One of My Favorite Transformations

 

       It has definitely been a wonderful year for Distinctive Remodeling with a score of great projects to showcase.  One of the reasons that I find the building profession so fascinating is that it is one of the few places where you can play an active role in bringing  imagination into reality.   Then, when you add in the human component of team collaboration, the project will take on a life of its own.  This one has to be one of my all time favorites.  Here, we have a family Home where many years of wonderful memories had been stored.  Yet now, with the kids gone and building lives on their own, it was time to start updating the home to match the Homeowners evolving style.   

Typical appliances, cabinets, counter tops and flooring of the era.

   

     And then the fun began.  We worked with Tim Odom of Insidesign to seamlessly pull together a completely new space that thoroughly embodied the homeowners taste.  Other rooms had already been made over with new furnishings and decor but the kitchen required a true design professional to tie everything together.

Custom finished wide plank flooring with a balance of rich and creamy cabinetry.

Love the placement of the wall sconces in the space above the vent hood.

A simple replacement of the kitchen window made a huge impact.

Magnificent Mother of Pearl Tops

Magnificent Mother of Pearl Tops

     Let’s not forget the laundry room.  It lies in the adjoining space connecting the kitchen to the garage.  Trouble is, this is the first place you enter upon returning home.

Not very inviting.

I think we dressed it up a bit.

     Now this room serves as an extension of the kitchen and performs multiple duties in addition to being the utility room.

    For me, this project can be highlighted as a ringing endorsement for pursuing high quality design in the development stages.  A lot of elements came together contributing to the success of this project but it all started with Tim’s beautiful vision.  This enabled our project manager to execute on the details meticulously. And, we had a solid direction for the finish materials to be used thus allowing us to more accurately forecast the costs related to the project.  It certainly didn’t hurt that the lady of the home had impeccable tastes.

     We also renovated the guest bath on the main floor at the same time as this project, but, I will have to reveal that one at a later time.

     Would love to get your comments below or Follow and Friend us to stay in touch.

More R.W.E

“Do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself”.

– Ralph Waldow Emerson

An Evolving Focus

     So, why do we compete?  Why do we place so much focus on this?  We will commit endless amounts of time and energy making our “stuff” one degree better than the next guy.  As markets are contracting, we will go to great lengths to separate ourselves from the field.  We will scrutinize our proposals so that they are more detailed.  We will tighten our numbers so that our bids look more attractive.  We will elaborate on our approach so that we will stand out.  The trouble is that everyone else is doing the same.  So often, we will go out to meet with a potential client and there are already ten bids sitting on the table.  I can’t help but ask myself, what are they looking for?  Is it merely to see who has inched out the others and offered them the most bang for their buck?  We keep saying that surely people want more. 

     I think that the trouble is that we are feeding the Beast.  We are active participants in the game whether we are aware of it or not.  I came across this book by Youngme Moon a couple of years ago and it truly struck a chord with me.  I Love Paradoxes of Life and Youngme articulates this one so powerfully.  She is no slouch either.  We’re talking Professor of Business Administration at The Harvard Business School.  The main premise is that “Going tit for tat and adding features, augmentations, and gimmicks to beat the competition has the perverse result of making you like everyone else”.  We saw this very phenomenon play out in the new home market right before the crash.  As the playing field  became more crowded, our products actually became more homogeneous.  When someone introduced a new feature, everyone else had to include it.  When someone expanded their warranty program, everyone else soon offered the same.  And Thus, all the homes became the same.

     I’m not saying that we should lift our eyes from continually improving operational matters.  We must always remain aggressive about strengthening our abilities.  It is the most important way to build sustaining trust with our client base.  (Not to mention, it is something that the customer inherently expects anyway).  I personally treasure a high performing organization.  I value a well-oiled machine.  Providing substance and security to the client is mandatory when establishing ones merit.  However, we must be very careful or our approach can easily slip into a “Race to the Bottom” when we are merely trying to separate ourselves from the pack.  We must commit everything we have to resist this.  Our Focus Needs to Shift from the Competition to the Client.  I may be a bit of an “Outlier” here, but, this is where my aspirations lie.  I want to compete for the Client’s attention and the opportunity to earn their trust.  I believe that we must break away from the crowd and earnestly seek out projects that excite us, those that ignite our passions within us, and then do everything in our power to put ourselves in position to vie for them.  Only then will we bring something more to the table because our enthusiasm will shine through and energize the potential of what the project could be.  I believe that this is what will distinguish us from the rest.

So, why do we complete?  – Let’s compete to win the hearts and minds of the Clients and not to win the job from the Competitor.  In fact, let’s forget that the competitor even exists at all.

Please check out the Well Composed Life page for more on this theme.

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R.W.E. – Wow

     That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? . . . Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare. Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

So, what do we name it?

     Yeah, I know, this may be a little extreme and definitely absurd, but it does, in a sense, characterize who we were.  We had become gluttonous, self-absorbed and way too concerned with collecting stuff.  Now a days – things are entirely different. There has been a shift in our culture of monumental proportions.  We as a collective group are looking at things  through New Eyes  and it could not be more prevalently revealed than in the current design styles of our Homes.  In fact, I believe that what we are experiencing runs so much deeper than a mere trend.   We could actually be in the mist of an era of  epochal significance.  One that could potentially mark this  generation for centuries.  In the same way that  the 1920’s and the 1950’s had such a lasting  impact, so to will the 2010’s  & 2020’s find their own degree of resonance.

     Enter Transitional Design.  Literally – this is the design style that has been sweeping the nation.  Originally inspired as a response to decades of overindulgence.   Where having more was the answer to everything.  I believe that people were instantly drawn to the transitional movement because it was in step with the corrections that they were making in their own personal lives.  De-cluterring had become the mantra of individuals from every walk of life.  Everyone was looking for a way to simplify their lifestyles and rid themselves of the needless baggage that they had been accumulating over the years.  Initially, transitional design felt a lot like the modernist era of the past.  But then, a shift  took place.  It became very personal. 

     I could show a picture here, but, all you need to do is pick up any magazine that features homes and lifestyles and you will see what we are talking about.   Look to what the luxury home market is asking for, those that can afford to implement any form of lifestyle under the sun,  and you will see what is taking shape in the minds of individuals all across this great land.  So what is it?  Transitional design can loosely be defined as a mixture between traditional and contemporary styles.  It has been known as “updated classic”, “classic with a contemporary twist” and “new takes on old classics”.  It is a look where elegance is achieved through clean lines and simple yet stylistic detailing.  One that is stripped clean of superficiality.  It is an un-cluttered design style where everything has its place.  There is not a hint that extra do-dads remain hidden behind closed doors.   It is one that is well-organized.   It embodies our true spirit that lives free of “stuff”.  And through this heightened level of elegant detailing, purposeful organization and  specific personalization, something greater has begun to emerge.  These spaces are beginning to become authentic to the core.

     This is where I believe that this movement will gain lasting power.  Homes will become highly personalized.  People will be less interested in filling their homes with random stuff.  Instead, they will be very intentional in sculpting their homes into something that is a true reflection of who they are.  They will spend as much time contemplating items to be removed as they will in deciding on new pieces to introduce.  Homes will reflect our new lifestyles.  They will be “light”.  They will be “Lean”.  they will be places of creativity, inspiration, strength,  and integrity.  Everything Right Now is colliding into a masterful depiction of this meaning of Home.  The Green Movement will transform into what is expected.  The banking reformation will establish responsiblity at every level .  People will be encouraged from the real estate community to express their individual tastes.    Thus, Authentic Living will be the lasting result.

     25, 50 to 100  years from now, when we have lost our way again.  We will harken back to a time of substance.  One that will allow us to re-group and gather our bearings.  And, I believe that this era will be our inspiration.  That alone makes this a truly exciting time to be in this real estate, architectural, design, home building and remodeling industry.  So, what do we name it?  What will we call this time of refined elegance?  This time of responsible prosperity?  This time where substance matters?  This time of Authentic Living?

     I’d love to hear from you, so please leave your thoughts.

The End of Schlock

    Schlock.  What a crazy word.  Yiddish, I think.  The dictionary has it as:  – noun – Something of cheap or inferior quality; junk.  Or – adjective – Cheap, trashy; a schlock store.  I came across this term while reading The Elegant Solution by Matthew May.  I became hooked on his work after reading “In Pursuit of Elegance”  If you are the least bit interested in design at all then this book absolutely needs to be on your shelf.  Fascinating Read!

     Anyway, this fun, simple and descriptive word has spurred some considerable thought and conversation about the emerging direction of our remodeling, homebuilding and real estate community.  The world has certainly changed and what is taking shape is very refreshing.  We’ve all heard the debate and I know I’ve spoken a ton about the events that led to our downfall.  Of course, everything becomes a lot clearer when looking back upon it.  But what is Cool is that today’s homeowner’s are starting to ask for more.  As a builder and one who has put out a fair amount of Spec Inventory, I have been well aware of the mantra preached within the homebuilding realm that you should never build what you want, but rather, what the client is asking for.  The trouble with this approach is that most clients were following the wrong direction.  They had been convinced that their homes had better match or “compare” well with all of their neighbors and this became the primary motivator.  So the focus was set on acquiring the correct amount of options.  Items on the checklist that will bring the greatest ROI.  From the builders perspective, in order to introduce these new features, and stay price competitive, another area would need to be cut.  Things like HVAC systems, floor coverings and windows were all on the cutting room floor.  We looked anywhere and everywhere to trim costs.  Just ask the poor painter or framer what he felt about those days.  It was not uncommon for some of these guys to actually lose money to have the privilege of working for certain contractors.  Check out the latest blog post by our friends at Energy Vanguard to hear their take on the topic.

     But today is a New Day.  Buyers are customizing their homes.  Actually making them a reflection of their true identities rather than that of the bulk of generic housing shoppers of the past.  They are also becoming highly educated.  They want to know that they are making quality decisions.  They want to know that the design will remain satisfying for years to come.   And, they want to know that the project will provide them pleasure.  Ultimately, it needs to be sustainable. 

     One way to know for sure that this is actually taking hold is to look at what the major product manufacturers are doing.  Let me shine the spotlight on Marvin Windows for a second.  They have developed, and patented, the most amazing new manufacturing process that will enable these windows to virtually last forever.  The tensile strength of the material used for the frames is actually greater than that of steel.  The expansion and contraction rate is equal to that of glass.  That is 833% less than vinyl; and for that matter PVC.  Because the material is so stable, they are able to apply the most durable finish on the planet to them.    

This technology is so revolutionary, that Marvin is planning on converting all of their lines over to this type of construction, including their highest architectural series, in the very near future.  That is where the true testimony begins.  That is where aesthetics and sustainability come together.  I absolutely love this approach because now one of the most beautiful lines of windows out there is being built to the highest standards of performance available on the market today.  To learn more about Marvin and this technology, please visit the good people at www.avimarvin.com.

Elegance in Mind

Surprisingly Powerful    

“A great piece of art is composed not just of what

 is in the final piece, but equally what is not.  It is the

discipline to discard what does not fit – to cut out what

might have already cost days or even years of effort –

that distinguishes the truly exceptional artists and

marks the ideal piece of work, be it a symphony, a

novel, a painting, a company, or most important

of all, a Life”.

                                                                     Jim Collins

     I would be remiss if I did not  add a Home to the list here.  For me, a Well Composed Home is by its very nature Elegant.  I also believe that you can not have a Well Composed Home without possessing a Well Composed Life.  The two go hand in hand.  And Yes, you will probably find me posting comments and interests surrounding the Well composed Life on this site in the very near future as well. 

     One of the really cool things about my current role where I am employed is that I get to assist the clients with the development of their project.  In doing so, I get the privilege of viewing a lot of Homes.  Some are truly exquisite to go through.  Everything  is connected.  Each room is tied together with the next and the owner’s true personality is reflected through and through.  For most of the homes though…Not so much.  They rarely possess a continuity of style.  Multiple themes are played out and the home lacks identity.  The spaces tend to be cluttered, confusing and completely lacking of any connection with its owner. 

     I think the true nemesis here is not the individual occupant but rather a system or “checklist” that we created so that we could easily compare one house to another.  We have fallen for the lie that in order to protect our investment and to make sure we get the maximum return, we must build our home with everything that our neighbor’s has.  You should not express your own personality at all because the future buyer may not approve.  So, we adhere to the 5 bedroom, 4 1/2 bath, bonus room, keeping room, media room, office, 3 car identical model as every other house in the cul-de-sac. 

     You would think that this drama would not be nearly as prevalent in the remodeling realm, yet somehow, this doctrine still governs a lot of the design decisions out there.  What’s worse, in attempting to make the home appealing to everyone, it will inevitably have a tendency to miss the mark all together.  Two projects immediately come to mind.  Both homes having been built in the ’60s, 3 bedroom / 2 bath.  Both well maintained.  One magnificently composed.  Each room feeds off of the ambiance of the adjoining one.  The architecture, furniture, artwork, accessories…they all speak to the personality of the owners.  Everything is in its place and yet it is not sterile in any way.  In fact, it is very comfortable.  Regardless of ones personal taste, I would think that anyone could see themselves living in such a space.   The other home, is somewhat “typical”.  Nothing wrong with it, it just seems to blend in.  In working through the design process, a lot of concern has been placed on how this option or that one would play out in a re-sale environment.  We have struggled with making the home function properly in order to obtain the “most desired” mixture of elements.  Hopefully we can steer it in such a way as to bring everything into cohesion once it’s complete.  I have faith in these owners. 

     Creating a Well Composed Home, as in any form of art, takes a lot of skill.  It requires a well-trained eye.  It demands a solid understanding of the owners true self.  And, it takes a lot of courage to allow the Home to assume its authentic identity.  I believe that it is safe to regard the owners of the first home as true Artists.  They knew not only what to include, but, more importantly, what to leave out.   Absolutely Elegant.

Progressing the Dream

     I’m the type of person who will tend to latch onto a dream or vision and then keep an unwavering, stranglehold type of grip on it until I am able to bring it into being.  Usually the “Dream” serves as a means to provide Hope and Inspiration.  Most of the time, Motivation.  And, it always drives me to new levels of Creativity.  I love the mental focus that comes along with the process.  Even more, I love the reward of finally achieving the goal.

     For the longest time, I have desired a studio office.  A place that is truly my own.  In our household, it seems that everyone has their own sacred place that they can slip off to except me.  Which is fine.  I’m not complaining.  I’m taking my time with mine.  No need to rush because I certainly want to get all of the details just right.  The detached, stand alone, office/studio concept has intrigued me for some time.  Frankly, I find it hard to believe that more people are not asking for these of their own.  From time to time we will get the request to design and build one, but, they are few and far between.  Even though, as expected, they almost always turn out quite fascinating.  A lot of time they will borrow some of the stylings of the main structure.  But, they do not need to replicate or take on a “Mini-Me” approach to their presence.  When successfully accomplished, they have a definitive personality of their own and are often more in step with the true personality of its occupant.

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     I came across this home about 4 or 5 years ago and have always taken a liking to it.  It’s not 100% my style but it does have its share of nice detailing.  It is unique with a lot of uncommon and personal touches.  Very relaxed and comfortable in its presentation.  One that is definitely Well Composed.  And thus, a lovely home in its own right.  But now, throw in this awesome studio office and it takes on a whole new dimension.  The building in the rear has many of the same attributes as the main structure but you do not get the feel that it is competing with it.  Just complementing. 

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I love the second story shutter and window detail that is carried over from the main home.  Anchoring the office with a masonry chimney is an exceptionally nice feature especially since it is on the opposite end as the primary home.  Both buildings working together actually create a more interesting and integrated whole.

     Then, the other day, I came across this photo from a project by the legendary Bobby McAlpine and it stirred me to start Dreaming of my own personal studio all over again.

Click to Enlarge

This pretty much sums up the feel of the space that I am going for.  From the stained concrete floors, to the dark interior walls, to the expanse of natural light, to that incredible desk as the center piece.  I’m not sure how much I would actually get done out there, but, I do know that it would feel like shear Heaven.  Thanks for the inspiration to Bobby and his team ’cause now the Dream has been advanced another step further.

BTW – Someone has got to share with me where I can find such a desk.

Why We Build – Renewal

     “We build in the end, because we believe in the future – nothing shows committment to the future like Architecture.  And we build Well because we believe in a better future, because we believe that there are few greater gifts we can give the generations that will follow us than great works of Architeture, both as a symbol of our aspirations of community and as a symbol of our belief not only in the power of imagination but in the ability of Society to Continue to Create Anew.”

                                                                                        -Paul Goldberger

Autonomy and A Little Bit of Cash

     Earlier in my career, I had the privilege of working for one of the Nation’s top homebuilders and we literally had a blast every day.  In looking back, I can clearly say that it was the people who made the true difference.  For one, our Atlanta Division President was an absolute Leader of Leaders.  He definitely knew how to empower the staff. 

     Keep in mind, this was Production Building at its highest.  We were consistently in the top five for sales volume in the Atlanta Market year after year.  While most production companies are managed with tight controls, checks and balances and strict oversight, our company President gave us the freedom to call our own shots and create profitable opportunities for both ourselves and the company.  This may sound trivial, but, it was really cool.  One of the things that he challenge each community builder to do was to develop a signature design that would set it apart from the competition.  Every builder had a given amount of cash and complete autonomy to create the features that would give them an edge.  He would further fund these side projects with money that was saved from un-used “Area Costs” dollars.  The area costs division was where we would allocate a certain amount of money to take care of developing the lot like clearing, grading, extra landscaping, etc.  For the most part, these divisions would become depleted due to project managers not being diligent in monitoring the expenditures. 

     This became an awesome competition for the entire company.  We chose to create and build the most “Fantastic” Chimneys that we possibly could.  Reasoning – Every Chimney, in Every Subdivision looked exactly the same.  And, who ever heard of a Production Homebuilder spending money here.  Of course, we solicited the opinion and buy-in of everyone involved ie. agents, architects, vendors, suppliers.  Ours became a Huge success.  The level of detail increasingly became more complex.  We intentionally and deliberately tried to save everything we could in area costs so that we had more to work with for our Pet Project.  The general public also seemed to really take to our approach.  These were homes starting in the mid $400’s  and yet they had an element that was traditionally found on upper end luxury custom homes.  There were somewhere around 400 – 500 homes in this neighborhood and we were steadily closing 70 to 90 a year.  Talk about busy.  Not all of our community’s success can be attributed to this one decision, but, it did create a lot of Buzz and certainly fueled the momentum. 

     This just goes to show; when you free people up and provide them with adequate support and funding, Great things can happen.  It also takes a strong leader to be able to set the challenge for the team and then get out-of-the-way.  A lot of companies would have prefered to pocket any area costs savings or spare the expense of the higher design, but, by planting the seed and letting it grow, we were rewarded many times over and everybody won.

The Elusive Element

 

    

     For the longest time I have admired this home and yet I could not fully describe what it was about it that had me so drawn to it.  I do tend to like symmetry, but, I’m certain that there is something more here.  I also appreciate that it has a simple elegance, and yet, it is truly simple in regards to materials and detailing.  So – I went to the most relevent reference book  in my library.  That is “Get Your House Right” by Marianne Cusato.  I studied the roof plan.  Evaluated it from the perspective of proportion, balance and scale.  Considered the Hierarchy.  And while all of these things are working for the most part, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most exquisite detail about his home was brought about by the hands of the builder.

     You see, Simply Put, this home is just “Comfortably Sited”.  The builder, through genuine vision and thoughtful planning, has selected the perfect style home to go with the lot conditions and then tailored the homes features to create a continuity of elements.  By tucking the garage away to the rear of the home, not only was the facade kept clean and stylish,  but the driveway was able to be lengthened and thus its pitch has been minimized.  In this photo, you can pick up on the increase in the rise of the driveway for the home to the right.  30 years ago, it was a common practice to build homes with rear loading garages.  You will see this in communities all over Buckhead, Sandy Springs and Dunwoody.  I know we steered away from this design technique as a means to reduce construction costs, but, I believe this is a classic example of how a few extra dollars and some careful planning can have a lasting impact.

     The crowning jewel of the entire home lies in the Main Entry.  By terracing the lawn and extenuating the driveway, they were able to create a level lead walkway that brings you up to a curved staircase and an elegant Front Porch.  The Composition of the Whole Home brings your eye to this welcoming point.  Siting a Home is an Art Form and by executing this phase of the construction process meticulously, this builder has created something of True Lasting Value.  Well done.

Spec Building

A couple of years ago, I took a leap of faith and started my own Homebuilding company.  We jumped out of the gates pretty aggressively and quickly had 14 homes under construction. 12 Specs and 2 Pre-Sales, priced from 600K to 1.1M. We were Bold, Brazen and Full of Energy.  Excited about creating and bringing to market our visions while trying to wade through the complexities of starting a new venture.  Then the world came crashing down.

In the aftermath, I swore off “Spec” Building.  Thought that it was the most Evil endeavor a man could pursue. I questioned everything. I wondered, what in the world was I thinking…How could I be so careless.  Self-Criticism consumed me.  And, for three years, I have believed that the craft of Homebuilding has been forever changed.

Then I had an “Aha Moment”.   A true realization.  Of course it came from the Brilliant mind of Seth Godin.  In creating and living a dynamic life, we are ALL involved in Speculative Building, Speculative Design, Speculative Art, Speculative Goals, Speculative Pursuits.  To go after something of meaning, of tremendous value, we have to lay ourselves on the line.  We have to commit to the cause and put ourselves, our products and our ideas out there for the whole world to examine.

I admire the men and women of the homebuilding industry so much.  A friend of mine once commented to me that he regarded Homebuilders as the last of the truly great entrepreneurs in America and I couldn’t agree more.  Where else do you have a profession that allows for so much creativity in the product line and yet requires such a personal financial obligation if it fails.  Of coarse, none of us fully realized the depth of how far the industry could fall.  And, I certainly do agree that we should take a more analytical approach to reduce the level of risk. With this in mind, we need to fight to preserve this once magnificent profession.

We need Homebuilders who are not afraid of putting their product out there.  We need ones who are willing to push the envelope of design.  Ones who question the conventional way of doing things.  The concept of “Home” is too important for our society.  We need Builders – and not just the fortune 500, National guys – but Builders on the local level who will continue to create truly inspiring homes for families to cherish. 

I don’t ever want to lose the passion that I have for the Home and I hope that we as a society will not let this happen either.

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