Homes That Invite Shop Talk
For business leaders, vacation homes become places to hold conferences, strategize and make deals
Wall Street Journal
February 13, 2014
Martin Puris, an advertising veteran, invited a Sony Corp. marketing executive for a summer weekend last year at his second home in the swank hamlet of Sagaponack in Long Island’s Hamptons.
The men relaxed by the 75-foot outdoor pool, dined in the adjacent airy sunroom—and struck a deal. Mr. Puris, former chief executive of ad giant Ammirati Puris Lintas, snared the Sony Music Entertainment unit as the third major client for Puris & Partners, his new corporate-strategy consultancy.
Mr. Puris frequently entertains business contacts at the 12-acre property, where he also conceived his startup. “It doesn’t feel like work,” Mr. Puris explains. He can comfortably accommodate 16 people on his estate, which has a main house, a separate guesthouse and a large guest bedroom above a detached garage. The property has a total of nine bedrooms, 11 full baths and about 9,000 square feet of living space.
Like everyone else, top executives need time off to escape high-pressure jobs. Unlike everyone else, their vacation homes are often critical to their work. Beyond setting up computers, they must devote several hours a day to email and conference calls. Some interrupt their stays to fly back to headquarters for an unexpected meeting.
Visits to his vacation residence in Hawaii’s Hualalai Resort helped Harry H. Frampton to devise turnaround strategies during the 2009 downturn.
“Coming to a place like Hawaii allowed me to not be overwhelmed by the problems,” says Mr. Frampton, executive chairman of East West Partners, a property developer, manager and brokerage in Avon, Colo.
For instance, he recalls, he was at that vacation home when he decided which of his company’s resort development projects to defer due to the recession.
Mr. Frampton enjoys stunning sunset views from the main house in his nearly 5,000-square-foot compound on the Big Island. The estate, set on half an acre, also has two guest cottages, though they tend to be used only by other family members.
Vacation-home sales in the U.S. are rebounding. Sales rose 10% in 2012, after tumbling 56% between 2006 and 2010, the National Association of Realtors reported.
Hualalai Resort, half owned by Dell Inc. CEO Michael Dell, sold more second homes and lots in 2013 than any year since 2007, a spokeswoman says.
Prices are bouncing back as well. “I expect close to double-digit gains in second-home prices this year,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. He thinks primary homes will appreciate by only about 6%.
The median sales price for a vacation home in the U.S. was $150,000 in 2012, up 24% from 2011, according to the Realtors association. The increase reflects greater sales of higher priced properties. Their pricey amenities range from movie-screening theaters to wine cellars, private boat docks and golf-cart garages.
The second-home experiences of Mr. Puris and Mr. Frampton give insights into how an upscale residential retreat can benefit business leaders.
Mr. Puris started his career as a stand-up comedian, co-founded his ad agency in 1974 and later invented memorable slogans, such as “the ultimate driving machine,” used since 1975 by BMW AG to sell cars in the U.S.
He has cooked up other business ideas at his Hamptons house, where he and his wife, Mary Herrmann Puris, drive almost every weekend from their Manhattan loft apartment. He works during roughly a third of their typical three-day stays.
“This vacation home is where I have some of my best creative thoughts,” the 74-year-old executive explains. “This peaceful setting allows my brain to be uncluttered and focused.”
In November 2012, for example, he decided to stop running a U.S. joint venture for a U.K. marketing-services firm. He had forged the arrangement with his future British partner during a chat alongside the estate’s pool.
Mr. Puris pondered his next career move from its study. The book-crammed office, whose tallest windows overlook the pool, originally was the master bath. He remembers feeling inspired to launch Puris & Partners while there. The year-old firm employs playwrights, screenwriters and magazine columnists to teach companies to tell their story better and “capture the imagination of the marketplace,” he says.
He calls his bucolic estate Whimsy Farm. It has “secret gardens all over the place, fountains, odd places to have a drink or lunch,” he adds.
The ad executive unwinds there in other ways, too. He regularly uses its fully equipped exercise room and he races his 30-foot sailboat when weather permits. Until a few years ago, he owned and rode horses.
Whimsy Farm evolved from a 2.5 acre parcel that Ms. Herrmann Puris purchased in 1982, a decade before she married Martin. She spent $250,000 to build a small house with a 24-foot-high cathedral ceiling in the spacious living room.
The couple has completed three major additions since 1992. Among them: a glass enclosed sunroom that seats 30, an extra kitchen and a three-bedroom wing with floors made of 18th-century wood planks. The current master bathroom features a sunken whirlpool tub. Close by are their bedroom’s six closets and roaring gas fireplace.
Visiting relatives and business acquaintances usually occupy separate guest quarters. Expanding, renovating and landscaping the estate cost at least $4 million, Ms. Herrmann Puris says. But now, she says, “we’re out of add-ons.”
Mr. Frampton is sweating after a workout at the Hualalai Resort’s fitness center, but still feels comfortable as he enters his sun-drenched Hawaiian home. The reason? He routinely opens three sides to catch balmy breezes. The temperature fluctuates between 72 and 82 degrees this mid-January day.
Mr. Frampton and his wife, Susan, spend about 12 weeks a year in Hawaii—mostly during spring mud season in Vail, Colo., where their primary residence is.
The compound, completed in 2008, is the fourth vacation home built by the couple in their 48-year marriage. They spent more than $8 million to buy the property, and then construct and decorate the house, two guest cottages and the garage, Mr. Frampton estimates.
“We made a real effort to make it an inside/outside house,” says the 70-year-old executive, wearing a yellow T-shirt and Nike shorts.
A trio of sliding glass walls recedes into pockets. Interior and exterior floors, made of soft sandstone, extend the living area to a covered rear veranda. This “lanai” faces a pool, hot tub, gazebo, and the Pacific Ocean. “We eat 100% of our meals outside,” he says.
The four-bedroom, 4.5-bath compound has no inside showers. “There is nothing much nicer than taking an outside shower,” Mr. Frampton says. Occasional raindrops during showers don’t bother him because “you were wet to start with.”
Mr. Frampton, who founded East West in 1985 and remained CEO until 2012, wants to apply his “outside living inside” approach to its Kauai residential project. Among other things, he says the homes will have receding doors like his “so they can open up a lot.” He monitors the Kauai project by flying there a few times each time he vacations in Hawaii.
The executive used this second home throughout the recession. Far from his stressful, 65-hour workweeks, he says he was better able to remain upbeat, set priorities and deal with lenders. His introspection led him to conclude the company would survive by continuing “to treat our employees with respect” and being as truthful as possible with business partners.
“I work hard,” he says, “But you can work too hard.”