Andy Walmsley’s career as a set designer has reached a stage many in show business only dream about. The British-born artisan has created sets for numerous theatrical productions, including the hit TV shows “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “So You Think You Can Dance.” In 2010, he won an Emmy award for the set design of “American Idol.”
In the local real estate market, he hasn’t been quite as lucky. He bought his sixth-floor Turnberry Place condo in December 2004 for $725,000. Just eight months earlier it sold for $634,000. He purchased units in Vdara and the Trump Tower at about the same time and later lost almost half a million dollars when he had to unload them, he said.
While many others took a dive into the real estate recession pool, he was shaken, he said in an interview at his remaining investment, a two-bedroom Turnberry condo.
“I’ve had an amazing career, been very lucky, lived a great lifestyle, saved and then finally when I’m ready to cash in and buy a house I put all my money into four places thinking ‘this is it,’ but, of course, that’s what a lot of people did.”
He said he had planned to keep the Trump unit for two years until it appreciated and then flip it.
“Then (in) five years … (I would) be a multi-millionaire … Fantastic! But I lost everything in Vegas real estate.”
Walmsley estimated his Turnberry unit that he bought in the height of the boom is now worth somewhere above $350,000. Zillow.com has it at $406,000.
He said he believes the value of the units increase $100,000 per floor. The higher the floor, the higher the price.
Still, he said he loves the Vegas life. And, from his perch off the Strip, he is in a perfect place to watch it. He said he loves all things Las Vegas and wouldn’t live anywhere but on or close to the Strip. When he’s not working or sleeping, Walmsley spends all his time there.
“All my friends live in Summerlin or Henderson. This is literally one of the most exciting cities on earth,” said the native of Blackpool, England. “Why would you live 25 minutes away from it? If I’m lucky enough to live in one of the most exciting cities in the world, I want to be as close to it as possible. I can walk out my front door and be at the Wynn in 20 minutes,” he boasts. He also loves dining at the SLS. “The restaurants over there are amazing.”
Walmsley said although he is in the heart of the neon action, it’s kind of quiet most of the time. He believes many Turnberry Place owners are Californians who bought Nevada residences for the income tax break, seldom visiting. He said he loves the solitude.
“Next time you drive by here at nighttime, just look up. You’ll see like three lights in a massive tower, cause they’re all unoccupied. Which is great for me. We have all the security, and it’s like me and 12 other people. That’s it … I love living here,” he said.
Walmsley doesn’t rate his home by the quality of its fixtures. He is much more eager to show Real Estate Millions his special Vegas mementos.
“Who cares about granite? … Here’s the really cool stuff!” he said, pointing out the original model he created of the set for “Millionaire.” “It should be in the Smithsonian or something. It’s officially the most successful television show in the history of television … the only one that’s been duplicated (in 108 countries) to that extent.”
Walmsley keeps his Emmy statue in his “loo” (that’s British for bathroom) perched, but not quite fully seated, on a narrow shelf — as though it could be easily replaced should it drop on the marble floor and shatter to pieces. “Everyone who ever wins an award puts it in their bathroom,” he said. “Grammys, Oscars as well. It’s supposed to be self-deprecating, like, ‘I don’t care that it’s in the worst room of the house.’ ”
He’s quite proud of this guest bathroom, directing our photographer to frame the shot just so. “Crop it so you’ve got the Emmy, the toilet, the Vegas sign and the Variety (magazine), and that says everything about my life. I live in Vegas. I have an Emmy, a potty mouth and work in variety.”
When prompted to install a fresher-looking towel for the bathroom photo, he proclaims: “I don’t have a nice anything. It’s a shoebox of an apartment with a bunch of crap in it. A bachelor pad with a bunch of tat.” (That’s British for “rubbish,” or “junk sold by crafty Cockneys to unsuspecting tourists in central London,” according to UrbanDictionary.com).
It’s the pad of a bachelor who definitely lives alone, judging by the large treadmill planted in the living room and the second bedroom filled with electronics, stacks of black theater-style carrying cases and vintage TV sets.
“When you live in a small place like this for 13 years then every cupboard gets filled eventually, and you run out of storage.”
The condo is listed at 1,500 square feet, but that includes a spacious patio area. It has a small but nicely trimmed kitchen, with the appliance fronts matching the cabinets.
In the dining area, he removed a wall and added a wall of cabinets and a work desk. It houses two monitors and two television sets — one that streams live TV from the U.K. and the other set to American news shows.
“I spend most of my life this in a chair,” Walmsley said of his corner office with a view.
The master bedroom has a walk-in closet with built-ins. “It’s tiny but fine for a guy,” Walmsley said. It has an en suite bath with zephyr wood cabinets, granite tops and a jetted spa tub. Mirrors line the walls to give it an expanded feel. It’s a British-themed room, sporting the Union Jack (the British flag) on the bedspread and a large TV.
The home’s high ratio of TVs-to-occupants is because: “This is the house that TV built. I wouldn’t be living in America without television, so I’m obsessed with it,” he said.
The patio is accessible from the master bedroom, with the Westgate Hotel dominating the view.
“It used to be a nice Hilton sign and then Westgate moved in and ruined everything,” Walmsley said. “It’s such a tacky view, especially at night. Come on. I love it that it’s tacky. Look at this sign (Westgate). I mean I used to have the Riviera over there, and there’s Circus Circus. Tacky as hell. So I embrace that, which is why I bought lime green sofas, and who puts this on their wall, and this slot machine? I mean, look, I have a tacky apartment. This isn’t like a classy apartment, it’s tacky as hell. But I did it on purpose to match that (he gestures to the Strip.) I couldn’t be all sophisticated in here and see all that crap out there. So I embraced Vegas, but I didn’t do it as if I was designing a set, obviously.”
A section of the gate from Liberace’s house rests against the kitchen bar. He got it from the previous owner who was in foreclosure.
“I’m not a Liberace fan by the way, but I love old Vegas and anything to do with showbiz and Vegas.”
A custom photo mural of old Las Vegas signs is on the living room wall. And there is a small corner for English things, such as a Queen Elizabeth doll and a replica of his hometown’s landmark tower. Entertainers Murray Sawchuck and Terry Fator are represented in bobble-head doll format, close to a clock featuring Muppets instead of cuckoo birds.
When the Riviera was imploded, Walmsley hosted a big viewing party with a live band. Many entertainers with ties to the hotel attended and gave him mementos, including a piece of the stage curtain obtained surreptitiously, an original costume design sketch, the stage manager’s headphones and autographs of Frank Marino and Jeff Kutash, who did productions there, and Pia Zadora, whose ex-husband, Meshulam Riklis, owned the Riviera. Walmsley displays them in a custom shadow box framed with dressing room lights. He has one of the door handles from the Riviera that he purchased at the hotel’s closing sale.
Walmsley is working on “The Love Boat Musical,” which is set to open in New York this fall, and he is considering branching into convention productions. Whatever he’s working on, it will be from the comfortable stage he has set in his Turnberry condo.
“Just being this close (to Strip) is amazing. It’s hard, though, when I’m working, particularly at night, and you glance over and you see Las Vegas. It’s hard to continue working because it’s saying, ‘Come out, don’t work!’”