Selling mansions with a luxury experience

The arms race to sell more real estate – from live-in managers to personal notes – now includes creating luxury experiences in expensive homes for sale:

Before entering through a Casey Key mansion’s arched doors to attend a “VIP reception” to spur a sale in November, guests first had to navigate their way through a jaw-dropping array of luxury automobiles — Lamborghini, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and a reproduction 1936 Auburn Boattail Speedster — parked in the 6,600-square-foot home’s motor court.

A few weeks later — and also on Casey Key — guests at a 10,000-square-foot, $15 million mansion for sale were greeted by Saks Fifth Avenue models who offered perfumes and skin care products in the oversized master bathroom.

In the Sarasota Ranch Club recently, a chef displayed his skills in the enormous kitchen of a 7,200-square-foot, $2.6 million listing…

Often, such events top $5,000 to run, or about 10 percent of a typical $50,000 marketing budget for a waterfront mansion priced at $10 million or more.

While I’m sure this creates some buzz – and it seems everyone likes buzz these days – it seems like it would help people envision how the house could be used. If a primary motivator of buying a big home is to impress people (this is what critics of McMansions argue), actually seeing the home put to that use could go a long way.

Interestingly, the article hints that this strategy works but there are no hard numbers about how effective this is. If this strategy wasn’t used as much for a while, why is it returning now? I wonder if this is particularly prone to the overall state of the economy: if things are generally going well, these sorts of events look okay but in lean times, they look garish and suggest the wealthy are rubbing it in.

Odd final thought: could someone become a real estate party crasher if they know where these events are happening? Do you have to be vetted (income, wealth, credit, etc.) to be invited to such an event?

Carefully designing museum exhibits of traumatic events

Museums help us know and interpret our past so what is the best way to design exhibits that tackle traumatic events?

Working to affect the museumgoer’s subconscious is how Layman talks about exhibition design. First, he strives to understand – reading, consulting with historians, trying to learn the material as well as the curators do in order to find what resonates, what surprises. When it comes to putting materials in galleries, yes, he wants to manipulate you, but for the purposes of telling the story.

“We do a technique called ‘swing focus’ as the visitors go through,” Layman said. “Their eye catches one thing after the next, and it works all the way through, and the story, then, it just unfolds almost intuitively. It comes off the walls, and the people get lost in this story, and it becomes a very moving experience.”

Earlier this winter, Layman was in the opening galleries at the Illinois Holocaust Museum, in Skokie, the ones that, in parallel, establish what Jewish life was like in Europe before World War II and how the Nazis rose to power in Germany.

The two hours Layman took to explain what his firm did in Skokie, a sort of ultimate guided tour, were absolutely fascinating. The museum deftly takes viewers into some of humanity’s least human moments and then escorts them back out. It works so well, in part, because every inch of the design is pored over. “We pay attention to excruciating detail on absolutely everything,” he said.

It sounds like the purpose is trying to tell an immersive narrative. This narrative is carefully crafted and meant to give the attendee a particular viewpoint on the world. Museums can reinforce existing cultural narratives, particularly in their ability to involve all the senses.

I like museums and what they can offer: original artifacts and powerful experiences. Yet, as someone who values education, museums seem like they can only go so far: they provide an introduction to most topics. If the museum is the only time a person encounters an important topics like the Holocaust, then that is not enough. I would encourage my students to find out for themselves, to find original texts and numerous interpretations to start developing what they think on their own. Museums can do some of this but there simply isn’t enough space (and this process requires a lot more text that the typical museumgoer would be willing to read) to tell the whole story.

A fascinating example of this is at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. Before going, I wondered how they would handle conspiracy theories about JFK’s assassination. But, the museum had a whole section on the various theories at the end without making a strong statement against such theories. The better parts of the museum told the story of JFK’s rise, involving artifacts, texts, and videos. The ultimate part of the journey is looking at the reconstructed spot at the sixth floor window from which Lee Harvey Oswald fired at the president. I could see that taking this all in moved numerous visitors. All together, the museum is a well-done taste of JFK’s life, legacy, and the theories surrounding his death but an individual could spend years going through all that is out there and trying to make sense of it all. The museum isn’t the final word but rather an authoritative source.

 

Should college be marketed as the best four years of life?

John J. Miller points out that the idea that college should be the best four years of one’s life, brought to his attention by a University of Michigan mailer, is an odd goal.

I tend to agree – and have a few thoughts about this:

1. This is a terrible setup for the rest of life. If students think that life is downhill after college (which is implied with sayings like this), then this could turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps it suggests that the college life (or at least its lifestyle) should be extended before one has to “get real” and pursue more adult goals. Adult life certainly is different than college life – but this idea suggests it is the peak of life and adult life, in comparison, is lacking.

2. How does this work for students who find that college is not the best four years of their life? The college experience does not appeal to everyone nor is it perfect. If you were not thrilled with everything in college, should you feel guilt? Remorse? Did you miss something? College is not just a fun time – it is a period of transition from being a teenager to being an adult and this can be a difficult process.

3. When did this shift from college being preparation to college being “an experience” happen? Which is the more important goal, particularly for a society that hopes to have productive and learned citizens? At the same time, if one is paying $20-50k a year for college, it had better be a good experience…