Christmas at Blue Diamond getaway
By Susan Stone | Published originally in the Las Vegas Review Journal | December 24, 2018
Very rarely do we hear about an owner remodeling his home down to a single one bedroom — a decision that could have negative ramifications when it comes time to sell. But real estate developer and philanthropist Brett Torino cares about only one thing when it comes to his homes: that they be designed in a manner that makes sense for his lifestyle.
Torino invited Real Estate Millions into his pristine, white-on-white Blue Diamond pied-à-terre that has just one interior door (yes, for the bath), to talk about his unusual design choices, and share his all-original Christmas display.
He designed the house and its landscape.
“Probably a lot of what I do is soon obsolete, because I’m a bachelor. I have no children, so I design things with few doors, and few walls and whatever is functional for myself,” he said.
He has also lived in Spanish Trail Country Club for 36 years, and changed that house from a four bedroom to a one bedroom, but added two car garage spaces, “so I have my priorities right,” he said jokingly.
Blue Diamond Village was created to house miners from the nearby gypsum plant that has long since closed. Its 115 original homes were built between 1941 to 1955. Today, when one comes on the market, these homes and vacant lots are swept up by buyers who want to enjoy living inside Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. For some, like Torino, they are second or third retreat-style homes.
Although the furnishings and materials chosen were all top of the line, eco-friendly and organic, its simplicity and layout reflects a spare, Thoreau-like vision. It is designed to be a comfortable space to sink into, to decompress after work.
In the main living area, a black walnut, L-shaped chaise lounge covered in “high-maintenance white chenille” sits on a white, hand-woven wool rug in front of the fireplace. On the opposite side is a queen-size, platform bed made from inexpensive leftover floor planks. An oversized chair and ottoman is the only other seating besides the kitchen chairs. Everything is white, except for the kitchen kiva with blue glass tile, and the blue Venetian plastered bath.
Torino designed the light fixtures and furniture.
“I try to get pieces that are very elegant, understated but nice. I don’t like ostentatious, but I like nice things people can appreciate the effort that went into.”
The quarter-acre lot has a high clearance behind it, and he probably could have built a two-story, modern concrete structure without much protest, but that’s not his style.
The slim, soft-spoken philanthropist is well-established in Las Vegas real estate, but this purchase was purely a labor of love for him. He bought it in 2007 at the height of the market bubble, a mistake he compounded by a few design missteps, he said.
He kept the home’s original 1,000-square-footprint rather than tearing it down and starting fresh, a decision he later regretted.
“I learned many lessons about remodeling an old home in this community. Don’t. Just tear it down and start over. You’re going to wish you never started the process,” he said.
He had to reverse plans multiple times with the 77-year-old home to bring it up to code.
“It was very, very costly.”
The house now consists of a mudroom with laundry, kitchen and an open floor living room, separated from the one bedroom by a fireplace wall. Around the corner is the one bath with a pedestal sink, recessed storage shelves, a tiny closet and a huge, white, clawfoot tub facing clear French doors.
“Nothing is easy in this home. It’s as complicated as it could be in a simple home, then when you’re done experimenting, you see if it works.”
Torino is a longtime vegan who doesn’t need a lot of food prep space, he said. He likes to prepare food, “but I don’t make a lot of cooked things.”
The kitchen includes an island with small farmhouse sink, under which are two counter height refrigerator/coolers and a freezer. The other counter houses a Miele convection oven, Viking gas stove and a built-in steam cooker.
The counter material is white marble with a glass resin finish. And the “backsplash” consists of white wallpaper, not a great choice for a pasta lover, we pointed out. “I told you, it’s inefficient” he reiterated.
The wood floor that runs throughout the whole house is 1-inch, hand-hewn teak.
“I had two furniture makers, and it took them 12 months to do the floor. It’s like working with concrete, it’s impossible to destroy, but also incredibly difficult to work with,” Torino said.
He owns a home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and that style has clearly been incorporated; lots of organic materials, antiquities, lush landscaping and accents of blue and yellow. An old mining cart is a yard fixture. A series of cobblestone walkways, embedded with patches of faux grass, lead to a front yard with hanging plants and a yellow swing. An old yellow playhouse, which Torino moved from the backyard to the front, now serves as part of the large patio entertaining area.
The yard is divided into spaces, with several sets of ornate old doors providing separation. The largest is a pair of 4-inch-thick teak monastery doors, over 600 years old, that divides the side and backyards.
The property supports more than 50 trees, everything from apricots to pomegranates and sycamores, and they’re not just for appearance. Torino harvests their fruit and either uses it himself or distributes it.
As a business owner with a hectic schedule who travels often, he purchased the home as a quick way to immerse himself in an entirely different environment for a day without boarding a plane, he explained.
“Knowing my schedule, I don’t have to plan. I can come here on a whim. When I come up here it’s an entirely different environment for me than being in Las Vegas.”
The decision isn’t complicated for him, he said. “I’m a planner — it’s pretty easy. I don’t have to bring a lot of stuff.”
When Torino needs a more substantial quick getaway, he escapes to his 40-acre campground in Lovell Canyon, off of State Route 160 on the way to Mountain Springs, which he acquired in 1993. For decades, the Torino Foundation has opened the ranch to nonprofits, such as the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation, Sunshine Nevada and the Hemophilia Foundation of Nevada.
“It’s Xanadu back there,” he said.
Hundreds of youth, volunteers and organizers pull together to provide a ranch experience for children in need.
Many years ago, Torino was one of the largest condominium and apartment developers in town, eventually expanding into nearby states. He built Canyon Gate Country Club and commercial centers, then began buying Strip properties in the 1990s.
“I developed the first freestanding retail spot on the Strip,” he recalled.”It was better than good; at one point I owned the whole block across from City Center, from Smith & Wollensky to Harley-Davidson.”
Today, the Torino Co. owns the retail center on Las Vegas Boulevard at Harmon Avenue, a property he won at auction.
Despite threats of encroaching development, Torino believes the Blue Diamond community will rally together to keep it a simple, small village.
“Our natural resources are under tremendous pressure. Undeniably, what I’ve done here had nothing to do with creating value then checking out. I try to be incredibly thoughtful to the community when I put this house together,” he said.
As Southern Nevada enters what Torino calls “its most explosive period of growth,” he hopes people will not be exploitative.
“It’s a great privilege to live in this community. … I hope as people become more thoughtful and have the opportunity to take a lot from this community, realize that giving back is essential, and you can do it to people, organizations or your environment.”