At the end of a long, and very productive year it's time to clean the office out and straighten it up for the new year. One of the projects sitting on my desk for months has been a stack of CD's just beggin' me to open them up and glean the low hanging fruit of ideas, largely ignored, from projects long ago. Just like at the end of a wonderful fireworks show when the pyrotechnic experts send up whatever is remaining in the box, in no particular order, here are some of the pictures captured from those old CD's... Fasten your seatbelt, here we go!
Thhaa...That's all Folks! See you next year.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Friday, December 7, 2012
(Editors Note: The following is the last in a series of excerpts from my new book Raising the Roof! A Homebuilder's Secrets to Saving Time and Money. So often homeowners take a "Ready, Fire, Aim" approach to the building process. Raising the Roof! attempts to re-orient the process so most of the planning occurs upfront, before leaving the architect's office. This piece is a snippet from the section dealing with the necessary "fourth leg" of the Project Team stool, the landscape architect.
A courtyard at night shows off a landscape architect’s talent.
EVERY BLOOMIN’ THING! THE LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS
Our business may have been the only operation in North America which actually started and owned a landscape company and never knew the difference between a bush and a tree! Private Gardens was born in early 2000, staffed with a talented landscape architect, and organized with the thought of offering all of our homebuilding clients “curb to curb” design and construction services. It worked – but then again it didn’t! Our clientele didn’t want all of the in-house attention afforded them with complete construction and landscape services. They wanted the little yellow truck in front of their house known locally as Lambert’s Landscaping. After three years of beating our heads against the flowerbeds, we closed the business.
Those three years were very educational. Every business is unique. We are unique in being able to coordinate and assemble large pieces of a complex puzzle which people eventually live in. Lambert’s, on the other hand, is gifted at coordinating “flora” and some “fauna,” making each property beautiful. Dallas is blessed with a healthy number of fine landscape architects who work magic in the yard.
In terms of a four-legged stool supporting the design and construction of a home, the landscape architect represents the fourth and final leg of the stool (along with the architect, contractor, and interior designer). The landscape architect’s discipline is equally as important to the process as any other.
In a perfect world, a landscape architect would join the design team at the same time as the three other legs of the stool. Early in the design process, the Project Team needs enough “hardscape” input (walks, stone walls and columns, pools, etc.) from the landscape architect, so that preliminary on-site work can be done at the same time as the home building. If it’s known ahead of time where stone walls, columns, pools, and other hardscape features will be located, it is most cost effective to drill, form, and pour those footings while the house foundation is being constructed. Common sense says if the concrete trucks and pump jacks have to come back a second time, it ain’t going to be cheap. Real savings can be realized if all of the disciplines are properly coordinated.
“Softscape,” or planting materials (trees, grass, and the like), can always be defined later in the building process if the planting beds are master planned into the overall site design. Think of it in terms of trim and paint: It’s always easy to worry about the decorative stuff and colors later, if provisions have been made for those items in the master planning of the house.
Friday, November 9, 2012
(Editors Note: The following is an excerpt from my new book Raising the Roof! A Homebuilder's Secrets to Saving Time and Money. So often homeowners take a "Ready, Fire, Aim" approach to the building process. Raising the Roof! attempts to re-orient the process so most of the planning occurs upfront, before leaving the architect's office. This piece is a snippet from the section dealing with the third of the team members, the interior designer.
Sizzle – The Interior Designers
Some interior designers absolutely drip with style and vision for what is truly beautiful, but can’t quite offer the kind of information the contractor needs to actually get the vision built. There’s an enormous difference between seeing and understanding beauty, and knowing how to deliver it to the client.
It should be as simple as following the American Society of Interior Designers or ASID professional designation. Anyone with an ASID behind their name should really know their stuff, right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Just like the AIA (American Institute of Architect) designation behind an architect’s name, all the designation really means is they have advanced schooling in their craft and have interned with another designer before being allowed ot sit for ASID testing.
But ASID doesn’t always buy “taste” or “vision.” In fact, some of the best interior designers aren’t ASID. In the construction industry, when it comes to interior designers it’s apparent that “you either got it, or you don’t.”
All the fancy showrooms down in the Design District of Dallas have a wonderful little sign on their door that says, “To The Trade Only.” The vendors started putting the sign on the front of their shops to try and wave off everyone who thought they knew something about design and wanted wholesale pricing. Years ago the interior design business was “the wild west” before the Design District’s rules concerning showroom accessibility were instituted.
Talent + Information = Success
What a contractor needs most from the design process is talent and information. Interior designers must be able to communicate with the contractor (in plain and simple terms), so surprises are minimized.
A truly effective interior designer starts his/her work immediately after joining the Project Team. Shortly after the conceptual drawings are released to the owner and the team, an interior designer should start by roughly positioning the client’s furnishings on the plans. Normally, conceptual plans are drawn at 1/8” = 1’ 0”, so it’s hard to properly scale furnishings on plans that size. The inventory of furnishings should come shortly after the interior designer is hired. Surveying what furnishings will and will not be used in the new home or re-model will provide an inventory necessary throughout the job. Without the initial furniture layout on the conceptual plans, it’s conceivable that rooms will be designed that either don’t accommodate furnishings comfortably or at all.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
(Editors Note: The following is an excerpt from my new book Raising the Roof! A Homebuilder's Secrets to Saving Time and Money. So often homeowners take a "Ready, Fire, Aim" approach to the building process. Raising the Roof! attempts to re-orient the process so most of the planning occurs upfront, before leaving the architect's office. This piece is a snippet from the section dealing with the second of the Team Members, the builder. Many additional "tricks and tips" can be gleaned from the balance of the text, but you'll just have to wait for the book to be published before you can see the rest of what we're up to!)
A natural argument says builders must be nuts to want to build houses. Some are – “nuts” about the people, “nuts” about the process, and “nuts” about the finished product. Building gets in the blood and just won’t go away. Sure, risks can be managed through incorporating a business and buying all kinds of insurance but my Father-in-law said it best “…if you’re going to build big houses, you’re going to have big problems.” Truer words have never been spoken.
Puzzle Masters – The Builders
On one hand you have architects that specialize in design but don’t know cost. The other hand consists of the contractor/builder who doesn’t know design but lives in the world of cost everyday. Sounds like a marriage made in heaven doesn’t it? Wrong. Seemingly architects always want to be on the budget and production committees, and builders want to sneak over to the design committee. The problem? Each is convinced they know more about the other’s discipline. The truth? Architects need only to design – and stay away from cost issues; builders need to specialize in the cost and technique of putting puzzle pieces together, and stay out of the design.
Let’s sort this out. But before we do, let’s clean up the difference between a “builder,” and a “contractor.” Though the terms seem interchangeable, and will be used interchangeably in this book, a “builder” is someone who builds things and accepts all the normal risks inherent of the building business and also accepts the economic risks of being able to sell, or not sell their product in the marketplace. A “contractor” builds things for clients, still shouldering the normal risks of the building business, but works on a “for hire” basis, thus eliminating most economic risk. Whew…is all of that clear as mud? If we go way back to the beginning of this book, the builder is the “businessman,” and the contractor is the “artist.”
By the very definition of their job description a builder/contractor has to be in cost and budget everyday. (Note: the title “Contractor” is derived from the word “contract” which everyone knows means lawyers and money must be involved). Whether building for a specific client or the open market, it’s impossible to build something without incurring cost. So, with pricing fresh in their mind, the Contractor is much more likely to know the cost of a pier and beam foundation then the pencil pushing architect.
But ignorance doesn’t stop the architect from guessing. Almost every day in Dallas, Texas you have an architect guessing how much it’s going to cost to build the magnificent structure he/she has just designed. They’re clueless! (Qualifier: unless the firm is “design/build” where architecture and construction both come out of the same office – see the section on Architects). Some of the hardest deals ever done are projects where the client has hired the architect independent of the contractor, designed a magnificent home with the architect, and been told it can be built for say $175 per square foot (exclusive of land). Just imagine the surprise of the client, and the embarrassment to the architect when the project prices out at $300 per square foot. ARCHITECTS DON’T KNOW COST – they think they do, but don’t let ‘em fool ya.
Earlier, in defining the difference between builders and contractors, the rather unusual and precarious risks faced by builders everyday were noted. Any occupation where people are putting large objects together; standing on walk boards two stories in the air; installing roofing on slopes too steep to possibly walk; and playing with methane gas, to name just a few potential dangers, has inordinate amounts of risk. Assembling the large pieces necessary to build a home requires hanging in mid-air on scaffolding (usually walk boards to the framers), and nailing shingles on a steeply pitched roof while plumbers connect methane gas lines throughout the structure. The chemicals used in painting have yet to even be considered.
Builders wish the risks and liabilities were limited to only jobsite related functions. No way - those risks are too manageable. Add economic risks, downturns in the economy, international trade regulation risks, raw product price spikes (copper and gypsum are two prime examples), shortages, client management and relations risks, even the threat of litigation, and it makes one wonder why anybody would sign up for being a builder. (I once had a client that was soooo mad they said their attorney was ‘going to sue me until I bled to death!’)
What’s the incentive in begging for this kind of potential punishment? Where else can a person literally conceive an idea one day, start building on it the next, and end up with something becoming a legacy when long gone? Fourteen months in the oil and gas business years ago filing files taught me about missing the spontaneity of the homebuilding business….. (probably didn’t make near the money, but I’ve had a much better time).
Friday, September 28, 2012
(Editors Note: The following is an excerpt from my new book Raising the Roof! A Homebuilder's Secrets to Saving Time and Money. So often homeowners take a "Ready, Fire, Aim" approach to the building process. Raising the Roof! attempts to re-orient the process so most of the planning occurs upfront, before leaving the architect's office. This piece is a snippet from the section dealing with the first of the Team Members, the architect. Many additional "tricks and tips" can be gleaned from the balance of the text, but you'll just have to wait for the book to be published before you can see the rest of what we're up to!)
Divine Design – The Architects
a national level America has several prima donna architects who will invoke “form over function” architectural
concepts more suited to their ideas,
needs, and tastes. Frank Lloyd Wright, of years ago, is one such person. If
living in an art piece was the objective, he was the obvious choice. But “form”
doesn’t always lead to the “function” needed in homes to accommodate the needs
of a family. Many of Wright’s works are immortalized today for their very avant
guard styling, but rarely does one hear about the client that commissioned the
work and/or lived in the house.
Divine Design – The Architects
The “Rock Stars” of the entire building process are the architects. Rightfully so – with the lengthy educational requirements necessary before being able to practice, they’ve earned it. But, just because architects have earned rock star status doesn’t mean they have to act like it. Let’s go back to the original thought, “it’s your home, not theirs!” Therefore, architects should adopt an attitude of helpfulness, trying to understand the client’s needs and wants while communicating, educating and taking ideas to the two-dimensional final form known as construction drawings.
|Frank Lloyd Wright's "Falling Waters"|
In the older, more established cities of America, the accepted practice is to hire the architect as the first member of the project team. Thoughts and ideas the owner has about their home are communicated through a programming process most architects use as a mean of determining the likes and dislikes of the homeowner. The client’s ability to get what they truly want in a home is directly related to the architect’s ability to de-program, or break the code of what is desired. Certainly the architect’s ability to correctly interpret the desires of the client, coupled with the creativity to solve unique problems while exhibiting flare in the styling of the home, weigh heavily in the overall outcome of the project. It works best if large egos are checked at the front door.
Yet, while architects are trained in the art of design and structure, often their communication skills are lacking. The ability to accurately communicate a design rolling around in the head of the client must be accurately “heard” by the ears of a discerning architect. This is why clipping pictures and organizing them by areas of the house is so important. Through a two-dimensional set of construction drawings representing the owner’s design objectives, ideas collected from the client’s pictures will finally become three-dimensional on-site when construction begins. Often what the owner really wanted gets lost in the mix because the architect didn’t listen effectively. As a result, major changes in the overall design of the home follow the framing of the walls. Once a homeowner can actually walk through their newly framed home, builders will often hear: “…I didn’t know that it was going to look like that!” But count those concerns as an indictment to the overall process as much as to the lack of communication skills of the architect. Great houses have to be “drawn” out of the client – it simply requires intense concentration, listening, and communication on the part of both the owner and architect.
A dimensioned floor plan with exterior elevations of the home represents only the beginning in the production of a set of plans necessary to build a good home. Often the penny-pinching client will forego purchasing the detail drawings the architect will produce (for a fee) which drive the uniqueness of the overall finished product. It has been said that ‘the devil is in the details.’ So true. Extra time and money spent on further definition and explanation set forth in the accompanying architectural details makes the bare bones “house” a “home”.
|"Ahhhhhhh...that's not what we asked for!"|
Friday, September 14, 2012
(Editors Note: The following is an excerpt from my new book Raising the Roof! A Homebuilder's Secrets to Saving Time and Money. Though the blog took the summer off, the writer of the blog didn't - he was busy writing the book. So often homeowners take a "Ready, Fire, Aim" approach to the building process. Raising the Roof! attempts to re-orient the process so most of the planning occurs upfront, before leaving the architect's office. This piece is an overview of the players necessary for the complete planning of any home or remodel. Hopefully this will be as much fun to read, as it was to write!)
Build a Team
As the owner desiring to have a home built or remodeled, it’s your project so you get to be the quarterback. First, interview prospective team members using the interviewing suggestions below, and hire integrity, character, experience, knowledge, and a “can do” spirit. The team must include an architect, builder/contractor, interior designer (unless you have fabulous taste and proven experience) and a landscape architect. Just a thought or two about the team members:
- · Architects are usually creative people who don’t know, or understand cost. Their discipline is not centered around the cost of materials or labor. They have been trained in design, proportion, balance etc. and bring the aesthetic to the project.
- · Builders know and understand cost. The builder’s discipline has them working in numbers and budgets all day long, but most don’t really know design. Assembling both architect and builder in the same room should give an owner the best of both worlds.
- · Interior Designers usually don’t know schedule. Most often these are creative people (read: artists) who really know color, texture, shape, form, and all of the wonderful components necessary for achieving the “look.” But bringing structure to an interior designer’s world and getting selections when the building process demands, is like herding cats. Though the builder and architect can aid in giving structure to the interior designer, most probably the owner will need to reinforce that the designer is being paid to be timely in their creativity.
- · Landscape Architects design and coordinate all of the outside disciplines and elements necessary for a beautiful yard. This should happen along with the home design and interiors. It’s amazing how much overlap there is between the trades needed to build a home, and the players necessary for creating exterior landscaping. Why not reap the benefits of the cost efficiency of having the concrete guy pour all of the footings, pads, piers, and preliminary flatwork necessary for the yard landscape along with the foundation for the house? Why not have the pool designed, located and formed before home construction gets in the way and makes it really expensive to do later? It requires a little forward thinking, but the savings are dramatic.
· There’s an argument saying structural engineers, consultants, and lighting designers should be added to the team at the beginning of the process. Too many cooks in the kitchen! The “team” functions much more efficiently with fewer people. Your builder, architect, interior designer, and landscape architect should be the core of your Project Team. They should bring in the other disciplines as necessary to accomplish specific things which may be needed in your home. Good team members also know where competent support professionals can be found. Typically these will be professionals they have worked with before who become valuable additions to the project.
· Remember this process ends up being a “chemistry experiment.” It’s very important that the owner really likes the people on the Project Team because enormous amounts of time will be spent with this group. Don’t just hire the market reputation of someone because everyone in the community is mesmerized by their work. Upon meeting who the market deems Mr. Wonderful, if there is a personality clash, toss them back in the pond.