Custom vs. Luxury

Does GOOD DESIGN cost a lot more?

Ensuring Design Requirements are met

Neighborhood Considerations

Next steps after Floor Plan Layout

Definition of Hardwood

Tile Layout

Width of Floor Border

Landscape Budget

Arbitration Clause

I thought custom was the best I could get. Is luxury the new custom?

Yes, is the simple answer. Custom has become ‘standard’ in many respects. The insurance industry uses 4 categories to describe quality levels of construction: Economy, Standard, Custom, & Luxury. Basically, anything you have designed and built for your home would almost always fall under Custom or Luxury. Rarely, would someone be building to a ‘standard’ quality unless they’re adding a garage, rec. room, etc., or if they are looking to just get the shell up, and perform the finish-out later. Economy would be relegated to low-income rentals, and the like. Spec homes are typically built to a ‘standard’ quality while trying to look custom. Some spec homes have some custom features, but always spec homes are designed to do one thing: provide the highest profit margin for the developers. The quality of spec homes should always be scrutinized carefully.

It costs a lot more to build a good design, doesn’t it?

Not necessarily. I generally design projects with the same basic layout regardless of the budget. It’s the materials chosen that determine the construction costs more than anything else. Often, it costs the same to build a quality design as it does to do something basic or standard. Let’s talk about landscape design for a moment. A good landscape design will set up axis perpendicular to the centerline of the exterior doors and windows. At the apex of those axis lines, landscape features will often be located such as a fountain or wall fountain, a sculpture, a specimen tree or an arbor for instance. A good design will have something in that particular location no matter what the budget. On a luxury job, you might find a bronze sculpture or a custom tiled wall fountain, while a lower budget job might incorporate a small tree that will grow to fill the requirement, but both are working from basically the same design layout. Same goes for the hardscape; the good design will have stairs where stairs should be, paths where paths should be, and patios where people gather. The patio furniture should go in a particular place for each specific design regardless of budget. The budget will be determined by the owners’ choice of material. The luxury client might install real antique 100-year old used brick over a reinforced concrete base, where the custom client might use a manufactured used brick, and the standard client might consider stamped concrete bricks, yet all are built basically off the same design.

How do I insure that my design requirements do not get overlooked?

Communicate with your design team and make sure they communicate with each other. Set up a meeting early on in the design process where all the designers are present, can meet each other, and exchange numbers. A full service designer or design company can handle almost all of the design functions required to avoid most design mistakes. If you choose not to use a full service design company (like us), you will need to be prepared to do some running around, and be the liaison between your various designers. Early on in the process you will need to bring in your interior designer, landscape designer, and other designers. You’ll need to consider things like, has the architect allowed enough room for your mantle legs? Is there enough room for the width of the door & window moldings you want? Is there enough clearance for the size of crown molding and freeze you want? Does the furniture layout require floor plugs? Which way will the drapes gather on ~ has the architect allowed enough room for any drapes? Would you like the interior, wall-hung, & balcony plants to be on the automatic sprinkler system? Are the exterior fountains going to be controlled by switches from inside the house, if so, where are they located? Will holiday lights or party lights be used from time to time, if so, there should be several outdoor receptacles tied both to a timer and to a switch within the house. Is there a covered patio? Who will be designing that space: the landscape designer? the interior designer? or the architect? If you don’t specify, the space might be overlooked and crucial components may be missing. As you can see, everything is interrelated in custom design. If you don’t hire a full service company, you will need to oversee all of these factors yourself. Speak up often, and make a list of what you want. Give the list to all of your designers, even if you think that particular item doesn’t affect them. The more information you can pass on to your design team, the fewer problems you will experience, but remember, high design is an art ~ not a science. There are always problems to deal with, if it was easy, the job of General Contractor wouldn’t exist. The higher quality designers and builders you work with, the fewer problems you will likely experience, and the quicker those problems will be resolved.

Am I overbuilding for my neighborhood?

That depends. Why are you building? Are you building for spec or do you intend to live there? If you intend to live there, for how long? People who remodel, or rebuild, improve the properties they are in. That’s just a fact. Nobody is going to remodel or rebuild and build a smaller lower quality structure. The neighborhoods are constantly upgrading, and that will not stop until the lots are maxed out like you see in some of the beach streets in Manhattan & Hermosa Beach. Eventually, every neighborhood catches up with what you’ve built. Often, more quickly than anyone expects. And remember, if you rebuild with quality, you’re increasing the overall value of the property. When you rebuild with standard, that can be considered just doing ‘maintenance’ and the property value might not change at all. The nicer you make the property the more value you create within that property, but at the same time, you are molding it more towards a specific taste, and are thereby reducing the number of prospective future buyers for that property. You are increasing the value, but you’ll need to expect it to take a little longer to sell when it comes time to sell.

What’s the next step after laying out the floor plan?

I like to do something that is often an entirely overlooked step by most designers. That is, after laying out what is getting close to a final version of the floor plan, I like to do the furniture layout that includes the clients existing, intended, as well as suggested furniture. Once the furniture layout is done, the client can see how their newly designed space fits into their lifestyle. Is there adequate space for how the client wants to use the space? If addressed early on, wall changes can still easily be made if more room is needed for particular pieces or uses. Once the furniture layout is finalized, floor plugs can be located for end tables and sofa back tables. The next step I recommend is the reflective ceiling plan, including all appropriate lighting requirements over particular furniture pieces set forth in the furniture layout. Pin-point reading lights can be designed over the beds, and the skylights positions can be determined. Once the skylight layout has been determined, the roofing plan can commence.

What is a hardwood?  

Woods that are referred to as hardwoods are not called that due to the hardness or strength of the wood. The term “hardwoods” refers to wood cut from deciduous trees (leaves fall off in winter). Wood cut from evergreen trees is referred to as “softwood”. Most of the time deciduous trees grow slower than evergreens. The slower a tree grows, the closer together the rings of the tree are. The closer the rings of the tree are, the harder the wood typically is. But this is not always the case. Some “hardwoods” are very ‘soft’ indeed. Balsa wood (which you might remember from your childhood rubber band powered toy planes) is one of the ‘softest’ woods to work with, but being from a deciduous tree, Balsa is a hardwood.

When choosing the tile layout, in which corner do you set the first tile?

The question of which corner to set the first tile generally has only one answer, and that answer often surprises many people. For a quality design, the place to start your pattern is actually the middle of the room ~ at the center. You can either start with the center of a tile at the center of the space in question, the center of the joint between 2 tiles, or the center joint where 4 tiles cross. The field tile may be set in parallel with one set of walls, or it can be set on the diagonal (at 45 degrees) from both sets of walls. It can be set with or without a border. Almost always, the best way to set field tile is on the diagonal with a border. When this method is done, the edge tiles that are along the border need to be cut cross-corner to allow full corner pieces all the way around the perimeter. You select the size of the overall field based on almost full tiles around the border, almost 1/2 tiles, almost 1/3 tiles and the like. In some cases, you can also use full tiles as the border, with a feature strip between the border and the field tile.

How wide should the floor border be?

The furniture layout will determine the best way to do a border in a wood, carpet, or stone tile floor (or combination thereof). Look at the room in the floor plan. How will the furniture be laid out? If it’s a dining room, is there only one wall space large enough for a buffet or hutch style furniture piece? If so, then everybody who lives in that house would put a furniture piece in that same location. That being the case, then the border should account for that, and be wider along that wall so as to allow the floor border to match the room in front of the furniture piece. The reflective ceiling plan should mirror this detail, and be soffited in that location.

How much should I budget for my Landscape?

It’s important to address the Landscape with the same quality that is given to the structure. Every lot is different, so prices vary. As a rule of thumb, I tell my clients that on new construction, budget about 15% for the landscaping. I suggest setting aside about 5% for the front yard, and about 10% for the backyard. Therefore, if you paid $500,000 for your home and it’s on an average sized lot, you should set aside about $25,000 for the front yard and about $50,000 for the backyard. The front yard budget shall include the entry-way, walkways, the driveway, drains, grading, sprinklers, lighting, and foliage. The front may also include things like custom address tiles. The backyard budget will include most of what is in the front yard except for the driveway. But in addition to typically being larger than the front yard (side yards are also included in the backyard budget), the backyard also often has some more expensive features like a spa, built in BBQ, shade structures, ponds, fountains, children’s play areas, and sometimes swimming pools; thereby, making it necessary to make the backyard budget about twice the front yards. Spending a lot more than 15% and you may be over building. Spending substantially less, and you are likely under building and are negatively impacting your resale.

Why do all Unique Environments contracts have an arbitration clause?

An arbitration clause is simply an agreement by both parties that, should a dispute arise, neither party will sue each other. Instead, both parties agree to submit to binding expedited arbitration. The dispute will be settled right at the jobsite by an arbitrator who is an expert in the field of construction, rather than by an attorney or retired judge. The dispute will be nipped in the bud, the project and the relationship can continue. It’s the fastest, fairest, most reasonable, and by far the least expensive way for people to settle disputes. If you would like to learn more about this type of arbitration, learn more at – DMA Dispute Management & Avoidance. Greg has been a certified commercial and construction arbitrator since 2000.

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