Other men may dream of castles in the clouds, but John Amos built his on something a little more solid—a seven-story parking garage. Amos, CEO and chairman of the board of the American Family Life insurance company, had felt cramped for years in the country home he shared with his wife, Elena, outside Columbus, Ga. When doctors discovered he had lung cancer in 1986, he started building for an uncertain future. “I wanted Elena in a showplace that people would want to visit,” says Amos, 64. “If anything happened to me, I wanted her to be in the middle of everything, because being lonesome is the worst thing in the world.”
Although radiation treatment arrested his cancer, Amos’ brick-and-mortar obsession grew. For $40,000, he bought a “lot” on top of a Columbus garage so he could build a sprawling house next to his company’s headquarters. Elena, 62, wasn’t so sure about living on top of 750 parked cars, even if it did mean her husband of 43 years could wave to her from his 19th-floor office balcony. “I couldn’t see myself in it,” she says. “I loved my woods and flower beds. I didn’t want to live in a fishbowl.”
But John, who started peddling insurance door-to-door in 1956, wasn’t planning to build just any old aquarium in the sky. What he had in mind was something along the lines of a Cubanstyle mansion with a Spanish red-tile roof, Italianate paintings and a 40-by-60-foot pool. The Cuban touches, he hoped, would remind Elena of her childhood in Havana; other architectural details were noted during trips overseas. “When we traveled in Europe, we would go to hotels, inns and private homes and take pictures,” says John, whose company has 10 foreign offices. “We copied the things we liked best.” They left the actual plans to the architect and the contractor, however. “Changes cost money,” says John, “and every time a woman walks into a house, she changes something.”
The resulting $2 million, 10,000-square-foot home opens off a 60-foot marble-floor gallery with 27-foot ceilings. The kitchen has restaurant equipment, and there’s an oven on the terrace designed by John to accommodate the pig they traditionally roast at Christmas. The master bedroom complex includes a gym, and the three guest rooms open on to the pool.
The lure of the big house has finally won Elena over. “We can walk outside in the dark, cut off all the lights, enjoy a full moon and feel like we’re in the stars,” she says. And no one ever has to answer that heart-stopping question: Where’d we park the car?