This $5 Million Desert Mansion Comes With Built-In Art
After the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquakes in Southern California, Stephane Janssen decided it was time to leave Los Angeles. “The earthquake really upset me,” said Janssen, who was born in Belgium. “I was flipping through a magazine and saw an article called “Carefree Life,” — a play on the location, a gated community in Scottsdale, Arizona, called Carefree Ranch— “and looked it up and found three lots I could put together with extraordinary views.”
Janssen hired the architect Chuck Johnson. who drew up plans for a 11,560-square-foot building, but Janssen and Johnson subsequently had a falling-out. “We had many differences,” said Janssen. “He wanted the walls not to be straight, and I couldn’t hang my paintings. He said, ‘you’re going to ruin my house by putting art in it.”
So, after buying the plans from Johnson and hiring a second architect, Janssen spent $7.5 million building the house over the course of two years. In 1992, he and his then-partner moved in.
A quarter-century later, Janssen is selling the 15-acre property, which is about an hour’s drive from Phoenix. He initially put it on the market in 2008 for $10.95 million, according to Zillow, and is now relisting it for a more modest $4.9 million. “The real estate market has been bad here since 2008,” he explained. Janssen is selling, he said, because he spends eight months a year in Belgium and has another condominium in downtown Scottsdale. There's also his health: He's 81, “and I have a bad back and now prefer flat surfaces,” he said.
The house is perched on one of the highest points in the area and comes with a two-bedroom guest house. In total, the property has four bedrooms, five bathrooms, and two powder rooms. Janssen, who said he hasn’t worked since 1965 (“I had a gallery, but I don’t know if you can call that work,” he said, and added that anyway, he had quit the gallery in 1976), is the heir to a pharmaceutical fortune. His great-great-grandfather Ernest Solvay invented the process for making sodium bicarbonate, and his family founded the Belgian pharmaceutical giant UCB.
Janssen bought his first artwork at 16—a painting by the surrealist artist Óscar Domínguez—and subsequently amassed a collection of what he estimates to be 2,000 to 3,000 artworks. The collection includes photographs by Cindy Sherman and Robert Mapplethorpe, paintings by Jean Michel-Basquiat, and work by artists from the Cobra movement, including Karel Appel and Pierre Alechinsky.
Janssen also commissioned artworks for the home, nine of which would be included with the sale of the property. Art installations that will remain include a ceramic wall by Jun Kaneko, whose work is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington and in the Vitoria & Albert Museum in London, and a towering water sculpture by the artist Eric Orr, one of the leading figures of the “light and space” art movement.
Along with the art, potential buyers will find a three-car garage, pool, and hot tub. There’s a great room, which has built-in seating and a skylight, a formal dining room with quartz stone floors, and a giant master bath with a spa tub and views of the surrounding wilderness. “It’s the Arizona desert; we didn’t touch the landscape,” Janssen said. “And the house is built in a way that no one can look into the pool and jacuzzi, unless they have a telescope.”
The house is in a gated community; should buyers wish, they can purchase a membership at the Desert Mountain club, which has eight golf courses.
Janssen isn’t sad to sell the house—he’s still got the condominium in Scottsdale, after all—but isn’t in a rush to sell. “In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy it,” he said. “I hope to sell it, but if I don’t, well, I’m still in it.”