When Eric Sprunk announced his retirement as the chief operating officer at Nike in February 2020, he had no uncertainty about where he would be spending much of his time: Flathead Lake.
Mr. Sprunk, 58, and his wife Blair Sprunk, 55, had just recently finished building a seven-bedroom, nine-bathroom mountain modern style home with a boathouse, barn and guesthouse right on the shores of the crystal clear lake, framed by snow-capped mountains, about 70 miles north of Missoula, Mont., and about 11 miles outside the small town of Polson.
Then, a month later, Covid hit. All of their five adult children, ranging from 25 to 35, and their three grandchildren moved in too, with each family getting its own bedroom and bathroom.
“This house was perfect. There was enough space for everyone,” says Mr. Sprunk, who grew up in Missoula.
The Sprunks first spotted the land in 2015 while boating on Flathead Lake. Mr. Sprunk already owned a house on the other side of the lake, which he’d bought and renovated in 2004, right next to his father’s lake house, but he wanted to be in the section where he could see both Big Mountain to the north and sunsets to the west. “I didn’t want to end the day with shade on the dock,” he says.
They pulled their boat on to the beach, put the “For Sale” sign flat on its face and Mr. Sprunk called the listed real-estate agent, saying he’d pay cash for the 4-acre piece of land immediately. They ended up paying $1.17 million, then spending around $300,000 improving the lot and driveway.
After holding on to the land for three years without building, the Sprunks hired Seattle based architectural firm Cushing Terrell to design the buildings on the steeply sloped, three-tiered property. At the top, a big barn, where the family holds weddings (three of their children’s weddings so far), cost about $200,000 to build. Farther down, toward the lake, is an 1,800-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bathroom guesthouse, which cost $700,000 to build. They put in $400,000 for the landscaping and the docks.
Hugging the shores of the lake at the bottom of the property and wrapping around a central stone patio and a lawn that slopes down to the beach and docks, is the 7,000-square-foot main house with an attached 2,300-square-foot boathouse, which cost around $4.3 million to build.
The front door to the main house is glass and opens to an entryway with a glass door on the other side, providing a panoramic view of the lake and mountains before even entering. All on one story, except for a loft over the kitchen, it is flanked by two living spaces, both pivoted at angles for views and privacy. On one end is the primary bedroom and bathroom suite, an office that the Sprunks share. On the other end is a three-bedroom, three-bathroom guest wing with its own sitting room area. (Ms. Sprunk calls it the “rehash room”—it’s where the siblings go to drink and talk among themselves.)
In between is a massive main room, with 40-foot-high foot ceilings and Douglas fir exposed beams. The open kitchen, with its dark oak cabinets and gray tiles and cabinets, is next, then a long wooden dining table surrounded by fur-covered chairs. The living area has a wide stone fireplace. The wall along the whole space that faces the lake is glass, with aluminum clad wood windows.
There’s a gray stone, black metal and dark wood hue, with pops of red, including red upholstered outdoor furniture. “They wanted to be able to know from the boat which house was theirs,” says Ronda Divers, who did the interior design. Ms. Divers says much of the focus was on making the home able to sustain large groups of people all at once, with durable fabrics and furniture, since the couple likes to entertain so much.
The first feature encountered upon entry to the main house is a bar that takes up an entire wall: the bottles line shallow shelves that are backlit and fronted by a sliding wood-slatted door. Mr. Sprunk calls it “booze as art.”
In the boathouse, each of the Sprunks has a boat on rails (a custom made wooden StanCraft for her and a black MasterCraft for him). A side room holds a bathroom stall like the kind found in high schools, replete with a basket of markers for guests to write on the walls. When it’s too cold to go out on the lake, the family plays beer pong and cornhole and holds parties in the boathouse, sometimes sitting in the boats up on the rails wearing life jackets. During Covid they created a pub crawl, with each family member setting up a different bar space on the 4-acre property.
Their annual Fourth of July party is what brings together all their local friends, out-of-town guests and children, who live in Portland, Ore., Seattle, New York and Amsterdam.
“It’s clear they like to have a lot of fun,” says architect David Koel, a design principal at Cushing Terrell.
The couple branded their home KnightHawk Lodge—a combination of their high school mascots (the Knights of Hellgate High School in Missoula for him and the Hawks of Mountlake Terrace High School in Mountlake Terrace, Wash., for her). They had a graphic designer friend from Nike design a logo that’s half hawk, half knight, which they put on T-shirts and cups.
Mr. Sprunk, who is currently on the boards of General Mills and Bombardier, graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in accounting in 1986, already married and a father. Ms. Sprunk, who is a community volunteer and consultant, graduated from Washington State University in 1988 with a degree in business administration and married a commercial real-estate broker in Seattle.
The Sprunks first met each other in 1989 when they were both working at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where one of Mr. Sprunk’s clients was Nike. In March 1993, he went to work for Nike and moved to Amsterdam in 1995, becoming the CFO of Nike Europe and then the general manager of European footwear. In 2000, he moved to the company’s headquarters in Portland, Ore., and was made COO in 2012. The couple got together after they were both divorced and got married in 2013.
They chose Flathead Lake as their second home location because Mr. Sprunk grew up going there every summer and still has friends from third grade to college who live in the area. His father lives in the house across the lake. Ms. Sprunk, who grew up near Seattle, used to vacation at a ranch called Flathead Lake Lodge every summer.
The couple now splits their time between the lake house and their primary home in Seattle, a historic mansion they bought in 2020 for $8 million and just remodelled for $3 million in the Queen Anne neighbourhood.
“It’s a his and hers hometowns situation. We both love both places,” says Ms. Sprunk.
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’
Concern about electric vehicles’ appeal is mounting as some customers show a reluctance to switch
Auto dealers across many parts of the country say electric vehicles are becoming too hard a sell for buyers worried about the range, reliability and price of these models.
When Paul LaRochelle heard Ford Motor was coming out with an electric pickup truck, the dealer was excited about the prospects for his business.
“We thought we could build a million of them and sell them,” said LaRochelle, a vice president at Sheehy Auto Stores, which sells vehicles from a dozen brands in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
The reality has been less positive. On Sheehy’s car lots, LaRochelle says there is a six- to 12-month supply of EVs, compared with a month of gasoline-powered vehicles.
With automakers set to release a barrage of new electric models in the coming years, concerns are mounting among auto retailers about whether the technology will have broader appeal given that many customers are still reluctant to make the switch.
Battery-powered models have been piling up on car lots, dealers say, as EV sales growth has slowed in the U.S. this year. Car companies have been offering a combination of discounts and lower interest-rate deals in an effort to juice demand. But it hasn’t been enough, because buyer reticence extends beyond the price tag, dealers say.
“I’m not hearing the consumer confidence in the technology,” said Mary Rice, dealer principal at Toyota of Greensboro in North Carolina. “People aren’t beating down the door to buy these things, and they all have a different excuse why they aren’t buying one.”
Customers cite concerns about vehicles burning through a battery charge faster in cold weather or not being able to travel as far as they expected on a single charge, dealers say. Potential buyers also worry that chargers aren’t as readily accessible as gas stations or might be broken.
Franchise dealerships fear that the push to roll out new models will inundate them with hard-to-sell vehicles. Research firm S&P Global Mobility said there are 56 EV models for sale in the U.S. this year, and the number is expected to nearly double to 100 next year.
“I start to think, you know maybe we should just all pump the brakes a little bit,” Rice said.
A group of dealers expressed their concerns about the government’s role in pushing electric vehicles in a letter last month to President Biden.
A Toyota Motor spokesman said the majority of dealers have become “increasingly more confident in their ability to sell Toyota EV products.”
At Ford, the company’s electric-vehicle sales are rising, including for its F-150 Lightning pickup, but demand isn’t evenly spread across the country, according to a spokesman.
Dealers say that after selling an EV, they sometimes hear complaints about charging and the vehicles not always meeting their advertised range. In some cases, customers seek to return them to the dealer shortly after buying them.
“We have a steady number of clients that have attempted to or flat out returned their car,” said Sheehy’s LaRochelle.
While EVs remain a small but rapidly expanding part of the new-car market, the pace of growth has slowed this year. Electric-vehicle sales increased 48% in the first 11 months, compared with a 69% jump during the same period in 2022, according to Motor Intelligence. Sales remain concentrated in a few states, with California accounting for the largest chunk, S&P Global Mobility data found.
The cooling growth has raised broader questions in the industry about whether car companies face a temporary hurdle or a longer-term demand challenge. Automakers have invested billions of dollars to bring more EV models to the market, and many analysts and car executives say they remain optimistic that sales will continue to expand.
“Although the rate of growth has slowed recently, EV demand is clearly moving in the right direction,” said General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra on a recent conference call with analysts. A combination of more affordable model options and better charging infrastructure would help encourage more people to buy electric vehicles, she said.
There are also varying views within the dealer community about how quickly buyers will adopt the technology.In hot spots for electric-vehicle demand, such as Los Angeles, dealers say their battery-powered models are some of their top sellers. Those popular EV markets also tend to have more mature public charging networks.
Selling an electric car or truck outside of those demand centres is proving more difficult.
Longtime EV owner Carmella Roehrig thought she was ready to go full-electric and sold her backup gasoline vehicle. But after the 62-year-old North Carolina resident found herself stranded last year in a rural area of South Carolina, she changed her mind. Roehrig’s Tesla Model S got a flat tire, but none of the stores in the area carried tires for a Tesla. She ended up paying a worker at a nearby shop to drive her home.
Roehrig still has her Tesla but bought a pickup truck for long road trips.
Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“I have these conversations with people who say we’ll all be in EVs in 15 years. I say: ‘I’m not so sure. I’ve tried to do it,’” Roehrig said. “I think you need a gas backup.”
Customers who want to ditch their gas vehicle for environmental reasons are sometimes hesitant, said Mickey Anderson, president of Baxter Auto Group, which owns dealerships in Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.
“We’re in the Colorado Springs market. If this is your sole mode of transportation, and you’re in a market in extremes of elevation and temperature, the actual range is very limited,” Anderson said. “It makes it extremely impractical.”
Dealers representing around 4,000 stores across the U.S. signed the letter in November addressed to Biden, saying the administration’s proposed auto-emissions regulations designed to promote electric-vehicle sales are unrealistic. The signatories ranged from stores owned by family businesses to publicly held giants such as AutoNation and Lithia Motors.
“Some customers are in the market for electric vehicles, and we are thrilled to sell them. But the majority of customers are simply not ready to make the change,” the letter said.
Some carmakers are pushing back EV-rollout plans. GM said in mid-October that it would delay the opening of an electric pickup plant by a year to late 2025. In response to weaker-than-expected consumer demand, Ford said in late October that it would defer $12 billion of planned spending on electric-vehicle investment.
Since September, dealers on average took more than two months to sell an EV, compared with 40 days for all vehicles, according to car-shopping website Edmunds.
While discounts have helped boost sales of some electric vehicles, they also have led to repercussions for some current owners because it reduces the value of their vehicles, dealers say.
“Most people don’t have the confidence to buy an EV and know what it will be worth in 10-15 years,” said Rice from the Toyota dealership.
It may take some time for the industry to adjust because it is still in an early stage of switching to electric vehicles, Sheehy’s LaRochelle said.
“We’re asking for this market to grow organically,” he said.
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’