destinations in the HomeDestinations house may have unexpected consequences. With so many "getaway places" -- her office, his office, the sky room atop the central tower, the basement billiard room, the basement wine cellar and wine tasting room, the adult lounge, the wellness center, the swimming pool, the outdoor whirlpool, the indoor whirlpool and the crafts room -- how much time will the couple spend with each other?

Katherine Salant can be contacted at Salantques@aol.com

{copy} 2003, Katherine Salant

Distributed by Inman News Features

Architect Mark Scheurer sought to give the place a past by making it a cluster of rooms and wings that looked like they were built over time.To separate the two functions of 950-square-foot great room-kitchen area, which is the heart of the HomeDestinations complex,

the architect used a 24-inch-thick stone wall that is pierced with a single, unexpectedly wide 15-foot brick arch.