The Secret to Scoring a Vacation Home That’s (Practically) Free

The Secret to Scoring a Vacation Home That’s (Practically) Free
Photo: Beth Hoeckel

SEVEN YEARS AGO, Melissa Andersen quit her corporate job in California to start a business organizing yoga retreats around the world. Pretty quickly, Ms. Andersen, now 34, realized she needed an affordable way to find accommodations and signed up for Love Home Swap, a London-based service that expedites house swaps for a small annual fee, listing places that she and her mother own in Palm Cove, Fla., and Porsgrunn, Norway. Surprisingly, she said, quite a few people were up for the switcheroo. She admits she was “a bit hesitant at the beginning—was it a set up? Would people kidnap me?” So far, she’s had no bad experiences and she was able to namaste—ransom free—in host homes in Spain, Cyprus and France (Cannes and Paris). “Now all of my free time is spent negotiating swaps and fantasizing about places to go,” said Ms. Andersen, who travels up to six months a year for her company, Passport to the Heart. “You always connect with the owner ahead of time and get a feel for them via email or phone call, so you both feel safe about each other,” she added.

Home swapping has a lively past: HomeExchange, for example, has been around since 1992 (long before Airbnb’s 2008 launch) and was the sappy pretext of the 2006 romantic comedy “The Holiday,” in which Cameron Diaz swaps her Los Angeles mansion for Kate Winslet’s quaint English cottage, and both find love in the new locales. In the past five years, home exchange has gained traction in the U.S. as—thanks to the success of Airbnb and VRBO—more vacationing Americans have discovered that staying in a home versus a hotel can yield more comfort and space to sprawl.

This 4-bedroom house in Cape Cod, Mass., listed by Love Home Swap, could be swapped for: a 4-bedroom villa in Bordeaux, France; a 2-bedroom home in Italy’s Cinque Terre; a 3-bedroom home in New Zealand’s Makarora Valley
This 4-bedroom house in Cape Cod, Mass., listed by Love Home Swap, could be swapped for: a 4-bedroom villa in Bordeaux, France; a 2-bedroom home in Italy’s Cinque Terre; a 3-bedroom home in New Zealand’s Makarora Valley Photo: Love Home Swap

Most home swappers aren’t aching for love, lured by the fantasy of having Jude Law knock on their borrowed front door: They just want to save money while on the road. Active retirees and families are the two groups most liable to undertake a trade, according to Love Home Swap managing director Ben Wosskow. “Fifty-six percent of our members are families; 42% are aged 55-plus,” he said. “The boomer generation is an asset-rich, creature-comfort group who likes the home-for-home exchange.” For an annual membership fee of around $180, travelers can sidestep the hefty accommodation costs they‘d normally budget for. Plus, they have more and more homes to choose from. Just this week, HomeExchange relaunched its website, incorporating the offerings from the seven smaller companies it’s acquired since 2014. Now the site lists 400,000 swappable homes in 187 countries.

Still, for every tempting reason to schedule a first-time exchange, there’s a worry that nags at the neophyte, like “How much Marie-Kondo-type cleaning will I have to do to my house?” Graphic artist Cindy Elia, a HomeExchange member in Oakland, Calif., said the prep work does take time: “Our cleaning guy comes, and I spend hours putting stuff away for safeguarding or clearing space in the closet and a drawer or two for those visiting.” The household drudgery doesn’t necessarily let up on the other side. During a winter home swap in Lake Tahoe, Calif., the Elia family went two days without power during a freak snowstorm. “I had to shovel the sidewalk!” said Ms. Elia, who chalked it up to Stuff Happens. For those Mama and Papa Bears who might not mind a little housekeeping but cringe at visions of Goldilocks sleeping in their beds, see “A Scaredy-Cat Guide to Home Swap Vacations,” below.

Browsing what’s available on different sites may convert the hesitant. Perhaps you’d like to explore the Balearic Islands and chill in a two-story modernist home with a pool on Mallorca via HomeExchange. How about ushering your extended family to Big Sky, Mont., hunkering down in a 7-bedroom home and spending a week skiing and wolf tracking in Yellowstone? “I was a hero,” said Bob Thye, a 55-year-old executive based in Newtown Square, Penn., who booked that 20,000-square-foot Montana retreat through Thirdhome, a luxury property and travel club based in Brentwood, Tenn., founded by real-estate developer Wade Shealy in 2010.

This 4-bedroom ski house in Truckee, Calif., listed by Thirdhome, could be swapped for: a 3-bedroom cottage in New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds; a 5,000-square-foot beach house in Oceanside, Calif.
This 4-bedroom ski house in Truckee, Calif., listed by Thirdhome, could be swapped for: a 3-bedroom cottage in New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds; a 5,000-square-foot beach house in Oceanside, Calif. Photo: Third Home

Then there are by-invitation-only groups like Behomm, launched in 2013 by two graphic designers, “connecting like-minded people with a similar fondness for tasteful things,” said co-founders Agusti Juste and Eva Calduch via email. Longtime Behomm member Shelley Hill, an artist in her mid-60s in Girona, Catalonia, has been to Lisbon and Amsterdam, the Seychelles and Japan, yet one of her fondest memories was made in London. “One day I just stayed home. Staying in a beautiful house gives you a whole other experience. People go to efforts to make it nice—you never go to a place where someone hasn’t done the dishes,” said Ms. Hill.

So exactly how does it work? The original idea was simple: Two hosts do a reciprocal swap, literally switching houses for an agreed-upon period. Members discover each other through a company’s online profiles, which detail information about the home and its owners, and compile reviews from previous travelers. “Spending time on your profile, describing your house and everything you can do in the area gives others a real sense of the experience they’ll get,” said Brice Janney, a divorced father of three teenagers, longtime Thirdhome user and recent investor in it.

This 5-bedroom chalet in the French Alps, listed by HomeExchange, was swapped for: a 4,000-square-foot oceanview home in Phuket, Thailand; a 2-bedroom Paris loft; a seafront apartment in Croatia
This 5-bedroom chalet in the French Alps, listed by HomeExchange, was swapped for: a 4,000-square-foot oceanview home in Phuket, Thailand; a 2-bedroom Paris loft; a seafront apartment in Croatia Photo: HomeExchange

But reciprocal swaps are often tricky in terms of timing and the question of whether each party is particularly keen to travel to their fellow swapper’s location. So companies devised a flexible plan allowing members to accrue points (or keys) by hosting, then spending those earned points to travel whenever and wherever they want. Members use calendars on their profile pages to indicate when their house will be available, so others can search the site and see what’s free in a specific locale for a desired time period. Companies assign point values to your home based on size and location; they also often gift points (100 and up) to new members to encourage them to start booking.

Love Home Swap currently lists a two bedroom in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood for 100 points a night, while a seven-bedroom villa with a swimming pool in Tuscany goes for 300 points a night. “The point system opens up a lot more doors and freedom,” said Ms. Andersen, who accrued enough points through hosting to wrangle homes that welcome big groups for her yoga retreats in Utah’s Zion and Kenya this year.

This 2,000-square-foot apartment in Barcelona, listed by Behomm, was swapped for: a 4-bedroom loft-like home in Milan; a 3-story modernist house in London.
This 2,000-square-foot apartment in Barcelona, listed by Behomm, was swapped for: a 4-bedroom loft-like home in Milan; a 3-story modernist house in London. Photo: Behomm

Sometimes friendships result. Ms. Elia said her family’s first swap in New York City in 2015 couldn’t have been a better matchup. “The family’s children had similar books and toys to ours, so our boys were thrilled.” The families stay in touch and hang out when they’re all in the same city at the same time. People warm to the idea of “free hospitality,” according to Emmanuel Arnaud, CEO of HomeExchange. “Staying in paid accommodations is increasingly perceived as cold and impersonal; home exchange allows travelers to feel welcomed as guests.” Love Home Swap’s Mr. Wosskow compares the service to online dating. “You don’t always know what you’re getting,” he said, “It often depends on what you put into it.”

RESIDENTIAL MATCHMAKERS / Four top home-swapping services

HomeExchange: The largest home-sharing company, it currently lists 400,000 homes in 187 countries. That many choices may seem overwhelming (and not all are picture-perfect), but trolling through them on a coffee break, you could easily winnow your options down—New Mexico? Australia? Zambia? Members can choose to pay on a per-night basis ($15/night for occasional travelers) or opt for the annual fee of $150, which comes with identity verification, property damage coverage, cancellation support and 24/7 emergency assistance. homexchange.com

Love Home Swap: Don’t let its goofy name fool you—Love Home Swap is in serious expansion mode. In 2017, the company was bought by RCI, part of Wyndham Destinations, and now offers 10,000 homes in 100 countries. Try a free two-week trial period; then choose from three pricing options. Our tip for the time-pressed? Go platinum ($180 a year) and a dedicated team helps you figure out swaps—maybe a yurt in the United Kingdom near a waterfall, or the Malibu “747 Wing House,” so famous it has its own Wikipedia page? lovehomeswap.com

Behomm: Catering to “creatives and design lovers,” the Barcelona-based Behomm requests high-resolution photos to register, and your digs best live up to Mies van der Rohe levels. Eyeball an architect-owned villa in Noto, Italy, with its super-neat kids’ rooms and sleek lap pool, and you’ll see how high the bar is set in its community of 3,000 homes in 60 countries, from Cambodia to Iceland. Behomm may seem snobbish, but it’s nicely priced: a 1-year trial costs around $108 ($217 thereafter) with no exchange fees. behomm.com

Thirdhome: The toniest of the bunch, it’s also the costliest, requiring members to own a luxury vacation home and pay an initiation fee of $2,500, plus annual tiered membership and booking costs. By opening their second home to other members, the owners accrue ”keys” (or points), which they can then use to stay at some 10,912 properties in 93 countries, including condos and villas overseen by ritzy hotel chains. thirdhome.com

A Scaredy-Cat Guide to Home Swap Vacations

4 common fears and how to address them

The Secret to Scoring a Vacation Home That’s (Practically) Free
Illustration: Victoria Tentler-Krylov
1. Who exactly will be sleeping in my bed?

“The biggest obstacle members encounter always comes before their first exchange,” said Eva Calduch, co-founder of the swapping service Behomm. “It’s an odd feeling to allow a stranger in their bed. But once they do it, exchanging becomes addictive.” One way to allay the jitters is to get to know your counterparts. Members email, Skype or do house walk-throughs via FaceTime, explaining everything. It’s best to use a company’s online secure messaging system so if issues arise, they’re more likely to be resolved quickly. Still wary? Ask how the company vets its members; most do some form of identity check; Thirdhome goes a bit further: “We verify identity, run background checks and vet the property itself,” said Zach Gates, Thirdhome’s director of client growth. Mr. Janney, a Thirdhome member, said the only problem he’s ever encountered was when another member brought a chihuahua to his vacation home in a dog-free community—possible grounds for non-renewal.

2. What if Aunt Lucy’s Ming vase gets broken?

As property owners, your own home insurance should provide coverage, said Mr. Gates; double-check with individual home insurers for clarification. Some companies provide extra protection with membership. HomeExchange, for example, covers property damages up to $1 million. If you’re worried about valuables, store them ahead of time in a room you can lock and designate as off-limits.

3. What if the place is a mess?

On vacation, our sense of place comes into play, says Frank Farley, professor of psychology at Philadelphia’s Temple University. “Some people go on vacation to leave behind housework; people with phobias about germs may be squeamish in another home.” So if you like daily maid service, home swapping may not be for you. Inspect the photos of your prospective abode to see if your idea of neatness lines up with theirs, and read the reviews. Weigh the efforts of preparing your own digs with the positives—financial and cultural—of swapping. “Home swapping teaches cooperation and reciprocation—experiencing what it’s like in another home and culture,” said Mr. Farley. Referrals can be a gauge: To join Behomm, another member must invite you. You’re initially vetted using the photos you submit. (Hint: Neatness and a predilection for Saarinen tables count).

4. One of you cancels. Now what?

Unless you’re in a reciprocal swap, cancellation shouldn’t be an issue. Still, HomeExchange and other services offer cancellation support—the company says they’ll arrange a replacement residence, if available—and provide 24/7 assistance in case of emergency.

More in Off Duty Travel

Appeared in the January 12, 2019, print edition as ‘Your Place or Mine?.’

Three Ways Tech Will Do the Walking for You in 2019

HAVING JUST SPENT four days in Las Vegas walking through the 2.7 million net square feet of exhibit space at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, I can say this: The transportation devices intended to relieve weary Americans of walking duties were a big hit. They’re small, they’re fun and they’re collectively generating a new buzzword, “micro-mobility.”

The key player in this niche isn’t new. Segway-Ninebot has been at the forefront of not-walking for two decades now, notably helping less-than-fit travelers see the sights…

A Complete Guide to Buying the Essential Women’s Pea Coat

A Complete Guide to Buying the Essential Women’s Pea Coat
Illustration: Victoria Tentler-Krylov

THAT TIMELESS topper—the pea coat—has a salty, testosterone-laden history. First introduced by the Dutch Navy in the 16th century, the water-wicking wool style later evolved and was adopted by the British Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy. With deep, warm pockets; a wide collar that’s protective when popped; a short, freeing cut; and large, easy-to-grasp buttons, the coat uncomplainingly solved problems for sailors and maritime laborers who spent their days braving squalls and climbing ropes.

What Makes a Pea Coat a Pea Coat?

A Complete Guide to Buying the Essential Women’s Pea Coat
Illustration: Victoria Tentler-Krylov

Generous, Firm Collar: Suitable for flipping up to protect the face.

Double-Breasted Buttoning: The classic fastening? Plastic with an anchor.

Slit Pockets: Intended to keep water out and sailor stuff in.

“This menswear staple was originally designed to combat the harsh weather conditions out at sea, and has since been reinvented for the modern customer,” said COS creative director Karin Gustafsson, who often incorporates the coat in her collections.

An early adopter among high-fashion designers, the late Yves Saint Laurent, who frequently blurred gender lines (see: his Le Smoking tux), sent a particularly boxy iteration for women down his runway in 1962. A riposte to the proper, ladylike, longer coats of the period, this significant statement nodded to the fact that women were finding their place in a man’s world. Following suit, Mary Tyler Moore donned a black pea coat in the opening sequence of her groundbreaking eponymous 1970s sitcom which demurely pushed a feminist message.

Today, you’d be hard pressed to find a fall/winter season that doesn’t feature an army of pea coats, with both accessible brands like Frame and H&M and loftier labels like Balmain and Givenchy making military outerwear a part of their visual lexicon. When it comes to pea coats, the fashion set is all aboard.

THE PRINCESSES OF THE PEA / How Seven Greats Wore It Through Time
A Complete Guide to Buying the Essential Women’s Pea Coat
Photo: Getty Images
1917: Call to Charms

An archetype for the “new” American woman, illustrator Howard Chandler Christy’s “Christy Girls” dressed up in Naval uniforms and beckoned men to join the fight in World War I.

A Complete Guide to Buying the Essential Women’s Pea Coat
Photo: Bettmann Archive
1964: Gender-Bending Glam

Forever the trendsetter, performer and Civil Rights activist Lena Horne topped her au courant suit with a pea while parading in London.

A Complete Guide to Buying the Essential Women’s Pea Coat
Photo: Getty Images
1969: La Fille de la Pea

Jane Birkin draped a traditional take over her shoulders (Melania Trump-like) while trying on jewelry, fusing sensuality with menswear.

A Complete Guide to Buying the Essential Women’s Pea Coat
Photo: Getty Images
1970: Amorous Outerwear

While making snow angels with her beau in the tear-jerker “Love Story,” Ali McGraw wore a classic pea and an air of mild mockery.

A Complete Guide to Buying the Essential Women’s Pea Coat
Photo: Arthur Elgort/Conde Nast/Getty Images
1994: Peppy Prepster

Supermodel Shalom Harlow sports a mega-buttoned iteration (and a quaintly dated car phone) in a classic Vogue spread.

A Complete Guide to Buying the Essential Women’s Pea Coat
Photo: Getty Images
2010: Uptown Girl

The queen pea of the Upper East Side, “Gossip Girl” Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) strutted in an experimental lime-green cape style.

A Complete Guide to Buying the Essential Women’s Pea Coat
Photo: Getty Images
2016: Larger Than Life

Rihanna swapped a sailor’s hat for a white baseball cap and wrapped herself in a wildly voluminous Vetements pea coat to achieve this edgy city look.

Getting Ship Shape

How to find your perfect pea—and style it to a T

“THE BEAUTY of a pea coat is that it goes with everything,” said New York-based Israeli designer Nili Lotan, who’s been making canvas and Italian-wool versions since the early aughts. “I usually like to wear it with a casual jean or a cotton pant.” For a nostalgic 1970s vibe, layer a pea over a ribbed turtleneck sweater (or a slim mariner-striped tee) and tailored flared denim; you’ll look like Shelley Hack in Revlon’s ‘70s Charlie fragrance commercials crossbred with a tidy sailor. To conjure the earlier Mod era, team your pea with a miniskirt or dress.

Meant to fall just below the hips, the old-school Navy style’s boxy cut easily fits over most bulky winter sweaters. If completely square silhouettes aren’t your bag, fret not—plenty of designers have reinterpreted this classic over the years, offering slimmer cuts with slightly nipped waists.

Karin Gustafsson, the creative director of COS, touts the ability of a well-tailored shoulder to offset the jacket’s traditional squareness. “This makes your shoulders look smaller,” she posited.

Color-wise, those who want an updated, more feminine take might forgo the classic blue-black shade and choose a less expected hue like lavender. Or go wild with leopard.

IN THE NAVY / Six Current Riffs on the Traditional Jacket That Demonstrate Its Mutable Nature
A Complete Guide to Buying the Essential Women’s Pea Coat
Photo: David Chow for the Wall Street Journal Styling by Anne Cardenas

Hedi Slimane, no stranger to an authoritatively cut coat, has crafted a clean, gold-buttoned, classic pea for French brand Celine. Jacket, $1,900, celine.com

A Complete Guide to Buying the Essential Women’s Pea Coat
Photo: David Chow for the Wall Street Journal Styling by Anne Cardenas

One way to avoid pea fatigue is to experiment with color: COS’s caramel-hued classic coat is a refreshing switch from deep navy. Jacket, $250, cosstores.com

A Complete Guide to Buying the Essential Women’s Pea Coat
Photo: David Chow for the Wall Street Journal Styling by Anne Cardenas

A crisp twist on the classic pea coat, this wool Loro Piana topper is enlivened by maritime-ish bands of bright white. Jacket, $3,250, 212-980-7961

A Complete Guide to Buying the Essential Women’s Pea Coat
Photo: David Chow for the Wall Street Journal Styling by Anne Cardenas

Max Mara is a master of the modern coat, and this snappy pea from its Weekend line evokes midwinter sunshine. Jacket, $775, Bloomingdale’s, 212-705-2000

A Complete Guide to Buying the Essential Women’s Pea Coat
Photo: David Chow for the Wall Street Journal Styling by Anne Cardenas

Merging the collar flap (and longer sleeve) of a trench with traditional pea elements, this Sacai coat reads cool-Japanese. Jacket, $1,730, Bergdorf Goodman, 212-753-7300

A Complete Guide to Buying the Essential Women’s Pea Coat
Photo: David Chow for the Wall Street Journal Styling by Anne Cardenas

A miniaturization trend loomed small in the 1990s, and this cropped pea recalls the shrunken shapes of 1995’s “Clueless.” Jacket, $2,490, ralphlauren.com

The Pod Couple

In which an actual legume brutally questions a pea coat

Pea: So, Pea-thing, I gather you claim to be a distant relative of mine?

Peacoat: I never suggested—

Pea: Do you even grow in a pod? Are you delicious? Are you green?

Peacoat: Well, I occasionally come in forest, moss or loden green.

Pea: What a “loden” of baloney. No one wants to eat some old mossy pea.

Peacoat: I don’t actually encourage anyone to chew on me.

Pea: Chew? A pea should be crisp or delectably tender, not…chewy. I’d like to see you pull your weight in a pasta primavera.

Peacoat: I’d like to see you battle a gale.

Pea: Challenge accepted!

The Wall Street Journal is not compensated by retailers listed in its articles as outlets for products. Listed retailers frequently are not the sole retail outlets.

More in Style & Fashion

Appeared in the January 12, 2019, print edition as ‘The Pea Coat Getting Ship Shape The Pod Couple.’

Trade Secrets of Holiday Home Swaps

The Secret to Scoring a Vacation Home That’s (Practically) Free
Photo: Beth Hoeckel

SEVEN YEARS AGO, Melissa Andersen quit her corporate job in California to start a business organizing yoga retreats around the world. Pretty quickly, Ms. Andersen, now 34, realized she needed an affordable way to find accommodations and signed up for Love Home Swap, a London-based service that expedites house swaps for a small annual fee, listing places that she and her mother own in Palm Cove, Fla., and Porsgrunn, Norway. Surprisingly, she said, quite a few people were up for the switcheroo. She admits she was “a bit hesitant at the beginning—was it a set up? Would people kidnap me?” So far, she’s had no bad experiences and she was able to namaste—ransom free—in host homes in Spain, Cyprus and France (Cannes and Paris). “Now all of my free time is spent negotiating swaps and fantasizing about places to go,” said Ms. Andersen, who travels up to six months a year for her company, Passport to the Heart. “You always connect with the owner ahead of time and get a feel for them via email or phone call, so you both feel safe about each other,” she added.

Home swapping has a lively past: HomeExchange, for example, has been around since 1992 (long before Airbnb’s 2008 launch) and was the sappy pretext of the 2006 romantic comedy “The Holiday,” in which Cameron Diaz swaps her Los Angeles mansion for Kate Winslet’s quaint English cottage, and both find love in the new locales. In the past five years, home exchange has gained traction in the U.S. as—thanks to the success of Airbnb and VRBO—more vacationing Americans have discovered that staying in a home versus a hotel can yield more comfort and space to sprawl.

This 4-bedroom house in Cape Cod, Mass., listed by Love Home Swap, could be swapped for: a 4-bedroom villa in Bordeaux, France; a 2-bedroom home in Italy’s Cinque Terre; a 3-bedroom home in New Zealand’s Makarora Valley
This 4-bedroom house in Cape Cod, Mass., listed by Love Home Swap, could be swapped for: a 4-bedroom villa in Bordeaux, France; a 2-bedroom home in Italy’s Cinque Terre; a 3-bedroom home in New Zealand’s Makarora Valley Photo: Love Home Swap

Most home swappers aren’t aching for love, lured by the fantasy of having Jude Law knock on their borrowed front door: They just want to save money while on the road. Active retirees and families are the two groups most liable to undertake a trade, according to Love Home Swap managing director Ben Wosskow. “Fifty-six percent of our members are families; 42% are aged 55-plus,” he said. “The boomer generation is an asset-rich, creature-comfort group who likes the home-for-home exchange.” For an annual membership fee of around $180, travelers can sidestep the hefty accommodation costs they‘d normally budget for. Plus, they have more and more homes to choose from. Just this week, HomeExchange relaunched its website, incorporating the offerings from the seven smaller companies it’s acquired since 2014. Now the site lists 400,000 swappable homes in 187 countries.

Still, for every tempting reason to schedule a first-time exchange, there’s a worry that nags at the neophyte, like “How much Marie-Kondo-type cleaning will I have to do to my house?” Graphic artist Cindy Elia, a HomeExchange member in Oakland, Calif., said the prep work does take time: “Our cleaning guy comes, and I spend hours putting stuff away for safeguarding or clearing space in the closet and a drawer or two for those visiting.” The household drudgery doesn’t necessarily let up on the other side. During a winter home swap in Lake Tahoe, Calif., the Elia family went two days without power during a freak snowstorm. “I had to shovel the sidewalk!” said Ms. Elia, who chalked it up to Stuff Happens. For those Mama and Papa Bears who might not mind a little housekeeping but cringe at visions of Goldilocks sleeping in their beds, see “A Scaredy-Cat Guide to Home Swap Vacations,” below.

Browsing what’s available on different sites may convert the hesitant. Perhaps you’d like to explore the Balearic Islands and chill in a two-story modernist home with a pool on Mallorca via HomeExchange. How about ushering your extended family to Big Sky, Mont., hunkering down in a 7-bedroom home and spending a week skiing and wolf tracking in Yellowstone? “I was a hero,” said Bob Thye, a 55-year-old executive based in Newtown Square, Penn., who booked that 20,000-square-foot Montana retreat through Thirdhome, a luxury property and travel club based in Brentwood, Tenn., founded by real-estate developer Wade Shealy in 2010.

This 4-bedroom ski house in Truckee, Calif., listed by Thirdhome, could be swapped for: a 3-bedroom cottage in New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds; a 5,000-square-foot beach house in Oceanside, Calif.
This 4-bedroom ski house in Truckee, Calif., listed by Thirdhome, could be swapped for: a 3-bedroom cottage in New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds; a 5,000-square-foot beach house in Oceanside, Calif. Photo: Third Home

Then there are by-invitation-only groups like Behomm, launched in 2013 by two graphic designers, “connecting like-minded people with a similar fondness for tasteful things,” said co-founders Agusti Juste and Eva Calduch via email. Longtime Behomm member Shelley Hill, an artist in her mid-60s in Girona, Catalonia, has been to Lisbon and Amsterdam, the Seychelles and Japan, yet one of her fondest memories was made in London. “One day I just stayed home. Staying in a beautiful house gives you a whole other experience. People go to efforts to make it nice—you never go to a place where someone hasn’t done the dishes,” said Ms. Hill.

So exactly how does it work? The original idea was simple: Two hosts do a reciprocal swap, literally switching houses for an agreed-upon period. Members discover each other through a company’s online profiles, which detail information about the home and its owners, and compile reviews from previous travelers. “Spending time on your profile, describing your house and everything you can do in the area gives others a real sense of the experience they’ll get,” said Brice Janney, a divorced father of three teenagers, longtime Thirdhome user and recent investor in it.

This 5-bedroom chalet in the French Alps, listed by HomeExchange, was swapped for: a 4,000-square-foot oceanview home in Phuket, Thailand; a 2-bedroom Paris loft; a seafront apartment in Croatia
This 5-bedroom chalet in the French Alps, listed by HomeExchange, was swapped for: a 4,000-square-foot oceanview home in Phuket, Thailand; a 2-bedroom Paris loft; a seafront apartment in Croatia Photo: HomeExchange

But reciprocal swaps are often tricky in terms of timing and the question of whether each party is particularly keen to travel to their fellow swapper’s location. So companies devised a flexible plan allowing members to accrue points (or keys) by hosting, then spending those earned points to travel whenever and wherever they want. Members use calendars on their profile pages to indicate when their house will be available, so others can search the site and see what’s free in a specific locale for a desired time period. Companies assign point values to your home based on size and location; they also often gift points (100 and up) to new members to encourage them to start booking.

Love Home Swap currently lists a two bedroom in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood for 100 points a night, while a seven-bedroom villa with a swimming pool in Tuscany goes for 300 points a night. “The point system opens up a lot more doors and freedom,” said Ms. Andersen, who accrued enough points through hosting to wrangle homes that welcome big groups for her yoga retreats in Utah’s Zion and Kenya this year.

This 2,000-square-foot apartment in Barcelona, listed by Behomm, was swapped for: a 4-bedroom loft-like home in Milan; a 3-story modernist house in London.
This 2,000-square-foot apartment in Barcelona, listed by Behomm, was swapped for: a 4-bedroom loft-like home in Milan; a 3-story modernist house in London. Photo: Behomm

Sometimes friendships result. Ms. Elia said her family’s first swap in New York City in 2015 couldn’t have been a better matchup. “The family’s children had similar books and toys to ours, so our boys were thrilled.” The families stay in touch and hang out when they’re all in the same city at the same time. People warm to the idea of “free hospitality,” according to Emmanuel Arnaud, CEO of HomeExchange. “Staying in paid accommodations is increasingly perceived as cold and impersonal; home exchange allows travelers to feel welcomed as guests.” Love Home Swap’s Mr. Wosskow compares the service to online dating. “You don’t always know what you’re getting,” he said, “It often depends on what you put into it.”

RESIDENTIAL MATCHMAKERS / Four top home-swapping services

HomeExchange: The largest home-sharing company, it currently lists 400,000 homes in 187 countries. That many choices may seem overwhelming (and not all are picture-perfect), but trolling through them on a coffee break, you could easily winnow your options down—New Mexico? Australia? Zambia? Members can choose to pay on a per-night basis ($15/night for occasional travelers) or opt for the annual fee of $150, which comes with identity verification, property damage coverage, cancellation support and 24/7 emergency assistance. homexchange.com

Love Home Swap: Don’t let its goofy name fool you—Love Home Swap is in serious expansion mode. In 2017, the company was bought by RCI, part of Wyndham Destinations, and now offers 10,000 homes in 100 countries. Try a free two-week trial period; then choose from three pricing options. Our tip for the time-pressed? Go platinum ($180 a year) and a dedicated team helps you figure out swaps—maybe a yurt in the United Kingdom near a waterfall, or the Malibu “747 Wing House,” so famous it has its own Wikipedia page? lovehomeswap.com

Behomm: Catering to “creatives and design lovers,” the Barcelona-based Behomm requests high-resolution photos to register, and your digs best live up to Mies van der Rohe levels. Eyeball an architect-owned villa in Noto, Italy, with its super-neat kids’ rooms and sleek lap pool, and you’ll see how high the bar is set in its community of 3,000 homes in 60 countries, from Cambodia to Iceland. Behomm may seem snobbish, but it’s nicely priced: a 1-year trial costs around $108 ($217 thereafter) with no exchange fees. behomm.com

Thirdhome: The toniest of the bunch, it’s also the costliest, requiring members to own a luxury vacation home and pay an initiation fee of $2,500, plus annual tiered membership and booking costs. By opening their second home to other members, the owners accrue ”keys” (or points), which they can then use to stay at some 10,912 properties in 93 countries, including condos and villas overseen by ritzy hotel chains. thirdhome.com

A Scaredy-Cat Guide to Home Swap Vacations

4 common fears and how to address them

The Secret to Scoring a Vacation Home That’s (Practically) Free
Illustration: Victoria Tentler-Krylov
1. Who exactly will be sleeping in my bed?

“The biggest obstacle members encounter always comes before their first exchange,” said Eva Calduch, co-founder of the swapping service Behomm. “It’s an odd feeling to allow a stranger in their bed. But once they do it, exchanging becomes addictive.” One way to allay the jitters is to get to know your counterparts. Members email, Skype or do house walk-throughs via FaceTime, explaining everything. It’s best to use a company’s online secure messaging system so if issues arise, they’re more likely to be resolved quickly. Still wary? Ask how the company vets its members; most do some form of identity check; Thirdhome goes a bit further: “We verify identity, run background checks and vet the property itself,” said Zach Gates, Thirdhome’s director of client growth. Mr. Janney, a Thirdhome member, said the only problem he’s ever encountered was when another member brought a chihuahua to his vacation home in a dog-free community—possible grounds for non-renewal.

2. What if Aunt Lucy’s Ming vase gets broken?

As property owners, your own home insurance should provide coverage, said Mr. Gates; double-check with individual home insurers for clarification. Some companies provide extra protection with membership. HomeExchange, for example, covers property damages up to $1 million. If you’re worried about valuables, store them ahead of time in a room you can lock and designate as off-limits.

3. What if the place is a mess?

On vacation, our sense of place comes into play, says Frank Farley, professor of psychology at Philadelphia’s Temple University. “Some people go on vacation to leave behind housework; people with phobias about germs may be squeamish in another home.” So if you like daily maid service, home swapping may not be for you. Inspect the photos of your prospective abode to see if your idea of neatness lines up with theirs, and read the reviews. Weigh the efforts of preparing your own digs with the positives—financial and cultural—of swapping. “Home swapping teaches cooperation and reciprocation—experiencing what it’s like in another home and culture,” said Mr. Farley. Referrals can be a gauge: To join Behomm, another member must invite you. You’re initially vetted using the photos you submit. (Hint: Neatness and a predilection for Saarinen tables count).

4. One of you cancels. Now what?

Unless you’re in a reciprocal swap, cancellation shouldn’t be an issue. Still, HomeExchange and other services offer cancellation support—the company says they’ll arrange a replacement residence, if available—and provide 24/7 assistance in case of emergency.

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Appeared in the January 12, 2019, print edition as ‘Your Place or Mine?.’

In a House With 16 Bathrooms, There Are Lots of Choices

One of the 10 full bathrooms in a Southampton, N.Y., home that’s on the market for $34.95 million.
One of the 10 full bathrooms in a Southampton, N.Y., home that’s on the market for $34.95 million. Photo: Kim Sargent/Sargent Architectural Photography

If he were so inclined, Alessandro Giacometti could stay two weeks at his Southampton, N.Y., home and use a different bathroom every day. The 12,000-square-foot house sits on 17 acres along Peconic Bay and has 10 bedrooms.

It also boasts 16 bathrooms, all of which are particularly useful when the family hosts big parties, like the 65th birthday bash for his father, Marcel, that drew more than 100 guests.

“The whole house was filled,” recalls Mr. Giacometti, 24, a business-development consultant at HQ Capital. “There are so many common areas in the house—the pool, reading room—there’s always a bathroom nearby. I think a big pro when entertaining a large amount of people, and having everyone all over the place, is you didn’t have to sacrifice privacy.”

Mr. Giacometti, who owns the Southampton estate with his twin sister, Sabrina, is hoping that all of those toilets translate into a sale. They are putting it on the market after the death of their father in early 2018, listing the property with Ritchey Howe of Sotheby’s International Realty in Southampton for $7.25 million.

It wasn’t that long ago that one or two bathrooms sufficed in an average home, says real-estate developer John C. Kean, of Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.-based Kean Development. That number has grown over the past decade or so as homes got bigger and included more bathrooms off the children’s rooms.

This Bel-Air, Calif., home, listed for $49.9 million, has eight bedrooms and 20 bathrooms.
This Bel-Air, Calif., home, listed for $49.9 million, has eight bedrooms and 20 bathrooms. Photo: JIM BARTSCH

“You can stop the fighting by giving them all their own bathroom,” says Mr. Kean. Today, he estimates that 90% of the high-end estates he builds have 10 or more bathrooms. A $25,000 to $30,000 price tag to build just an average bathroom can bloat the bottom line in a home with lots of lavatories.

Since 2010, nearly 7 out of every 10,000 homes in the U.S. has been built with 10 or more bathrooms, compared with 1 home for every 10,000 in the 1970s, and 4.2 homes for every 10,000 in the 2000s, according to data from Realtor.com.

That bathroom blitz has gathered so much steam that today, the number of bathrooms in a home has become completely untethered from the number of bedrooms. Apart from the Giacometti home, two other homes in Southampton currently on the market each have 14.5 bathrooms. A $20 million home listed by Corcoran Real Estate in Sagaponack, N.Y., has eight bedrooms and 15.5 bathrooms. A $49.9 million estate on St. Pierre Road in Bel-Air, Calif., listed with Aaron Kirman Partners/Compass, has eight bedrooms and 20 bathrooms. When it was built in 1927, however, it had a scant five bedrooms and seven bathrooms. Subsequent renovations added over 20,000 square feet to the now 36,000-square-foot property.

The additions included ancillary functions and buildings—a cinema, full resort-style spa with massage room, sauna and steam bath, game rooms, a bowling alley, full bar, and basketball and racquetball courts. The demand for these types of spaces, says Mr. Kirman, has led to an explosion of toilets in megamansions, figuratively speaking.

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“I would say about 12 years ago we started to see that everyone needed a checklist of all these amazing things—spas, even medical centers—and now it’s expected. If houses don’t have it, we can have a challenge selling it,” he says.

Nick Haslam, a psychologist and professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia, has another theory: Many homeowners today have an exaggerated sense that their lives are busy—so they don’t want to wait for anything. But mainly, people are increasingly prudish about bodily functions, he contends.

Alessandro and Sabrina Giacometti are listing their Southampton, N.Y., home for $7.25 million.
Alessandro and Sabrina Giacometti are listing their Southampton, N.Y., home for $7.25 million. Photo: Kelly Marshall for The Wall Street Journal

“I think many people are becoming more disgust-prone, not less, and as human waste is a primordial object of disgust and other people’s waste is more disgusting than one’s own, this motivates a desire to have separate restrooms,” says Prof. Haslam, who wrote a book on the subject titled “Psychology in the Bathroom.”

The proliferation of bathrooms is raising another kind of stink. Densely populated neighborhoods in which homes are predominantly on septic systems have reported a growing problem with water pollution, which may be caused in part by nitrogen-rich fluid that leaches from these systems. (Nitrate is a byproduct of the process of “digestion” of waste by bacteria in a septic tank.) As the number of septic systems grows, more nitrate is finding its way into groundwater and surface water, and nitrates may contribute to algae blooms and reduced surface water quality.

As a result, some municipalities are instituting new septic regulations. In Southampton Village in New York, for instance, homeowners building new houses are required to install a motorized pump in their septic system to churn and aerate waste, which helps bacteria digest more efficiently than a traditional, passive septic system. The new systems can cost 30% to 40% more than a traditional system.

Los Angeles County is also instituting new septic-system rules to comply with statewide water-quality requirements. That means a more advanced and more expensive septic system is required in places where conventional septic systems are deemed by the county to be inadequate or don’t provide sufficient public health protections.

A glimpse of the 16 bathrooms in the Giacometti home.
A glimpse of the 16 bathrooms in the Giacometti home. Photo: Kelly Marshall for The Wall Street Journal (16)

Mr. Kean, who develops homes on New York’s Long Island and in Palm Beach, Fla., applauds the concept, but foresees problems, especially with electric pumps.

In a House With 16 Bathrooms, There Are Lots of Choices

“You’re going to lose power, lose the pump, people aren’t there for six months, and you’ll have no idea the pump isn’t working so you can’t flush any toilets,” he says. He adds that the large homes get a bad rap, especially since most of them are second homes or vacation rentals.

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“At a lot of these homes, 75% of these bathrooms are never being used except on Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July,” he says.

Meanwhile, despite the potential financial and environmental concerns, the bathroom boom shows no sign of abating.

“People with immense wealth have large entourages,” says Mr. Kirman. “They want a luxurious lifestyle and a super livable home. Bathrooms are a very important thing.”

10-Plus Bathrooms & Home Values

Whether they’re built for large families or lavish entertaining, homes with bathrooms that number in the double digits are not just a luxury—they’re a necessity in high end markets, real-estate agents say.

In the U.S., Duarte and Bradbury, Calif., have the highest percentage, 31%, of homes for sale with 10 or more bathrooms, according to realtor.com data in October. Also topping the list are Atherton, Calif., at 26% and Palm Beach, Fla., at 18%. ( News Corp , owner of The Wall Street Journal, also operates Realtor.com under license from the National Association of Realtors.)

Those extra bathrooms are earning their keep: On a per square foot basis, new homes with 10 or more bathrooms command a 31% percent premium over new homes with seven to nine baths on average, according to realtor.com.

Appeared in the January 11, 2019, print edition as ‘This Home Has… Bathrooms.’

The Way You’ll Be Making Scrambled Eggs From Now On

TOP SPUD A slow simmer in melted butter and chicken stock produces luscious, melt-in-your-mouth potatoes.
TOP SPUD A slow simmer in melted butter and chicken stock produces luscious, melt-in-your-mouth potatoes. Photo: Ted + Chelsea Cavanaugh for The Wall Street Journal, Food Styling by Jamie Kimm, Prop Styling by Carla Gonzalez-Hart

The Chefs: Jeremy Wolfe and Colin Stringer

The Way You’ll Be Making Scrambled Eggs From Now On
Illustration: MICHAEL HOEWELER

Their Restaurant: Nonesuch, in Oklahoma City

What They’re Known For: Tasting menus that draw diners from far and wide. Modernist dishes that spotlight meticulously sourced ingredients.

YOU MIGHT CALL IT fast food slow. At the buzzy Oklahoma City restaurant Nonesuch, chefs Colin Stringer and Jeremy Wolfe raise the simplest of dishes, scrambled eggs, to another level entirely. The secret is taking your time and cooking them gently in a double boiler, much as you would a hollandaise, for a creamy, meltingly delicate consistency. “You can’t rush it,” Mr. Stringer said. “And you have to whisk constantly.”

At the restaurant this super-soft scramble comes with caviar or housemade focaccia. In their second Slow Food Fast recipe, the chefs swap in sides of butter-braised potatoes and prosciutto.

Before cooking, beat the eggs thoroughly along with a good glug of cream and a dash of fish sauce, which imparts a satisfying umami flavor. Whisking steadily over indirect heat, you’ll find little change at first. But stick with it and a few minutes in you’ll note the eggs thickening slightly. Then you’ll see small curds; if a large one forms, break it up. The goal is a fine texture, similar to grits. “They should appear almost soupy, but when you dip your spoon in they are set like a custard,” said Mr. Stringer.

The process should take about the same time required for the potatoes to become fully tender and succulent in their buttery braise. In under a half-hour, you’ll have a more luxurious meal than you ever imagined ham and eggs could be.

TOTAL TIME: 25 minutes SERVES: 4

3 Yukon Gold potatoes, very thinly sliced

6 tablespoons butter

2 cups chicken stock, plus more as needed

Kosher salt

9 fresh eggs

¼ cup heavy cream

½ teaspoon fish sauce

12 slices prosciutto or speck

1. Fill a medium pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Place potatoes and butter in another medium pot, and pour in enough chicken broth to barely cover potatoes. Set pot with potatoes over medium heat. (Once butter melts, liquid should fully cover potatoes. Add more stock if needed.) Season potatoes with salt and gently simmer until they’re easily pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes.

2. In a heatproof bowl that fits snugly over pot of boiling water, off heat, beat together eggs, cream and fish sauce until well incorporated and no streaks remain. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, and set bowl on top. (Make sure water doesn’t touch bottom of bowl.) Reduce heat to medium-high and cook, whisking constantly and scraping down sides of bowl as needed with a spatula, until eggs thicken and firm up like a custard, with tiny curds throughout, about 15 minutes. (Cooked eggs should resemble grits.) Taste and season with salt.

3. Serve eggs with slices of prosciutto and butter-poached potatoes alongside.

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The Sommelier Side Hustle: Winemaking

The Sommelier Side Hustle: Winemaking
Illustration: JOAO FAZENDA

IN THE documentary “Somm 3,” the latest in a series of sommelier-focused films, the somms aren’t just tasting and recommending wines—they’re making them, too.

The film features two blind tastings of Pinot Noirs. In one, held in New York, the participants are top sommeliers such as Aldo Sohm, wine director of Le Bernardin restaurant and partner in Aldo Sohm Wine Bar. The other tasting, held in Paris, includes former sommelier Fred Dame and two British wine writers, Steven Spurrier and Jancis Robinson. Spoiler alert: One of the favorite wines is a California Pinot made by a sommelier.

So as not to further spoil the surprise for those who plan to see “Somm 3,” I won’t reveal the wine or the sommelier who made it. Suffice it to say, this Pinot Noir has since sold out, and the sommelier who made it no longer works the floor. Yet many sommeliers, including Mr. Sohm, continue to do two jobs: one in a restaurant selling the wines of others and another producing and selling wines of their own.

This dual life can be hectic, said Josh Nadel, beverage director of the New York-based NoHo Hospitality Group and consultant of Gothic Wine, produced in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Mr. Nadel helms the beverage programs of all 12 NoHo restaurants across the U.S. and has consulted on Gothic Wine’s operation in Oregon since 2009. When we spoke, he was in Detroit, opening the group’s latest restaurant, San Morello, in the Shinola Hotel.

While Gothic Wine’s initial production was quite small, the winery now produces around 4,000 cases annually, including two Pinots, a Chardonnay and a rosé, distributed in 13 states. Managing sales and distribution is a particularly challenging part of the job, said Mr. Nadel, who spends a fair amount of time in Oregon though he does not actually make the wine. He doesn’t own a vineyard either but purchases fruit from top Willamette Valley growers.

Mr. Nadel has noticed more sommeliers getting involved in producing wine. In some cases, he believes, young sommeliers simply want their names on a label, with little idea how hard the business can be. He’s happy to share his expertise: “I say, ‘Show me your five-year plan.’ ”

Sommelier Bobby Stuckey and chef Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson own three Colorado restaurants—Frasca Food and Wine and Pizzeria Locale in Boulder and Tavernetta in Denver—and also make 65,000 cases of wine a year under the Scarpetta label along with a group of investors, some of whom were their restaurant customers. Messrs. Stuckey and MacKinnon-Patterson visit Italy four times a year and are involved in the wines’ creation. Though they do have a sales team, Mr. Stuckey travels frequently on behalf of Scarpetta—when he’s not on the floor of one of the three restaurants in the role of sommelier. When I asked him about the reception from other sommeliers, he replied, “It’s 100% harder to sell to other somms.”

‘In some cases, young sommeliers simply want their names on a label, with little idea how hard the business can be.’

Mr. Sohm concurred. “What I’ve found is that not everyone likes my wine,” he said, referring to the Grüner Veltliner he produces in his native Austria in conjunction with winemaker Gerhard Kracher. Mr. Sohm is perhaps too modest. His Sohm & Kracher wines can be found on some of the best restaurant lists in New York and around the country and, unlike many sommelier-made wines, in retail wine shops as well.

Mr. Sohm features his wines on the Le Bernardin and Aldo Sohm Wine Bar lists but does not call them out as his own. “I’ve had a very good response from people who know that I’m involved and others who don’t,” he said. “They’re part of the Austrian wines [on the list] without any special mention.”

He features wines by fellow somms, too, and not merely as a matter of courtesy: He applies the same rigorous criteria he does to any wine. He rattled off names of sommeliers whose wines made Le Bernardin’s list, including Mr. Stuckey, Thomas Pastuszak of NoMad restaurant in New York and Greg Harrington, a sommelier who has left restaurants to make wine full time.

Unlike many sommeliers who get into the business of making wine, Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen of RN74 in Seattle actually serves as winemaker for his W.T. Vintners range, including several Syrahs and a Chenin Blanc. He works in a warehouse winery space in Woodinville, Wash., four or five days a week and the same number of nights at RN74.

Mr. Lindsay-Thorsen noted that some sommelier-winemakers he knew gave up on winemaking after a vintage or two. But he wants to continue doing both jobs as long as he can. He believes his work as a sommelier has helped him as a winemaker. “I get immersed in the world’s greatest wines, and I’m fearful of giving that up,” he said.

Eric Railsback, a partner in Lieu Dit and Railsback Frères wineries in Santa Ynez, Calif., said much the same thing. Mr. Railsback has worked as a sommelier in many restaurants, including RN74’s original San Francisco location. “You get a different perspective,” he said.

When we talked, Mr. Railsback was on his way from San Francisco via Los Angeles to El Dorado, Ark., where he has been working at the Griffin Restaurant a few days a week since November. He designed the wine list for the restaurant and is training the staff, as well as developing future retail and wine-bar projects in New York and Chicago. Mr. Railsback also spends a great deal of time on the road selling Lieu Dit and Railsback Frères wines—and sometimes struggles with making calls on fellow sommeliers. “A lot of your friends are not your best customers because you don’t want to bother them,” he said.

I tasted a number of sommelier-made wines in the course of reporting this story, and aside from one or two less-than-exciting bottles, they were quite good. Though they were, on the whole, hard to find in shops, I located a good many somm-made wines at New York’s Verve Wine, which also sells wines online.

Co-founder/partner Dustin Wilson, a master sommelier and alum of Eleven Madison Park in New York, carries quite a few wines made by fellow sommeliers. The bottles are “thoughtfully curated by your neighborhood sommelier,” notes a sign near the entrance to the store. “We include it to imply a level of service that our guests can expect and the [quality] of products that we carry,” said Mr. Wilson, on the presumption that knowing a sommelier selected—or made—the wine will inspire confidence.

OENOFILE / Worthy Wines Made—And Recommended—by Sommeliers
The Sommelier Side Hustle: Winemaking
Photo: F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal (4)
1. 2017 Sohm & Kracher ‘Lion’ Grüner Veltliner Niederösterreich $21

Sommelier Aldo Sohm says this is the best vintage he and his partner have made to date. The Austrian bottling is a pleasure to drink—crisp and lively with aromas of white pepper and herb.

2. 2015 W.T. Vintners Boushey Vineyard Syrah Yakima Valley $40

The Boushey Vineyard is one of the most famous in Washington state, and Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen has crafted a notably lithe Syrah with notes of olive and dark fruit and a mineral edge.

3. 2017 Railsback Frères Rosé ‘Les Rascasses’ Santa Ynez Valley $24

Sommelier Eric Railsback and his partners had the famed Domaine Tempier rosé from Provence in mind when they fashioned this very dry, well-balanced, Grenache-dominant rosé.

4. 2016 Scarpetta Sauvignon Blanc Friuli Colli Orientali $44

This stylish Sauvignon Blanc from the Friuli region of Italy is one of the best of the wines sommelier Bobby Stuckey and his partners make. It’s a wine with layers of flavor and a zesty acidity.

5. 2014 Gothic Wine ‘Nevermore’ Pinot Noir Willamette Valley $20

The 2014 vintage produced many excellent Oregon Pinot Noirs, including this one from sommelier Josh Nadel. It’s a bright, savory wine with notes of dark cherry and spice.

Email Lettie at wine@wsj.com.

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2019 Volvo V60: Why It’s Time to Trade Your Crossover for a Wagon

THIS THING HAULS Volvo’s V60 can carry 60.5 cubic feet of stuff—handy when your offspring needs to move.
THIS THING HAULS Volvo’s V60 can carry 60.5 cubic feet of stuff—handy when your offspring needs to move. Photo: Volvo

I’M SUCH A VOLVO-wagon stereotype: white-collar professional, married city-dweller with kids and…oh my lord, a degree in literature? They might as well hand out Volvo wagons with membership to the Modern Language Association.

I don’t care. Our test car, the redesigned-for-2019 Volvo V60 T6 AWD, speaks to me, in the Elfish tongue of Scandinavian sport wagons. I mean, let’s just talk proportions: Any car design with the engine situated sideways under the hood is committed to a certain amount of front overhang, which is why front-drivers nearly always look a tad nose heavy. Please observe the Volvo S60, the sedan version of our test car.

But the wagon’s glass-backed liftgate balances the shape across the diagonal, adding visual mass and perfecting the proportions. The body sculpting on this car is impeccable—love the strong haunch lines across the rear quarters. The exterior is shot through with brand charisma: the ice-white T-shape embedded in the light assemblies, the so-called Thor’s Hammer headlamps. The elaborate taillamps glow like toaster wires. Winter is coming and it’s hawt.

The glass-backed liftgate.
The glass-backed liftgate. Photo: Volvo

I have now driven all the body-style variants of Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (60 and 90 series sedan and wagon, crossover wagon, and SUV, arranged by height) and sampled all the powertrain options. I can assure you, my fellow graduates, that this—the midsize all-wheel-drive wagon with 316-hp super-turbo four—is the one you want, if you want a Volvo.

I don’t mean to suggest that’s a sure thing: To love modern-day Volvos is to accept their quirks—in particular the daunting Sensus touch screen system, which requires all the patience one may acquire in the study of the humanities. Volvo’s voice-recognition system is commedia dell’arte and the user is the crying clown.

The backseat of the Volvo V60.
The backseat of the Volvo V60. Photo: Volvo

But there is a lot to fall in love with, too. The Virgin Galactic-style seats, for instance; or the serene, disciplined cabin décor, executed in a choice of cool upholstery and trim. The highlight of my week was learning Volvo calls its wood trim “inspired by driftwood.” Driftwood is inspiring! Anyway, the postdoctoral sophistication of Volvos’ interiors has probably sold more of its cars than any other quality. Late-model Volvos are also super safe, super connected.

In the U.S. the V60 is available with one of two powertrains: a turbocharged direct-injection 2.0-liter in-line four cylinder producing 250 hp, paired with an eight-speed automatic and front-wheel drive (the T5 model, $38,900 in base Momentum trim); or nearly the same engine with an additional supercharger producing 316 hp, combined with an all-wheel-drive system (T6, $43,400 to start). Volvo’s plug-in hybrid powertrain, the T8 Twin Engine, isn’t available in the U.S.-spec V60. No great loss there.

I said I’d prefer the hot setup, the 316-hp state of tune, but fain! All is vanity. I would have no trouble recommending the 250-hp/front-drive version as being more than adequate for suburban families taking weekend drives to Tolkien conventions.

By the nature of the mechanism (rerum natura!), the Volvo engine aggressively economizes when and if it can, with the engine-management computer feeding sips of air-fuel mixture to the cylinders between stop/start cycling. In the default Comfort mode, the entire mechanism feels a little low-energy—not drowsy but hungry.

Base Price for the Volvo V60 is $38,900.
Base Price for the Volvo V60 is $38,900. Photo: Volvo

You have to roll the drive-mode controller into Sport mode for the car to fully perk up. But once the T6 is alert, the throttle is crisp, the e-steering has a nice weight, the brakes…Ah, I hate the numb engagement of the brake pedal! Fie!

Zero-to-60 mph acceleration is a crisp 5.5 seconds, the engine emitting a muffled howl like a margarita machine with a blanket over it.

I usually encourage consumers to buy station wagons instead of crossovers and SUVs because as a type, wagons are A) Better-handling and safer, with a lower center of gravity, B) More fuel efficient, being lighter with lower aero drag, and C) More space efficient per footprint. The V60, for example, offers a respectable 60.5 cubic feet of cargo space; that is, 6/7th the capacity of a Subaru Forester, with 1/1000th the blockiness.

‘I’ve now driven all the body-style variants of Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture. I assure you, this is the one you want.’

But Volvo wants to make sure you get what you want, at the height you want it. The V60 sedan/wagon, the V60 Cross Country (crossover wagon), and the XC60 SUV are pretty much mechanically identical except for the nuances of body style and apart from the critical measure of ground clearance, the lowest point of the vehicle’s underside.

Our test car’s ground clearance measured a relatively low-slung 5.8 inches; the V60 Cross Country, 8.3 inches; the XC60 SUV, 8.5 inches. Volvo asks, How high would you like your cuff, sir?

I’m still a bit of an academic at heart. For instance, I’m wondering if there isn’t some socially relevant through-line between the sudden rise of crossovers and SUVs with the deteriorating state of U.S. infrastructure. The preference for high-riding vehicles is noted in countries with poor roads. Obviously, you have to back out our unusually low costs of fuel…

Here I am in my asphalt tower.

2019 Volvo V60 T6 AWD

2019 Volvo V60: Why It’s Time to Trade Your Crossover for a Wagon
Photo: Volvo

Base Price: $43,400

Price, as Tested: $54,690

Powertrain: Turbocharged and supercharged direct-injection 2.0-liter DOHC in-line four-cylinder; eight-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode; on-demand mechanical all-wheel drive

Power/Torque: 316 hp @ 5,700 rpm/400 Newton-meters between 2,220-5,400 rpm

Length/Width/Height/Wheelbase: 187.4/72.8/56.6/113.1 inches

Curb Weight: 4,111 pounds

0-60 mph: 5.5 seconds

EPA Fuel Economy: 21/31/25 mpg, city/highway/combined

Max Cargo Capacity: 60.5 cubic feet

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Sick of Hollywood Action Movies? Warhol’s Epic Is an 8-Hour Shot of the Empire State Building

A scene from Andy Warhol’s film ‘Empire,’ the only scene.
A scene from Andy Warhol’s film ‘Empire,’ the only scene. Photo: The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, a museum of Carnegie Institute

Thomas Kiedrowski plans to bring a pillow to Saturday’s screening of Andy Warhol’s silent movie “Empire” in New York City.

Sick of Hollywood Action Movies? Warhol’s Epic Is an 8-Hour Shot of the Empire State Building

While most agree the Warhol epic is a real snoozer, Mr. Kiedrowski is seeing it for the second time. The film runs eight hours, five minutes and consists of a single black-and-white shot of the Empire State Building.

Spoiler alert: Not much happens beyond two things. Read on to find out.

“If it wasn’t for the pillow, I don’t know if I would be able to do it,” said Mr. Kiedrowski, a 44-year-old librarian. He also plans to bring the same snacks that carried him through a 2010 showing—two yogurt smoothies and graham crackers to share with other die-hard fans of the late New York artist.

Mr. Kiedrowski, who wrote the guide “Andy Warhol’s New York City,” might catch another “Empire” screening in March.

Thomas Kiedrowski at the recent opening of the Andy Warhol retrospective In New York.
Thomas Kiedrowski at the recent opening of the Andy Warhol retrospective In New York. Photo: Ernie Garcia

Since the film’s 1965 debut, nearly all of the action has been off-screen.

Jonas Mekas, who made the movie with Warhol, said a melee erupted about 10 minutes into the world premiere in New York City. Dozens of outraged viewers began shouting, “The movie doesn’t move!” They stormed the City Hall Cinema box office, demanding refunds of their $2 tickets.

A few threatened to wreck the theater, said Mr. Mekas, 96. As the night wore on, the audience dwindled to about 100, he said: “Some fell asleep.”

When the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed “Empire” at the nearby Varsity Theatre in 2010, the audience heard curses from the rear of the darkened cinema, said Allison Portnow Lathrop, public programs manager at the Ackland.

The projectionist was losing a bout with the two antiquated projectors used to show the film’s 10 full reels. Later, a fire almost broke out.

Ms. Lathrop had hired eight musical groups, booking each to play during an hour of the film. Near the end of the final reel, a local noise band, Y Fuego Mod, set off sparks during a set that mixed tools, scrap metal and amplifiers.

“I really thought, ‘My job is over here. I’m going to be fired—if we all make it out alive,’ ” Ms. Lathrop said. No one was hurt, and the projector kept rolling, after emergency exits were opened to air out the fumes.

Andy Warhol behind the camera in 1969.
Andy Warhol behind the camera in 1969. Photo: ullstein bild/Getty Images

Saturday’s showing is part of the Andy Warhol retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and organizers expect a more subtle experience.

“It’s a completely silent film,” said Claire Henry, assistant curator of the Andy Warhol Film Project. “You hear your own breathing. If you’re chewing gum or gritting your teeth or swallowing—all of those bodily sounds, both yours and others—you do hear.”

At a 2010 Anthology Film Archives screening in New York, “nobody was saying anything,” said Adam Baran, who was among several dozen spectators. He and others came and went throughout the film.

“I mean—what are you going to miss? I took a nap at some point. I went out and got a lottery ticket. I got a snack,” said Mr. Baran, who will skip Saturday’s screening. “Once was more than enough for me.”

While nothing much happens, fans say “Empire” screenings can feel at various points like performance art, a meditative exercise and an endurance challenge.

“I really took it as a psychological, philosophical experience,” said Pau Guinart, who was a film student when he saw the movie in 2010. “I would do it again.”

Ben House, 59, has seen “Empire” before and plans to attend the March 9 screening at the Whitney because it was so relaxing.

“I might have noticed that the Empire State Building hasn’t moved in several hours,” said Mr. House, who works in advertising. “But I don’t notice that I haven’t moved in several hours. You really can get into a total zone.”

Andy Warhol in 1968.
Andy Warhol in 1968. Photo: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

Noah Boulton was a seventh-grader when he sat through “Empire” in 2014 at the James Fuentes Gallery on New York’s Lower East Side. He went with his parents, who “left after maybe half an hour,” he said.

Mr. Boulton, now an 18-year-old freshman studying art at Purchase College at the State University of New York, recalled abandoning the gallery’s wooden bench after a few hours to stand and watch.

“I sat on it for so long, it ended up hurting,” he said. His father finally returned for him, he said, bringing “a whole thing of McDonald’s.”

“Empire” has two notable moments, for those who might skip the movie but still want to talk about it: The building’s floodlights turn on after sunset and, hours later, they go off.

During the film’s climactic moments, “sometimes you’ll actually hear gasps…or at least not full-on audible gasps, but maybe small intakes of breath,” Ms. Henry said. “These are the big events, right? Instead of it being Godzilla storming a town, it’s the lights turning on or off.”

Warhol warmed up to the long-form genre with “Sleep,” a 1963 silent black-and-white film that shows a man sleeping for five hours and 20 minutes. The artist wanted both “Sleep” and “Empire” to be projected at a slower-than-usual 16 frames per second.

Andy Warhol’s 1963 film ‘Sleep.’
Andy Warhol’s 1963 film ‘Sleep.’ Photo: The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, a museum of Carnegie Institute

Douglas Crimp, who has sat through many Warhol movies, including “Sleep” and “Empire,” says the cinematic marathons are the opposite of Hollywood, “which is trying to move you forward all the time and keep you captivated.”

Mr. Crimp, a professor at the University of Rochester and the author of “‘Our Kind of Movie’: The Films of Andy Warhol,” said, “Everything that ‘happens’ in ‘Empire,’ if you want to put it that way, happens in the first reel—because the lights go on.”

Write to Brenda Cronin at brenda.cronin@wsj.com