October 9th, 2011
I have been asked many times where folks can see the Mi-Pad homes? If you check the last comment in this blog, it is from Linda who thinks putting a Mi-Pad or two in the Chicago area would be a good idea. I agree! Linda also wants to know where she can possibly view one of these homes?
Linda is in luck! We have our first two Mi-Pad models open in Mount Pleasant( a town near Racine Wisconsin) and can be viewed any weekend from 1 to 4, or any time by appointment. A ranch and two story are built right next door to each other off Hwy 11(which becomes Durand Street once you head about 5 or 6 miles East of I94). If you Map Quest or GPS locate a major Racine mall called Regency Mall, then go exactly 2 miles further East of the Target store on Durand, you will find Gates Street. Turn right(South) on Gates Street and go only about 1 block. We have very good signage so you should have no issues finding the homes.
If you should ever have any problems, you can usually reach us at 262 628-9091 for help.
I want to note, that we continue to get more and more calls from around the country from folks who want to see these homes. Just today(Saturday) we had visitors from California who read about the Mi-Pad homes in the major “Bay” area newspaper a week or two ago. If you have not seen these homes, you really should!
P.S. We even had great attendance at the Mi-Pads during the Packer game last Sunday. What a shock in Wisconsin!
Linda, coming from
September 30th, 2011
Hello Blog readers,
I feel a little awkward taking this route , but despite my Zen master web-guy’s best advice, I just can not seem to find a way to “just press reply” and answer all of your recent comments and questions. To make matters a little harder, I will answer them here in the actual blog area, but you will have to check the full question or comment on your own in the comment section. I do hope this won’t put any of you off from commenting in the future. I always love to read your thoughts.
To J. Rituci, Thank you for the thought that Extreme Home Makeover might use the Mi-Pad concepts. I think creating a simpler way of life is a pretty good idea, despite how much money you may or may not have. Smaller is definitely “greener” in so many ways!
To adele, Yes, installing radiant heat is very possible in most any design. You are a bit far way in New Hampshire for us today, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we can handle your construction in (as you say) 4 or 5 years.
To Marcia, This Mi-Pad phenomenon really hit hard and fast. Our appearance on Good Morning America and on the national Clark Howard radio show has caused attention that we have not been able to fully handle. Even so, if you check our photo gallery in a day or so, you will see our first (interior first) photos of our Mi-Pad homes. As for floor plans, we do have them available for the asking, but not fully online due to copyright and plan protection issues.
To Patria, Your response to my blog about a two-story with no stairs is good support for the idea. I usually think of things a few years before I build them. I am a definite believer that a two story home without the need for stairs is doable and will eventually be built by someone. I hope we are the first, s I have never seen such a thing anywhere else.
To John Nadier, I am a big believer in Habitat For Humanity and thank you for your efforts. Funny you should say from 1000 to 1,200 hundred square feet. Since many area communities start by accepting 1,200 square feet, I am currently working on a Mi-Pad “plus” version of the homes in sizes of 1,200 square feet. Please look on our website very soon for our photo gallery of Mi-Pad interiors(and eventually-next week-exteriors) photos.
As for releasing the plans, at present we are keeping a guarded but open stance. I may very well be coming to California soon to meet with a municipality about buildinga street of Mi-Pads. If you wish to contact me direct, please send an inquiry via our website or call my office. I would love to see your current plans and offer you ideas(no charge fro Habitat) on how I think they might be improved and economized. I have walked through a few and definitely see things to do.
To Karen velasquez, Where do you live in California? Yes, I am now looking into branching into California(and perhaps other states) in the future.
To Lynn, Walworth County is opening into our building area soon if you would like to contact our sales department. As for building onto your existing home, that is a matter of whether the home and location warrant this or whether it may be better to o a tear-sown, or just sell and build on another piece of land. We would need to know more.
To Sara, Your question about building a no-stairs basement is definitely possible. remember, the main concept is to try to keep in the code rules of needing 12 inches of run to ever 1 inch of rise. This means you might need a very long ramp to make this code compliant. !2 feet of ramp would only get you 1 foot of height. You would need to take that times 8 feet(or whatever your basement to first floor height is) so the ramp would need to essentially encircle the home inside perimeter, or zig-zag until you had 96 running feet of ramp. If your home was a box of about 25 by 30 feet(quick and approximate only) you might be close to making this work. In my scenario, I would plan to have various resting platforms or mini-rooms along the way.
To Sheila Kerley, Snoring bed partners is a real-life issue. I like your idea, but having a master essentially share a bathroom with another bedroom is really the same as having two kid’s bedrooms sharing a Jack And Jill bath. The thing that makes a master a master is usually the independent private bath and bigger closet area. I might suggest you think about having a master bedroom with a small interior den. This den could have a Murphy(pull sown) bed or couch to act as the snore get-away or nursery. As for me, today I started thinking of ways to treat every bedroom like a hotel room, each with a private bath or shared ones. Isn’t that what a vacation is all about? Why not make living at home as nice as a vacation every day?
Thank you all for your comments. I shall blog again soon!
September 21st, 2011
I expected the new Mi-Pad micro-mansion concept to take-off but I never thought it would be so well received nearly from every one of the thousands of folks who have written, called, or stepped inside these homes.
In life it is usually true that one thing really does lead to another. When I first started designing and building homes some 2,100 homes ago, I tried to design an 1,100 square foot home. I poured a lot of time and energy into this small design. Then I went on to design many bigger sized and many highly customized medium and larger unusual luxury homes. Each time I designed a home, I would try NOT to just make it another copy of something I had seen or done before. I truly enjoy stretching my horizons and designing better and increasingly more interesting homes.
I must say that when I hear folks tell me something like” hey, there are only so many ways you can possibly design a ranch of a certain size square footage“, I never believe it. That is like saying there are only so many ways you can paint a picture of a human form. There (fortunately for me) is this finite design idea shared by so many builders that I oddly thrive and profit on this general belief.
Case in point is our new 890 to 1,090 square foot Mi-Pad series of 4 homes. My knowledge of having designed so many homes, all pours out onto these plans and every crack and crevase of these homes. I could not have possibly , for example, have designed them to their present designs without having first designed our Grand Bay 6,000 square foot ranch with circular great room and domed ceiling. I could not have designed the Mi-Pad homes without having learned from designing and building a double-decker basement with full basketball court under our Parade Home years ago. Learning how to place 6 couches and a recliner into a double-sunken great room or designing a jogging track around the interior halls of another home, or a bowling alley or elevator , funny as it seems, all were required steps in designing these homes. I surely could not have gotten to the point of designing these new homes without my last 3 years work on our 1,500 to 1,00 square foot “Little-Big House” ranches.
I heard a sermon once that told a story of some important industrial machine that had broken down and the factory manager called in many so-called experts to help fix it. Non e could identify the problem, yet alone fix it. Fianlly, the manager, now losing money at every moment the machine was not working, called th World’s top expert. It only took this expert a minute to identify and fix the problem. When the bill from the expert came it was a very high amount of money. The company boss called the expert to ask for an explanation as to why the charge was so much when it really did not take too much of his time or effort to fix the problem. The factory manager wanted an itemized breakdown for the invoice. The expert sent his itemized invoice broken into two items. $1 for the actual repair of the problem, and the high balance was all for the many years of experience, trials and errors it took to gain the knowledge to identify and fix the problem.
Not to sound to much more “heady”(just a little more) but I recall how hard it was to design that first 1,100 square foot home so many years and homes ago. the Mi-Pad projects were way more complicated and much better designed than that home AND they took far less time to design. Each Mi-Pad still took me about a month to get them right, even with this knowledge and experience behind them.
If you have not yet heard,in the past few weeks, the Mi-Pads have been read about in news articles literally around the World. I finally got tired of trying to log all the newspapers and Internet sites that have written about these new designs. Each day we continue to hear from around the country requests to come to their area and build our new home designs. I appeared on ABC television’s Good Morning America, as well as on the nationally heard radio show of Clark Howard.
Currently, we are trying to assess what we are going to do about these many inquiries from way outside our area. I have always wanted to build in warmer climates and maybe this is our chance to take the right opportunity to do so.
Thank you all who have been so kind to us during this wonderful reception of the Mi-Pads. If you are amongst the many first people to sign-up to build one, you will be building something very special indeed. I would suggest if you are interested, please step in line… quickly! 40 years from now, you can say your home was one of the first.
June 2nd, 2011
Much has happened since I last blogged so let’s get right to it.
We have swung 180 degrees in our Summer Parade Of Homes efforts. Presently, we are building several new and , dare I say “exciting” projects for opening during the 2011 Parade OF Homes time frame. Many of you know Miracle used to do our own event which (at times) rivaled the attendance of the longer established Parade Of Homes. We called it our Miracle Tour Of Homes. For the past two years, we had been in the Parade, last year featuring an unprecedented 3 Miracle Homes on display. This year, we are not officially involved in the MBA Parade OF Homes, as the Miracle Tour Of Homes returns! Watch for it running from Saturday September 3rd through Sunday September 18th. Three sites to see and more “Magic” than any other Wisconsin Home show(not to mention the only one with our famous “free cookout”).
We have began one Miracle Tour home in Milwaukee which will again feature a few new thingsand inventions you will not see anywhere else. You can take an early sneak preview by calling one of our sales staffers or by stopping out at our Milwaukee model off of Good Hope. This luxury mini-mansion will have over 3,200 finished square feet of innovative marvels including a finished basement with theatre and one of our famous kid’s themed bedrooms.
We have just began construction on a large custom lake home in Ashippun and another big luxury ranch in Grafton. The Grafton home will feature one of our more “technovative”creations, the Tri-Screen theatre. This is a triple screen presentation that can wrap the audience in scenery and images. This is as close as you come to having your own in-home I-Max theatre!
We are on the brink of (hopefully) being able to start our first Mi-Pad series homes near the Franklin area. Everything appears positive but then again, we are waiting for the last community approval, so anything could still happen. This new concept series of homes, safe to say, will be something not offered in the Southeast Wisconsin market for many, many decades. The concept can be read about in earlier blogs, but here’s the short version. These will be incredible small “micro-homes” with very high end amenities and luxurious, mansion-like detailing. If you ever thought about parring your life back to the bare essentials, but still wanted 3 bedrooms and 3 baths, still had a desire to have a party every now and then, make plans to see these homes. Super affordable due to the sizes being around 900 square feet (plus basement areas).
I have been working hard on on getting our next home up at Richfield’s Reflections Village development. This wonder-filled new development was the site of the MBA 2010 Parade Of Homes, and many builders built their “best” to show what they could do. To date, (WARNING-”horn-blowing “ahead) Miracle has been the only builder to have sold one of the Parade homes. Since we had 3 homes, we can now say we are also the only builder to have sold 2 homes! If you still want to see our two-story luxury-laden Parade home, with unique side porch and outdoor television innovation, you had better hurry! We will be removing the furnishings this next week.
We are about to dig a tad smaller version of this home in the subdivision, hopefully in the next week or so. This home will have a new Victorian inspired front. Beautiful!
I have also been putting in many hours working on one of the central ideas of this development. Reflections Village was meant to be a re-creation of the look of an old fashioned town. One key element is a town square of quaint shops. Another is that some of these shops can be what is called “live-work” homes. These are homes with living levels on the main or top floors and business shops on the ground level. If you have ever been to Disneyland, think Main Street USA, with living quarter above. I now have the first design worked out and we are getting ready to present to the Richfield plan board for approval in the upcoming weeks. I would love to show the desgins to anyone who is interested.
I hope you will come out to see us this weekend in either West Bend, Hartford, Richfield, Milwaukee, or Ixonia.
Until we blog again…
P.S. Sorry for the long times between blog entries. I shall try to overcome!
April 22nd, 2011
I’m sorry I won’t give you a full-fledged blog article today but I wanted to just pass along a brief note you may want to check-out. You may have noticed on our homepage that we have a section we call our “Designer’s Palette”.
When this area was(more recently) created, we had envisioned it to be showing a wide variety of artistic and insider creative pieces that I and my staff have imaginated and is meant to show a little glimpse into our creative process.
At Miracle, I like to say, we are primarily a “creative” studio, who just so happens to specialize in homes. I hope you will check out our latest Designer’s Palette items and keep looking at the Designer’s Palette every now and then to see what we have been creating.
Our homes are officially closed this Easter weekend, but I and Miracle Staffer Dan will be out to open Richfield homes this Saturday from 1 to 4, if anyone would like to come over and say “Hi”.
See you soon!
P.S. We just had some very substantial price reductions on our Richfield Homes and Lots? Homes packages out at the”magical” Reflections Village. Bring your imaginations!
April 19th, 2011
I have always enjoyed designing and building home theatres and I have seen quite a few that are so ornate they evoke feelings of the grand opera houses of the 1920′s era. Grand carvings, gilded gold everywhere and statues and busts in back lighted alcoves adorn every wall and ceiling. These grand theatres usually had a very grand center crystal chandelier as big as a house. If you have ever been to the Oriental theatre or the Pabst in Milwaukee, you know what I mean.
I have a favorite book which shows some of the grandest theatres of this type which have been recently built in new homes. The common page flipper is undoubtedly caught-up in the glitz and detailing and says “WOW, I wish I had a theatre like THAT!” For me, I have a different reaction. While I do enjoy the craftsmanship with each ornate theatre, my eye immediately goes to the movie screen size itself. After all, when you are all done seeing the glamor and the lights turn dim to watch the movie, the only thing that makes or breaks the movie experience is the quality and size of the screen.
In every beautiful photo page of this in-home theatre book, I see that every screen is about 5 feet tall by about 8 or maybe 9 feet wide. I’m sorry, but if I had the kind of dollars these home builders obviously have, I would think they would begin with creating an in-home theatre that had a screen worthy of being called a “theatre”. In my view, an 8 or 9 foot wide screen( the same size I have in my home theatre) is not really a theatre. It is a big living room with decorations that remind you of what this puny movie screen is “trying” to be.
“Puny?” YES, in this new world of ours where a 55 or 60 inch television in our living rooms is becoming commonplace, a mere 120 inch screen in a home theatre may be big, but let’s be honest, this is not really a home theatre. It is a large living room.
As a designer, I know that the main reason larger screens are not built into a home theatre is because they CAN NOT be built into a basement ceiling height of just 8 or 9 feet. Commercial theatre screens are 40 feet wide or more. In my view, that means a smaller “home” sized theatre should have a screen of at least 20 feet in width. That makes the all important aspect of 16/9 wide screen aspect ratio demanding the basement height must be about 12 to 14 feet tall in order to geometrically make the 20 foot wide screen fit and to allow viewers to see the screen.
What is more important is the idea of seating and viewing. The seats must be done in stages or steps, so every one can see the bottom of the screen and not have to lean way back to see the top of the screen. The front row of such a home theatre could be most uncomfortable. The length of the room would need to be at least 25 to 35 feet long.
When I was a teenager, I fantasied about building a really big screen theatre in my parents home. I was not mature enough in my desgn journey to understand the scope of really what distances and slopes mean to the enjoyment of theatre design. Now that I have designed a good number of large home theatres(more importantly, I have sat and watched movies in many such home theatres) I am ready to design my first truly large screen, 20 footer. In doing so, my first row must be considerably above the bottom of the screen.
For the past weeks I have been busy calculating , designing, and refining, the biggest screen home theatre I have ever seen in any home theatre, anywhere. To do this means a 14 foot tall wall, and multi staging levels for seating. I have also noticed that having a tall wall and big screen means little if the seating is not desirable. We have all seen those curved leather seating groups at American or Colders with the drink holders in the arm rests. These recliners sure look comfy but after trying to watch movies in these chairs, I find myself needing to find a pillow to scrunch behind my head in just the right way. I have found what I feel is the best seating for the level of viewing. Chairs that don’t demand pillows to be comfortable. I also know that simply building conventional seating would not be as nice as having some of the seats become tables and chairs so visitors could enjoy a drink or table game while watching a favorite sporting event.
Than comes the exercise room. I know that having two tread mill machines or exercise bikes looking at the theatre screen would be another wonderful thing you will not find at a commercialtheatre. I also know these could be distracting so they need to be desgined IN the room but NOT in the room(so to speak). I would also like to see the screen from a bar situation if possible. Then there is the matter of the home itself. If we must build a 4,000 or 10,000 square foot mansion to hold such a “real” home theatre, I would just be doing an exercise in designing for the vast minority. I would rather design for a wider majority of home owners. To take this path, I started with a more “normal” sized ranch of about 2250 square feet in size.
Then the topper. I find little satisfaction in merley copying what others have done before. Even if this is truly going to be a huge theatre the likes of which have never been seen before. As you may know from previous blogs or visiting my last 2 Parade Of Homes models, I have been developing my own cameras and projection systems for a triple wide-screen format. Our 2011 Parade home had the screens about 6 feet in height and the three screens wrapped around the audience(partially) to form about a 27 foot total width screen. This was three 9 foot screens attached at angles at the two corners. We have to shoot our own landscape/seascapes scenes to use, but the effect is that you feel as though you are at the scene itself!
Now, imagine the big 20 foot screen showing a movie, and when the movie is done, the room converts to triple-screen casual background visuals. That is the nice thing about the triple-screen(I call it Tri-Screen), there is no story or music or plot to follow. You are simply relaxed and immersed into the visuals of being at exotic sites. In this MEGA THEATRE the way may be accomplished (I hope) is by having two 13 foot wide movie screen electronically roll-down from the concealed ceiling areas and the 20 foot screen becomes the middle 13 foot screen for the Tri-Screen.
What you have just read, is what I have been planning for this years big Miracle Home Spectacular Summer model home. If there are any buyer, give me a call. Right now, this home project is in limbo as we await the subdivision developer to approve the plans, and then for us to close on our finance package. The plans however are drawn and we eagerly look forward to starting the construction in Pewaukee.
I did not mention how the upstairs(main level) of this ranch is every bit as exciting and unusual as the lower level. Perhaps we will explore that level in future blogs.
By the way, Sheila, I am having trouble with my blog responses system. I will respond to your interesting inquiry about Master suites as soon as I get myself technically straightened out.
I hope you will all come out to see our Richfield homes and if you are looking for our lowest priced Miracle Home we have ever offered, don’t miss seeing our West Bend home! We are now open with 2 new homes in Hartford and opening soon with 4 more homes in Ixonia.
Until we blog again…
April 6th, 2011
As you might gather from my delayed blog entires, I am now hitting one of the busiest times of our home building season. I have several things I am aching to share with you but I can only cover one due to pressing design needs.
Some folks are more productive in the mornings. My wife Jacquie would definitely be one of those. By 8 at night, she is usually fast asleep on the couch. I, on the other hand, usually get my second wind at about 8 and am really most productive. Truth be told, most of my best design work is done, not at a designers desk or computer, but flat on my back, laying on my couch. As a kid in art school or doing my personal projects, I worked best laying on my stomach in front of the television. Not much has changed.
I can design anything, anywhere, any time, but I adore laying and staring at the graph paper, thinking and dreaming of what new fantastic concepts or improvements I can possibly dream-up. Then, once some “off-the-wall” screwy idea hits my brain, I lay and ponder, and ponder, and visualize it, and wonder if the idea has any merritt or if it is just some goofy concept that only I think might be the next big thing in housing.
This blog subject is about one such screwy idea that I seriously don’t know if it is genius or delusional . I felt this same way when I first asked myself if walls really needed to touch the ceilings? I found that they did not need to touch ceilings. I would later ask, can I bring sunlight through a home by putting windows between the various rooms? I found room-to-room windows really do work(use obscured glass please). I then asked myself why do we need to use doors on rooms? The last time I went to a movie theatre, the bath rooms had no doors and they seemed to work better than rooms with doors. I found that many rooms don’t need doors at all.
A week or so ago, I was laying on my design couch and BAM, the next big idea hit me! One of my sales staffers Dan had actually reminded me of this screwy idea I had contemplated a while back, but I had totally forgotten about or dismissed. Here it is. Why do we put two sinks into a master bathroom, but we never see two toilets in a master bathroom? I can almost hear your minds thinking(as I originally did) WHAT AN OUTLANDISH AND WASTEFUL NOTION! Why can’t one spouse just wait a few moments for the toilet to become freed-up? Why would anyone want to have an extra toilet to clean? Is the extra expense really worth it? Then I put the negative thoughts to the side and said ….
Why can’t one spouse simply wait until the other is finished using their sink before they brush their teeth? Why would you want to clean two sinks? Why would you spend more money on more counter top, cabinet, faucets, mirrors, and square footage just so you could have your own sink? If the notion of using your spouse’s sink is unappealing, just how much less appealing should the idea of doing your “business” in the same spot your spouse does their “business”.YUCH! I mean….really YUCH when you think about it.
I can tell you from many such occasions that on the occasions when Jacquie and I go to bed at the same time, I usually have to wait until she uses the toilet before I get may “turn”. (sorry for revealing a little too much here, it’s for the science of design so…). Heaven help us if one of us happens to cause a situation where the smell renders the toilet area off-limits for a while. Taking this smell thing into consideration, I could easily argue that there is nothing I could ever do to a sink which would mean my wife could not use it immediately after my use. I therefore will argue that having a second toilet is AT LEAST as important as having a second sink.
I am currently preparring to build our 2011 major home we will be showing during the 2011 Parade Of Homes in Pewaukee. I must remind you that this is a whole controversial subject in itself because unlike any other Parade year, this year, I am no longer a member of the organization who sponsors the Parade event, so I will be playing the role of an “outsider” with a home open in and during the Parade, but I will not technically be “in” the Parade event itself. Let’s leave that to another blog time, for now, …. back to toilets.
This (for lack of better/easier reference)Parade home will likely be my first testing grounds for several new concepts including this twin master toilet idea. In this case, I am sweetening the idea with several new embellishments, but we must leave some surprises for Parade days.
For detail, both toilets are totally separate and each as it,s own privacy door, lights, and fan. I would be most interested in what you think of the idea of having twin toilets in the master. I am now on a binge of asking everyone I know if this is a good idea or what bad things I may be missing in taking this wacky idea into reality. What do you think? I welcome all comments.
I hope you will all see our two newest Miracle Homes now opening in Hartford. After designing and building nearly 2,500 new homes, I still get excited every time we build a new home. I am definitely in the right business!
March 25th, 2011
In my last blog offering, I told how we held one of our “design arms” behind our backs and went forth to design a simpler, more basic series of homes we called “Home Basix”. I also explained how eventually, we decided to try to design our ultimate Home Basix home that had most every buyer’s hot-button, favorite features.
After we started selling the Home Basix series for a short while, we discovered how no one really wanted to have a basic anything when they were paying as much money as a new home costs. I asked my staff and associates for name ideas to re-mane the Home Basix series. Funny, it seems few people ever really take too much time giving input on names but one close associate Dan put forth the idea of calling the re-named series The “All American”series. I liked where he was trying to go with saying thes designs were tradtional in nature. That name seemed to just have too many syllables and not really capture the “magical” essence of our product branding image.
The name Miracle could go better with names such as Wonder, or magic, or fantasy (funny, these are all now names of Disney cruise ships). Then the name “Dream” series hit just the right cord. After all, home ownership is a dream for many and this entry door into the Miracle Homes realm could be just the lower priced home to make home ownership “dreams” come true! Besides, the name was one syllable and very easy to say, even in a rushed conversation.
Having solved the dilemma of what name to use use, the newest version of Dream series home which would hit all the buyer hot button features was on its way to becoming a reality, and I was about to re-learn another old lesson.
I designed this home to have 4 bedrooms(which appealed over 3 bedrooms), was over 2000 square feet(a magical number allowing it to meet most subdivision requirements for size), it had all walk-in bedroom closets(most similar sized homes resorted to the kid’s bedrooms being sized with conventional closets), it had an Island Kitchen(a very big 5 footer that sat 4 stools no less), a walk-in kitchen pantry(as big as a small room), and a laundry/mud room( that was a walloping 16 feet long),a big multi-purpose room that could be used for den or dining(over 14 feet long), and a 3 couch great room. This home just had it all. I was so confident of this design, that I thought people would be lining-up around the block to buy this home. The main reason was that the price would be less than anything else being offered in it’s size category.
The exterior was simple in design. It was a colonial saltbox with simple lines. The exterior could be easily changed to option several different fronts. When the first few homes of this design were built, I was very excited as I was ready to put my theory of designing the “has it all” home to the test. We open our first home of this kind and it laid an egg! I remember telling each visiting group how this was the home that had every hot button and was substantially less than any competitor in this size. I was so excited in my presentation, yet no one else seemed to share my enthusiasm. Visits to the model were usually quite short and visitors seemed quite unimpressed. What in the World was going on here? This home had both price and features, but little in the way of buyers.
I had addressed seemingly everything, yet I must have missed something! I had learned years before this that the exterior of the homes need to be interesting and not be built to the barest of versions. People must first fall in love with the exterior of the home, then their love must flow into the interior experience of the showing. That was the answer! I had a nice enough exterior but the interior which I thought had most everything did not. What the lacking ingredient was to this mix was the lack of our famous exciting details and architectural interest which we had become known for. After a while, few sales people really wanted to spend their time showing this home. We ended up having to “fire sale” the model just to make it go away.
The birth of this very blog article came from one clear memory of mine, from one memorable sales meeting where one experienced sales staffer just said it plainly. “If I were you, I would never build another one of these homes again. No one seems to like it”. I was not ready to buy his suggestion. I had thought and thought on the reason why this home failed to be a hit when all indicatiors lead me to beleive it should be a real winner. I had by now come to the conclusion that the answer was not to throw away a home design that really had all the hot button selling features and what I saw as a dynamite layout, the answer was to add the Miracle Magic that I had not thought was important to put into a lower cost home. I had cooked a great steak, but it just lacked the “sizzle”.
There is an old home sales adage that I often say. I also hear model home visitors say much the same when they come into a home for the first time. The salesperson asks the guest/home shopper what type of home they are looking for. The shoppers often will say, “we will know it when we see it.” My words to sales staffers are along the same lines saying “A potential home buyer usually falls in love with a home in the first 30 seconds after entering the door. The rest of the time spent is them justifying their emmotions .” Another way to look at this is that we need to do all we can to create a strong first impression. This home failed to create much of any memorable first impression. After the underwhelmed home shopper failed to instantly fall in love with the interior, I(and sales staffers) then had the task of trying to try to logically explain to the shopper why they SHOULD be in love with the home. That is like trying to tell someone why they SHOULD love a certain person. It just does not work that way.
I went about re-designing the interior to add a healthy dose of Miracle Magic to key rooms and key views. We added plaster and wood crown moldings, iron rail stair railing, ceramic foyers, drywall techniques that made you think you were in a million dollar mansion, fancier lighting fixtures and unique high ceilings to the second floor. Lots of details from unique Miracle-Only window sills, to fun wall built-outs around our patio doors that had hidden lighting. The effect on visitors instantly became apparent. They fell in love!
Now, when shoppers entered the re-freshed , and re-imagined design, they fell in love with the home and we began to sell lots and lots of this wonderful Dream Series home. Today, this home design which someone had once suggested we never build again, is today far and away our best selling home EVER. I guess the lesson re-learned here is that when you feel confident about a design that you know works, don’t abandon the design when it fails to be an instant hit. Tweak it until it becomes the hit it was meant to be. Find the missing ingredient and turn those lemons into lemonade. Often in life we put a lot of work into something. A project at work, a relationship, an endeavor, a hobby. When it does not turn out as you anticipated or hoped it would, don’t throw away the whole project or relationship, or work you have done. Instead of abandoning your dreams or desires, re-examine if their is some way to re-approach the subject. It is indeed most satisfying to find the keys or correct ingredients to make your dreams come true.
I hope you will see our final Spring edition of our channel 24 Home Imaginators television specials tomorrow(Saturday) at 11 am. Then, why not come out and visit me and my staff at our Dream 2000 we have in Richfield and now just open in Hartford. This is the home design that we almost never built again!
March 9th, 2011
Designing thousands of homes over a 20 year span teaches you things about human nature and human decision processes. One of my most memorable design lessons has come to me in the area of re-designing an existing home design. About 2 years ago, I had an experience that underscored something I had already learned many years prior, but served as a pointed reminder to me.
It was 2006 and I was busy developing a new series of home designs. We had a top-end custom series, a very solid middle series, and even a lower-sized, more economical series. In each series I and my staff had created, I conceptualized each home for many months trying to give the public something they had never seen before. I knew that our home buying audience who knew us, knew the name MIRACLE stood for pushing the creative envelope and revealing some things that no one else had to offer. Higher or lower priced designs must all have the same Miracle “magic“, as I call it.
In later 2005 and early 2006, we had grown to become a very successful home builder catering to those who wanted something unique and different. It had occurred to me that for every MIRACLE FAN of our brand of “magic“, there were also those home shoppers who just did not either see the “magic” as desirable, or were looking for a more tame, less radical home design. I suppose you might say, that segment of shoppers who would say they just wanted a good basic home, without all the bells and whistles.
I would get “floored” when some model home visitor would show me their floor plan from what they thought was their ideal home and I would be thinking that the simplistic, non-imaginative designs that they liked , we could design in our sleep if we wanted to. That sounds kind of brash and egotistic, but I can not deny my thoughts that our designs were just so much “better” and I could not see why some one would settle for such vanilla when we offered tuity-fruity. I would keep such thoughts to myself, of course.
Then a light went on in my head. Maybe I should give the public what they are asking for. Not everyone saw my extreme vision of how my homes were perfectly striving for optimal furnishing ability , shortest traffic paths, and easier living positioning. I thought that while I could talk “sense” into those who could not immediately understand my designs, why should I? Is it not enough that someone wants “their” idea of their perfect home? It should darned well be. After all, they are spending THEIR dollars, not mine.
I started to design the simplest, least artsy , traditional homes I could. It was difficult to not want to add my MIRACLE “improvements” to each room, but I resisted. Homes that I would have sworn I would never design or build were now the goal. These were homes that would give rectangular boxed rooms to the masses and do so at prices way below anything I had ever built. I wanted them to have the right name, so I settled on the name “Home Basix” which was a play on the phrase BASIC HOME.
I would later learn, that no matter how truly “basic” any home really is, no one really wants to own a home that calls attention to the fact that it is BASIC in any way. We introduced the series and tried to distance them from MIRACLE Homes by not advertising them as MIRACLE homes, but rather a new company, owned by Miracle Homes. We built our first Home BASIX models near our fancier Miracle designs so folks who came to see Miracle “magic” would not be disappointed. After all, this was to serve to add marginal sales, not destroy our hard earned creative based reputation.
Fast forward a few years to 2008. We had now entered the worst housing market ever(by some accounts) and I am feeling grateful that Home BASIX is attracting the lower priced home shoppers, while our standard fare is not selling like it used too. We have been approached by a few developers to build homes in their developments because it is easier to sell land when there is a house on the land parcel than selling bare land. The Home BASIX series is doing well in this arena of spec-homes.
With each open house I attend, and every home we sell, I am learning that the client base really wants some key items and they also want a key price point. Again, we go to work to design the newest , simple home but hitting all, I mean EVERY hot button buyer desire. It would need to have 4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a 3-car garage, an island kitchen, a sizable walk-in pantry, all walk-in closets, two master bath sinks, a flex room which could be used for either den or dining, and so forth. We created just such a home and what it did was and is perhaps our most remarkable success story of them all!
Next time, I will reveal the rest of this re-design story and why this “perfect” home that had everything almost was tossed out of our company offerings and how it would climb from “basic” to become our best seller ever!
Until we blog again,
February 25th, 2011
Read and understand the headline of this blog and you will know what latest “wild idea” has been wandering around my brain lately.
I have told you in the past that I am always trying to look at homes in new ways, trying to really look at rooms and ask, “why” are things always done the same way? Last year, I asked myself, why do all rooms really need to have doors? Why do all windows have to be placed onto outside walls? A few years behind that brainstorm, I asked myself, why do all walls need to touch the ceiling? I have pondered, why do all rooms need to have floors, and why must all walls be solid? Some ideas are crazier than others but they all are a potential start of perhaps the next new big thing in living.If not, they are at very least, the break of a trend of my personal design boredom.
I was re-looking at the walls in my studio the other day and wondering what kinds of trim we should order for a certain new model home we had recently broken ground on. Do I want the narrow, inexpensive trim or the wider, more pricey trim? Then I asked myself, why does it always have to be wood trim? Would a doorway, for instance, look notably better if I chose to surround the frame in thin Corian-type solid surface material, or tile, or maybe even ,…even,…HEY, why does a door need trim surrounding it at all?
The process of silent examination began. Well, I think the door may need this wood trim surround to be more durable from scuffs or abuse. Then I thought, that really is not true because the door jamb(the wood board that goes perpendicular to the wall itself and the door hinges are attached to it)really is its own protection device around the edge of the door.
Then I asked myself, of course, the reason wood trim is needed is because of the method of how a door is installed and later tweaked to swing properly when the home may settle. But, I then figured, this too was not a valid reason to need to use wood trim. If you were to need to re-shim or tweak a door frame, you usually need to remove the door surround casings which is in itself a bit of work and re-finishing. If I were to use a method of using no trim,(except the drywall itself), I know a place where I can obtain drywall products with a neat trim edging that would/could suffice in giving a very neat and tidy finish look. When the door would have to be tweaked, sure, the drywall would get marred in the process, but that really is easier to fix than re-filling the nail holes of the removed/replaced wood moldings.
The look would be simple. Pure unadulterated flat, no textured, walls and simple, wood flat doors , that’s all!
If I were to not use wood trim, the doors and jambs( they are pre-hinged too), would need to be delivered to the job site ahead of normal schedule and may get damaged. This is true, but I think I could have” cull “doors(that means old/used temporary doors in our business lingo) delivered and then install the real doors after the carpet is installed.
The real, most pressing question is this. Would the appearance of a frameless door appeal to anyone? In other words, would having no trim look cheap or just not look “right“. Perhaps it would look really cool and edgy. Perhaps it would look sleek and simple and maybe even organic and practical. Or perhaps…not!
Then there is the base board trim moldings. Why do rooms always need to have a wood board running around the bottom of every wall? What if the drywall was to end, say, 6 or even 8 inches from the floor. What if the drywall had a neat tidy edge that cleanly trimmed off the look of the end of the drywall panels and then the 6 or 8 inch gap between the end of the drywall and the floor was just 1/4 inch plywood? Then we could take either the carpet or tile or hardwood of the floors and run that same product up onto the walls for that 6 or 8 inches? Now the result would be a most clean look and be very easy to clean off. Vacuums and mops would never wreak havoc on the varnish of the wood base moldings again.
Again, the big questions are whether this would look like some cheap hotel hallway? Perhaps this too, would look really cool and make a statement of shunning tradition and being creative. Perhaps, not.
I have installed the most exotic cherry, teak, and walnut trim in custom homes. I have also installed the lower priced offerings as well. When I work with a client on their home, they alone are King and Queen. I am but their humble servant charged with delivering “their” dreams and desires, not mine. I must admit however that I do get bored with doing what everyone else has been doing in home construction for centuries, such as using wood trim for moldings. In many cases, I actually personally prefer the cleaner look of a well installed drywall return window(a window with no wood around it except on the bottom sills). I am however getting a bit bored of that wood as well.
I brought this latest wild idea of a virtually woodless trimmed home to one of my lumber suppliers. He shrugged and just could not imagine the look or acceptance one way or the other. I think, I am going to try it. I will probably first try this in one finsihed basement in an upcoming model but, boy, I would sure like to see it done in a whole house! If you married this to having doors that were high quality solid flush hardwood, the look may be quite pleasing. At least that is what I am currently viewing in my mind’s eye. What do YOU think? Would this look nice or cheap? I would really love to know your thoughts.
This weekend is the very last weekend we will be having our most special home in decades open to the public. If you wish to know when and where, please give me or my staff a call. I guarantee, we have more tricks and surprises in this one home than you are likely to ever see in any new home today.
Until we blog again,
February 5th, 2010
If you have not yet read my first and second Blog postings(this is number 3 if you are counting) let me quickly re-cap. In blog 1 I gave a passionate plea to consider the many new possibilities in building a Hybrid Ranch (aka 2-story ranch). Remember, ALL ranches are 2-story if you have a basement. In blog number 2 I went on to explain a new way to have a walk-out basement(sort of) , in a flat lot building situation. These two subjects are just two elements which I believe dovetail with this 3rd installment , and all three of these connect to my recent visit to the International Home Building Show in Las Vegas, a dozen days ago.
This Show, is the biggest show I can imagine , and half the reason to go to the show is to attend the long list of seminars. No matter the home subject, sales, green building, construction supervision, financing, or(my favorite) home design. It always seems I have some new home idea or concept that is keen on my mind and in this case, and for the last several months, I have been really captivated by the notion of creating a whole new generation of homes.
Honestly, I am getting downright sick of visiting new homes and seeing the latest home trend plan books and not seeing anything that is truly “different”. I am sure that some guy at some time got tired of always washing towels to dry his hands with and then decided there must be a better way. He invented the paper towel. Now that we all use paper towels, they are nothing special. When the first television or automobile was invented, they were probably such radical ideas, that it must have excited the pants off those riding on horses or listening to radios for entertainment. I am sure that when the next really big break in home design comes along, it won’t take long until it will revolutionize the industry and everyone will look at that design and wonder why we didn’t think of it before.
I am convinced that the basic concept of designing mostly squared rooms, made out of lumber and drywall using pointy peaked roof, and putting cabinets on the floor with wall cabinets on the…well…wall, and putting first floor laundry rooms, ceramic tile floors, hardwood, carpet, fireplaces, bathrroms, ALL of this will some day cahnge, just as sure as when the first out- houses were brought indoors and folks must have thought how brilliant that idea was. ALL of what we know today as a house could change. ALL of this SHOULD change. And when it does, folks will ALL look at each other and say, gee , why didn’t we think of that before?
A few years ago, I drove by a home in Kenosha that looked a lot like one of my own design. I knew it was not but it looked so familiar. Every father knows his own child so I got out of the truck and went inside this new home which was about midway through construction. This 1600 square foot ranch had balck and white copies astrewn all about the home. These photos were of MY model home. Similar things like this have happened before, and even though Wisconsin has one of the toughest (best for builder) copyright laws in the book which could get me potentially tens of thousands of dollars for such an incident, I just didn’t want to going through the mental anguish again.
The emotions of that moment caused me to decide to begin all over again and start designing even newer, even more unique, even more cutting edge designs that, if I have my way , will never be mistaken as anything but an original Miracle design.
I have heard it said that there are only so many ways to design a certain sized or type of home. I strongly disagree. If you check out my Kinsey Bay design, you will se the home I designed immediatly after this incident. If you could see what I have been working on in the last 6 weeks(a 1500 sqare foot Hybrid Ranch) I think you would see something totally new, bourn out of my circumstances at the time. Now let me connect the dots from the International Home Show to today’s design subject of homes from 2012 and beyond.
I heard upwards of 7 famous home designers ,speaking at the show, all addressing the same subject of what the new generation Y (also called New Millenials) will want in a new home. Here is the bullet- point synophsis I took in my notes at the seminars.
1. We need homes that will address the social happening that generations of all ages are now beginning to live together longer. It is not unusual to see retired folks living with their kids or a grandmother taking primary care of the grandchildren, or a son or daughter living in the parent’s home until they are married or even after they are married. New designs need to better addressing private spaces and be flexible to allow co-living.
2. There is a distinct price shift taking place. The age of the McMansion is over and price is more important than size. In fact, home sizes are shrinking and developers had better realize they need to lower their restrictions of size for new developments.
3. Everyone wants ”green” built homes but very few are willing to pay mcuh to get it. Green is good, extreme green is not. A new buyer will pay only about $35 more a month on their mortgage to get Green features.
4. The new generation Y considers the outdoor fireplace or fire pit to be the new essential and things like a whirlpool tub or three car garage, dining room, study, and formal living room are not. Many surveyed said if they could only have one fireplace, they would choose to put it outside and sacrifice the inside fireplace.
5 Generation Y will want more uniqueness, less opulence . More contemporary than ever before. They are the age of Ikea(I hope I spelled that right) shopping and designs need to be bolder.
6. Generation Y is not desiring large families and many will opt for no children.
7. Technology will be huge and homes need to allow for all the new tech toys.
8. Outdoor social areas will be as important as the interior rooms. New furnishings and cabinets, are coming to make outdoor feel like indoors.
9. They are not about owning new “things”. They will not need all the bells and whistles in the homes but whatever is in the home must be nice and workable/functional.
10. Lot size is far less important than the location of the lot (proximity), it should be near shopping, entertainment, or near work.
11. More Generation Y people will work out of their homes. Even so, the need for an office(unless folks will visit the home for business) is low. They would rather work at their couches in the living room with a laptop.
12. The maximum time they wish to travel to their workplace from home is 27 minutes.
13. They will want multi-function spaces.
14. Female will continue to have the buying power. This is the fastest growing segment in the U.S. We will see lone females buying homes.
15. 55 years old(plus) is a whole new world. Older people are looking/feeling/living younger. 50 is the new 40.
16. People will work longer, pensions are gone, big becomes less important for them.
17. Big traditional families are becoming the minority. They are still the most important segment because they are the segment that needs and wants to move.
18. They prefer single detached homes rather than condo living.
19. 1500 sqare feet is heading into being the new norm for size.
20.They want a social hub, open floor plans, high ceilings, combined living and dining, and (again) outdoor spaces are going to be HUGE(popular not big)
21.The new buyer has and wants LOTS of clothes.
22. Generation Y is extremely brand concious. Sampo is not as favored as Sony for example. Quality is king.
23. Structured wiring is the norm.
24. New Millinials want products that represent their change oriented culture. They are less concerned about the illusion of wealth.
So, what does all of this look like. Stay tuned to see my current designs(or give me a call ).
Unless you think this is not real, these buyers will become the next , most massive home buying segment to ever hit America. A few stats show that 82% of these Generation Y folks think it is important to buy a home. 50% say they will buy in the next 3 years. Once this group enters the marketplace in 2012, they will dominate the market through 2051. 86% list price as the most important thing in making a home purchase decision. 14% think size is important.Home sizes will run 1428 to 1728 square feet in size. 70% of these buyers want designs that meet their needs, not luxuries.
In my next blog, I will talk about a few new items that I am including in our next generation of homes that is pretty off-the-wall. Please let me know your thoughts and let me know you are out there.
As I said, I may not post every day, but at least several times a week. I hope you will check back.
February 8th, 2010
I am blessed to be alive in a time where (once we get do get through this home market downturn), I will have a sense of perspective that I would never have had if the road never got so bumpy. When a home builder, such as Miracle Home Builder’s , who is used to seeing several new home sales a week , can go several weeks without a single prospect, …what a week! When we get used to getting so many sales phone calls on any given day that we need to literally pick and choose who to call first, then turns to not getting more than a call or two a day,…what a day! And , when my life, which ( business speaking) was revolving around and was so connected to zooming to the top of the Home Building “heap”, suddenly finds the flurry of mind-numbing decisions and frantic paced interaction with a whole building full of a giant workforce, turn into some empty desks and a mostly blank appointment calender, a fast-forward life is seemingly put into slow-motion and pause, …what a life!
The foxhole mentality (you know, the one that finds God most needed when the artillery shells are blasting closest) , the mentality that you had only seen in other ‘s lives, comes very close to my own home. Each week that passes, makes this new slower pace seem more normal and acceptable, making that faster pace seem like it may have been just a dream. Existing in this “new” housing market , if nothing else has given a 20/20 perspective to just how good we , as home builders, really had it. If only we could hold on to this perspective, that would be a very good thing.
Unfortunately, I know that once this home sales roller-coaster starts rolling upward again(all roller coasters do, you know) I will likely see these past few down-market years as a distant memory, an awakinging to re-start that frantic pace once again. As much as I want to keenly remember the lessons of frugality that this tough home season has taught, I know that humans speak of learning from history but few really do. Look at 911 for example. Look at the death of a loved one. No, we never forget the pain or history, but as time passes, the pain does not sting as acutely as living in the day.
Tonight, moments before this posting, one of my sales folks nexteled me to say that he signed some very nice clients to building a new home. I was naturally happy, both for us and the client(really, I do still get a legitimate high out of seeing other’s happy, and I wanted to share and hear about those folk’s smiling moment). Yesterday, I went to Office Max and purchased a big dry-erase board to put congratulation notes in our foyer for the 5 other homes or lots that were sold last week at Miracle. In the past several weeks, I have seen a dramatic positive up-turn in our home building business.
I spoke to a friendly competitor (I do have a few legitimate ones) today, and he expressed that he too , had signed a new home contract last night, and had a good January. When this whole down-turn came, I didn’t see it coming. Fortunately,by God’s grace, we were able to weather the storm better than some builders who had big investments in land and lots. If you don’t know, as a custom builder, we don’t own land. I saw many small builder’s buckle under the pressure and change professions. I saw several big name builders go out of business or come close to it. When this market starts to make it’s come-back, I don’t think I will see it coming any more than when it got here.
I look at the data on how many website visitors Miracle is getting each day and I see a spike since late December which has climbed higher, ever slightly higher, day by day, week by week. Does that mean we are now out of the down-market? I am feeling that old fast-paced excitement creeping back, at least for this week, and the last few. I dare not even guess whether this is a trend or a blip on the radar screen. For now, I am satisfied that we are doing quite fine but I sincerely doubt we are out of the woods just yet. Unemployment is still down but all the experts (boy, did I see a lot of those financial-type-experts at the recent International Home Builder’s show/Vegas) confidently say, the worst is behind us by several months. Home values are coming up. Wisconsin should see a 3.5% increase in home values this year alone. Wisconsin home sales should be up 25% from last year and 50% more next year over this year! Interest rates are still down to about as low as anyone has ever seen, and consumer spending confidence is up as well. Add that to another huge home buying/building “first” that the government is paying folks to buy/build homes, and we might just have the “perfect storm’ of home buying happening.
I do kind of feel like the car dealer who ALWAYS says NOW is the best time to buy a car. If he always says that, it seems dishonest. Even so, it can not be denied that this is far better than I would have imagined even several months ago. The biggest trouble folks have of needing to sell an existing home first ,before commintting to buying a new home we addressed a while back in our current promotional offering. But this blog is not meant to sound too “overtly” self-serving, so on to the bigger point.
The bigger point is that tonight I feel a giant smile inside me . Not because of tonight’s sale(that certainly helped…a bit), but because I feel that the days, and weeks, AND years, of this down-market has given me a re-born appreciation of just how special it truly is to build homes and make people happy in the process. That smile is for a deep satisfaction that, for me, I am in the right business. I have seen the best and the worst and would not trade a minute of the worst since it gives a deeper appreciation of the best. Good or bad, I am having a blast designing and creating some some of the most awesome new home ideas! ideas that I might not have thought of in a great market, only in a poor one. Thank God for the blessing of creativity.
On another note, if you want to see some pretty neat new photos of my Ellison Bay model ranch we had in Kenosha, our webmaster just added them to the photo gallery and to the Ellison Bay page. I am always interested in your feed-back.
Next time, I will give you some of those new neat ideas and try to stay a tad less preachy. Thanks for allowing me to share some reflections.
February 10th, 2010
It is quite late and if I want to make this a Tuesday blog entry, I had better type quick!
I spent an invigorating morning deep in designing what I see as a new-age backyard. A few years ago, I had the crazy notion (especially in cold Wisconsin ) that folks don’t spend a lot of time outside when relaxing. Socializing, yes. Relaxing after work or when no one else is around, no. Sure, you might garden or have the oft cookout outside, but with bugs ind humidity or wind blowing stuff around, really…hanging outside is not the most relaxing place compared to a bug-free, television-ready, temperature -custom , bathroom close-by, couch inside the home. Besides, the smaller lots today have potential issues of privacy , both visual and” noise-wise”.
Despite all of these obstacles, I have become fixated on a crazy notion of asking, seeing, exploring, whether it is possible for me to think outside the box enough to get past some or all of these problems. If you bring up(on the website photo gallery) our 2009 Parade’s Little-Big House, or check out our front yard photos of our Homestead 3 Special Edition 2-story, or see our Sand Bay front yard, you will see I have been experimenting with this outdoor living concept for some time.
There is nothing that teaches better than carefull thought, careful design , then just building something and seeing how it works. I have observed how these outdoor areas functioned and I have seen the deficiencies in each exterior area I have designed and built. People loved our Little-Big House front porch more than they loved to sit on our Little-Big House back patio. The patio had more room, good privacy, and even my first new invention of an outdoor television, that was quite watchable after dusk. I think folks liked the front porch better because it first, had a roof which gave it better sun protection, and second, it had better furniture. But, unless you had someone outside to talk to, or a television or computer , you might easily get bored and want to go inside.
On this particualr front porch idea, I had the most comfortable padded love seats that you could want. I had designed the landscaping to have pretty good privacy so you would not feel like you were relaxing in front of passer-bys on the street. I had even thought of including that most relaxing element of splashing water in a which was to mesmerize and draw you to the area(and it did1) But alas, even all of this was not enough to make this area preferred for relaxation sake over an interior couch.
I took all of this into account and have been designing my heart out to get the next attempt right. If I had an area where folks could have laid on a couch or bed, that would have been a big , MAJOR, first step in competing with the inside couch area.
I remember, my Grandparents in Glendale had a back porch and they spent lots of time in that area watching a small television, eating on a small table, playing cards, and…laying down for a nap on a couch. This porch had a small bathroom right off of this porch, just inside the home. It had fantastic privacy from passer-bys and it had all screens so it could enjoy the breeze and the sounds of nature. ( Grandma fedd and watched the birds and Grandpa had his b-b gun ready in case of squirles) I t also had a train track just behind the porch by 200 feet on a hill, but even that noise was was not powerful enough reason to detract from this being a most desirable area to relax.
My Aunt and Uncle in Cedarburg too have a back enclosed porch and they use it all the time. We built a lovely back porch with an area for a hot tub on one home last year and they use that area a lot, so I hear.
Am I advocating back porches? …yes and no. I have a grander plan of making the front porch just as attractive as these rear porches and I think I have found a way to start by finding a perfect balance of open railing and short wall pieces to give the porch a sense of privacy. I have come up with a method to use hide-away screens to protect the area from bugs. I have porch ceiling fans to keep it cooler. (here’s where I get a bit extreme) I have gone so far as to find an aesthetically pleasing way to have a large weather-protected television and a heating fireplace both on this front porch. I also have a huge set of french door on the front porch that leads a few steps away to the inside dinning table AND even a concealed refrigerator. Yes, there are places to have couches and you can see passer-bys if you sit up but are totally private if you lay down on the couch!
There is a dynamite sound system, and even a quick access into the garage if you have the need. I am working at putting a bathroom close by but that may not come to fruition. But that’s not all. As wonderful as this big 10 by 18 front porch may be, the back yard concepts are even cooler, wilder, and I have not seen the vast majority of these ideas done before anywhere(which always excited me!).
I will share some of those “ back yard “rooms” ideas in the next blog. Here’s the big deal on what I am doing with this design, ( First, the whole house has all sorts of new ideas I have had percolating in my head for many months and I could write pages on every room , really). Second, what make all this so much more exciting for me is that designing this kind of stuff into a home that is 2,500 , or 3,000, or 4,000 square feet is easy enough for any novice designer to do. I always say, anyone can throw money at a design and make it wonderful to behold. The real fun and challenge comes in doing stuff like this , to make the home FEEL like a 3,000 or 4,000 square footer, but do it in what some would see as a “small” square footage home. This home has everything but it is part of my “Hybrid Ranch” (see my first few blog entries for the general scoop on this idea). This, folks, is a 1,500 square foot ranch that I bet will fool even the most savvy home shopper into thinking this is twice the size. A home that blends outdoor “rooms” with inside rooms in ways that blurs the line of indoor/outdoor.
By the way, today, we posted a whole group of photos from our Lake Bay and Ellison Bay(and others) on our home page’s photo gallery. I hope you will take a look. I hope you will check back to see what I have in mind for the backyard “rooms”. Thanks for reading. I missed my quick part of my headline, I missed my midnight deadline to post this, but I hope I did not miss making these ideas “sweet”.
February 11th, 2010
I have just stayed up all last night (until 5 am) to design a unique finished basement. I awoke a few short hours later to spend the day working on a re-design of a 2-story home, so at 5 pm I could meet these nice people and show them the plans in South Milwaukee. I sure enjoy taling new homes with nice people! The dinner was good too, but I digress. I tell you this as my “excuse” to keep this rather short. I realize I have an obligation to keep my blog updated but this is not the night for length so here-goes.
In my previous posting I talked about the passion I have for trying to design outdoor spaces that are a continuation of the interior of the home. If I had my way, my designs would remind you more of being an actual outside room rather than just a deck or patio or porch.
I wrote about my ideas I am currently designing into my “Hybrid Ranch ” design(see my first blog post). In showing any home, I think it best to approach it like a play. That is to say, there needs to be a proper introduction or anticipation. This is the look of the home from a distance. I might say “curb appeal” but that does not take the concept far enough. The mere shadow shapes or silhouette of a certain home in the distance(before “curb appeal”) should , in a perfect world, be distinct enough to have viewers be drawn to the building for the sheer architectural interest. Take, for example, a castle. The mere shape draws you into an anticipation to see inside. Now, take the closer approach, as the viewer moves-in for a better look. This is the curb appeal. Not all homes have the appeal of distance but most have some degree of closer curb appeal. A simple shaped home could have a certain detail (a front door or real working shutters, or a fanciful roof shingle pattern) or a more sophisticated home could have a fountain or intricate masonry, or perhaps a sidewalk that allows visitors to walk over a waterfall(an extreme but real example we have done ).
As you go onto the front porch, you have now moved into the storyline of this living “play” I am referring too. The porch should reveal more surprises or details. This is telling more of the story. Maybe a real wood porch floor, or some railing patterns that are unique, or a different type of furniture or fresh flowers. Moving into the foyer reveals the next act of our home’s “play” and as you progress through the home, each new area should tell another part of the whole story of who the home’s occupants are. As I blog further into the future, perhaps we can discuss the best ways to make each room speak clearly and have a singular distinct message all it’s own. As you get to the end of the home(usually the backyard or basement, you need a grand finale for your play. I once had a home where it was feasible that the grand finale might just be the basement guest bathroom! Now for some folks, they might end their visit in the basement theatre. If that was the case, the theatre was indeed a great grand finale spot to visit. But,…what IF the visitors last new thing/room they viewed was the basement bathroom? If the last impression (as important or more important than the first impression) is not strong, the home’s overall impression will not be strong and the great rooms, or story we are telling becomes watered-down, or weak, or just not letting the play end with a “bang” of memory. I had to make sure that for those ending their visit in that last room, they had something worthy of being their grand finale. I decided to make this bathroom opulent-extreme, with a real claw foot tub, rounded walls to follow the tub contours, and all real wood wall panels(painted white) with a huge/long sink area wall but done classy with only a small bowl pedestal sink and arching themed twin cabinet towers with simple oval mirror and twin wall sconce lights. The result was enhanced by a special music track which played exclusively in that room sounded like the finale!
In many cases the back yard is the finale and this needs to be treated as the most likely grand finale, final act of our “play“. This is where my energy has expired for the night and so, I will continue this tomorrow morning when I find the refreshed power to give this outdoor decor report my “grand Finale”
Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your comments to see if anyone is reading my ramblings. We did sell another home today and I am feeling overwhelmed by the number of homes we are now selling in the past week(s).
February 12th, 2010
The day was spent visiting client homes we currently have under construction. If you know the wonderful feeling it is to see your own home being built, (trust me, if you have not had that experience, it IS wonderful), then you can imagine how I must feel looking at multiple homes we are building at any one time. One of these today was a home we are building on Ochauchee Lake . This is actualy the second home we are building for these nice people. This one has a 12 foot high basement where the concrete floors were just poured yesterday. I sure love seeing progress and making notes or suggestions as to how we might make each home a little better. In this case, I am particualrily happy to see a lake house that was not as custom as some we have designed. In this case, these folks took an existing simple design we had and modified it so it works and looks great but only costed a fraction of what a scratch-custom would have.
In my last 2 posts I have talked about creating outdoor spaces that are as nice as indoor spaces, or at least TRYto make them as preferrable as indoor spaces when it comes to simple, after-work relaxation areas. As I mentioned previously, my years of attempting to achieve the perfect outdoor living spaces have been a journey of discovery. That is, I build them in a model, then observe the public reaction, then observe if the new owners actually use these spaces. Sadly, creating an outdoor space that rivals the indoor couch/T.V. combo, where you can control bugs, noise, privacy, and temperature, is tough to do. Who wants to come home after work and relax outside only to find it is too hot, bugs are flying around your head, and the neighbors are outside forcing conversation when you are tired from the day?
I wrote how I tried to tackle all (or most) of these challenges when I designed my perfect outdoor front porch, complete with weather enclosed television, couches, screens, even a built-in fireplace and refrigerator. But creating great outdoor spaces are more than amenities, they must also be “user friendly“. This is to say, that if access is available only by walking up or down a tall flight of stairs or walking outside the home using an unnatural path, you can have all the frills and amenities you want, but the area will NOT be highly used in everyday living.
The perfect example of this is the family who builds a large dedicated home theatre but then only really uses it for special occasions or weekends. The basement location for this theatre was simply not “user friendly” to the kitchen or living room and took an effort to get to that theatre area. To avoid such placement issues, a wide set of front double doors can open up the entire front porch or patio to the rest of the home. But, what about the bugs and air conditioning escaping or entering through the wide openings?
One device which is used in commercial operations is called a wind screen. A wind screen actually creates a wall of air flow (wind) that starts at the ceiling and blows in a sheet of wind to block the outside from the inside even with doors open. The next time you go to a theme park like Great America , or Disney, look at the many door-less shops they have that still mange to stay cool inside on hot days. That cold air is being (mostly) held inside with these invisible walls of wind. With a wind wall, you can easily walk from inside to outside without worrying to much about getting small bugs or cold air conditioned air outside, or inside the home’s interior.
Another way to keep the bugs out is to simply use screens, but that requires opening and closing screen doors and will not keep the temperature inside the home. On the perfect weather day, or if you use a nice system of cieling fans to keep air moving, you can make screens work. If you are planning to really use exterior “rooms” in your everyday living and don’t have a wind screen system, try designing the home so the great room(Kitchen/seating/eating area) is all in one area and is zoned so the rest of the home is on a separate heating/cooling zone. If you have the great room zones so you can turn off the air conditioning without turning off the rest of the homes air conditioning, you must also have a way to door-off the rest of the home. Designing in doors that close off the bedroom hallway are not difficult to do IF you have the forethought to do it.
The patio area or backyard area of the current design (again it is my “Hybrid Ranch” design and , AGAIN, you should read my first blog entry to see more on that exciting development) I am working on , approaches the idea of creating the perfect outdoor “rooms”. In my ideal world, this area would be more than an oasis or get-away, it would be all the rooms you need to live in, but outdoors instead, AND, doing things you ould only do outdoors. Here’s how I am doing this.
1. I wanted to have multiple rooms enter/exit onto this lower (walk out basement) patio area. The two guest bedrooms, the upper great rooms (via stairs to lower level), and the lower great room (rec-room) all enter/exit onto this backyard area, making it accessible to many.
2. There is a brick paver pattern and concrete pattern that are curved and curve right into the home’s interior. The brick/concrete patterns actually flow through some main doorway so that the pavers come nto the home. The effect is to make a statement that these outdoor areas are the same as indoors for use. We want folks to not step from carpet onto concrete which instantly tells them, “I am now outside”.
3. Since it is hard to live outside without having a kitchen, a kitchen was created around the idea of the cook-out, or grill area. Today, some new style kitchen cabinetry , that you would swear are luxury wood cabinets, are being amde of resins to be weather-resistant exterior cabinetry. In the future, don’t be surprised to find complete wood-styled kitchens outside along with exterior grade appliances! My small efficiency outdoor kitchen will have hot and cold running water and a refrigerator. I am designing it to have a commnon wall touching the home so hot water is not problem and inexpensive.
4. The outdoor living room needs to have pleanty of outdoor furnishings (again) that look like indoor furniture styling. Most important, we will have a 60 inch flat panel television set. To make this feasible, I am taking a simple large clear glass picture window and putting it into the home’s main body looking out onto the patio living room. This window is sized to the size of the television screen. The television (here’s the tricky part of my little invention) is actually not outside at all. It is inside and it faces out of this window so it is seen only from the outside! I will use exterior grade surround sound speakers and exterior grade sub woofer speaker ( some in the shape of rocks and others attached to the home)to have a sound that will “rock” the backyard for everyday living or an awesome garden party where you can invite Jimmy Buffet or whoever you wish on concert DVDs.
5. For eating areas, I have designed several areas ALL with fans overhead to keep bugs away. Some are on dry land areas and some of these tables are in another one of my inventions I call the “flooding patio”
6. A flooding patio is something you could only do outside and I have done several of them before. They are a concept where you have a portion of the main patio(in this case, 18 feet by 22 feet) sunken a step or two or three below the main patio. When dry, it appears as though you have a sunken living room on your patio. It is a conversation pit look. When the days or nights get hot, you can flood the patio area to fill with water. You can mingle your feet in just an inch or two of cool water or you could choose to have as much as 12 to 24 inches of water for a great kid’s wading pool or floating around the patio on an air mattress or tube. In the homes I have built them in, visitors are instantly attracted to these shallow fun pools and in moments remove their shoes, no bathing suit required. Some folks have issues with bathing in a hot tub with others, or swimming at a party, but no one I have met has had any qualms about sitting on the (non-rusting aluminum framed) furniture while splashing their feet. What fun!
7. This outdoor living area series of “rooms” are separated visually by plantings or outdoor art paintings suggesting walls. As for a ceiling that may protect against sudden rain storms or such, one of the big features has the home’s main roof structure covering most of this oasis. A system of screens can be rolled down to enclose most of the backyard rooms.
8. As for the bedroom or bathroom outdoor “rooms”, I needed to address this as well. If a bathroom was needed, I wanted to design a fun compact “yacht-style” bathroom which was both adjacent to the outdoor rec areas, as well as being available privately to the outdoor bedroom area.
9. Did I say outdoor “bedroom”? Yes I did. What it appears to be is a covered gazebo or cabana which is pool-side(flooding patio side, that is) . The entire cabana is sided in french doors and hide-away screens. When you wish, the area can be used to lay out on the covered outdoor queen bed/futon or sit on a few chairs. When the temperature is too hot for some but right for others, this cabana’s doors can be shut and air conditioning from the home fills the room. Both the bathroom and this bedroom touches the main home only on one corner and (at a casual glance) appears to be separate from the home. In Winter, this room can be a cozy guest cabana with attached bath. Your guests would have to walk outside to get to the cabana but the huge main room over the rec area does give cover going to and from the main house.
10. The shape of the home and the extra landscaping gives total privacy from any neighbors who would desire to see you in your outside rooms. We even have, of course, the outside fireplace in a perfect area to give heat to the living room on cold nights watching the outdoor television.
If this sounds interesting to you, please contact me because I am looking for all of the feed-back I can have for this first-ever concept. I hope , with the kind cooperation of the bankers of course, that I will be able to unveil Wisconsin’s first indoor outdoor home. I have never seen anything like it anywhere and…that makes it all the better and fun to do!
I hope to unveil it at the 2010 Parade of Homes , this year, in my home town of Richfield. At that time, again, I will sit back and see how people accept and use these outdoor rooms. Once again, I am sure I will learn form my latest plan and go on another day to re-think and re-design the perfect outdoor living area.
I am also building a throwback to the age of farm houses and I will talk about what I am doing that no farm may have ever done. I hope you will visit this blog again to join me for more wild , creative ideas.
February 13th, 2010
I spent a good part of my day this Saturday covering some open house hours and client meetings for one of my sales staffers. This staffer was out to attend a funeral and I am happy to pitch-in. I went to Milwaukee and met with a few extremely nice groups of clients and visitors.
The home I was at was located at was on 91st street and Good Hope, in the Oak Hill subdivision. This is a newer development quite close to Menomonee Falls and has a community full of police officers, teachers, and fire fighters(mostly). Anyway, we are building one of our Dream 2000 two story homes and it is now in drywall AND the drywallers were plastering their “mud” today while I showed the home.
In a previous post, I mentioned how I love to attend the big International Home Builder’s Show each year to see what new ideas or products I can discover. This year, I found a great drywall product that makes it appear like the effect of a very old or classic home. I used many new drywall effects throughout the home but my favorite is the front room’s effect. This room is located off the foyer so it could be used as a Den. This room is equally convenient to the back located kitchen , so this room could also be a nice formal dining room if you prefer. In today’s “generation Y” design trend style, this multi-purpose room (it could also be a parlor or tot’s play room) is a hot button for allowing folks to use it as they wish. The 11 by 14 foot size is perfect for so many uses AND it is located directly accross from a bathroom so it could also be used as a guest bedroom if desired. All of this IS NOT the new idea. I am , slowly getting to that.
I had fun showing the new idea to the visitors today and they seemed to really like it. The effect is that of having an old fashined room with inset panels on every wall and ceiling too. To accomplish this, I first dry-walled the entire room in a single (normal) layer of drywall. Then, if you can imagine, I had 6 inch wide and very long, strips of drywall cut and these were put around the room to form picture frames around the newly created rectangular inset “panels” . I tryed something like this on our Parade 2009 master bedroom(see the home page photo galery of this home’s master to see it) but the difference here is the new edge shape I had applied to the raw drywall edges that formed these panels were a fancy chair rail colonial shape. The effect is truly stunning and would normally be found only in homes costing much much more. Until now, this effect would have needed to be done using fine carpentry. We also did this to the cieling and it looks fantastic even in this early state. I knew I was going to try this, so I decided to really take the design up a notch by building an 6 foot wide by 6.5 feet high alcove into the predominant 14 foot long wall. I could do this because the other side of this wall was against the garage. This meant,(you won’t see it on our Dream 2000 floor plan) I could cantilever this alcove protrusion into the garage and not need to have a foundation under it. I gave an arched top to this alcove so we can put a dining hutch or perhaps a bereau(if used as a den) inside this alcove. THEN on either side of this alcove, I made two floor- to- cieling rectangular inset panels AND added two ornate wall light sconces(with mini lamp shades) to finish the old world effect.
In the great room, I added crown moulding but NOT of wood, but rather of a new hollow plastic drywall moulding! What fun to do something so simple that adds so much charm and warmth and not spend an arm and a leg in doing it. I also used a new drywall corner that is neither square nor round but BOTH round AND square at the same time! I will try to explain this in my next blog.
I met the folks who have actually purchased this home and loved showing them around. I feel like a proud Father. The problem was we had our showing cut a little short because another super couple (and her Dad) showed up and we had a wonderful time dreaming about building a bigger 2-story a few miles away. I sure love my job! Lastly, I had a lovely time showing some folks the home and taking an “imagination tour” of our new upcoming “Hybrid Ranch” which I have discussed here on my very first blog entry. I had the Hybrid Ranch design with me in my truck so we took a very brief look. I have a new radical wild idea I am going to introduce in this new design and I can’t wait to share that idea (soon) with all of you. It is so novel an idea that once I thought of the concept, I honestly can not look at any kitchen cabinet layout without visually seeing a ton of wasted space.
As always, thanks for imaginating with me. If you want to see the drywall ideas I am talking about AND MORE drywall ideas I have not even mentioned (as well as a nifty finshed basement that is sooo simple yet sooo roomy) , stop by the Oak Hill house , 1 to 4 this weekend. I gaurantee, you will see things you can not see anywhere else I know of!
Blessings and thanks.
February 15th, 2010
A few blogs ago, I “teased” that I had been working on a new idea for what looks like a farmhouse. If you are not the farmhouse sort, don’t worry, the general concept could work for you even if “country” is not your thing.
Let me say from the outset that at times I have gone down the planning road only to find a dead end when financing is not available for the project. Unfortunately, in order to see if something will indeed appraise out at the needed dollars, I must take the project through the full design and estimating stage. I DO have a pretty good feeling about this one, so here it is.
I am seriously looking into doing our “Hybrid Ranch“ (see first blog entries) in Richfield’s new Reflection’s Village development. This is looking like it may be a part of the big annual Parade Of Homes. This development has “miracle” written all over it! This is to be an old fashioned walking neighborhood complete with lots of amenities such as quaint shopping area, fishing pond, swimming pool house, community band shell, a park, and tremendous walking paths. What better place to have a ground breaking new design than this ground breaking new development in Richfield. I have the Hybrid Ranch design actually planned for inside the development in a prominent spot. The demands of the subdivision is that all architecture must look like something out of an old neighborhood, perhaps leaning somewhat victorian in style, but not required.
Just across the main street from the subdivision enterance is what looks like a poor, less than desirable parcel of land with a small building site possibility, on a somewhat busy road(Appleton Avenue/HWY 175). The backyard abuts up to existing/older backyards of other homes. In the middle of this lot, is an old farm silo and part of a buried foundation for a long gone barn. The roof of the silo is mostly gone. There is an old out house near the road on the front corner. It is NOT quaint. It is NOT private. Anyone interested in this lot? I thought not.
Despite it’s unappeal, I looked into what could be done to make this unattractive lot work. First, as in any design challenge, I wanted to identify the problems. The busy road could be overcome by designing a home that was long and perhaps “C” shaped with the open part of the “C” facing the backyard. The rest of the privacy concerns could be overcome by extensive landscaing with well positioned trees. I considered tearing down the silo (breifly) but the wild idea struck me as to how that silo could be used to be an asset. Since it was positioned on the lot about half way back, it was possible to have some kind of building in front of the silo. Instead of ripping down a bit more of Wisconsin history, I decided to see if it was possible to build a barn in front of the silo. Out buildings on such a small lot would make this barn seemingly impossible.
Not wanting to give up on a good wild idea without a fight, I thought of perhaps finding a way to attach this barn to a popular home design I had already previously designed , for which I had wanted/needed to build a model of that home. If you check out web site’s photo gallery(bottom of home page) of our 2009 Parade Of Homes “Little-Big House“, you will see why we are getting a lot of requests to see this home. Unfortunately, ( did I say UN-fortunatly?) the model was sold during construction and now we have to show other similar homes we are building for others. SIDE NOTE; SEE ONE IN JACKSON- Just finishing. The ideal model to have right now for us would be this “Little_Big House“. I would , however not want to idealy have it inside Reflection’s Village since I would want to show it with a simpler exterior than Reflections might allow.
The idea was to build a simpler , leaning -but not really-country-style/craftsman (Think Grandma Moses meets Little House On The Prairie , meets generation Y ….”simple“) model home then connect a 45 by 50 foot barn to the home via a breezeway/hall to the garage of the model. If done well, I can use landscaping to hide the fact that these two buildings are in fact “one” adjoined structure. This completely avoids the issue of having an allowable outbuilding. The barn can be done in such a way that it is not really a traditional barn in appearance , but rather a modern/simplified Generation Y barn done in designer browns and perhaps grays.
A single driveway will service both the “barn” and home’s garage sides with what appears to be a 35 foot wide separation between the two buildings. Both buildings (actually …err…it is ONE , connected building,… I forgot) have side entry garage doors which face each other. I have even designed a small bathroom into the 8 foot wide by 35 foot long breezeway that connects the two/one building(s). I hope you are getting the mental picture.
The visibility of this homestead would be fantastic and if you ever wanted to hold a rummage sale or sell items out of the home OR work out of the home OR have a great workshop OR build the interior to act as a guest house (dare I even suggest duplex in usage for the right situation), or just have a few boats, campers, or “toys” to store or work on, this is the perfect house to do any or all of that!
As for a model, folks can easily see the normal house model and the extra storage can be used for a few years by myself to eleviate some of my warehouse storage space needs , saving me monthly storage payments. Since it is right outside of Reflections, home /lot shoppers can’t miss seeing this home. If done with good taste, it could be a landmark home for the area and a nod of respect to Richfield’s farming past. A way to preserve.
Do you want a bigger storage building than allowable on your lot due to outbuilding restrictions, this could be your answer. If you want to see the concept on paper, just drop me a line for your own private “sneak preview”.
I can’t let tonight pass by noting that yet another fine client family was added to our happy Miracle “family” just an hour (or two) ago. I got to know this family a little when we went out to dinner last week. Last week was a record breaking sales week for our company. A sales period that saw 7 sales in a period of under 10 days. I have not seen that happen since the housing market took a sudden decline about 4 years ago! Today, we had another happy thing happen. We have just re-hired a staff member who was s superstar with us for many years but left to pursue other passions . Times change and we are thrilled to have him back . One of my happiest moments of the day was , while I was diligently working to design a 5 bedroom version of a T2500 for a client, I heard children loudly , gleefully, playing in our office’s video arcade room. I know it is hard to believe, I know it sounds fake to say this, but I truly like making( or seeing) people happy , more than anything I can think of. The desire to make folks smile is why I wake up every morning. I don’t always succeed (that is for sure).
Thanks for reading the blog. Please e-mail or call me with any of your questions or comments. Until my next WILD idea ,…..
February 16th, 2010
About my last blog regarding the two buildings joined together as one building, I have heard I was not being complete enough on explaining just how the “barn” and house would be connected yet visually separated. Let me breifly explain.
From the road, it appears as though these two buildings are about 30 feet apart but they are connected by a 30 foot long (by about 8 foot wide) breezeway/hallway. The hallway is hidden by tall shrubbery and landscaping. I know it may be hard to envision but only Part of the breezeway is left revealed and this part appears like a protrusion from the barn that has an entrance door on it. This door , which is on the front of the breezeway(adjacent to the barn) has another door on the immediate backside of the breezeway. This door arrangement allows folks to pass from the front “court yard” through by the garage/barn main overhead door area to the backyard of the home/barn area.
On this land, I mentioned that an old farm silo is present. This silo is viewed from the street to be adjacent to the rear of the barn. In fact, the silo is 20 to 40 feet behind the barn, and is in no way connected. From the street vantage point, observers could not tell exactly where the silo is located. It “looks” like it is attached to the barn. My kids want me to finish the silo to have it become a neat fort with spiral staircase going up to the top look-out tower. I said we could make it a “camp-out” bedroom get-away and fit the inside with a glass roof top and a big round mattress to lay on and look up toward the stars . I think the money end of this deal will dictate it be left for the future owners to do as they wish.
I was out in the field today driving around to see some of our homes under construction. The lake home we are building on Ocauchee now has the staircase to the walk-out basement finished. The basement has 12 foot high ceilings! We did this so the sloping lot would be used to it’s best advantage and cost the least to build. If we would have done a standard 8 foot high basement, we would have had to fill the site with about 4 feet of stone. This probably costs just a little more to build the walls 12 feet tall over the cost of filling the 4 feet of stone but consider the benefits two ways. You get a taller, more dramatic basement(get the basketball hoop!), and you get to walk out of the basement and not have to build so many stairs to get down to the lake level.
I thoroughly enjoy designing full custom homes for any project but this expensive lake lot left less in our client’s budget for building the home. I love a good challenge and a creative solution was in order. The first part of the solution was to take an existing plan ( our 4 bedroom Dream series T2000 and re-design it to work. I did not want it to simply look like a re-design, and when we are finished with it, it won’t. We started by making the side of the home, into the front of the home. This made the home a comfortable 30 feet in lake lot width. But the creativity was just begining!
Next: Lake house supreme on a less than supreme budget. The creative solution. I have some exciting weekend news coming, so …stay tuned!
Thanks for reading the blog. Comments are always welcome.
February 17th, 2010
Today as I was driving about the countryside evaluating potential lots for potential client homes to be built on, I was thinking hard about the funny things we have all convinced ourselves are important in a house, and asking why? There are so many things in homes that we all just take for granted are needed. Why do roofs have to always have pointy peaks? Why do luxury minded folks insist on having two master sinks but only one toilet? Why do so many folks like the idea of having a whirlpool tub in the master but only end up having the kids mostly use it? Why does siding look better going sideways and not going vertically? But, the question that stood out to me today , (I have thought of this many times before) is why do we all want , and seemingly need, a door on every room?
If I may do my immitation of Andy Roony for a moment, “Why do you suppose people want a door on , for example, their master closet, then they never close it except when someone comes to visit, or to get it out of their way so they can get to the hanging clothes that are obstructed behind the door?” When I am sitting across the table and designing homes for people, I have been asking just that question. In your current house, how often do you close your master closet door? For folks who have non-walk-in traditional closets, they usually answer they always close the doors. For folks who have a walk-in closet, they comment they hardly ever close the door and this door is actually , constantly, in their way and obstructing something in the closet.
I know, I know, the hair on most people’s backs just raises whenever I suggest any off the wall “wild” idea like letting go of a pre-conceived, well accepted notion that just seems so right. The natural human reaction is for folks to quickly start to self-examine why they would not like to change their perceptions. They try to justify the reason for staying in their normal ways and resist change, even if it makes their lives easier and costs less. Keep in mind, I am NOT just talking here about one meezly master bedroom closet door, but rather a whole host of other doors that , like this one, may just be hindering our lives and not enhancing them. The usual reaction in defending this door question is to claim that, without this door, any potential visitor would see their clothes which are deemed(rightfully so) to be of a “private” nature. Some say, they don’t want to see their own “mess” in their closet and don’t want others to see it either.
In my past blogs, I have explained how I believe good home design trys to always identify problems then go about the task of finding a better way to creatively design ” to move past”, or to solve the problem. At some point SOMEONE had to say, why are we always opening two doors and searching through closets when we could just open one door and walk “into” the closet? Thus, the walk-in closet is born. Today, the walk-in closet is normal and well accepted, even demanded. When they were first introduced, I bet the public thought the idea “odd”. Today, they just make so much sense. My grandparents “new” modern Glendale home in the late 70′s, or my own 6 bedroom , family’s home I grew up in , (circa 1968) had loads of closets but not one walk-in.
So………….let’s again identify the ONLY problem I have ever heard about WHY in the world we are still putting doors on (for this example) the master closet? The problem is privacy or keeping things looking neater and out of sight. On the flip-side, NOT having doors means not having to bother with opening and closing doors. NOT having doors means less initial cost in the home, less matenence, less germs from dirty door knobs, not cleaning or dusting of the door or oiling a squeaky hinge(that was stretch) , not having to move a door to get to whatever is behind it, and MOSTLY, just making living in the home a very little bit , easier.
Let me suggest that if you are thinking about how life would be if you simply took the door off your present closet, I agree, that would likely not look too good, since your home was not designed to work/look good without doors. No matter how neat you are , seeing hanging clothes is just not visually agreeable to most people. You DO need a way to not have guests see your “stuff” and a door seems the only logical conclusion. It is not. While this may not work on your present home(or for that matter, most any home I have seen in those new design/plan books), it certainly can work if you design your home to work with a door-less application. If you have not yet guessed where I am going with this, here is the solution.
For drama and to understand the solution, take the drama up a notch in asking what if I designed a bathroom that had no door on it? Your saying “WOW Tom, I may have been with you on this closet thing but now you’ve really flipped WAY out”. Now ask yourself, the last time you went to the Milwaukee Midwest Airlines Convention Center , or any modern movie theatre, did you need to open a door before you walked-into the bathroom? I am not suggesting (at least not today)that you do a doorless bathroom. I am suggesting you think of how you walked into that movie theatre bathroom and then apply that same method for getting into your closet. This is called creating a “blind alley” hallway. My newest designs are just now applying this “wild idea” and they are working quite nicely! I have yet to se or hear any other designer exploring this “doorless” concept. These closets are now totally private from you and your visitor’s views but, just like those theatre bathrooms are SOO EASY to just drift in and out effortlessly. C’mon, just remember how easy it was in that movie theatre! No messing with doors, no doors in the way, no germs , in short,…easy living WITH complete privacy.
Now let’s put that same idea to work in your foyer closet. Imagine how pleasant (not to mention , memorable to your guests) to have guests flow into the hanging area for hanging their coats. Take this a step further and now apply this to a kitchen pantry. Why would you want to open and close ANY door if you did not have to. I envision a day when every bedroom closet , front and back hall closet, as well as pantry, will be door-less. It will cost less and life will be just a very little bit easier.
Before I close the door subject (close the door…almost had something there) for this blog, here is another quick idea for your consideration. Why do all of our exterior doors open into the home? If you want to have a screen door, that may seem the only way to go, but on a commercial building fire safety dictates all exterior located doors MUST open toward the exterior.
Just like in my last real-life observance about why we need doors on closets, this will be the next thing you might want to consider if you are really thinking “green” and safe.
In closing, if you really want to build your next home to be ahead of the curve in what is new, find a designer who has the passion to think ahead of the trends. If you can find the guy who invented that walk-in closet, hire him (or her)! Imagine building a new home then 2 years later finding door-less closets becoming all the rage or the new normal.
This Friday, I will be telling you something on the blog that I hope is special just to you blog readers. There is so much to be thankful for here at Miracle. Our sales continue to stay quite, unusually, high. One of our “old timers” who left us 2 years ago is back and making even happier Miracle clients. I am in the midst of innovating some new “top secret” home inventions exclusively for our newest generation of Miracle designs. This will make door-less closets pale in comparison! I just met with the Parade Of Homes people today and we are working toward our involvement with this late Summer event. We are also working on bring together our bigger Miracle Tour Of Homes to once again, precede the Parade. If someone wants to be a part of owning (building a home below, ((yes , I said BELOW)) builder cost) our most exciting new home design in Richfield , get a hold of me fast. I try to make these blogs non-selling so forgive me if I slip every now and again. I hope you are enjoying some of the new Wild Ideas here on the blog and look forward to your comments , corrections, and observations.
February 18th, 2010
In blogging now only for a few weeks, I must say this whole thing still is a bit of a mystery to me. I have been writing/posting, but my gut tells me these postings are maybe just a tad (or a lot) too long. If you agree or disagree, please don’t be afraid to leave a comment.
I was thinking today about the ideal location and the ideal features of the ideal laundry room. As in my last blog, so much of what we each expect in a home is just because we are creatures of habit. It takes someone to be the first to introduce some new twist in home design before it can catch on and (if the new twist makes sense or is attractive enough) before it can become a “norm” of the industry. For example, how did we ever go from having ranches with all of the bedrooms on the same side of the home to today’s “norm” of having the master secluded on one side and the other bedrooms on the other side of the home? This split bedroom is so common that no one gives it a second thought. As I said in my previous posting, who ever decided that instead of opening the doors on a traditional closet, we should “walk-into” the closet? For years the “norm” in doing laundry was to have the machines in the basement. Who was the first to think of bringing the laundry up to the first floor? Microwave range hoods, laminate flooring, private toilet rooms in a master bath, I could go on and on.
For the past few years, one idea that has been sputtering up the “norm” ladder erratically, is the 2nd floor laundry room. If you have a 2-story or a master on first floor/other bedrooms upstairs design, the upstairs laundry is getting quite popular. Years ago, I knew someone who had a luxury lake house and had the laundry upstairs. I was just breaking into the home design and building business and this idea immediately intrigued me. So , I asked how that family, or to be more precise, the Mother (she did all the laundry for that family of 4 boys), how she felt about having her laundry upstairs?
She did not particularly like it. Keep in mind, today, I design and build a lot of 2nd floor laundry rooms. ( If you are a ranch person, stay tuned) . She explained the drawbacks to her was that yes, while the dirty clothes ARE generated upstairs (assuming all bedrooms are upstairs), she spends little of her non-sleeping hours upstairs. Therefore having to do laundry upstairs means having to be constantly climbing stairs to do the various phases of the laundry routine. Imagine the routine. Put the clothes in. Go downstairs to work or relax. Go upstairs a 2nd time to take the laundry out of the washer and put them into the dryer. Go downstairs to relax or work. Go upstairs again to see if the wash is dry. Oops, it still needs 10 more minutes. Go downstairs again to relax or work. Go upstairs to take the laundry out of the dryer and put it away. The door bell rings or the cookies are done and once again you must go downstairs unexpectedly only to immediately go back upstairs to finish putting the clothes away. Now, you finally can go downstairs to relax or work (mostly relax after all of this).
On the plus side, Mom probably saved money by not needing to buy a treadmill! Now imagine Mom is going to bed and when she had the laundry on the first floor, she would have always put a load into the washer first. Or, in the morning, Mom gets up first and used to decide to do a load of wash. When the laundry is near the bedrooms, she now needs to consider delaying putting those clothes into the wash in fear of waking up the rest of the house. When it was downstairs, she could do the wash without regaurd to a sleeping family.
If you have been reading any of my blogs, you know I think great home design comes from evaluating the pluses and minuses of a particular design challenge then methodically getting past those problems by using a little creative problem solving. The problem with an upstairs laundry is , firstly, noise. Secondly, needing to make trips upstairs to do the laundry. Third, potential water overflowing may mean flooding a lot of the home if an accident was to happen.
We can surely (and easily) really only adequately solve two of the three problems. The flooding is easily solved by opting to put a pan with drain under the washer. This is a mini -shower floor in it’s appearance with a drain in the pan’s floor middle area.
The privacy issue can be solved by using a heavy dose of creative placement in the design of where the laundry will be located upstairs. The laundry could be placed in a location that is far away from the bedroom’s bed walls and then it could be sound (and even vibration) insulated.
As for solving the multiple trips, short of installing a stair lift or elevator, there is no easy answer to this one. One solution may be to have a staircase that goes up half way from floor 1 to floor 2 then has a flat transition landing. At that landing, the stairs then change directions and continues up the 2nd half of the flight of stairs. The laundry room could be located to enter NOT on either the first or second floors but rather on this landing between the levels.
The up and down routine becomes even more of a hassle if you have the master on the first floor and have some family members sleeping upstairs. For this, I do have a new “wild idea“ I am aching to share with you which will also work wonderfully for you many ranch people. It is an idea so simple, that like the first guy to invent the walk-in closet idea, you may find the solution at first odd but then (hopefully) agree it may be exactly what every house should(and someday might) have, that makes old laundry room ideas obsolete. Think outside the box and see tomorrow’s blog entry. As I started this blog today, I am trying to cut-back on my length so I will cover these further laundry “wild Ideas” to make your life easier, tomorrow.
An hour ago, one of Miracle’s long time staffers informed me he had received an offer on one of our Jackson spec homes we are just roughing. The roof just went on this home today! I hope we can accept this offer because I know these good people have grand kids living right next door to this home. I can only believe this will be such a blessing to this family and serve to enrich folk’s lives (makes me smile to think about improving living for folks any way I can). About 5 minutes ago, another long time Miracle staffer came in and had just signed a contract to build a home for some nice folks in Palmira. I have not yet put this new name to a face but I can’t wait to meet them. It is unusual that I have not met someone we are building for before we get this far, but praise God they apparently have an adequate degree of trust in us, without me having had the honor to meet them first. I will do all I can to be worthy of their trust. I hope we never forget that, as a builder, we are having a huge honor thrust upon us each time someone selects us to build their home. Oops! here goes that sales-sounding stuff again. Sorry.
I do have a special announcement to share with you blog readers tomorrow. Until then….
February 19th, 2010
This weeks blogs I have mentioned a few times to watch for a blog surprise this weekend which I would announce today. Here it is.
If your read about my current project of passion the “Hybrid Ranch“, you know I think this new concept is the best thing since ..well… walk-in closets or split bedroom ranches. If you don’ t know what my “Hybrid Ranch “check out my very first two blog entries. Its on Milwaukee’s west side (near Menomonee Falls) . It is in the Oak Hill subdivision just northwest of the intersection of Good Hope Road and 91st street. This subdivision can also be accessed by using Calumet and weeding around Calumet going Southwesterly past 91st street. Once you are in the area, it is not hard to see from Good Hope.
Usually, before I introduce a new design, it is kept under wraps until the home is opened. In this case, I will bring along a rough set of my art concepts and MAYBE (maybe) even have some copies to hand out. I am telling my sales staff that I will cover this one home by myself, so feel free to come out and talk about this or any other design or decorating question.
This home has some new drywall trim items that I guarantee, you have never seen done before ! This home also has a great finished basement , and a new wall building decorative idea, again, I just “invented” so you won’t see it anywhere else!
Take a quick tour of these new ideas and then be the first people outside of this Miracle roof to lay eyes on the Hybrid Ranch. If you want to talk off your feet, I will bring along a folding table and somne chairs.
It’s not one of our glamorous decorated models, but you just might enjoy it this way, before the glitz.
As for the second part of my big secrets on (part 2 of my last blog) laundry rooms, I will get to that in the next blog, tomorrow.
Hope to see you all there tomorrow from 1 until 4.
February 20th, 2010
I just returned from the Oak Hill secret blog day , where I will also be tomorrow. Thanks to those who took the time to visit with me. I heard quite a few good ideas! If you are wondering what I am referring to, just read my previous blog. I will have more “Hybrid Ranch” design hand- outs for tomorrow. If you came early, I was a little late, as I was meeting with a nice (we only build for “nice” folks) couple tying up some details on their upcoming home project. As for those of you who read my blog posting from 2 days ago, HERE IS PART 2 OF OUR LAUNDRY MYSTERY.
I have been telling you about the ups and downs of having a laundry upstairs when building a 2-story. I firmly believe that in the not too distant future, laundry room locations will be changing to an entirely new concept. When I was recently in Vegas , listening to a slew of national “expert” seminars at the International Home Builder’s Show, I heard several big- name home architects discuss this subject of the upcoming Generation “Y” buyers, and what they will be demanding in homes built between 2012 and 2052. Get ready for another “wild idea”.
To set this answer up for impact, go back a few decades to the time when bathrooms were outside of the main house. When the first bathroom was put inside the home, the general public reaction (seen in an old news article) , was that this was a bad idea since getting rid of human waste was something not fit for doing inside the home. Shortly , after the inside bathroom became the common “norm”, someone suggested 2 bathrooms would be better than 1 , since everyone had to use the bathroom as a daily occurrence , each doing so many times each day. This was seen as an outlandish luxury to have 2 bathrooms in one house. As you know, having 3 or 4 or even more bathrooms today (counting one in the basement) is now the current “norm”.
This same thought process was attached to the first attached garages. Having a single -car, attached garage was seen at first as an over-the-top outlandish luxury. Imagine, just walking out of the back door into the garage! Most families only had one car back in the 50′s when this attached garage idea made it’s first appearance. As families started to have more than one car, the garage size grew and again, anything bigger than a one car size was viewed as strictly a frivolous luxury. Current trends have seen the 3 car garage become the new “norm” (but surveys say, that is trending away to smaller 2 and a half sizes).
I am convinced that if a new “wild” home idea does not strike the general public as a frivolous luxury when first introduced, it probably is not fully realized. If you have not guessed where I am going, let me” lay it on you” here . The day of multiple laundry rooms is very close and may already be here for some. Just like the bath room history I just mentioned, who in your home does not generate laundry? Just like having only 1 bathroom , let’s say, on the first floor(we have all seen older homes with this layout), it is simply more convenient to have laundry roomS, near each bedroom area. The fact is that most ranch homes now have one bedroom on one side of the home and the other bedrooms on the opposite side(often called “split” bedrooms ), and many 2-story homes homes now have the master bedroom on the first floor and the other bedrooms upstairs. In some two story homes, there is another bedroom in the basement. The first impression you may have when I mention putting in a second laundry is that this is a luxury and it would cost too much money that many folks might not want to spend. Doesn’t this sound exactly like what the folks in 1960 would have said about having a 3 car garage?
We are NOT talking about having a full-fledged laundry “room” in 2 locations, at least not yet. The new Generation “Y” buyer will start by putting a simple closet right in the shared secondary bathroom or in a small closet located between the bedrooms, just off the hall. The cost of a small apartment sized stack washer/dryer is not expensive, and running a few more plumbing items directly next to the bathroom, is not expensive either. Think of how convenient it would be for those in the secondary bedrooms to just plunk their dirty clothes directly into the machine each time they go to the bathroom . The alternative is to plunk the dirty clothes into a hamper, then lug it across the home. Which is easier? Which makes more logical living sense? In the morning, the ease of grabbing something out of the dryer would be wonderful. And, what about the shorter traffic path of only going a few feet from a laundry to get to the dresser and closets for putting the clothes away?
You may be saying “What is this world coming too? Are kids getting lazier that they can’t take all their clothes across the home to the main laundry?” I might say, “Are we all getting so lazy that we can’t walk up a flight of stairs to use a bathroom? Are we not healthy enough to put on a coat and walk outside to the garage? Are we all so lazy that we can’t spend a few quality moments doing the dishes, or scrubbing our dirty clothes on rocks? (O.K. that last example crossed the line..a bit). Do we really need a machine to wash our dishes for us? This, of course sounds silly today, but I bet you this would have been the common response to the suggestion of these new “wild ideas” , back in those days.
Today, I am designing more and more bathrooms that are shared exclusively by 2 bedrooms. This is called the ‘Jack And Jill” bathroom arrangement. 5 years ago, THAT would have been a “wild idea”. I can imagine taking that same shared bath idea and putting a laundry attached either IN it or directly NEXT to it. I , for one , can tell you that I am designing my newest series of homes to have this as an a pre-designed option, not an afterthought. By moving 1 wall, the laundry can be put right between the 2 master closets, or into the back hall area.
A home designers main goal should be, first and foremost, to design homes that meet their client’s requests. Their second biggest goal should be to pioneer new innovative ideas to make lives easier for those living in their homes. In the last 3 years, I have designed and built at least 6 homes that had 2 laundry areas. They are 2 story homes that have a first floor master with a small stack unit near the master bedroom and also have a bigger laundry “room” upstairs. It just seems to be an easy-sell to the right clientele. If someone does not want this, my standard arrangement would have a closet near the master bedroom main door, just into the hall. If they do ever want to do the stackable, the space is alraedy there for it.
I have enough new “wild ideas” to write a few more blogs on laundry rooms but this is enough for now. In my next blog, let’s shift gears and talk about an idea for the master bedroom that I am sure will resonate for A WHOLE LOT of people. When you hear it, you may think it too is a frivolous luxury or you may say, “Wow, why has no one ever done THIS before!?”
Stop out and see me tomorrow if you want to see some neat “before the decorating” drywall ideas and the early concept of the new “Hybrid Ranch” concept.
February 22nd, 2010
As Kermit the Frog is quoted “It’s NOT easy being green”, I want to take Kermit’s spin and pull it into a reversal. For the 17 years I have been building (thousands) of homes, I have had a passion for building safe, environmentally – conscious homes, when the word “green” was only a name of a color! I have an old brochure where I was passionately tyring to convince home buyers that they needed to be conscious of using materials that may cause mold in homes. It was like beating my head against a wall in trying to get the Milwaukee media to take these “green” issues seriously. Today, I doubt there are too many things that are being offered that I have not researched or built in this realm and I say to those of you who are serious about “green”, be CAREFUL, very careful.
Every builder today is trying to jump on board this green-painted bandwagon and many of them, to my way of thinking, are using green to their advantage. Their motivation seems honorable , but it is probably not to save the environment or NOT to save you energy dollars, even though it may seem so. Just like the snake-oil salesmen of the old West era, they are finding one key item that the public seems to care about, and are exploiting the public’s perceived need, into a greener (every green article is required to use the green=Green money pun at least once in each article, here-gos ) bank account for that builder.
No where did I see this dynamic taking place more than at the last (August 2009) Parade Of Homes. I had not seen this mis-use of information happen since the recent Waukesha “Trend House” was built and promoted as the next “big coming” of the future of green. In the advertising business, the mis-use or exaggerating of information is known as ‘puffery”. That is to say, that real facts are used and then blown up to huge , over-the-top proportions. The theory is that if the public has a worry about a certain ailment, the Doctor who has the best(or most ) ”cure(s)”, makes the most money. Those who are the sickest, (or “think” they are the sickest), will pay the most amount of money for the cure. And the smartest Doctors of these naive consumers, always has the most number of cures and pills to sell. In the interest of saving space and words, and at the potential cost of making my life a little tougher at the Metropolitan Builder’s Association meetings, I want to lay a few things on the table that you likely will not hear from most any other area Home Builder.
First, green is not all that we are making it out to be. Sure, it is important, but that being said , there are so many other building items that are much MORE important. let me say that most every builder in the area can , and does , have the ability to offer the exact same gadgets and gizmos as the most super “self-proclaimed” greenest builder. We all use pretty much the very same subcontractors to install these very same green items. I am talking about items like hi-tech insulation, windows, solar power, water heaters, Geo-thermal, recycling, non-off-gassing products, and the like . This blog today is NOT to tell you details about any one particular green item, (I will save those for future blogs) , it is to explain what, to my way of thinking, is the unsavory way some builder’s are using this legitimate concern of others to turn a quick, bigger dollar , or get folks to build with them rather than “take a chance” with another less green builder.
These builder’s are often the same builders who often have little else to offer, so they micro-focus on advertising “cleaner, safer, or healthier, homes. Check their record. Many of these builders have been in business less than 5 years. 5 years is the magic number for builders since most builders who are going to fail at this high risk trade, fail in the first 5 to 7 years. I found this out when I used to have a good number of interested home buyers choose not to use me in my first 5 years in business. I could not argue that they wanted to just make sure that their builder was going to be around for the long-haul. Sure, I had been around for years in the building industry , working for other’s, but that was not the same as actually being the boss of my own business. Knowing HOW to build and knowing HOW to operate a home building business were two very differnt things and not everyone was (or is) willing to chance their biggest investment to a good but short track record. But , this is a side-bar.
A few months ago, I attended yet another of the many annual Builder Association green seminars they hold to teach the builders how to be the best at the leading edge of green. I know what to look for and what sounds good to many but is not practical or really saves money. To me, one prime example is Solar power. Solar, , while it sounds good and is definitely green, no one has yet to be able to show me a formula that works. At the end of the seminar, there was a portion for audience questions. I did not want to cause a scene, so i came up to the speaker afterwards to pose my questions. He literally, had no answer to my querry. Another builder was listening on and was thinking the same question as to making the math work. It did not.
At the Parade Of Homes (2009) we had an “all-green” Parade. We all were Energy Star and Green certified for every home. As my headline on this article says, IT’S SO EASY TO BE GREEN“. We did not have to go far to get our certifications. One big news item for the Parade was the two homes that had some form of solar power. One used the solar to heat the water and one had a whole roof and solar tracker (a unit that looks like some Army field Radar screen that is computerized to track(follow) the sun to capture the maximum power of the sun. ) I deeply respect the builder of this home and what they were trying to do to try to make solar just one step closer to being cost effective and to becoming a real part of our lives in the future. They had a difficult time getting the home to appraise out because the appraisers will only put a small fraction of added value to their numbers for solar. There is however a HUGE differnce in this statement of praise to the builder, and in actually believing that having solar power today is an idea that it’s time has come. It has not. Even the builder’s own handout at the Parade showed that unless you calculated the gas savings of using an electric car into the energy usage of the home (really, imagine including your gas costs into your home operation cost . Does this make sense to anyone?) AND, unless you used a figure to calculate how much energy costs would go up each year (hey did anyone notice that natural gas came DOWN last year?), The figures just do not work . At least they do not work TODAY, the solar panel suppliers will even tell you this much, but not the builders. The problem with solar is that when the cost equation eventually does work, the tens of thousands it will now cost to put an electronic football field on your roof, will make todays technology in solar panels absolutely obsolete!
Ask Yourself This.
Would you really want to be the guy who thought those Sony 42 inch flat panel televisions were so neat that they were worth the $10,000 that Flanner’s, or American had posted on their 2003 display models? The era of those flat panels were not really here just yet. Today, those televisions are bigger, much better, thinner, and cost WAY less. I doubt you could get close to $1,000 for that $10,000 television on Craig’s list. Anyone want to buy an 7 year old television for 10 tiimes as much? Anyone who is looking at solar power today is truly looking at the very same dynamic . I am here to tell you that putting this technology on a 30 year mortgage is verging on foolish. As for myself, even if someone were were to literally “give” you solar power with a home, in 4 or 5 or 7 years when you go to sell that home, that roof- full of unsightly techno-panels will be about as attractive to re-sale as having a front projection three-tube tlevison , Beta video recorder, or cassette recorder. The technology in solar panels is advancing so fast that , just like those flat panel , better, bigger, cheaper flat televisions of today, the time WILL be right to go solar. Just not today, or probably not tomorrow either.
As for another recent real- life example, listen to this. I have a solar panel house located right next door to a spec home we are building in Milwaukee. This home has a big sign in the front yard saying “solar powered“. It is just under 2,200 square feet in size. It has been for sale for many months before we even broke ground on our smaller 2024 square foot home , located immediately next door . My home has a 3 car garage, theirs has only a 2 car garage. Both have 4 bedrooms but theirs has a nice big upstairs loft that mine does not. My home was priced at $269,000. Their’s was over $275,000(as I recall) ,when it was first listed(remember, before we broke ground). After we broke ground, it had been reduced to $249,000. It has been at this low price for several months. Ours sold a few weeks ago (we were still in the drywall stage) for close to our asking price, and we had several interested parties at the time. Each had said of the neighboring solar home, they were scarred of the technology being “dated” by the time they would sell this home. I did have a few shoppers who thought this might be a good idea but would rather it had nicer cabinets or counter tops instead of the solar technology.
The bigger point is that when the market finally does see solar makes mathematical and re-sale sense, solar power will already be mainstream. For those who wish to be on the front edge of this technology, our heating/cooling vendor are the same folks who did that neighboring home, and the Parade solar models as well. The little secret is that even those who provide and install the productsto the builders have whispered that the technology, if strictly on a pay-back basis, is not the reason to use solar powered water heating or whole-house solar. For those who want to do good for the World’s resources , we will gladly install them, and give them our thanks. The difference is that you should be buying solar or any green product knowing the whole story and not just the wishful ones.
Judging by my word count, I have now posted my longest blog yet. I have so much more to say on the subject of being sold green for the sake of green. I told you in my ending to my last blog that I would do a story on a “wild idea” for the master bedroom. I will try to breifly wrap this up and start that segment in my next blog. My apologies for going all green on you. I will summarize what I do feel are the real green items to look for next time we meet.
Thanks to those who came to visit me yesterday at our “secret blogger’s” day at my Milwaukee model. We will have to do that again some time soon. I had fun, and hopefully, so did you.
February 24th, 2010
In my previous blog posting, I started onto the subject of what I see as some builders who seem to use selling “Green” building methods and/or products much like the Snake Oil traveling salesperson from the old West. They play on the general public’s Green and Energy Star appetite, putting all else aside. I mentioned how I have attended many of the same expert energy seminars as they have, I read the same trade journals and go to the same energy product shows they go to. I have come away finding the subject of being Green or using earth-friendly products chiefly being used as a marketing ploy.
I hate to be the one to tell the “emperor that he has no clothes “, but no expert has yet to show me the math that makes Solar Panel electricity generation, or solar water heaters, or Krypton gas filled windows pay for themselves in any resonable near future after installation.
I am not saying that these builder’s are purposely deceiving you, I AM saying that these builders like the idea of going hi-tech so much, they are blinded by the realities. They really believe the stuff they are talking about with all of their heart. Any product will pay for itself if you plan to live in a home for decades. Since most people live in their homes for shorter periods of time than this, the real question is whether the item you are looking for will pay for itself in say, 5 to 7 years. So, what green or energy star items do work, or are worht the investment?
The best thing you could do to build the greenest home would be to build the smallest home. Even the suggestion of mentioning that a family of 3 may want to consider building a 1,500 square foot home instead of 2,000 , turns a lot of home buyer’s off. I usually keep my mouth closed. If they really were concerned about saving our Earth’s resources, the best place to start is by simply using LESS of these resources to start with. Sadly, there is no award for green given for figuring out how to build smaller, more livable, more efficient homes. Besides saving raw materials, it takes less fuel to heat a small house over a larger one. It takes less cleaning products to clean a smaller house, less lights to light the home, and so forth.
The second best thing you can do to be “truely green” is to use natural light to light the home wherever possible, yet limit the windows to the least number possible. Again, most people want a lot of windows, so watch my words on this as well. Did you know that while most home owners are trying to get an R21 (the higher the R factor, the better the insulation value) or higher for their walls, they are getting only an R3 or R3.5 window glass. While this may sound like something in need of improving, an R3.5 in a window is not reason to panic or upgrade. You could spend three times as much as these normal windows to get an R5 or R7, or even an R11 window, but the costs to get this are going to take just too long for most people to ever see the savings come back in energy savings. I have seen well meaning , studious home buyers get caught-up in getting the highest R-factors just for R-factor sake. It becomes a contest to see who can spend the least each month on their energy bills. These savings may surely make them feel good each month, but I could just as easily show you how saving your money and putting that savings into a bank would pay you more than those energy savings, IF you just want to feel good each month.
The reality of these high R-value windows are that those R11 or R7 windows are only rated that if the window is non-opening , stationary. When you have the same windows built as ones that do open, they drop the R-values dramatically to about R7 and R5 respectively. The upgrade cost for these high R-value windows may be $4,000 to $9,000 . IF those windows saved you an extra $40 or even $50 a month ,(unlikely they will) those $4,000 window upgrades would take you over 8 years to pay for the windows! If the energy savings on these $4,000 upgrade windows were only $30 a month, that’s almost 10 years.
The first thing to tackle in saving energy is the wall and ceiling insulation. Investing this same kind of money in this area by putting in foam wall insulation and R55 ceiling insulation (instead of R38 common ceiling insulation) will pay back your savings in about 3 or 4 years. That, is a reasonable return time for most.
Spend your money in sealing the home properly. I use Tyvek-type house wraps and they work fine, but if you want to do a better job of keeping your little flaws in wind-driven temperatures, tape all the seams of the exterior wall foam with the right tape.
I used to get into debates over wall construction with builder’s and shoppers alike. My position today is that we will build whatever kind of wall you want. 2 by 4, 2 by 6, gosh I will even build 2 by 12 walls if that what makes you happy. Most wall systems work. Some work better than others for different applications. If you want a stronger wall, use the 2 by 6 method and put plywood or strand board on the exterior. The big issue here is that such a wall is quite poor for insulation value. Sure you can stuff the 2 by 6 cavity with an R21 insulation but the cold will come in the home fairly quick though each wall stud. Remember, you have solid wood(no insulation) over most all of your windows(called headers). You also have 2 or 3 adjoined studs next to each other for window supports or wall corners. The state of Wisconsin says that a general figure for these wood areas is that 25% of today’s homes walls are non-insulated wall stud areas. Since wood has about R1 per inch, those half inch thich plywood walls and those 5 and a half inch thick studs 2 by 6 studs are only givng that wall an R6 over every window and each stud edges. OVER 25% OF YOUR HOME WOULD BE ONLY R6.
The solution is to use foam 4 by 8 sheets over the wall exteriors. The Foam costs more than the wood, BUT it is MUCH better (1 inch of polyurethane foam has about R7 when you add that to the 2 by 6 wall stud areas) in providing a superior insulated wall. With the R3.5 foam sheets instead of wood sheets, you are now getting an R12.5 over 25% of the home. That sure beats the R6!
Again, if you were really concerned about being green and saving the earth’s resources, I might suggest that you would not build with 2 by 6′s at all. You could choose 2 by 4′s instead and save a few trees. I prefer 2 by 4 wall construction because in my own home, I would spray the walls with interior expansion foam . My 2 by 4 wall could then achieve a stellar R27 or R28 rating. I would use an inch and a half thick foam on the outside walls and hardie plank(cement sideing) over it for strength.
Another big item that is surely not as “flashy” (or expensive) as Solar or Wind power, is making sure that all of your siding nails are nailed only into the wood studs and not nailed into open wall cavities. This is another reason why I am not personally (Remember,my job is to build to my client’s desires, not my own) fond of using wood sheets on wall exteriors. When you use plywood or particle board for exterior walls, EVEN WHEN YOU ARE COVERING THAT PLYWOOD WITH A SECOND LAYER OF FOAM SHEETS, it is very hard for the siding installer to know When he/she is nailing into the stud(as it should be) or nailing into the just the plywood/particle board. The goal is that when your siding is done, and before you insulate, you should not see ANY nail shanks poking into the areas that will be getting the wall insulation. IF you are going to fill those cavities with expansion foam ( by the way, we have had this wall foam standard for about 5 years in our standard series homes) , protruding nails are not a problem. If you are using most any other kind of insulation, these nails will attract the cold exterior temperatures directly into the relatively warm wall insulation areas and can be the start of moisture condensation and the (dreaded) mold.
As you may now know, I could write for many chapters on energy efficiency in home building and by now, most people who are caught in one of my model home lectures are having their eyes “glaze-over”.
I will pick up next ime with more good practical ideas in going Green. I may even finally get to the Master bedroom “wild idea” next time. Thanks for blogging my way. I enjoy reading any comments you may have.
February 26th, 2010
It has indeed been another busy day here at Miracle. Last night I was up until 4 am drafting plans for both clients and our 2 (yes..2) new , totally NEW, model homes. This afternoon, we added yet another excited client to our happy Miracle “family“. This evening, one of our folks helped another great couple (seems I just met them a few weeks ago) put their offer together on a nice lot in Menomonee Falls. If all goes well with their offer, we may sign and start the permit process next week!
Before I get to my third and last (and last,for now) few words on the subject of building “Green”, I wanted to mention some news that the media has been highlighting heavily for the last 2 days. The new home sales numbers for America , for January were released yesterday and the number of new home sales across the country is the lowest January number in the LAST 50 YEARS! Worse yet, that means the last 3 months in a row have all shown declines. The seminars I attended at the International Home Show in Vegas a month ago had experts predicting this years sales would be UP 25% over last year’s sales and (looking to 2011) next year sales would go up 50% over this year. That was very good news indeed for my ears and America’s ears as well.
I can tell you that according to my bank sources, while a few builders are showing acceptable sales, most are simply , as one put it, ” still dead in the water”. I can truly thank God that somehow , we have had the strongest February since the good times of 2005! Go figure. I could say it may be because of our heavy advertising during the recent January Expo. I’m sure this helped BUT, a big part of our success in sales I think goes to the relatively new product designs we have developed in our Dream Series. Our “Rent Busters” , with $199,000 lot and 4 bedroom new home packages ( you get to choose your own lot about anywhere you want to build for $60,000) has been a red hot value and the homes DO NOT LOOK INEXPENSIVE, but rather quite “cool” and high end. If you want to see a prime example , c’mon out to see our Dream 2000In Milwaukee, near Menomonee Falls by 91st and Good Hope. That home is nearing completion and we are keeping it open only a few more weeks until the new owner’s move in. Trust me,….REALLY cool andit has a finished basement with wet bar. Open this weekend 1 to 4 in Oak Hills subdivision.
Back to “Green”, as I have been explaining in my last 3 blog postings, I think green is great but so much of it is being used to hype home sales using people’s excitement about the “save the Earth” , Energy Star-type movement. I am here to say, beware! Not everything that seems to be a good/green idea, is cracked-up to be what you thought it was.
Take for example, how easy it is to get a “green certification on a home today. The builder must fill out a worksheet where points are accumulated by checking-off what green items or practices you have used in building the home. You do not have to do all of the items to get your home certified as being green. You just need to get a certain number of points. Did you use re-cycling with respect to your dumpsters? Did you use at least one re-cycled product in the home? Did you use Formaldehyde-free insulating products? Did you use I-joist supports in your floor instead of solid wood timbers?
Let’s take 2 of these items I just mentioned and apply them to reality. One builder who builds in some subdivisions that we build in, uses the re-cycled dumpster idea. Instead of having a dumpster company drop-off a huge metal dumpster with tall walls, these re-cycling folks use a smaller, lower, open- topped, plastic cylinder trash “can” on steroids. These dumpsters are bigger than a trash can but so small (compared to a dumpster) that I commonly see them over-filled and trash is usually piled next to the receptacle. The builder is able to get his green certification points because these dumpster folks separate various materials when they come to the site to pick-up the trash. They essentially, hand empty and sort the trash. This sounds good and green. We used this service for two prolonged periods in the pat 8 years. Both times, we discontinued using this service because we felt the reality was not matching up to the perception. The point was that the debris that were put into this small open dumpster ( all of these I have seen are usually cracked and in terrible shape for holding anything much at all.) quite often is left stacked in the open air. At the slightest wind, small trash debris go drifting near and far. When the guys come to empty and separate the trash, they do not seek out the wind blown rubbish. The work men throw their fast food bags and cups into the general direction of the open dumpster and it too, blows far and wide. I am convinced that I am hurting the environment less by having a container that actually holds the trash than just throwing things next to a small container. The re-cycling trash company said they had improved the process, so we tried them a second time. The results were the same. I think of myself as being a pretty “green” conscious person and I just could not get myself to knowingly allow trash to be thrown next to dumpsters and blown into the enviornment just so I could put a check on a green certification sheet. Does this kind of “greeness” make sense to anyone?
If you went to the Parade Of Homes , for the last several years, it is hard to find any builder who still uses solid , dimensional, ”real” , old-fashioned lumber for floor supports. Lumber companies have been pushingthe floor supports that are manufactured out of re-cycled wood chips and wafers. You may know these “I” shaped 2 by 10 , or 2 by 12 engineered wood products by a common manufacturing name of “Silent Floor”. One of their main attributes is that they are made very uniform and do not usually change shpeas much as solid wood, due to humidity, or temperature, or aging. This could mean les floor squeaks. I can show you, however, that that claim is not true in practice. The cost is just a little more than using a common grade Spruce, Pine, or Fir solid wood 2 by 10. I-Joists can span (support) longer distances than many common grade solid woods.
This all sounds good AND I get to have more green certification points when I use them. So…, what is the “problem”? For years, one of our main concepts was that Miracle was trying to use better quality products than commonly seen in builder homes. We wanted to provide a more “custom” level of products for no extra cost. We did this in everything from using higher wind-rated roof shingles, more steel in our basement walls, quieter bath fans, 8 Lb. carpet pad instead of 6 Lb. , copper water pipes instead of plastic , AND we used Douglas Fir solid wood floor joists instead of those 2 by 10 common species of wood, or particle I-Joists. The lumber yards would actually have to order and stock it just for us since no one else used this expensive upgrade. Because it was not common Fir , but Douglas Fir, it had a very long grain and thereforewas harder and a stifferwood. We specified it to be double kiln-dried so it was not prone to such shrinkage or changing of shape. The house was as solid as a battleship under foot. Every time that a vendor tried to convince me to use the particle I-Joists to save a buck since “everyone else is doing it” I relentlessly resisted the temptation. Quality usually wins-out in the end, I still believe.
When we developed our Dream Series of homes, I finally relented and agreed to use the Particle I-Joists. I used to occasionally have someone ask what type of floor supports we used and they were usually glad to her my story of quality Douglas Fir 2 by 12′s. It turns out that the big “problem” with the I-Joists is that in a fire, they burn….rapidly! Kent Wainscot of Milwaukee ABC affiliate channel 12 had 2 extensive investigative reports on their news program that showed fire fighters trying to get this product banned for home construction. They showed how in a mere 15 minutes, these I-Joists were resulting in collapsing homes. The solid lumber took several hours and allowed the firefighters to have less risk in putting the fire out. The I-Joist’s rapid rate of burn collapse makes it entirely possible that by the time a fire is realized and sleeping families awake, the floor is already collapsing. My sales people tell me that, even today, they have model home visitors who ask what the floor construction is while they are first entering the model’s foyer. Inevitably, these visitors are either fire fighters or know of this publicity. You may ask, why we are therefore offering this product on our Dream series. I ask you to remember, we are building our cleint’s choices, not our own desires. All I can say is that many buyers apparently do not think this fire issue is either real or will be a problem for them in the future. It could be improved by simply putting a few more fire detectors in the basement to give an earlier alert to any basement fires.
We are currently givng “free” upgrades to our homes floor joists that substitute solid lumber for these I-Joist floor supports. The down side is that , once again, I will not be able to use this to get points on my green certification sheets. I can livewith those missing points. The bigger point here is that I could go on and on about other work a green items that either don’t work as well as traditional items OR simply are NOT truly green in practice.
I want to quickly bring up the subject of a “Wild idea” I have been working on for Master Bedrooms. I have been “teasing” this new subject but wanted to respond to a request and touch on the subject of “green”. I don’t commonly promise anything unless I can deliver but, I PROMISE, my next blog will start with an unusual problem in the Master suite.
February 27th, 2010
I got a little wrapped-up in the Green subject for the last 3 blogs, but I am now ready to return to the dreaming and imagining side of things that are fun to ponder.
Several weeks ago, one of my sales staff came to me and asked essentially, “Have you ever thought about designing a master bedroom that overcomes the problem of a loudly snoring spouse?”
I had one of those bright lights go on over my head as I suddenly realized that this problem is one that has been around for centuries and it seems everyone has either had this situation or knows someone who has it. I always say that great home designers should be aiming at solving everyday human challenges through better design. Once I heard the problem brought to my attention, it just seemed so obvious that IF this could be solved through some unique new room or materials design, I wanted to be the first to find the solution.
The more I thought about it, I see it as more of a separation based idea. That is to say, there are times when even the most loving of relationships, need to , or WANT to have some sleeping privacy. I know that when my wife Jacquie can’t sleep, she turns on her bedside reading light . To help mask the light from waking me, (it still does, but I keep quiet about it) Jacquie puts a pillow between my head and the headboard so as to be a mini pillow wall. I also know that no matter how bright the light may ever get from her reading, I don’t want to get to the point where we sleep in separate rooms. At times, Jacquie goes to bed first and I stay up to do design work. Jacquie often calls me to bed and wants me to do my design work in bed so she can sleep better. I guess having your spouse next to you has been seen as a comforting thing, mentally.
I may wake up in the middle of the night and decide to turn on the television at our foot of the bed. The light and noise I know must bother Jacquie to some extent but she does not complain.
I stay up late, so I usually wake up later than Jacquie. She usually gets up very early, so she tries to not wake me by turning on the lights in the bed area. It would be nice to have that bit of privacy to allow her to do “her things“, while I do my bedime “things“. I remember my grandparents built a new luxury home in the early 70′s, and they built separate bedrooms with a bathroom between the rooms. This struck me as odd and I hoped when I got married, I would not get to the point where my wife and I had separate bedrooms. My Grandpa snored.
As with most of lives little delemmas, such as needing more space for groceries, then creating the huge walk-in pantry, like wanting a porch where you could sit on it without bugs, then creating the hide-away , roll screens, like wanting to paint a front door less, and creating the fiberglass door, I know solutions can be found to about anything. This one was/is tougher than most becuase it is taking two people who are relaxing together and separating them into privacy WITHOUT moving one into a separate room . As with any creative problem solving technique, after the main problem is identified, I move to brainstorming. I throw out everything that is trapping me into conventional “boxes” and norms and try to re-think the whole thing as if I was the first person to ever design a bedroom. What would this bedroom have to look like IF I were to have one double bed that needed to instantly have a “wall” put through the middle of the bed to create two separated beds in two different rooms.
Let’s explore the possibilities. What if, for example, we could make a remote controled bed, that , as soon as one semi-asleep spouse was awoken by a snoring spouse, a” magic button” could be pushed on the headboard. The bed would then deparate on wheels and motor itself into another near-by attached room and the door would then close automatically? This is an example of a “blue-sky” idea that puts many realities aside for the moment and just takes wild ideas to see if those ideas will either work, can be refined, or will lead to another idea. If this idea can not lead to any of that, the idea is dismissed and at least we now know that this one path is a dead end.
Let’s look at the problems with this solution as well as the possibilities found in this solution.
* The idea of finding an existing electronic gizmo/device to motorize the bed, is not commonly available. If it was, it would not be inexpensive.
* If we could make the bed be motorized, WHERE would it travel too? Building an extra bedroom off of the master bedroom is in fact not solving the issues of keeping the spouses together.
* The cost of building extra square footage onto a home is the opposite direction of where housing needs to go to economize construction costs and home size.
* This idea DOES do one important thing that is desirable. When one spouse is semi-sleeping and is awoken by snoring, if the annoyed spouse is forced to wake up and phisically move to another room, this can awake the “moving” spouse. The best solution would be one where neither spouse needs to become fully awoken or needs to get up. This solution requires neither spouse to get out of bed to solve the problem. Technology has solved the problem for them through good design, and technical innovations.
The next step is to therefore imagine NOT needing a separate room to move the bed into. This means not needing to make the bed separate and travel away. What other directions could we make the bed move into in order to separate it and not make the room much bigger?
We could use existing elevator technology and when a spouse wants to get away from the snorer and not move or awaken themselves fully, they could push a button and the bed could move up into a loft area in the attic , or lowered into the basement.
Either elevating up or down is simply too expensive and potentially dangerous if the semi-sleeping spouse were to awake while being elevated. So, moving the bed up or down is likely a viable technical solution, but not safe or practical. This solution does however, not require adding too much extra space, so this solution , while not the answer, is at least closer than the automated traveling bed solution.
Continuing to think of all the ways a bed could move and not take up too much extra space, it occurred to me that the bed could pivot apart. Essentially, one bed could hinge away from the other and a wall of some sort could drop from the ceiling or come up out of the floor.
This idea now ignites another concept. What if the bed were NOT to move at all, but rather the bed(s) were 2 twin beds which at first glance, looked like a huge king-sized bed. There would only need to be about 2 or 3 inches of separation between them for a panel, or wall to drop from the cieling and separate the one big bed, into 2 separated beds.
IF a wall or panel was to drop out of the ceiling, this could maybe be done using some existing type of garage door technology. The effect however again, could be dangerous to semi-awake spouses who may roll into the path of the dropping panel. If the panel were to arise out of the floor, the same situation of danger (not to mention the contraption getting in the way of the bed blankets) would be present. Neither a rising or dropping panel seems to be the answer. Besides , this is still just to weird of a solution. It needs to be simpler and more conventional in appearance.
This idea does not seem to work, but it does stimulate another off-shoot concept that hold s more merit. What if , instead of dropping or popping-up, the separation device slides across the room like a curtain on a track. HEY, why not just have a curtain on a track?
* The curtain might be too odd looking, like out of a hospital.
* The curtain would work inasmuch as being inexpensive and uses easy technology. It could be motorized like a movie curtain, so it would not require the semi-asleep spouse to do too uch awakening to accomplish the goal.
* The big problem is that this curtain idea is probably not going to provide the kind of sound-proofing we are looking for. I t would however be a good device to block-away reading or television lights.
The next step is the big breakthrough! A solution simpler , more discrete, and easier to use than all these rest of the ideas that preceded it. It would also cost less to construct and separate the noise and light. What is it? Just like Howie Mandell on “Deal or No Deal“, I will tell you about it after our next “break”. I want you to think what the solution could be and join me next time here on the blog for the innovative new solution that could be the next big thing in master bedroom design.
Creating home ideas is fun. If you want to get a peek at our new Hybrid Ranch” creation,(read about it in my first blog entires) my sales staff now has preliminary art for the home and would be happy to show it to you this weekend at either our main site in Monterey, or our homes in Jackson(on Sherman rd in Sherman Parc subdivision) , or Milwaukee (91st and Good Hope). We are open this weekend from 1 to 4.
On another big creative item of this past week, I am pleased to say we found a way to bend laminate floors into an arch design edge. The installers say they have never seen it done before and with a little (or a lot) of prodding, after they broke a few pieces of flooring trying it, IT GOT DONE! C’mon out to see what I am talking about this weekend in Jackson. We have a really neat sneak previewing of this client-owned- home , that is nearing completion. This home also has the first exposed chimney pipe I have seen in any conventional fireplace ranch home. The pipe comes out of the Mantle top and goes all the way , 12 feet high, through a plant shelf, to the ceiling! This is just so cool looking and , the fire place installers say they have only seen this done before on pot-belly stoves.
Get your creative juices flowing and come to see us this weekend.
Thanks for joining me. I will solve the snoring problem next time.
March 2nd, 2010
If you have not read the previous blog posting on this subject, you might want to first read that so this posting can be put more in context. In brief, I am talking about the creative process that you might go through to solve an architectural dilemma. In this case, the challenge is to try to see if employing some new, untried idea could create a bedroom that could be easily separated into two private sleeping areas, with VERY little effort, so as to allow sleep to continue even after one spouse starts snoring, or reading with the lights on, or watching television.
I explored the various ways that a bed may be automated to move apart and allow privacy. I explored several ways to potentially have walls or curtains come down and separate the bed so that one spouse has peace and quiet while the other “carries-on” his or her “business”.
Remember, this is, so far, just a mental exercise and one that is now far enough along to try and design and build a room to accommodate this new methodology. The only practical way I have imagined to do the separation of beds (recall that we are starting with 2, twin/single beds, that are positioned with just about 2 or 3 inches between them) is to have (about) an 8 foot sound insulated, lightweight, (for lack of a better word) “door” which would slide out of the headboard wall and separate the two beds. To make this happen and not look like some awkward contraption is a big part of this puzzle. If the room looks odd when the privacy door is not being used, the design would not succeed. The room MUST look somewhat normal when the doors are not being used.
To start, that means you must first have a home design that has a logical, usable wall that would accept the 8 foot door to be pushed inside of it. This is really just a very wide traditional pocket (sliding) door. Making the ceiling track for the door, and the wall “pocket” edge where the door’s edge will be seen when not being used, is tricky. I want to mask these, so folks don’t see an unusual ceiling track and a door’s edge on the headboard wall. I put on my designer’s hat and found a nice way to design a semi-traditional wood (built-in) headboard and a simple wood beamed ceiling that would hide the track enough so that a visitor’s eyes would not see anything unusual unless they were looking for it.
In use, lets say, your spouse is reading with his/her bedside light turned on. This light can now be easily blocked by just reaching over your head and sliding the 8 foot pocket door partially out , say 3 to 4 feet. This is just enough to block the light. When the reading spouse finally does turn-off the reading light, he/she could just slide the door back into the wall, with little ffort. Moving the door panel , with little efort is the key.
Now let’s say, one spouse starts snoring loudly. The awoken spouse could now pull the door all the way to the foot of the bed. But wait, the 8 foot door panel does not entirely go across , and separate the entire 12 foot wide room. If only closing-off 2/3rds of the room does enough to muffle the sound to a tolerable volume, great. If the snoring is still just too loud, the awoken spouse may choose to get up and slide another (that’s a second door for those who are counting) 4 foot hidden pocket door form the foot side wall of the bedroom to meet up to the edge of the 8 foot sliding door panel. This now effectively, separates the entire room in half. If one spouse awakes and wants to get to the other side of the bedroom, they can just use the 4 foot panel sliding door as you would any other sliding door.
As for the times when one spouse wants to watch television and the other is sleeping, the solution would be to have a pivoting television bracket which would be mounted on one side of the doorway separation line. and could be pivoted to be on the other side of the sliding door track. If you like, another solution would be to simply have 2 televisions, one on each side of the sliding door track line. This means each spouse could theoretically watch different programs at the same time and not interfere with the other programs if the doors were slided closed.
If you have any other ideas about creating your perfect solution for the split master bedroom privacy method, please let me know.
I was out late tonight discussing a potential new home project with yet another nice couple who wants to build a Miracle Dream 2500 in Milwaukee. Before our dinner meeting, we met at a most gracious couple’s home who had built with us about 2 years ago. It was just a lovely evening altogether and I hope the road leads to us being able to satisfy this client’s housing needs.
Join me next time for more WILD ideas in creative home design where we delve into the concept of fun and water, and I tell you what is the new “hot” color for 2010? Any guesses?
It is always nice to hear your comments. Until next time….
March 3rd, 2010
Why is it that everyone who I meet that wants a Ranch design, never really seems to notice (or care) that the ordinary ranch has 2 to 3 steps to climb before folks can enter the home? I thought the main reason why folks want a ranch is to GET AWAY from the steps?
I have been designing homes for over 20 years and my very first homes always had extra-wide, full 3 foot widths. Today, I hear a lot more folks who heard on HGTV about making homes easier to “live in place” by having 3 foot wide doors. Folks think that these doors will make it easier in case anyone ever needs a wheelchair in the home. These same folks never seem to care about making the home bigger in key areas (such as the bathrooms or hallways) so these areas too would fit the wheelchairs. I can only guess that these wheelchair live-ins will not need to use the bathroom or ever go down a hall and decide to turn around and come back. That never got covered on HGTV apparently.
Why do folks seem to be asking for staircases to be a foot (4 feet instead of 3 feet)or more, wider just in case they ever need to have a chairlift, AND THEN also want these stairs to be curved or change directions half-way up the stairs? Odd shaped stairs can look cool, but don’t work easily with chairlifts.
Why do people want walk-in showers in case they can not step over a tub when they get older, yet never seem to worry too much about the 6 inch ledge most showers have in the front? This front edge is not easy for older folks to step over and obviously does not work for a wheelchair. It is a tripping hazzard too.
Why do folks seem to have no problem spending $20,000 or $30,000 more(more than the same size two story home, that is) for a ranch home to avoid stairs but would never even think of spending $20,000 for an elevator in a two story? When you buy the ranch for that $20,000 more, you are still buying a 2 stories and a staircase (in this geographical area, that is called a basement). Therefore, in any ranch, you must still live with stairs (even if it is only to put your storage items or get to the circuit breaker panel, or check the sump pump, or get to the rec-room). If you had picked the 2 story with elevator, you now have totally gotten past the stairs issue entirely!
I am thinking tonight about a visit I had with my Father in the local hospital earlier tonight. He broke his hip a week ago and I was telling him how his aging has helped me to design better, more livable homes. I was telling him how when he came to visit a model home of mine many years ago, his simple comment that their was no where to sit in or near the foyer, caused me to change my thought process on foyers. Today, I always try to find space in every foyer to fit either a built-in sitting area(see my Lake Bay design for a cute triangular foyer place to take off your boots), or a simple space for a chair or bench.
My Father and mother have taught me so much about home design simply by them making some simple comment or by my seeing how they act when they visit one of my model homes. My Mom’s knees are no longer working like they used too. My Dad had a Kidney transplant years ago and his leg muscles cause him to always be searching for places to sit and rest. When I plan my landscaping, I try to always have decent night lighting and a benches at logical points between the parking area on the driveway and the front door. I also like to have a spot to sit at the front door in case my Mom or Dad needs to wait for someone to answer the door. I think of this all as common courtesy design.
This means lever-style door knobs instead of round knobs because they are easier to use. This means, taller elongated toilets instead of the common ones because they are more comfortable for every age. This even means something as simple as designing the bathroom walls so reaching the toilet paper holder is easier for reaching, without straining.
Her’s one last one for now. Why is it that when folks see that most all of my great rooms have a spare closet, they ask, what would you use that for? Don’t we all have board games, greeting cards, gift wrap, photo albums, old magazines, crafts and such that have use in a great room but no real place to be stored in most great rooms?
I could (and will in the future blogs) go on and on about things that just seem to make sense , yet few seem to either care or think about. These are, after all, only a few observations that I think everyone might at least want to brieflyconsider when they design a home or look for the right one to purchase. We singed a lot offer tonight for those very nice folks we went to dinner with last night. Turquoise! (or maybe a medium teal to be more accurate). If you don’t know what this means, read my previous blog entry. Thanks for blogging with me. Your comments are always welcome.
March 4th, 2010
An idea has been with me all day and I would appreaciate any feed-back you may have on another off-the-wall idea. Like most of my home design concepts, it often starts when I see something happen at my home or around me in public that makes me question if life could be better if I designed some thing to address the situation a little better in my homes designs.
This Wild Idea started a few months ago when I noticed that my 20 year old son Sean (he has a one year older brother Nik you may have seen in our ads) spends an awful lot of time in the shower. I mean A LOT of time like 45 to 60 minutes or more! It turns out, he has been doing this for some time and I just never took notice of it. His Mom and brother Nik knew exactly what he was doing.
When I first designed our present home in 1999, I saw that it was a mistake for us to ever put a big whirlpool tub in our master bathroom since my boys were the only ones who ever used “our” tub. Rather than having them come into our master bath to use our tub, I thought I would get ahead of that curve by putting the big 6 foot tub into my boy’s bathroom. They were pretty young when we moved into our present home and they took some baths together, so the 6 foot size was right. But I am avoiding the point.
The point is that my Son Sean is unfortunately a procrastinator. He hates waking up in the morning. His Mom or brother usually try to get him out of bed. Instead of trying to fight them on getting up, Sean has gotten in the habit of turning on the shower over the tub and “sleeping’ in the 6 foot tub! Sean has found a way to sleep in a hard fiberglass tub and LIKES it. He LIKES the warm water sprinkling on him while he sleeps. Sean will now occasionally just go into the shower just to relax as he takes a short nap after a work day or mid-Saturday.
I attributed this to my “weird’ son’s behavior. Since Sean is a” straight A” student, I figure this is not really hurting anything and I don’t think it could be dangerous. Now comes my big PONDER. If I could find a more comfortable way to lay down in a shower, would common “non-weird“(or are we ALL weird and I just don’t admit it?) folks like to also lay down for a relaxing nap in a shower? I think, and think on such things and one observation is that I know folks who like to lay-down and relax in a bath tub full of water, why not a shower? Would the sprinkling water NOT be relaxing . Would it NOT feel like a gentle rain massage?
My next thought is even if I did find a way to have an area to lay down in a shower, how could I make it more comfortable? Could I use some sort of fabric or woven straps like on lawn furniture? Could it just be a big, longer bath tub and could I get some of that closed- cell memory foam and have it shaped like the tub on one side and shaped like a dentist’s chair lounger on the body side? That would seem VERY comfortable to me! I wonder if anyone would buy this idea?
I also know that a dozen years ago, I tryed to tell people of a new Wild Idea of maybe putting two shower heads in one bigger shower. Few folks seemed interested. In the last few years, I now have folks ask me to do exactly that. I HAVE to think romance is a big part of this 2 shower head idea. I don’t want to get too ”racy” here but couldn’t “romance” be taken to whole new levels if you had a shower big enough for two to “nap” and “relax” together?
As I think of this, I am finalizing two new designs I have been laboring on for several months. I always want to use new designs to introduce new concepts. I have looked at one 4 foot by 8 foot double shower I have designed and I am now seriously thinking about the “shower lounge/bed”.
So I ask you. Is this Wild Idea appealing to anyone or am I just getting too “weird”?
Hey folks, we are having a lot of fun designing homes to go on lots that I have never seen offered so inexpensively. Today, we also had a gentleman talk to me about building a home and donating the profits to help support his missionary daughter. This idea could blossom into something that could support many missionaries if we could get tradespeople to get on board with the idea. We could use homes to do a lot more good in ways I had not before considered. Home building is so exciting and it seems I meet more nice folks every day.
Please let me know your thoughts on this idea or any other wild home idea you may have.
March 6th, 2010
I often hear folks ask me to design LOTS of closet space into their new home design. If I have a master walk-in closet with 6 feet of hanging space per spouse, that means either a double-sided , 6 foot long closet OR a 12 foot long , single-sided closet. Many folks today want more than 6 feet of space per spouse. Today’s Generation “Y” home buyers are not overly possession orientated EXCEPT when it comes to owning lots of clothes. Home designers who want to really succeed in building for this new generation ,would be well advised to plan closet space for twice as much clothes as they have been commonly putting into their normal home designs.
The problem with putting in , say 12 to 16 feet, of hanging space per spouse, is that this uses up twice the amount of floorspace on a normal , existing home design. You may not realize this, but home designers sweat bullets whenever it comes to adding even one square foot of extra space to their home designs. All subcontractors, use the home’s total square footage to calculate how much each phase of the job will cost. An example of cost would be that a single-sided , 12 foot long closet (today’s normal, for a couple) has about 50 sqare foot of floorspace. Making this 4 foot wide , single-sided , closet into a 7 foot wide, double-sided closet adds an additional 36 square feet of space to the home. This would result in (if the builder was calculating , say $75 per square foot) costing the end buyer (that’s you) about $2,700 . Depending how elaborate you get with closet organizers, this cost could be a bit high or very low.
If you consider that there are several other closets in secondary bedrooms and if you wished to increase those as well, you can see how the costs and square footages would get out of hand quite quickly. The many national surveys done for the Generation “Y” home buyer profile clearly says that this buyer wants a smaller m ore compact home. To get more closet space yet have a smaller home, means you either decide to increase the closet square footages OR…you could think “outside the box” and get another unexpected answer.
Instead of making a closet bigger with more floor space, what if we were to make a much bigger closet, perhaps TWICE AS MUCH CLOSET space foWITHOUT needing to increase the square footage ONE extra square foot? A while back, when I was delving into what I call my “Little-Big House” design (see photos of the Parade 2009 on our Home Page), I approached this very subject of making a a closet bigger but not adding square footage to do it. Here’s what I came up with.
I started by imagining what is actually in our every-day closets. What I realized is that about half of what we have in our closets is considered out- of- season clothes. In Summer, few people would take their winter clothes out of the closet into the basement. In Winter, our Summer clothes is likewise taking up room in the closet but not being used. NO, I am not recommending we start taking half of our clothes out of the closet depending on the season. We could, but the best in home design should not require we trade our living patterns to fit a home design. Just the opposite, good home design should always fit our living style.
The answer is to build up, not out. I am talking about building a tall ceiling in your closet and utilize the attic space that is currently just doing nothing right over our heads. If your closet was 12 feet high instead of 8 feet high, all of your seasonal clothes could be hanged up high and your usable seasonal clothes would be hung at normal level. If you do build this story-and-a-half closet, you effectively double your hanging space. In order to hang this clothes up high, you can utilize the same method they use in department stores, when they have a wall of clothes on display. The clerk uses a tall metal hook/rod device that enables them to easily reach any high clothes hanger.
I hope the next time you think of adding square footage to create a bigger closet, this “Wild Idea” of mine will save you money and square footage! Look at the photos of this in that Home Page photo gallery. When you see these photos, also notice another bonus idea. We have a clothes chute door that is in this closet. You can pass the dirty clothes through the wall into a laundry room on the other side of the wall. How’s that for easy living?!
Thanks for reading the blog and, as always, please feel free to give me your comments or questions.
March 8th, 2010
So many good ideas come just when you keep your eyes and mind open when walking through a Shopping Mall. Take for example, one of my many trips last year, to Mayfair Mall In Wauwatosa. I will probably murder this spelling but the store I saw one idea in was Ambercombe and Fitch. I never actually went into the store, I just was walking by. In case you don’t know, this store is one of those young folks high-fashion clothes stores.
If you have ever seen the store(they have the same look in other malls that have this chain store), the most prominent thing you see when you walk by is a huge black picture frame that is about 8 feet by 8 feet. This frame is placed on the floor (as I recall) and is directly centered on the double door entry foyer of the store. It leans on the wall about a foot away on the bottom. Inside this enormous picture frame is an artsy , high fashion, black and white photo of some good looking person wearing some good looking clothes. The photo did not strike me as much as this huge fancy black art frame.
Flash-forward a few months and I am working on one of our simplier designs which was “more about” being a low price- point home, and less about style or being artsy in any big way. I have always beleived that folks fall in love with a home with-in 60 seconds after they enter the home. They may not know why they like the home, but they either fall in love with “something” or “everything” about the home in those 60 seconds or they probably are not going to buy the home. That first immediate impression better be a real doosey! After they fall in love with the home, the prospective home shopper spends the rest of their visit trying to find reasoning and logic to justify WHY they love the home . That is to say, the home shopper falls in love first with the heart, then the head follows.
So anyway, there I was trying to re-examine some of my simplier low cost designs to have a more dramatic first impression. My Dream series R1500 or DT2000 homes are both logically strong. If , for example, I where to write an ad for the Dream DT2000, it would have all the right words. “4 bedrooms, all with walk-in closets, island kitchen that seats 4 stools, a big walk-in pantry, a 16 foot long laundry room, a big 11 by 14 foot multi-purpose room, a great room that would handle 3 full couches and everyone could see the T.V. and fireplace, a dinette that could seat 8, etc, etc, etc.” All the words work to entice folks to look at the home. The problem is that visitors to the actual home were not having that head-over-heals WOW effect when they walked into the front door.
Flash-back to the mall. The direct view when entering is to look across the great room(on the front area of the home) and to see a dinette and kitchen on the back of the great room, across the rear of the home. There is a patio door and a kitchen sink window on this back wall. If you really want to entice someone to come into a home, you need to work on giving them a beautiful focal point to focus their attention on. When they enter, We want them to be drawn into the home. They need to see something unusual or pretty, or striking. There is nothing striking about a patio door or a kitchen sink window. I don’t care if you make that patio door into a nice Pella french door or even if you put stained glass on the door, this is not striking in the way that a unified , well designed home should offer something “new” or “fresh” to look at that the home shopper has never seen before.
If the home shopper falls in love with some new Pella window shape or some new cabinet door style, all they may end up doing is buying that feature to put into the home they really fall in love with. I could accomplish the WOW factor goal by , say, opening the rear ceiling over the entire back of the home to be a story and a half tall with stacked windows. I could curve the entire back wall of the home so the circular design creates something most unusual. I could create some elaborate beams or wood panels to form a strikingly rich presence. There is a lot that money can do to create that WOW factor. These cost effective homes however, do not have the luxury of having a budget that would allow such extravagance. To succeed, the Mall’s big picture frame came to mind.
I thought of this frame and wondered why exactly was that frame so interesting? Was it the size? Was it the dark striking black color? Was it the placement of it on the floor? I asked and pondered myself and found it was probably a little of each. It was also the mere fact that this was just so unusual but yet classy. The answer seemed to then pop into my head that it might be eye-popping to the first impression if I could build such a frame around my patio door(which was in my first line of sight into the home) . The problem would be that the bottom of the frame would be a tripping hazard, so I thought I could potentially achieve the same effect if I eliminated the bottom of the frame. I would now have a 3 sided frame with no bottom. To light this frame, would add more drama and draw attention to it even more. So, I started to imagine attaching the frame to the ceiling ,with no gap, just about a foot in front of the patio door . I could then put a track light between the wall and frame and back light the frame inside that 1 foot gap. At night, the effect would be wonderous!
At this point, I had decided to create the low-cost version of this elegant frame by making this whole thing out of rough lumber and cover it entirely with drywall. I could angle the drywall frame edges so it looked like an art frame. The 2 side verticals of the frame would also be attached to the floor and ceiling. The positioning would not take away any furnishing abilities or space. I could use a dark cabinet wood stain in the home and then imitate the darkness of the cabinet color by using a similar paint color on the drywalled art frame.
Once this effect was designed, I would then go and re-imagine using the same frame style to go around or over the sink window area. This would create uniformity and not make this one design element an orphan item in the home. The next element to continue this design “framing” was to take the 2nd wall in the dinette and “dress” that wall with a very slight releif into the wall suggesting a frame is boardering that entire rectangular wall section, just like around the patio door.
I recently built my first design of this nature and unveiled it this past weekend in our DT2000 in Milwaukee. I am so happy with the results that I have already designed it into several other of our designs including the entire back wall fo our R1500 Dream Series ranch. The dozen, or so, guests who have already veiwed the home have all been falling in “love” with this element (and therefore the home) with-in 60 seconds after they walk into the home.
Unfortunatly, this home is sold and will only be able to be viewed for the next few weekends at this 91st and Good Hope, Milwaukee location. I took this art framing one last step. This home also has a finished basement and I have put this element into the basement on a 16 foot long wall. The effect is that the frame is for centering your big-screen theatre tlevision.
I hope you will have some time to see this totally new idea(well, not totally new, if you are a mall visitor), in home decor. I also hope you will, as always, leave your comments and questions for me on the blog. This is indeed an exciting and fun business to be in. Thanks for reading.
This last weekend, we had record breaking visits to the website and I thank you all.
March 10th, 2010
In a previous posting, I talked a little about the notion that a home shopper’s “HEART” usually fall in love with a home first , then they justify their reasoning with their “HEADS” . Some say that a home shopper’s first impression of a home makes them decide in mere seconds whether they will buy that home. I would take that one step further in saying that a home shopping ideal would be to turn the entire tour of a home into a series of “first” impressions.
That is to say, when the prospective home shopper enters the home, they must have a good first impression. Then as they enter each new room, they are ideally having a series of good first impressions. The Master bedroom must have this first great impression, the kitchen, the great room, the finished basement, and so forth. If the home shopper has a great first impression, but , for example, the master bedroom is then ho-hum, that can break the love affair. I am suggesting that if you want your home to “sizzle” with interest and excitement, you need to take the presentation as seriously as you do the actual inclusions of the features themselves.
This means that a successful designer can not just be satisfied with the fact that they have included ,say, and island in your kitchen, or enough space for a King-sized bed in the master, or a whirlpool tub in the master bath, it is more about HOW you are placing those items for that first impression than the fact that a home does or does not include the actual items themselves. I have seen experienced home salespeople and shoppers alike , fall in love so hard that they easily overlook what I see as the obvious.
To start the process of creating great first impressions, try the exercise of finding the first area that folks will be standing at when they first enter any room. Let’s call this the X-spot When a person is standing at that X-spot, what will they be seeing directly in front of them? What will their first impression be of that room as they enter.
I know folks who have designed their dream homes on paper only to find that something is missing when they actually walk into the finished home. They are not excited. I know home designers who know all about puzzling the prices together so the homes have everything they think the client wants(and they have checked-off all the wish-list items given to them by their clients) but the home fails to excite the buyer. I have had buyers come to me who have designed, or had others design, their home, but just don’t like the finished design. The novice designer has never taken that step beyond the level of being a good home draftsman to the elite level of of being a good home artist. This subject of creating great first impressions as you wander from room to room, is often the cheif difference between good and average designs.
I will get into a few examples inpart 2 of this blog but first, let me tell you that seeing a good design on paper and seeing what the design wil look like in reality can often be two different things. Yesterday, I had one of my sales people come to me and say that he had met someone , over the phone, and that someone had a certain home they loved which was being offered by another big-name(respectable) builder. This salesperson was experienced and so I asked him to show me the design that this new client had fallen in love with. He got me the builders website and model and I proceeded to look at the design of a big 2-story home which was over 3,000 square feet in size. At “first impressions”, it was indeed a lovely home. The exterior was quite upscale in looks. As I viewed the video tour and the photo page, the sales person told me things like,”see how neat the ceiling designs are” or “see how nice those 2-story tall windows are”. I could tell my sales person was impressed. In his own way, he too had fallen in love with this home. I could see why the new client may be impressed as well. I see plans all the time that impress me, but this one did not impress me personally because it was missing so many things that I see as being “must-haves” in any home of this size. These things however were not being seen by either the prospective clinet or my salesperson.
Remember, this home was over 3,000 square feet in size. The home however had no walk-in pantry. The home had no private toilet compartment in the master bedroom. The home had the twin-sink master vanity placed so when one person might be standing at one of the sinks, this person would block the way going into the bathroom. This home had three bedrooms upstairs(master on the first floor) yet only 2 had walk-in closets. The single master closet was surprisingly small and if the master bedroom door was to be left open, passer-bys could see the bed! This home had a game room in the basement that was 10 feet wide. A 4.5 by 7 feet pool table will require 14.5 feet of width which means this game room can not fit a pool table. The laundry room had a short 3.5 foot long counter top for folding clothes. The dining room was able to only seat 6(it even showed that in the photos), where a home of this calibre should usually seat 8 to 10. There was no broom/cleaning closet, no great room game closet, and the front and mud room closets were one- doored small closets that would force guests to throw their coats onto some couch or bed. The point is that the fancy ceilings, a second- story “bridge” hallway, and colors of the home caused my salesperson, (and perhaps his clients as well) to fall in love with the home, and they were now apparently in the phase of trying to then justify their love because their first impression was so strong.
I wanted to meet these potential clients so I could better understand their desires. They were nice enough to come into the office this morning. They were very nice people(as I have said, we only build for “nice” people), and it was not long before I started asking questions like, ” I noticed that this home did not have a walk-in pantry. Shall I therefore assume that you do not wish to have a walk -in pantry in your design?” Their answer was to the effect of, ” We would want a walk-in pantry IF it could still fit into our budget”. I would say , ” I noticed that this home does not have many closets such as a cleaning closet or game closet. Does this mean that this closet space is not a priority to your living style?” They answered to the effect , (the lady in particular) ,”No, I did not notice the design did not have a cleaning closet and I WOULD like more closets”. At the end of our meeting, I had a much better understanding of what the clients actually DID want in their design and it WAS NOT the home they fell in love with. Nonetheless, it was still very helpful to use that design to discoverwhat they were looking for.
This reminded me of the Kenosha model home I visited last year. It was a huge national home builder’s model home. Surely desinged by a team of excellent home designers. The home was again over 3,000 square feet. As I walked into the home, I saw several folks who obviously had “love” in their eyes. They loved this home. It was hard not to fall in love. It was wonderfully merchandised and decorated. I asked the salesperson, “is there a front foyer closet , or did I just miss it?”. She said , sheepishly,” no we don’t offer one, but there is one in the back hall”. This home also had no (that is to say ZERO) drawers of any kind in any bathroom. This was only the start of a long list of things which few had seemingly noticed.
What these 2 examples of really big homes did have was an understanding of making a great first impression as you walked through the home, into each new room. When you stood on the X-spot in every room, the designers understood that if you could get the shopper to focus on some striking design element, or color, or decoration, you could win over the “love” of the home shopper.
In the next part of this 2-part blog, I will explain a few examples of how excellent home designs use this first impression device , and how , with a few simple ideas, you too can use it in your next home design.
On a closing note, the market again seems to be maintaining it’s surge upward and one of my sales staffers is presently signing another new home contract tonight. This is becoming our longest streak of new home activity in 4 years. Are we now out of the housing slump? Time will tell. As for the Government stimulus money, if you want to build and still want that check, we got some new news today about getting in on this and still having time to build.
Thanks for blogging with me. I love to hear your comments, so keep them coming. If you would like me to address anything in particular, let me know.
March 13th, 2010
In my last blog posting,(you might want to read that one before you read this one), I was telling you about how that many folks fail to achieve a home plan that excites them, even AFTER all of the items they want are designed into their home plan. I talked about the value of placing yourself near the entry-way of each room (I called this the X-Spot) and create something that you see from that X-spot that would attract you to enter the room. We will call that a focal point.
The placement of architectural items is likely more important than the item itself. This is something amny folks fail to grasp. As an example, I may create a dramatic decorator shelf near the foyer, but the idea is that it had better be placed in a way that I would see it clearly when someone would enter the foyer. If someone would have to enter the foyer , and then turn sideways before they would see this decorator shelf, we have lost most of the point of having the shelf to begin with. When I enter a bedroom, I should have one main thing or a small interesting group of things that work together to focus my attention on. Moreover, this focal point should attract someone into the room to invite them move toward that item of interest.
I have not always realized this powerful device as fully as I do today. Just like anything else, it takes a period of trials and errors, of really “seeing” what works and what you thought would work but does not. Take for example, my Round Bay ranch design. I designed this home about 14 years ago. I built a peaked archway (some call this a portico) in the midst of the great room. My thought was that it would be a centerpiece to the room and a visual separation in an otherwise, wide- open floor plan. I had desinged a decorator shelf over the entry foyer. It seemed, on paper , to work except, in reality, you never really saw the decorator shelf until you were going out of the foyer.
A few years later, I built this same model again (well, not exactly the same. Every time I build a model, I try to improve and update the plan’s weakest points as well as refresh the decor ideas) a couple of years later. I tried to make the foyer a foot longer since I realized thatfo simply having the archway focal point placed somewhere in front of the X-spot was not enough. The distance that the X-spot is to the focal point is critical, even if only by a mere few feet. The arch was embraced by visitors to a higher degree on the second design , even though I had only added about a foot and a half to the foyer depth. This version of the Round Bay ranch still had the issue of the decorator shelf being a pretty cool potential focal point , but it again was lost as it was behind the initial entry view.
A couple of years later , in Muskego, I again had the opportunity to update and re-build this ranch. Now I opened up the foyer to a mini-vault so the decorator shelf was open on both the front (facing foyer) and the rear (facing great room). In effect, you walked under a “bridging” decorator shelf. This improved the effect of this shelf but it still was not noticed by most visitors until much after their entry. The fact was, unless I was going to add about 5 feet to the depth of the foyer, this upper shelf was just too close to the X-spot to ever be noticed. If you take the time to look at our home page’s photo gallery of our 2009 Parade ranch the “Little-Big House”, and see the great room’s rear wall, you will see what that Round Bay’s curved plant shelf eventually became. I used this idea and transferred it to another home entirely. I always loved this long ,curving (it was originally angled but later became curved in the updated Round Bay ) decorator shelf , and it just took a few years before I could fit this into the proper spot in the proper home design. you will seeIf you visit the R1700 we have just completed for a client in Jackson, you will see this long curved plant shelf is the star focal point of this room.
By the way, I DO hope you can find time to see this lovely customized ranch this weekend in Jackson since this is the last weekend this home will be open before the owner takes occupancy. This is also the first home that we were able to convince the laminate wood floor installers to try a new curved design. At first they said it could not be done, but a little persistence paid off handsomely,…BUT I DIGRESS.
Back on point, focal point that is, most designers and home shoppers instinctively make the great room’s fireplace their focal point. That is fine. I do it all the time for clients. I have been bored to tears with this device for a very long time, but I am designing for other’s desires, not always my own. In an open concept great room, I try to have my fireplaces come to the view of the foyer X-spot first, BEFORE the big(and bigger) screen flat panel television screen. For those who want to put the television over the fireplace(I have beeen doing that for nearly two decades), That can be tricky, inasmuch as the focal point may be now seen as your television. I rarely meet even the most ardent fan of the tube who wants to shout to the World how seemingly important that screen is to their lifestyle. Putting the television on the side of the great room so your first view of the room is sideways to the television works best in most cases. The T.V. feels less important this way.
If you read an earlier blog I wrote about an idea which “started in the Mall”, I have found another way to create a great room focal point in what might otherwisese be a common room. Other simpler ways to create a focal point would be to use color and light. When I used to design trade show booths, I found that folks are instinctively drawn-into bright lights. It is sort of like a bug to a light bulb. If you put a lot of windows on the wall which is in view of the X-spot, you get a focal point impact. I was designing a custom home for a cleint and this client wanted me to shift the windows in certain rooms. They were looking at this plan , as most folks do, from the 2D perspective. Always try to approach plans from the X-spot, 3D perspective. I had a window directly centered on the bedroom entry door X-spot. They asked for it to be centered on another big wall in the bedroom. I know from a strictly appeal of decor design, the window worked best in the original position but most folks who would not be using the X-spot technique, would naturally agree with these home shoppers. By the way, the home shopper always gets their way. I only suggest, they get to decide.
One thing you can do to create an inexpensive focal point is to “wash” the major focal point wall in electric lighting. Many times, I will paint only this one wall with a differing color from the other walls in the room. Remember, this wall is the one that is directly in front view of the X-spot when entering the room. This one wall being colored slightly (or boldly if you prefer) different from the other walls will instinctively draw you into the room. When decorating, be careful to remember which wall is the important focal wall and not create too many other distractions on other walls. You can decorate ALL the walls if you wish, for example, with framed art. Just make sure the biggest, most significant art piece is on your focal wall. The other walls should simply compliment that focal wall’s art.
When I am creating one of our heavily themed bedrooms, I try to still make my focal wall have something significant on that wall. I did a Disney themed bedroom where everything, everywhere was Disney displays. My focal point became the Mickey Mouse headboard shaped bed. (See my Grand Bay photos). A piece of furniture can be your focal point, but then make sure the room’s windows and walls will allow that focal furnishing to be showcased from the natural view from the X-spot. I cry a little inside when I see a great, expensive piece of furnishing forced to fit into a room where it can not be the focal point. Just a little forethought would make all the difference.
Let’s take one home area as an overall example. In a finished basement, what is your focal point? I like to approach it in phases. From my first x-spot at the top of the stairs, what makes me want to come down those stairs? Perhaps a wall hanging with a light on it would attract me to want to come down the stairs. If you check our photo gallery again for our 2009 Parade home, you will see I designed an interior wall made of rustic stone and an eyeball light at the stair landing in the basement. The light played shadows on this stone wall and really was a strong focal point.
When you get to the basement stair bottom landing, you are now at your next X-spot. What wall do you see next and what will you do to continue to attract the eye for that position? In this 2009 Parade basement, I then had the carpet seamed to curve a color , toward the right , which mentally gave direction to where I wanted the next focal wall to be. In this direction, I placed a Baby- Grand piano on a round, raised platform with suitable wall art and a crystal chandelier in a dome over the piano. This whole thing worked in a compact area and became a second focal point to see. After you came into that area, I saw another X-spot as you would come around a corner, so another focal point is needed to continue the effect of always surprising, delighting, and drawing you to come into the home further. The cumulative effect of doing this multiple focal point method creates a powerful impact that is most difficult to duplicate, unless you first approach the design with this methodology from the start.
This same logic which I give for the basement would come into play in every room, as you travel thorugh the entire home. In the Master bedroom, you have muliple X-spots when you enter a master closet, and master bathroom, perhaps even when you enter the private toilet area. Sound difficult? Sound daunting? Like anything, it becomes second nature after you work with this a while. In my experience, this type of detail in home design is what separates the men form the boys. Frank Lloyd Wright realized this and that is why you feel transported to a different World, when you enter a Wright design. This is why you feel one way when you enter one builder’s home and another way when you enter a similar quality home design from another builder.
This should give you a start on some basic understanding of focal points and X-spots. I gaurantee, there are a lot(if not most) home designers out there today who have never even thought of these elements as part of their job(if they have heard of them at all). In future blogs, I may revisit the subject in even more detail, since there are so many creative ways to bring excitment into a home with water, fire, cielings, wall texture, glass and more. In my way of thinking , I want every home to have enough pizazz in the diesign where folks say , “This is wonderful, I have never seen anything like this before”. That goes for ALL home big and large, price is never an excuse for a lack of excellent design
One last note. I will again be at our Milwaukee Dream series home near 91st and Good Hope road this weekend from 1 to 4(Oak Hill Subdivision). This home just got the counter tops installed and was carpeted yesterday. It is almost done. My Sons even brought- in a couch and love seat from our warehouse, just to give you a sense of room size. This home has a finished basement and has an extraordinary amount of detail for a smaller home. (check out the plaster-like crown mouldings, and inset wall panels in the dining room). If you happen to have a custom plan, bring it along. I lovelooking at plans. I guarantee, you will walk out of this home with at least a few new ideas.
Thanks for blogging with me. Until next time…
March 14th, 2010
IF you have been reading my blog, you know I have had some pretty “wild ideas” at times, that I try to share with you. In this blog, I have both a few Wild and one practical (I will call this a “mild” idea) idea to share about toilets. I will try to make this short. Wish me luck!
In the arena of Wild first, most such ideas stem from some life incident that happened to me or someone I know. I usually look at such “happenings” and ask if I could possibly design a home idea which might solve the dilemma-du-jour. Here is the life incident and this time, it happened(and still happens) to me.
Whenever I and my wife Jacquie go to bed at the same time, I can never “go” to use our private toilet area unless Jacquie has “gone” to it first. Since my usage may render it unpleasant (read between the lines here) for her to use the toilet, she wants me to use it AFTER she does. I have learned to cope with this, but it is frankly an inconvenience at times.
The master bathroom has seen an evolution where the toilet is now commonly found located in it’s own toilet compartment. The master sink area has evolved to become the master sinkS(plural, as in two sinks) area. Let’s focus on the reasoning. WHY do we possibly need 2 sinks in a Master bath? Are we so inconvenienced that one spouse can not wait for the other to finish brushing their teeth before they can use the sink to brush their own teeth? Anyone who has a double- vanity in their master bath would be hard pressed to give it up. Two people sharing one bathroom seems to make sense to have two vanities.
So I ask, are we really so inconvenienced that we need our full privacy when using the toilet in front of our spouse? YES! I want (maybe not NEED) my privacy, and so does my wife. Here’s how I see toilets compared to sinks. If we don’ want to wait for our spouse to finish with the sink, so much that we created the second sink idea, what is holding us back from having two toilets just like we have two sinks?
Think of it this way, I would rather have two toilets and one sink if I had to make the choice of having two of something and one of the other in the bathroom. If we had one sink and I waited for my wife to finish, the worst I would have to put up with is a little water not cleaned up by the sink area. I could immediately use the sink when my wife was finished. Relate this to the toilet. If I had to wait for my wife to finish her use of the toilet and she had rendered it “difficult” to get near due to smell reasons, unlike the sink, the toilet is now rendered hard to use for some time after the first spouse’s usage. I could find a solution by having us both agree to use the toilet in the hall if we were going to make a smell issue. In the same way, I guess we could just use the sink in the hall bath if we both wanted to use a sink at the same time too! Ladies and (mostly) gentlemen, is it not time that we all started putting the same OR MORE emphasis on twin toilets as we do on twin sinks?
I am seeing more and more couple’s asking for twin shower heads , why are we overlooking the only bath item which can not always be used immediately after the one spouse has used it? You might say it could be a matter of price but a toilet just is not that expensive. As for the plumber, sure it would cost more, but it would be less than installing that second sink since we don’t have hot water run to a toilet.
Now for the MILD idea. When I built my first house 20 years or more ago, I thought it was logical that all of the doors would be a full 3 feet wide. Today they have a name for this called “universal design“ . This “universal design” idea also has you thinking about placing electric outlets higher and having at least one exterior door being flush to the ground level so as to roll a wheelchair if needed. Today, it seems whenever I sit with some one to do a custom design, when the 3 foot extra-wide door subject comes up the client immediately warms up to the idea. They usually say this might be handy if either they or someone in their family ever needed to have a wheelchair.
My next question is whether they wish me to make one bathroom to be wheelchair accessible or at least wheelchair “possible” in the future. I explain what this entails and I rarely get any takers. What are we thinking here? We are putting in wide doors in case of a wheel chair in the future but lets hope that wheelchair person does not have to use a bathroom?! This make no sense to me. Let’s see what it takes to have a wheelchair friendly bathroom.
A wheelchair takes about 5 feet to comfortably maneuver and turn so if a common bathroom has a 3 to 3.5 foot travel path in front of the sink and toilet, you should now have 5 feet of a travel path in front of sink and toilet. That makes the bathroom 7 feet wide instead of 5 feet. C’mon folks, you can always squeeze in a 3 foot door in most openings but putting 2 extra feet in your bathroom would be a huge , expensive task to do after the home is completed. The second big thing that is needed is you need about 30 inches of open space next to the toilet so you can park a wheelchair NEXT to the toilet and off-load onto the toilet. That means instead of having a (code required for normal non-wheelchair toilets) space of only 30 inches of wall space for the toilet, you will need to have 60 inches of space. This would make the normal 9 foot long bathroom with 4 foot vanity 11.5 feet long. Again, this is hard to do later, so think about it before the nails start pounding. If you had a 4 foot vanity next to the toilet and later wanted to reduce this vanity and put another 30 inches on the toilet area, I suppose you could achieve the wheelchair space BUT, you would now only have a tiny 18 inch sink/vanity. Think ahead.
I do have another quick WILD toilet idea I will leave you with. I just saw an idea I had thought about for a few years , which is now actually being manufactured! Imagine a toilet that has the back tank raised a little higher and the top is off of the tank. Nicely moulded into this tank ‘s top opening is a nifty hot and cold water sink faucet. You wash your hands directly over the toilet tank! This is a VERY “green” idea since you are re-using your gray water(which you created when you washed your hands) for flushing the toilet. For cost savings, you would not need a vanity or counter top. I envision this idea working best in a very limited space OR in a space where you want a sink in a private toilet compartment so you can wash quick before you touch the door with germs on your hands.
Keep reading the blogs. I have enough Wild and Mild ideas to last a very long time. I hope to see you at either Jackson (last day open is tomorrow), or in Milwaukee tomorrow from 1 to 4pm. We had a great day today and the housing market continues to feel like the “good-’ol” days of 5 years ago.
Whewh! 1297 words for this blog. I beat my 2000(+) of my last entry but still quite long. I will try again next time to make this shorter. Comments?
March 16th, 2010
I am mostly a “big picture” person in my everyday role of overseeing my(and my wife’s) Home Building company. When it comes to the little things however, I am mostly a nit-picker on certain aesthetic details. I am the right person to be a home builder but I am the wrong person to be the client of a home builder because I would likely drive that builder nuts!
I obsess over the littlest of things in home design, construction, and decorating. Take this small detail for example. The common door bumper. You know, the little springy hardware “thing” that is usually mounted to a wall or base board to keep the door from slamming into the wall when you open the door. You know, the thing that makes that springy vibrating noise when you tweak it with the vacuum cleaner or mop when cleaning. That spring-thing that is always just a little in the way when you are cleaning.
There are some doors in every home that just are not situated to open onto a wall so to make sure they don’t hit another door or appliance, or piece of furniture, you might use one of ,what builder’s call a hinge stop. A hinge stop is the thing that attaches onto the pin of a door hinge and stops the door from opening all the way. These are adjustable using a screw method inherent in the hardware’s design. Look on the top hinge of some doors and you will see what I am referring too.
One detail that drives me nuts is that , in my book, a hinge-stop should only be used in an emergency case. In cases where there just is no other remedy to halting the door from opening all the way. In cases where there is no wall to mount the spring-bumper door stop common method. Most of my staff and carpentry subcontractors know I watch certain detail things like door bumpers. Yet, I still find hinge stops where a door bumper would work fine. The reason this probably annoys me is that I relate the use of hinge stops with carpenters who don’t really care, or are lazy. I hate to think I have any such traits in my subcontractors. Installing a hinge stop is a minute or two quicker than if the carpenter took out his drill and screw driver to install a “real” door bumper on a wall or on a base moulding.
One of the most creative details I have seen is in this nit-picky area of door bumpers. One of my original finish carpenters, Randy, many years ago, let me in on a secret which I rarely see any one doing , except in my homes. I have my door bumpers NOT mounted to a wall or to the base mouldings. I want my bumpers mounted onto the door itself. This little gem of an idea is very useful because when you are mopping , or vacuuming next to a door mounted door bumper, you can easily move the door a little to get under and around the door bumper. No more twanging the spring when you pass by cleaning your floors!
What amazes me is that even though most all of my carpentry subcontractors know of this neat logical door bumper method of instalation, I never see them do it in any one else’s homes. When I go to the annual Home shows and Parades, I look for these door mounted bumpers and no one is doing them!
I know this is a very little detail and not as exciting as some of my blog topics but, gosh sometimes a guy just has to ask, “If this is such a great , simple idea, why is no one esle doing it?” Does anyone else out there have their door bumpers on their doors, or am I all alone?
Thanks for reading the blog. We had a great weekend of new guests at our homes (especially at our Milwaukee and Jackson locations). This next Saturday, we open another home to see in Ixonia. Tonite, we got our Hybrid Ranchdesign (read my very first few blogs for insights on this new concept home ddesign idea) approved by the Richfield Plan approval board. This is for the MBA Parade Of Homes in Richfield. This is only one hurdle, since obtaining the finance approvals is the next hurdle. We are approved for our credit worthiness from the bank(A new one we have not worked with but is giving a great rate for the Parade builders of 3.9%), but now we have to see if the appraisal will come out at the proper numbers, before we can see if we can afford to build it. If anyone wants toget in on pre-buying this home, let me know.
As always, I will keep you posted. Feel free to comment. I answer all!
March 18th, 2010
Putting Brick and stone where brick and stone should not go, is the topic on my mind lately. I often drive around Southeast Wisconsin going to one destination or the other and I often get sidetracked when I spy some new subdivision or interesting architecture on a home or building. I have even been known to pull over to the side of a road and just try to absorb architectural details. I particularly like the details found in real old world craftsmanship of German brick layers.
Today, new homes are mostly siding of either wood, aluminum, vinyl or cement board. Often these “mostly sided” homes come with a splash of brick or stone somewhere on the front of the home. I have noticed that some brick or stone treatments look very nice and some just rub me the wrong way. The other day, I even came across one mostly brick home that was just SO WRONG in the way they used the brick. Let me try to explain what I saw.
I was near Big Bend (that’s a town , I believe) driving around to see whether this might be a good place to build a spec home to sell. I was driving through a fairly new subdivision and while I never have really seen any one’s “jaw” actually drop in real life,….MINE DID. I was talking to someone on my cell phone at the time and I interrupted myself saying “H O L Y C O W , I can’t believe what I am looking at!” This was a contemporary home that seemed unsure of whether it really wanted to be a contemporary or a colonial design.
The front had a front facing 3 car garage comprised of a single and a double door. If you can imagine, these 2 garage doors were very expensive solid cedar, stained to a golden tone. The problem with this was that , first, nothing else on the home had this golden toned varnished wood and second, one door was much taller than the other causing the roof line to be off-kilter(higher on one side than the other) making the house seem to lean to one side. To make matters worse, the peak of this garage faced the front so the leaning was in your face. Worse yet, in the middle of this peak was an octagon shape which you might at first, mistake for an octogon window, except the shape was twice the size of a normal cute octagon window and , on second veiw, it was not a window at all. Remember, this is a brick faced, very expensive home, with the fully bricked garage having a brick peak with an unusual octagon shape filled- in with , get this, lannon stone!
I don’t like to make little of others architecture but , in this case, I will make an exception since this home just was so well built of such high quality materials, and was simply so stunningly “bad” in such big ways. Now I can’t brag that all of my homes I have designed have been masterpieces, in fact, some of my early attempts might rival this home for traffic stopping interest, but the subject today is the use (or mis-use) of brick and stone.
The brick and stone of today is what is called thin-stone/brick. It is mostly “cultured” which means man-made cast or molded bricks/stone. Most of it can not be differentiated from the real bricks and stone. The biggest advantage is that this cultured product is much lighter in weight and therefore does not need the additional cost of providing a brick ledge molded into the home’s perimeter or a special foundation built under the fireplace to support the heavy chimney bricks. Real brick is real heavy. Remember that for my next points.
The goal of using the cultured stone/brick should be to use it in a way that makes this product imitate real brick/stone. For example, real Stone and brick would not be able to come up to the bottom of a window without some type of a concrete, Stone or soldier course of real masonry product. If you stopped under a window,with real bricks, you would see the holes in the tops of the brick. Therefore, if you use cultured brick/stone around a window, the proper illusion is to use a special imitative Stone ledge at the sill area of every window. Many cultured brick/stone homes just wrap the product to the window with no thought of doing a sill like real brick would have.
Using cutlured stone or brick with reckless regard to reality is a hazard I see every day(sadly even on some of my lesser priced homes but only when I know I have carried the illusion true in the main areas of the home) and I used to see it most on corners. Brick or stone , in reality , can not easily just “end” at a corner and run into a corner board. Yes, brick does commonly end at corner boards when it is cultured and it screams ..”I AM FAKE!” Cultured brick/stone should wrap around the corners of a home and many architects will demand that such cultured stone/brick must end at an inside corner and not simply in mid-wall. As for me, I try to have brick which ends at corners at least wrap around the home by the thickness of a real brick or stone. Not doing at least this, makes the product look “lick-N-stick”.
Yet another BIG mistake I see all the time is having brick or stone go over a garage door and then often proceed to go entirely up into the peak of the gable over the garage door. There is a good reason why this is never done with real brick….it is incredibly difficult to do this in reality using real brick/stone so you should rarely ever see this done. Do you realize the sheer size of a steel beam you would need to support a full wall of real brick stacked high over a 16 foot wide garage door?! It verges on “silly” to imagine this could be done. To me it is like seeing brick put on a roof instead of shingles, just because you like the look of brick so much. Sure it could be done using cultured stone and a lot of rubber membrane, but WHY? Are we not trying to use these imitation products in ways that seem real? Unfortunatly, many times we are NOT. Then let’s please consider taking reality into account before you simply decide that it might look nice to put brick around a suspended bayed or boxed-out window (another thing I saw on my first home example in Big Bend). If this was real brick or stone, what would be holding this product up? It defies the laws of gravity , not to mention good design. You might as well have glued bricks on the garage doors if y0u really love brick that much.
I used to think, a full, real brick home was my ultimate dream home. I used to think the more brick or stone, the better. I have now gotten to the point that I would rather see a vinyl sided home that paid attention to making that product look as real as possible than seeing a fake , badly designed brick home.
If you have seen any examples of bad masonry in action, I would like to hear about them.
Thanks for letting me blog-rant. I feel so much better now that I have saved the World from bad design.
March 20th, 2010
The home I was in for open house today was located (in Milwaukee) directly next door to one that has a front yard sign that proclaims in yellow and black, “Solar Powered”. It goes on to say something about saving money on energy bills or such.
This home is in a small Milwaukee subdivision . We have built about 7 or 8 homes in this subdivision and are about to dig for 2 more. I am amazed at how these homes, in this subdivision seem to sell quite well. This home has been on the market longer than I can remember. It was there long before we dug and sold the home which is right next door, of which I previously mentioned. This home started, as best as I could tell, with a price tag of at or slightly over $300,000. I saw this home tick-down in price until it finally hit bottom at $249,000.
The same folks who this builder uses to install his solar panels, I commonly use for doing my heating and cooling work. Many builder’s use many of the same sub-contractors and suppliers. I asked this installer, how much the solar equipment would cost IF I were to build a home and use the same set-up as is on this home. He told me $45 to $50,000 would be an approximate price range. I was not surprised since we have quoted solar homes time and again for client proposals. We have yet to have anyone parchse solar power, but we certainly have THE vendor in Wisconsin who has the most experience in doing this kind of work.
Let’s look at his solar home and our non-solar(but energy efficient/green) neighboring home. His home has 4 bedrooms, so does ours except ours has all walk-in closets while his does not. His has a nice play or rec area upstairs. Our’s does not. His has a 2 car garage. Ours has a 3 car garage. His has 2159 square feet on the first 2 floors, with an unfinished basement. Ours has a lesser 2024 square feet on the first 2 floors but has 500 extra finished square feet (with wet bar) in the basement. Our front may be a little fancier, but his looks fine. His currently has a better curb appeal since his has a concrete drive and grass while ours WILL have those but they are currently not installed.
The biggest notable difference between the 2 homes is that his has solar power and ours does not AND ours has more detail and a higher level of trim items. For example, ours has plaster crown moldings in the great room and wood crown in the dining room. We have a nice distressed-look wide plank hardwood floor in a lot of the first floor. We also have walls and ceilings of old-fashioned looking inset panels and fancy mouldings around those panels(dining room). We have a 3 ft. by 3 ft. transom window over our master bedroom door which you can see from the foyer when you look up into the 12 foot high upper hallway rotunda. We also have pretty upgraded dense carpets, ceramic tile foyer, a fancy vessel bowl sink in powder room(added by the buyers of the home), a huge walk-in pantry, and interesting architectural items with built-out drywall frames(back-lighted-see my blog entry about seeing this “at the mall”), and all solid wood 6 panel doors with many trim pieces made extra-wide of Maple.
When I built this home, I had the benefit of having worked in this subdivision selling a number of homes and seeing/honing my designs until I knew what “hot-buttons” this client base was looking for. This builder had MORE experience in this sub-division and has had a fancy model here much long than me. In all the many home shopping groups who came through my homes, many asked for fancy crown molding, hardwood floors, and 6 panel doors. Not one home shopper asked me for solar power.
I think you know where I am going when I say I know why I think our home sold WHILE IT WAS STILL IN THE DRYWALL STAGE, while ol’ solar- power sits and sits. This morning, the builder’s for sale sign came down and an outside sales agent’s sign went up. I know when this builder has difficulty selling a home himself, he brings in an outsider to do it for him. The most notable thing about all of this is that while his home had come down to $249,000, our home was priced at the 270′s and we did VERY little negotiating. Our home seemed clearly worth the money and the buyer told us he had really studied the area homes for sale and ours was giving the most home for the dollar.
If I was to give this builder any advice(not that he has asked for it), I would say to put-away his “Solar Powered” sign and not tell folks it had this feature until they had seen inside first and talked to an agent who could try to convince them of the product. I actually think this solar power technology is holding this home back from being sold. I had a visitor today who told me he was going to view this home by appointment tomorrow and asked me what I thought of this solar power “thing” on that home. I asked him to first tell me what he thought. This police officer told me that he would prefer if it did not have it. At very least, he was not willing to pay any more to get it and maybe wanted some discount because it had this unwanted feature.
I went on to agree that, to some ,this technology has appeal but to most, this seems like a technology that is on the rise so fast that this huge, not so lovely, roof of hi-tech looking panels will become as desired as a front projection big screen television would be to us today. Today, folks don’t know where to get rid of their old “hi-tech” bulky televisions and no one wants them. I guess you can drop off your once-expensive big television at the dump while on your way to Walmart to buy your new, better, fraction-of-the-cost, flat screen 1080 hi-def television.
The lesson here is that technology is changing so fast that the best time to buy some exotic new hi-tech item is AFTER it is no longer so exotic or new.
Stop by our Milwaukee Model near Good Hope and 91st Street in the Oak Hill subdivision. We are open this weekend from 1 to 4 pm. I guarantee you will see some great new items. We even had a load of decorating items and furnishings brought-in so we can take a few photographs, before the new owners move in. This is really an eye-poppingly beautiful home. The base version can be built on any $60,000 lot for a Rent-Busting package of under $200(without all the upgrades and goodies, but still nice…AND NEW!)
March 22nd, 2010
We had another huge weekend of home visitors at our various models. If the market is not yet “back” it is doing a pretty good job fooling me this past 2 months! We are having about as good of a prolonged growth period of sales than I have seen in the last 5 years! During this past prolonged home sales slump, I have seen a few weeks where we get encouraged only to see the sales suddenly go dormant again. These were false signs of prosperity and I have become most cautious of proclaiming the home sales slump days are over. But, now with 2 (well almost 2) months of having home sales every week, I am about a month or two away from making my “proclaimation“. By that time, everyone else will already know the good news from media proclaimations.
The home builder is truly on the front lines of this economy recovery. The media only finds about the housing market news a few months after we already know the news. Folks, if you are even remotely thinking about building a home, really, REALLY, now is THE time to pull the trigger before the rest of the World sees this becoming another seller’s market.
I want to tell you about another home design “wild idea” I have been thinking about this past week. The concept again is just me re-thinking the way builders build “normal” homes and asking …WHY? For example, When builder’s have a sloping lot, which allows a walk-out basement, the normal process is to have a deck suspended across the rear of the home and have a set of steps going down from this deck to the lower (basement level) patio. Why do we all seem compelled to put the deck or patio on the back of the home? I asked myself this question and pondered the answers.
The decks or patios we place on the rear of an exposed (walk-out or look-out basement) is because we want the privacy and view that a back yard usually affords us. We also like front porches, but many times folks don’t spend as much time sitting on the ol’ front porch as they do in the rear area of the home. The biggest drawback to having the patio or deck on the rear of the home is that the railings which encircle a suspended deck inevitablyblock the view of the folks who are sitting in the house. Go ahead. If you have a rear deck , think about what view you are seeing when you sit in your living room or dinette (assuming these rooms are facing the rear of the home) and decide to look out the your rear windows. Do you see the pretty view of trees or the lake you have in your back yard ? No. You are usually just seeing the railings of your deck which is hiding your real view. Sure, you can look up or stand up and see over the rails, but seeing down is a huge part of seeing the natural way we humans like to view things. Try standing on top of a mountain and blocking out the bottom of your view so all you see is the upper part. If I had a lake house, I , like many, would plaster the entire back of the homewith abundant windows. Then I would put a big deck across the rear so I could enjoy the lake view from my deck. In doing this most normal design process, I have just negated about half the value of having bought the lake lot in the first place, I have cut my inside (and many outside) window views in half!
I was asked to design a 6,500 square foot homewhich looked out over a huge expanse of trees onto a small private lake which had a small private island in the middle of it. What a unique, captivating view! The owner’s had another home designer draw some plans which failed to excite them so they called me in. They showed me the first design and I pointed out that despite all their huge windows, the deck and the deck railings would be blocking their view. They could have used glass railings but these folks wanted a traditional design and felt glass would look too contemporary.
I suggested they mix glass railings with ornate forged custom iron work railings and feild stone pilasters with lanterns atop each pilaster. The look was surely old world yet the mix of strategically placed glass panels afforded them a great view from seating areas. When you are seated on a deck, the railings are even worse since you can not see over them. My answer was to work with staggering the heights of the deck so as to bring the railings down and out of blocking the seated view. How is this done? Here’s how I did it.
Paint a mind’s eye picture of a large 16 by 20 foot deck with the 20 foot side against the home. When I look out the inside seated great room view, even with NO railings on the deck, I would need to see past the 16 foot of deck board flooring which stops me from being able to view downwards. If you add the deck railings, I now have those darned railings entirely in my view.
Now imagine that same deck takes the 16 foot depth and sinks down the outside 3 feet of the boarder of the deck so you now have a 3 foot sunken walkway going around the deck on the 3 rail sides. You have now lowered the railing from a required 36 inches to a visual 28 inches. Now when I am seated on the 13 foot by 14 foot deck, I can see over the railings. I can also see “better” over the railings from the inside of the home. Yes, this COULD be a tripping hazzard but a few, well placed planters along the perimeter alerts guests to the step down. There may never be a reason to actually step down into this area, it is just a device that protects you from falling over the deck side. Now imagine taking this 2 steps down. All this extra step requires is another 10 to 12 inches of space so instead of having 3 foot of “wasted” deck space, you have 3 foot 10 inches of “wasted” space. BUT, you now have a great view over the 36 inch high railings because the visual top of rail is only 20 inches high! I would argue that this space is NOT wasted at all since it just provided you with an opportunity to see the view that you could not see any other way(unless you resort to more costly glass panel rails. Let’s really dream now and imagine doing this 2-step down deck rail system and then doing these railings in those glass panels. WOW. you now get a real view since the step down does more than get rid of the rail obstructed view, it also maximizes the view since you can now look downward. This is something that glass rail panels alone can not do. You could take this 3 steps down but then code would require you did a safety set of rails for walking down any steps over 2 steps.
If you think this is a neat idea, SO DO I! I have never seen this idea used anywhere except in my mind’s eye. If you have seen anything like this sunken deck rail idea, please let me know. Often times, we humans (that’ me) have a way of seeing something then forgetting we saw it and think the idea is our own. I hope I am not inadvertently doing that here.
The more I thought about this deck and patio placement norm which we all have come to accept as the “only” place to put a deck, my next blog will tell you about a real, far out “wild idea” that I spent the day designing into a cool new model design. You blog readers will be the first to be told my newest deck placement “secret”. I get excited just thinking about it and I can’t wait to share it with you ….next time.
Note: I had a pretty interesting comment about my most recent blog entry about “solar Power..Or Not”. Look for this hot comment and my answer coming soon. Look for this comment and my reply under this “Solar Power …or not” recent blog entry. Check it out!
March 23rd, 2010
I am just now posting my replyto the passionate comments made by a blog reader on my recent commentary about Solar Power. I apologize now for my brief comments taking way too many words.
If you want a good (long) read, first read Brandon’s original comments, than you can read my reply. I would appreciate your comments if you wish to join the conversation. What are your feelings about solar power if you were buyng a home?
I will continue the Decks/Patios subject next time.
March 25th, 2010
In Part 1 of this blog, I mentioned how I have been fascinated about how we humans all seem to get caught up in taking the same paths again and again. With patios and Decks, we all think the only place for them must be the backside of the home, and I was simply questioning WHY do we think this way?
One of the reasons is the privacy that the back yard affords us from the front yard and the other is that the best views of our properties are usually on the backside. I went on at length about how many folks find a great building site with a great view,then put loads of windows on the rear of the home to capture the view, then proceed to block half of the effective view by sticking up a deck with a hand rail that blocks our vision. Have you ever tried sitting on a deck and seeing past the hand railings?
I then went on to discuss the merritts of applying a new concept I have been pondering about how to diminish this handrail view-blocking effect. In this blog entry, I want to bring up the newest “wild idea” I have been having about the actual placement of the deck or patio. In the past few years, I have thought more about the matter of creating several steps as you exit the rear of the home onto the deck/patio. In this way, the deck railings are brought down and away from the window blocking issue. When feasible, I have designed decks to work with the main window view of the home. Let’s say, you have a major view to capture, say, you are suspended over a hill , and want the view to see both the sky and the ground. This means, NOT putting the deck across the rear, but rather across a rear corner of the home, so as to get that view blocker out of the way of the great room windows.
Another idea that has really picked up a lot of my pondering space is putting the patio or deck onto the side of the home. I have been so excited about this concept, that I spent a good part of last week designing a possible home for our upcoming Parade Of Homes to have a side deck. The side deck idea, eliminates any possibility of the blocking of a rear view off the home. My design starts with putting the great room along one whole side (front to back of entire home) and then having patio doors (doorS as in plural) along the side of this great room, and big windows viewing to the rear of the great room.
Remember, if the deck spans also from the front of the home to the rear of the home(across one entire side, all 31 feet of home depth, but it could have just been the rear side of this area), the deck is still enjoying a rear view of the property. This deck could still be entered from the rear corner of the home if desired. Now, let’s take this concept up another notch.
Folks love a front porch. Why could we not attach this front porch to this side patio/deck so as to allow folks to stroll from front to back of home? Let’s get a little “crazier” yet. Let’s say, we have side yard issues of privacy. So, you are living on a lake lot or other such close neighbor lot. You might want better side yard privacy from the view of others. Why not consider putting a wall across the one side of this deck/patio? What I designed was a classic looking old Victorian influenced home which ran the porch roof line past the side of the home, then around the side of the home but did not actually have a roof over the patio area. There was nothing stopping me from also putting a roof over this area, and putting porch posts or lattice work to support the roof. I chose instead to use a mansard(google that, but it is sort of like a McDonalds-style fake roof that surrounds a flat top building) roof to go around the parameter of this side deck/patio, and then conceal a full trellis sun slat board ceiling over the area.
The more I designed, the more I discovered. This is often the case for experimenting with new twists. I could have a two sided fireplace or an outdoor fireplace to further create this outdoor “room” effect. I brainstormed a whole lot more concepts on this wonderful patio/deck arrangement, but I must leave a few surprises for you to ask me in person.
This weekend, is our first (and , who knows, maybe our last) MIRACLE LAKE HOUSE WEEKEND. I have designed and built a great twist on our popular Dream series DT2000 which we are building for a second-time Miracle client in Oconomowoc. This Okauchee Lake home is just entering the finish carpentry stage, and is looking quite interesting. When doing a lake home, my first desire is to get all “custom” and spread my imaginative wings. This client however, had a tighter desired budget. Sure, they could afford more, but they wanted to keep it simple. In keeping with that idea, if you log onto our homepage and see the exterior photos, you will see the essential shape of this home remains a salt-box. The client allowed me to use differing colors, and dividing frieze boards to give some under spoken design elements to the identity of this unique home. The end result also saw us eliminate some upstairs rooms in favor of a two-story great room, and a 12 foot tall basement that resembles a basketball court in size. What I was particularly pleased with is that the price was kept around the $200,000 price tag. When you add a great lot that needed an out dated home replaced, the total package for a lake home was still around $500,000, (not including the landscaping or decks). See our home page for open times and details.
If you want to talk about design or decorating or any such home subject, you can meet me at another lake home we are showing in the town of Summit. This is a cottage-style Summer home which could easily a year-round home or a replace and build-type package. We did not build this home, but I hope you will stop by and visit. This home is a super value! . We also have our $199,000 lot and home package sample home open in Ixonia, and our final 2 luxury Miracle Models open (and for sale) in Monterey. All of this, this “lake country” area, special weekend.
Don’t miss the fun!
March 27th, 2010
Hello blog readers,
I am heading out the door very shortly to our big MIRACLE LAKE HOUSE WEEKEND. Even if you are not looking for a lake house, join us in Milwaukee(91st and Good Hope), Ixonia(a Sneek Preview of our $199,000 Rent Buster Ranch, now entering finish stage PLUS two other early- construction homes a few blocks away), our Monterey main site that has 2 luxury Miracle homes to see, as well as our two lake houses, one in Summit which is an existing home(I’ll be there), and a customized version of our “rent Buster” $199,000 two-story home. This one is NOT $199,000, but you can see how we can customize our standard home to be about anything you can imagine).
Get the details on our home page, linked to our other Lake House Weekend at the top of the page. Hope to see you there!
March 28th, 2010
I just returned from our first Miracle Lake House Weekend and , if crowds are any indication of the housing market, this market is on a huge upswing!
We had nearly 75 visitors at our Lake house we are building on Okauchee Lake and I had about 40 visitors at the Lake House property I was showing on Golden Lake. We also had solid attendance at our Monterey and Ixonia models HOWEVER, I really must apologize to those of you who went to Ixonia only found this home not open. We had a scheduling error which caused our sales person to accidentally go to a different home and was quite late in discovering the mistake.
I believe I have several appointments set to visit lake house lots to design homes on these lots. Thanks to all who made today a busy, productive day for us.
While I have you , I want to share a quick creative idea with you about home “presentation” that I noticed today when I was seeing folks visit the Lake home I was in. If you are looking to sell or show a home, consider appealing to as many senses as possible. Most folks only think about making sure the house “looks” as good as possible . While visual is the strongest sense we need to appeal to when home shopping, please don’t forget the other senses as well.
The smell of a home is very important. I had purchased a few Glade brand plug-in devices with the “fresh linen” smell to let the nose subconsciously relay that this home is “fresh” as a new load of wash. I also, turned on the pot belly cast iron fireplace to give off an aroma of fire.
I even had one visitor reply that they knew I had a fire in the fireplace because they smelled it in the air outside as they drove up. This is a gas unit, so what they probably were smelling was the piles of leaves which the current home owners had burned just the day before. They were trying to spurce-up the property in planning for the open house.
Another big sense to appeal to is the sense of touch or “feel“. For this sense, it is mostly all about the temperature. On a hot day, folks love to feel the immediate sense of air conditioning coolness as they enter a home. On a briskly chilled day like today, I wanted the heat to immediately relay a sense of coziness and warmth. Folks were drawn in by the fire, as this home happens to have the fireplace in a visually good focal point area for seeing from the entry door. I had several folks stand in front of the fireplace as soon as they entered.
As for taste, I always want some candy laying around so visitors can feel at home and get a little treat. In this case, I put a canister on the Kitchen counter full of individually wrapped hard candies. I always keep a few bottles of water in the refrigerator in case someone is thirsty. In one case this weekend, one lady was coughing and seemed to have a tickle in her throat. This water stopped the tickle to a good extent, and I appeared to be the “good” host.
As for the sense of hearing or “sound”, I like to have a background music that seems in harmony with the home I am in. I used three cuts of music on a CD player which were sweeping seaside reminders. A classy orchestration of strings and horns in an upbeat melody. We want folks to feel good about being in this home, and music is a powerful influence to this. Music also allows several visitors to feel free to talk at the same time. When there is no music, the showings seem more like a library.
I always say to my sales staff that I don’t want them to get to a home and just let people come in before the home is properly “turned-on” for presentation. If I would just walk-in, this home would have no lights turned on, no music to hear, no fire to set the smell, and the heat would still be at 55 instead of a cozy 74 degrees. I would not yet have opened my bag of candy and had everything looking , feeling, smelling, hearing, and tasting ready for my visitors.
This is one big reason why I often leave the music playing n a loop, the temperature turned-up, and the candy out AND a few key lights turned-on when I leave a home which is for sale. Who knows, if we get a sudden call from a broker who wants to show the home, and I can not get to the home before the broker does, at least some elements are ready to show without me being there.
The more senses you can appeal to , the better the remembrance and the more sales will likely follow. There is definitely something to having the smell of fresh bread baking in the oven that has been rumored to have sold homes in the past.
Thanks for blogging with me. Until we blog again…
March 31st, 2010
I don’t know of any builder who has a warranty that covers squeaky floors. I don’t know anyone who has built a new home that wants a squeaky floor in their home. When you have a new home and the floor squeaks, it is is really seeming to squeek an annoying reminder that the home you paid for , is really not all it should be. Squeaks are a constant reminder of lesser quality , and no one wants lesser quality. I HATE squeaky floors!
That being said, I can not honestly say that the homes we build do not have squeaky floors. I wish I could, I strive for the day that I can say “my floors don’t squeak”, but alas, my floors DO squeak(unfortunately…most unfortunately indeed). I can however say that I think what I do to build our best quality floor system, I think results in us having the “least squeaky” floors you will find today in most any new home.
Over the years, time and again, I have been momentarily excited that I had seemingly found the answer to eliminating the squeak problem. But, after testing these solutions over time, I have found flaws in the methods I had thought were THE big solution, still had squeaks. Here’s a short explanation of my history with squeaks and what does and does not work…and why.
My first homes were built using the “hey, everyone else is doing it, so it must be right” method. I used 2 x 10 solid wood floor supports(floor joists) and then glued and nailed 1/2 inch plywood sheets to these floor joists. After the drywall was completed, I then stapled clean 1/2 inch smooth particle wood sheets to the (now) plaster spattered first layer of plywood. This system is called a double -layer floor and for a very long time(even for some today , it is considered the Cadillac of floor systems.) It was costly to do this double floor since the clean finish sheeting had to be cut to fit around every wall and doorway. This top layer was stapled every 6 inches or so. The result was a floor which was an inch thick! I always thought this was an odd way to do the floor since it was still only 1/2 inch thick under all of the areas where the walls came in contact witht the first layer of floor. This seemed a bit unsturdy, at leat to me.
I did use this system on my own “first” personal home. This was a squeak nightmare since , unlike a true inch thick plywood sheet of wood that is factory glued together, this is really asking for trouble by simply stapling two 1/2 inch layers together in the field. The layers end up separating, then the squeaks really multiply. Once you have a squeak of this nature, it is very hard to even imagine how to repair it without taking off the carpet or ceramic tile, or hardwood, or whatever.
The next big thing was to use one single layer of plywood sheet that was 3/4 inch thick. This too was glued and nailed. The newer nails had little ridges on them which helped stop the nails from backing out and squeaking over time. This was called a ring-shank nail. These floors seemed to squeak less but they still squeaked. Many builders today are still using this method, including us on some smaller custom homes whos clients are demanding a lower price. We do fully explain the ups and downs of this before we sell it to anyone.
The next big step I took early on to separate us from most others was to use a support system of floor joists that were less “bouncy” than a 2 x 10 system. I changed to 2 x 12′s and began to not maximize their allowable spans. If I just lost you, that means, putting basement beams closer together so I am not trying to bridge my floor over long distances. The less bouncy I make the floor system, the less chance of squeaks. the more a a floor moves when you walk on it (you may not notice it moving under your weight, but it does), it is more likely to eventually squeak.
I am getting to the unusual creative solution, so stay awake.
I then found out that using the common grade woods for my floor support frame could be improved. Most floor support joists are made of solid species of pine, spruce, or fir. If I was to specify a more costly Douglas Fir, I would have to have the lumber companies special order and stock it just for me since no other builder was likely to order this costly upgrade.
That is exactly what we did. The Douglas Fir was much longer grained and was much less flexible. The result was to get me a step closer to having that elusive squeak-free floor. To this day, hardly a home shopper seems to care about my Douglas Fir upgrade. Wood is wood, to most folks. Even with my Douglas Fir “solution”, I still had squeaks!(Darn it!)
Now it was the late 1990′s and I had just gone to Neu’s hardware’s factory rep annual showcase of tools. I saw a very neat idea of a screw gun device. At this time, no other home builder ,I knew of , was screwing their floors down. I got on the phone to my main carpentry contractor, right at that factory-rep show. This carpentry contractor did/does work for MANY builder’s in town and he has other family members who do work for many other Wisconsin builders. He tried at first to convince me to stick with the nails and glue. I didn’t listen and ended up buying two of these screw gun rigs and lots of screws. I had this carpentry crew use them on two of my models they were building. I remember them not liking it too much as they glued and screwed the plywood sheets to the Douglas Fir floor framework.
I must mention, at this point, I had also seen that the traditional plywood was not as flat or stable a product as the more popular OSB (oriented Strand Board) commonly seen by most ordinary folks as chip-board or particle board. There was some snob-appeal to using “real” plywood, but beyond the plywood mindset, I could see no advantage to trying to get rid of squeaks and yet using a sheet of wood(plywood) that was already curling when fresh off the truck!
Anyway, the screw system , once again, was NOT the answer, The floors still squeaked! I was flabbergasted! I could not imagine what more I could do to get rid of the squeaks. It then occurred to me that even using the screw guns, the screws simply took a little longer to install. In this little longer time frame, the glue was drying , in some area, before the floor ply was being screwed-off.
Again,I had another “AHHA” moment! I would now use Douglas fir 2 x 12′s , glue, Screws, but first, before the screws, I would nail the floors first to get the glue to squeeze down first, BEFORE I used the screws. At that time in our history, I was able to advertise, I was the only area builder using screws and Douglas Fir 2 x 12′s. A few builders heard my constant “bragging” on the radio and two years later, I started seeing others doing the screws. Maybe it was not really me who caused other builders to use screws, it may have just been that the time for this technology had simply “arrived”.
By the early 2000′s, the age of another floor product had also arrived. Everyone, except me was now using what many called the “Silent Floor” TJI (I beam shaped particle board and plywood shaped to an “I” shape)floor joists. The big advantage was that this TJI boards were not supposed to change shape very much in the humidity and are each exactingly built to the same straight shapes. The other big advantage is/was , they could span longer distances without bending as much (deflecting is the engineering term). This means theoretically, less squeaks. I resisted using this product , since my newest system, while still having SOME squeaks, was as low of a problem as I had ever seen. I was now having many several year old homes that were not squeaking at all. Why would I want to change something that was working?
My urge to improve to a ZERO-SQUEEK level overcame me and I began to use these TJI boards on one test home project. That model’s floors eventually began squeaking so I swore-off TJI’s (supposedly) forever. My lumber company continued to badger me to use these TJI floor supports. They said, they would donate the product to another model home AND have a factory rep be present on the job to make sure we were installing them correctly. Whenever a product fails to perform, the factory fingers usually point to the installer.
I AGAIN, used the TJI product and AGAIN, I had squeaks. They started from the day they were installed and I remember 5 experts standing in a wet , unfinshed basement of this new home all looking up and no one had any idea of how to fix the squeaks!(Darn, Darn it!) The best they could suggest was “use more screws”. We had already screwed most of the floor every 6 inches!
I returned to my tried and true methods and kept on looking for that perfect 100% solution. In 2006, I attended the World’s biggest home show for professional builders. The International Home Builder’s Show. Here I found my latest , newest “thrill” in creating the perfect non-squeaking floor. Boy was I excited. This was an idea no other builder had likely even heard of. This was my big chance to finally get rid of those squeaks FOR GOOD.
I will tell you the “big” secret solution in my next blog.
Lots of happy home shoppers out there. I continue to get a great kick out of seeing the excitement we are creating in so many lives! It definitely IS NOT about the money that makes doing what I do worth jumping out of bed each morning. Boy, I LOVE this job!!
April 3rd, 2010
Last time, I talked about my continued “quest” of trial and error to find the way to build the 100% no-squeak floor system. I tried so many promising things but eventually, they all squeaked to some extent. One good squeak can dampen a lot of the enthusiasm for a new home and remember, builder’s rarely cover a squeaky floor because no one has yet to figure out the way to build one squeak-free. Even so, we do “try” to fix squeaks whenever practical. Sometimes, when the squeak is under a vinyl floor or on a second story floor(with no acess to the underbelly of the floor from below) there is no easy fix without ripping everything out.
The problem is that wood, by it’s very nature, changes shapes as the seasons add humidity or dry out. One company offers an engineered floor support(I-joists)board made of particle wood wafers and ply-wood they call the “Silent Floor” system. When we used this system , first by ourselves and then under the direct supervision of the manufacturer reps, the floors squeaked. We ended up going back to our best performing system which was a better solid wood (Douglas Fir) than common Pine, Spruce, or Fir. This wood was longer grained and stiffer so the floor board joists(that was what these were used for) did not flex(deflect) very much. Second, we made the widths of this Douglas Fir support wood thicker of 2 x 12′s instead of 2 x 10′s. Third, we made sure that we were not over-spanning the distances these wood supports were laying on from the beams below. This also helped with not flexing the joists very much.
Next, we used a triple fastening of the OSB (wood wafer/strand product) to the joists using glue, nails, and lots of screws. This was a pretty reliable system but we then came across our next squeak improvement idea, thickening the plywood(OSB, but I will simply call this ply-wood because the product of wood strands is still made in plys/layers)from the traditional 3/4 inch to a 7/8th thickness. This meant the floor boards were now so solid that the flexing would be further minimized. At this point, this upgraded, upgraded, upgraded, floor system was only standard on our higher-end series of homes. In the standard series homes such as our Dream Series, and our Genesis Series, we still remained using the more conventional systems of 2 x 10′s of Pine, Spruce, or Fir, 3/4 inch floor boards, and securing this with nails and glue.
We had, like every builder in town, pretty good success with the standard system and excellent success with our higher-end system. Neither of the systems were however fool-proof, so I searched for a creative solution that would get me to my 100% squeak-free solution. I thought I had surely found it a few years ago, when I came across a “miracle” Wild Idea cure at the big International Home Builder’s Show(IHBS). The product looks like a green,thick, roll of tape. It is in fact, not tape, but rather a foam gasket which has a slippery plastic coating on one side of the foam”tape” and a sticky adhesive on the other side of the tape(I guess it wouldn’t be tape without the sticky side…right).
This foam gasket tape was about an inch wide and the intention of the product is to put it on top of every floor joist. That means putting it between the plywood floor panels and the floor joists. This means you would not use or need the glue. This also means, you would not really need the nails either since the screws would now work just fine as there is no glue drying issues to worry about(see my previous blog entry for more on this aspect). The slippery side assists the carpenters when they are trying to slam the plywood onto the joists, then slide them into place. Boy, they sure slide nicely for the carpenters! Since the carpenters don’t really need to use glue, they don’t charge me more to do this application of foam tape to every floor joist top.
The foam works to take up any gaps which may occur as the wood products change shapes with the seasons. What a concept! The side benefit is that this product also helps create a sound deadening effect between the floors since this foam gasket deadens sound transference.
I now had my 100% solution , or so I thought. The real test would have to be in using this product to put into a house and see what happens over time. I started using this (again) only on my higher-end home series. The results were phenomenal! I had no squeaks in any home either during or after construction. I used this method in my models, and even in last years Parade Of Homes model. In every case, I had no, not a single, itsey-bitsey squeak. I had indeed found my elusive method and now I wanted to keep the secret as my Miracle Homes exclusive product/system.
Then came the day
One of my key staffers was having me design one of our Dream Series homes to have a unique circular floor plan with a circular open two story foyer. As we came closer to construction commencing on his home, I talked to him about maybe considering using this product/system. He jumped at the idea and immediately ordered it to be part of his home. A year and a half later after he has moved-in, I still continue to have annoying squeaks reported in this one staffer’s home! My 100% solution, crashed and burned on this one home. I pondered what had happened? I called and asked other folks who I had built this gasket foam system in their homes(they had moved into my models and had lived there for a few years time) and no one else has reported a single squeak! I am now convinced that the one , somewhat squeaky(in only a few select areas remind you) staffer’s home is most likely due to us having to use a lot of metal joist hangers in the second floor due to the unique curved open-foyer design, and a maximized span of joists on this second floor in one room. The only way to find out for sure, would be to tear out the floor plywood and see what is really happening. In some seasons, this is not really as noticeable or as annoying(I guess) but the journey continues to the solution.
If there is any moral or observation to take form my 100% solution “quest”, it is that perfection is hard to find. I am still determined and I have surely learned a lot about construction techniques from this journey. I suppose you might say, while we have not yet been able to build the sqeak-free 100% floor, we likely have one of the best systems out there probalby NOT to do with any one magic-bullet product, but more likely just because my carpentry crews know I am trying to achieve this goal and therefore they are really watching all the little details. That is what is called “putting your mind to a job”. The quest continues!
Hey, on the solar powered home news(look back at a comment I had on the solar subject and read my solar blog), a day or two ago, I heard something interesting which I will share breifly next time, along with a new creative idea.
April 9th, 2010
Cool is definitely “in”…real “in”(Daddy-o)! In case you have not read any of my previous blogs, my qualifications are not only as the lead designer of (now) over 2,000 homes,but I have also decorated countless numbers of these homes. I know many respected home designers who know little about home decorating. That, I see as a disadvantage since a properly designed home should not be a challenge to fit furnishings into. MANY folks tell me that their home is big but does not fit furnishings very well.
That is likely because their home’s designer did not care about sweating furnishing details and re-arranging entire rooms because they only had one possible spot to fit a couch. I prefer at least 2 couch spots , a big hutch wall, walls that will work with large wall art, enough space next to windows for curtains , enough space on your foyer tile floor to fit a 3ft. x 5ft. rug in front of the door WITHOUT covering the ornate tile design inlay or tile boarder. BUT, LET”S GET BACK TO “COOL being “IN“.
You see, just knowing how to place furnishings and having traffic and sight line paths that make living easy and joyful is not enough. Just having walls that are well insulated and the latest “green” gizmo, and the nicest carpets ,and granite counter tops, is not enough. I don’t care how much attention you put into all of the floor plan, quality, and features, it’s not going to cut the mustard in selling the home and that is because despite ALL of these important things, if it isn’t “cool”, it isn’t going to sell, at least is not going to sell very soon or at a very high price.
I beleive that folks decide they are going to buy a home in the first 30 seconds after entering a home. The rest of the touring and talking is just a series of justifications which allow the purchasese to happen. Homes today need to have that elusive “cool” factor and I believe few builders, few home designers have figured this out. Some home decorators HAVE figured this out, but I see many, MANY home builders and designers who think that throwing a lot of money at a home and including high-end features is going to do the trick. A year ago, I was in a home that was quite expensive on a larger lot, with a super view. The home designer apparently had little thought about where to put the furnishings once the home was built. This home had a two-story great room with a huge, expensive , soaring combination of stacked windows. This home had very high end amenities. It had all the hot buttons, yet it was languishing on the market for way too many months.
I was called-in to assist (a friendly competitor) to use some of my furnishings to help decorate and stage the home. This rectangular room was indeed a challenge to fit couches into. At first, nothing would seem logical where the seats could view the big windows and yet also see a television, a fireplace, and allow folks to walk through the room without weaving through furnishings. I orderd two couches and a love seat to be delivered to the home and one of my assitants gave the set-up a very quick attempt. It did not work and i stood a log time on the balcony trying to imagine the answer. I found the magic key, when I placed the furnishings all on 45 degree angles to the walls. Suddenly, it all worked AND the layout began to be “cool”. I staggered a set of 4 matching framed art pictures amongst the tall soaring window arrangement. I put a floor rug into the furnishing group on an angle as well.
I could not do anything about a dining room that had barely enough room to seat 4 or a traffic path to the deck that was awkward for guests, but “COOL” trumped logic and the home sold. The home in fact sold to someone who had previously seen the home. I was not there when the home sold but I suspect the buyer who had seen the home previously, liked the new coolness and it pushed them into the sale mode.
I also see home buyers who think one feature in a particular home of mine is “cool”. So, they try to “take” that element and transplant it into a different home design. It rarely works since true coolness is not any one particular item, but rather how many items relate to each other. For example, putting a curved fireplace mantle into a home where there are no other curved items, is likely a bad idea. Putting a “cool” fireplace into an area in a home where it is not easily and prominently seen, is likely also a mistake since the fireplace usually needs to be the heart and soul of the great room and must therefore be prominent.
My biggest case example for “coolness” comes from me having designed a home that I KNEW was a winner. The suprise was that once built, it seemed more like a loser. It had ALL the hot button items. A large kitchen, a walk-in pantry, a Corian topped kitchen island which seats 4, a dinette which seats a possible 8, a great room which has 3 couch positions around a central fireplace. It included 4 nice bedrooms, all with generous walk-in closets. This home design even had a 16 foot long laundry room, and a dining room which is just as much a den if you wish. This home had the best finished basement design for the future. I therefore did not finish the basement, but rather kept every mechanical item confined to a small area so a finishing of this area would be a sinch! I even plumbed the basement bath and wet bar area.
The real kicker was that this wonderfully laid out , large 2024 sqare foot home SEEMED to “have it all” and was priced WAY below anything on the market. It had it all, all except the “coolness” and the buyer. You see, as soon as someone walked through the door, they did not see “cool”. They saw a nice home, but the salesperson had to try to convince them that since this home had all the hot button features, green-built, energy-star, the works, they should therefore want to buy the home. I had forgotten my own big rule”MAKE IT COOL”. I thought, maybe this model was not seelling because of the location, or the market conditions being so poor.
I then went to a big Home Builders conference and I listened to one speaker, who said, if you don’t give the public a reason to move form their present home, why should they move at all? This speaker was telling me something I already knew, but I thought if I was designing the lowest priced home, the fact that the price was so low, and the fact that I was including so much, should be enough to sell the home. In my higher priced homes, I had always tried to get these homes to be the coolest I could create. Money was not as much of an obstacle, so I felt these higher-end buyers deserved to get a really cool house with lots of alcoves, textures, and neat shapes, and lower cost buyers did not deserve or pay for this “coolness.” I may never had spoken these words, but they were ingrained into my design thought process.
Since every builder in town was building low cost homes VERY PLAIN, I adopted that same attitude. Then I thought, why should anyone want to move into a home that was not emotionally connecting to them? What I needed to do was to get past my prejudices that inexpensive homes could not afford to be as “cool” as higher-end, bigger homes, and find ways to creatively AND inexpensively, wow home shoppers with “coolness” with-in the first 30 seconds after stepping in the door. Suddenly,…the light bulb came on and my eyes were opened and the result, …SALES and much more importantly, very elated and happy people!
Next time, we explore how and what I did to create the “coolness” factor on this lower cost home design and make it our best seller.
ONE MORE THING…. In my last blog entry, I mentioned how I had some new “solar” powered home news. Several blogs ago, I went into detail as to why I felt that Solar Power in homes was not such a great idea…yet. I gave the example of how one competitor’s home next to one of our current model homes was solar powered. I went on to say how the original price of that solar powered home was closer to $300,000 than $250,000. I explained how the price had creeped downward to $249,000 and stayed at that price while I was building a smaller home directly next door and was blessed to had soon soldit for more than this neighboring home , before my home was even out of the drywall phase. This solar home is now being offered in the $230′s and I now reverse my opinion on this home to anyone who has read my previous blog. At some point, a home is priced so well that a home shopper can’t ignore it. This IS a high quality home, green built, big, new, and your energy bills will be very small. At this price, I just thought you should know. If anyone wants more information(this is not a home I have built or will make a nickel in selling)on this home, please give me or my staff a call so we may direct you to the builder.
We’ll continue the “cool” subject next blog. C’mon out this weekend and see our Milwaukee, Ixonia, and Monterey homes. The one I am blogging about in this entry is in Milwaukee near 91st and Good Hope.
April 10th, 2010
In my last blog I wrote wrote a few examples of how important it is in the current housing market to give home shoppers a “reason” to build or buy a particular home. I think designing or decorating a home is more than the 3 “F“s of floor plan, function, and features. As I explained one home that on paper, had it all. In reality, this smaller, low price point home lacked the most important feature of simply being very “cool” in how it pulled-off it’s presentation.
Finding a unique and appealing way to design and present a home is akin more to being a good artist than being a good designer or builder. I have seen many excellent quality homes with solid floor plans that fail to excite the home shopper. The home I previously mentioned is a good example. When I sat at the drawing desk , I took many hours tyring to fit all the hot button items into the design and make sure the traffic paths and furniture areas worked well. Since this was to be the low cost home to beat all low cost homes, I figured the fact that it had so much yet was so inexpensive would be motivation enough to make folks fall for this one. I forgot to take the design beyond the logistics and into the realm of being attractive or artsy or(sorry for the over use of this word but…) “cool”.
My sales staff thought this basic home was probably just not a winner and they were not too excited to hear I was not giving up on this design but rather I was going to improve the presentation and give this home an artistic makeover. Taking a low budget home and giving it a distinctly cool feel was a matter of not doing big sweeping changes but instead just keeping things simple and unusual. What I am about to explain , you are not able to see very clearly on any floor plan . These things need to be seen to really understand them, but let me try to paint a word picture of some of the “wow” changes.
I was convinced the lay out was solid so I began with givng the first view into the home a better first impression. I placed my self in the front foyer and saw that there was not much there to wow the visitor. The view ahead was of several things that were not so impressive, so I upgraded them. The first thing you see was the front door so I upgraded it to an ornate swirled glass/leaded glass door. The next item you would see is the foyer items so I upgraded the foyer closet to a solid wood door, wide trim, and ceramic tile on the floor instead of vinyl. I also changed the inexpensive slanted half-wall by the stairs to a wood railing idea. So far, none of these ideas are outside the norm of a higher end home, but needed to be done so as not to scream “low cost” apon entering the home. The great room was the most visible thing from the foyer and it was just a big open room . Some were calling it “too” open to the kitchen and dinette areas, which were also a part of this big room. I need to at least suggest mental and visual separations of the great room areas.
My cool factors started by creating a combination of ceiling drops and build-downs from the ceiling (again, you can’t appreciate this on a floor plan visually) which suggested separations in this big open room. I was also able to use these drops to allow me to install some unusual looking crown molding around the couch seating area ceiling. This crown was made of fairly inexpensive drywall items but the finished look was expensive plaster crown molding. I would guess you could travel to scores or even hundreds of area model homes and you probably will not see anything but wood varnished crown moldings. That difference of using a plaster looking effect instead of the common wood look, is what qualifies this as being in the “cool” category.
The fireplace was also made to set into the room as though it was an outdoor fire pit rather than the traditional way of putting a fireplace so it is flush into the wall. I used a relatively inexpensive way to finish the fireplace mantle. Instead of having the fireplace mantle made of wood, or even the new method of using a drywall mantle with rounded (adobe-look) 3/4 inch radius drywall corners, I found a wonderful new drywall corner that was an inch and 1/2 radius and had a mixture of square edge corners mixed with round edge corners. Again, you probably have to see this to understand the shape. The effect had visitors wondering if the mantle was made of sculptured stone, since it did not look like wood or drywall. It matched the ceiling plaster-look crown moldings. Again, creating something, this time, a fireplace, that looks like something folks have not seen before, is a major part of creating the “cool” factor. This fireplace was surely different and neat!
The fanciest item in a room needs to be the thing you see the furthest in the distance. This fancy item serves to draw you into a room or draw you toward it. Sorry to do this, but to continue explaining the way I changed this home, I will have to make this a 3-parter as I have to stop blogging and get to my design work for several exciting new homes I am working on. Check back for more “Coolness” next time.
As for my day today, I am short handed in my sales department(anyone know an interested salesperson , let me know) as our business continues to accelerate way beyond my expectations. I was meeting folks today at open houses and tomorrow will be the same. Someone today came back for a second viewing of the home I was in, which was the home I am currently blogging about. I had told that buyer of a new home which was MUCH less expensive than my home because it had been on the market so long and the builder really just wants to unload their home at this point. This home shopper told me they had no interest in that other home at whatever the price was. If ever there was an example of why creating a “cool” home design is so important, this is a prime case of someone willing to pay more to get the wow factor. This competitor home is every bit the quality of mine, and has more square footage. The price on this home just dropped another $20,000 and this shopper did not seem to care. I guess it must be kind of like falling in love with someone that suits your desires rather than just falling in love with someone’s wallet, or for logical reasons.
Another shopper today had the same comments on the cool factor. They did not like moving out of the city and thought this location was probably too far away form their friends and the bright lights. Once I showed them my new design for the “HYBRID Ranch” (see my very first blog entries for this Generation Y design) I was permitting for in this development, they said they would rather pay more for this unusual new concept home than save money and not be excited to live in their new home. Even when I tried to explain how thie investment value of this marked-down competitor’s home was so attractive, the love in their eyes for that home just was not there. When they told me they had a small home in Milwaukee (900 sq ft)to sell, they said they had recently remodeled it. The first question I asked them about the home they were going to sell was whether they had remodeled it to be “cool”(honestly, I did ask this!). When they told me it was quite cool, I told them they would likely have no problem selling it.
Until we blog again,
April 14th, 2010
Hello All ,
I just wanted to at least give you an update before I go too long without posting. Bear with me whilst I brag and ponder a bit if you will.
I stayed up last night until 4 am working on a wonderful new custom lake home project design which I started at about 8 pm last night. I awoke this morning at 8 to finish the lake house project at about noonish. I only tell you this to say that life is most hectic and most good here at Miracle as the bad economy gets further away in my rear-view mirror. If this was just 4 months ago, I would not be working so long and late since we had more time. We have had the busiest first quarter since 2005! Thank God!
I had a ball doing this lake house design since my favorite projects are the ones where we are trying to do a “great” home and trying to stay in a lower budget. The challenge is to use creative ideas to not let anyone know this project has a budget at all. This is when the creative juices flow heaviest and the solution that came onto my drawing pad would have taken me weeks to complete 10 or 15 years ago. I truly see what the power of sheer hours of experience does for honing skill s and time. I am sure you too see that in your line of work or long-time hobby. The longer you do something the better AND quicker the results.
I also wanted to share that tomorrow, we begin construction of two extraordinary, marvelous new homes in a ( likewise extraordinary ) new Richfield development. They are set to be in the Parade Of Homes , and we only have very few months to complete them. They are indeed so special as they are what you might refer to as “throw-back ” designs. They are heavily rooted in the look of the turn of the century. Some of you may know I am a student of Disney lore and these two homes would be right at home on the streets of Main Street Disneyland, or in a re-creation of a historical district. We excavate tomorrow at daylight and I am busy all day getting two more homes ready to dig in this same subdivision/area.
Much of what I have previously wrote about in these blogs will come to fruition in these new homes including our newest , improved version of my Flooding Patio invention where you can choose to have either a dry patio or a wading pool with tables in it for cooing-off while dining. This one incorporates “greeness” and has a fun water fountain included.
Tomorrow, I travel late to Chicago to the nations biggest Kitchen and Bath show. It feels like Christmas with presents waiting to be opened as I imagine the new things I might see at this show. I will take good notes to share with you all.
I promise, I will get back to my subject of designing the “COOL” into homes soon. Now I have to get back to my real-life designing. As I said, we really are busy and (hint-hint to any sales people or cost estimators out there) WE ARE NOW HIRING!
April 16th, 2010
A few blogs ago, I was mentioning how important today’s buyers value their homes having a very appealing attitude or style. I would call this the ” cool ” factor. I was explaining how I had designed what I felt would be a best seller because it had all the hot buttons you would look for in a home, yet it seemed to fall flat on it’s face when it came to getting folks to buy this home.
Instead of giving up and moving onto another new design as a few of my staffer’s suggested, I was determined to give this excellent, practical , quite inexpensive design an extreme Miracle makeover. The new version was, and is a fantastic success story which is on it’s way to becoming a run-away best seller. The reason, it’s all about building-in more”cool” .
The rear wall of the great room originally was nothing much to look at with a simple patio door. I took lumber and drywall and fashioned a wide decorative frame around the patio door which was located about a foot in front of the patio door. This was built into the ceiling and came all the way to the floor and had angles which look like a three-sided huge picture frame positioned in front of the patio door. I used hidden track lighting to create a glow around the inside of the picture frame. No one had seen anything like it before, so it was/is instantly unusual and appealingly modernly, …cool.
I repeated this effect on an adjacent wall and painted both these mock-frames in a chocolate brown to imitate the cabinetry. I then went on to use 6 different shapes of drywall corners in the home so the effect was scultpural . Most folks are familiar with the standard square drywall corners or the more popular 3/4 inch radius rounded drywall corners. I found a source from the International Builder’s Show who supplies me with 45 degree angled corners for around windows, mini-round corners, and unique square-round(you gotta see this shape to understand it) drywall corners of two sizes. Since folks who want cool, seem to want unusual and tasteful, the effect of seeing drywall corners that no other area builder has available to them, sets this home apart, and definitely on the coolness track.
I also found inexpensive plaster-like crown moldings for in the great room. I found big plaster-like chair railings and a new less costly way to make an entire room of inset wall panels with fancy edged moldings, all of drywall. I used high gloss paints on smooth drywall to give the illusion of the room being made of painted wood and contrasted these glossy wall areas directly against semi-gloss or satin sheen painted wall areas to play with the idea of using varying textures and finishes. Again, since the norm of our industry locally today is to spray the entire house full of knock-down drywall texture and then paint it all one solid color, my varying technique was unusual and grabbed attention.
I built the upstairs hallway’s normal 8 foot high ceiling up to an unusual 11 feet and hung a huge semi-modern chandelier in the center which you saw from the bottom of the stairs in the foyer(when looking upstairs)
I also put two plant shelves onto this tall hall area and a big transom window over one door which was leading into the master bedroom. This glass transom appeared old fashioned and classy and…UNUSUAL.
Instead of adding another one of the millions of common master bedroom tray ceilings(can you say” Ho -Hum” with me?)to this World, I did a single vaulted ceiling and made an angled drywall inset panel of only about an inchof depth to boarder the ceiling edge. Once I painted the ceiling inset panel area, it was unusual and very classy indeed.
I found a very different style of wood floor which was wider 7 inch planks, beveled edges, and they had markings of tooling’s which looked very much like older distressed floors. You might think this would not be appealing to a post-modern look, but the look was overwhelmingly enthusiastic! Again, folks had not seen this before. Even small details like putting a very tall(Expensive to do the whole house) 4.5 inch base molding in only selected areas and around the kitchen island was a huge impact item. I also raised the Master vanity and put in an elongated toilet in the master. All were details that spoke volumes to many who took note of such things.
I added a few other notable cool items such as angles, 2 panel solid wood doors with furniture grade finishes, and handles on the cabinets, and finally, a finished basement with a stylish and minimalistic wet bar AND uniquely drywall-framed theatre wall to make the basement exciting. I also wanted the colors of each level to vary so as to suggest style unique to each floor and change the visitor’s mood as they go through the home. I used richer dark maple on the main floor. I used a pure white upstairs to suggest refined slumber. And, in the basement, I used the newest cabinet and wood colors which is very dark brown, almost black. I call it StarBucks color since I se it in the new-age coffee lounges. It is currently the most popular color for homes on the coasts.
I then re-designed the exterior to give a coolness of mixed shaped gable vents and varying overhangs and differing roof pitches. Some windows were topped with different shapes. Since I used a traditional starting template, for traditional placed windows and a traditional porch, and and older color palette for the exterior, the varying differences of shapes and roof pitches are only noticed subliminally and are not in your face.
Combining common items in ways that are both appealing and unusual are the essence of “COOL”. One of my staffer’s was able to sell another home of this design tonight and last night too. We have two more such homes scheduled to sign this weekend. Not bad, for a home which is essentially, the same home that started ho-hum now is Wowing anyone who sees it. The power of coolness has even transformed a few couples who thought they wanted a ranch into buying this two-story. I had never seen that before.
I am about to go to Chicago tomorrow for the nation’s biggest Kitchen and bathshow. I am feeling great about our housing outlook as we begin our first weekend of the annual MBA Spring Tour Of Homes. We are rushing tomorrow to get our Jackson model entry as close to finished as possible. Tomorrow we have the carpenters, the electricians, the plumber, the counter top installers, the wood floor installers, and the cleaners all coming to try to get this Jackson home finished. This is the latest version design of which I was just explaining to you in this blog. If you want ot see a fully furnished one of these homes, come out to our Milwaukee location. We have another home right across the street from our Jackson 2-story which is a” re-cooled” version of our popular Dream series ranch. It too, is nearing completion.
HEY, IT’S STARTED! Today, we just dug the first of what wil be 4 new homes we are building in Richfield’s newest , truly exciting, subdivison, Reflection’s Village. I am thrilled to be building these homes and putting all the newest ideas we can think of into these showpieces. I am so excitied that I could write blog upon blog on these homes and… I will.
Thanks for blogging. Feel free to leave your questions and comments.
April 19th, 2010
Anyone who has been reading my blog has likely seen the earliest writings of a few moths ago when I explained my HYBRID Ranch concept. If you have no idea what I am writing about, please go back to my first postings. It is a very exciting project and I am thrilled to see it finally coming out of the ground (or to be more exact, going into the ground). It is going to be the centerpiece of our new set of models we are building in Reflection’s Village in Richfield.
This home has been a long time in the designing and tweaking phase and Reflection’s Village is just the place to showcase this latest example of Miracle innovations. I think of Reflection’s Village as a great “experiment” to be a modern development with a look of the older villages of the early 1900′s to 1940 era.
This concept was originally a vision of one man who would later find the financial crunch of just a few years ago just too much to allow him to steer the project. After the long, hard community approval process of Richfield, the project stopped and looked for an investor to buy the project. An investor group was eventually formed and many millions later, Reflections is again on the move but with a slightly different set of guidelines. The important aspect of this being a micro-community with shops, a park, a fishing pond, a swimming pool clubhouse, and lots of walking trails and side walks, is still intact. The original insistence of every home being a certain Victorian-styled , pre-approved motif, is gone in favor of a more diverse style of homes. The Milwaukee Metropolitan Builder’s Association has approved this unique development to be an official site for the big August Parade Of Homes. There are two other sites, one in Pewaukee and one in Franklin, but (while both are first class developments in their own rights) neither has the charm and unusual aspects of this promising concept of being a “Walkable Hamlet”.
As for my involvement, I and my crew have designed 3 homes which will be a part of Reflection’s Village, and a 4th home which will technically NOT be inside the development , but WILL be directly at the entrance into Reflection’s, just across the street on highway 175(Appleton Avenue). If you wish to drive-by, it is quite easy to find. Just take Highway 45 north past Germantown and take the Holy Hill Road exit, heading West. When you go about two or three blocks, you see a Dairy Queen and a school. Turn left(South) at that corner and in 2 blocks, you will see Reflection’s on the left(East).
Presently, the Village of Richfield will not allow any permits to be taken except for Parade lots until the development’s pump house is built and running. The general prices for these lot/home packages will be in the $400 to $500,000 . The lots are seemingly expensive until you realize the lots include the sewer community mound systems in the price. Frankly, the VERY high architectural standards are pushing the prices substantially upward. On the other hand, I truly believe that these very high standards are the key element to this development working.
While two of my homes will likely be kept as longer-term models(mostly due to the higher amenities and price tags that these homes will carry, not because I am interested in “collecting” long-term homes), the other two homes I am building are not only going to be fun and stunningly beautiful masterpeices(if I do say so myself), I also intend these homes to be the best values in the development with price tags (yet undetermined as of this time) probably near the $375,000 to $415,000 area. For this life style, anyone who wants to reserve one of these special homes knows to call us…soon.
ON ANOTHER PAST SUBJECT…
I have been telling you folks about the solar powered new home which is right next door to one of our models. It has been reported by one of my staffers that this home now may have an accepted offer on it. If this is true, I congratulate the new buyers and think the price was just SO RIGHT and it was a great , reduced buy. As I expressed, the original price was closer to $300,000. The home sat on the market nearly a year and was eventually reduced to the very low $200,000′s. If you are thinking going “green” in building a new home, be careful. VERY CAREFUL, not to go extreme green.
You and I may, or may not ,think the price for things like solar panels, and triple-pane windows, and foam insulated walls, and Geo-thermal, and on and on are great investments. The biggest issue standing in the way of making these ideas all work is the bank’s appraisals. We have seen several solar panel homes simply cost more to build than the bank is willing to lend. The appraisers do not have enough comparables to assess the homes to the kind of money needed , so if you really want to go ultra-green, get ready to bring extra ( I am resisting saying extra green)money to the table to make the loan work since you will likely need to subsidize the bank loan for the home yourself . We just had a few cases of folks who wanted nothing more than to add some (not all) of these green items to their dream homes and found themselves as much as $40,000 short of the home’s contracted price.
I am taking photos of the Reflection’s Village homes while they are being built, and hope to share them with you each week. I did go to Chicago a few days ago to the huge National Kitchen and Bath show. Perhaps next time I can share some news on this show and what I saw. I was only there a half of a day but came away with a stuffed bag of good ideas.
Thanks for so many of you coming out to see me at this past weekend’s opening of the MBA Spring Tour Of Homes. Remember, we are open this coming Thursday night at Milwaukee, Jackson, and Monterey, form 6 to 8 at night.
April 21st, 2010
Jacquie and I had been married for one year and were living a a small 2 bedroom apartment near Northridge Mall with our one year old son Nik and another child on the way. Jacquie was working at a banking clearing house for cash withdrawal card services, and I was working at Duchow’s Marine in Pewaukee doing advertising and sales. Like so many folks of my situation and age, I wanted the American dream of owning a home, preferably BUILDING a new home. Due to our inadequate financials, every bank seminar that was held, which I attended(frequently) told me that my dream was more of a “pipe dream“.
I was (still am) a workaholic, but found time to steal away to visit various model homes on my drive from work to home. We were so poor, I distinctly, clearly recall me wanting to go to the Parade Of Homes at 5 Feilds subdivision in Pewaukee, but the 5 dollar entry tickets were honestly just too much of an extravagance at the time. Jacquie, always the realist, did not want to go with me to the various open house and home shows since this only was feeding a dream that was seemingly unlikely to happen.
Since I loved promotions and advertising, I just kept on visiting all the builder’s models and collecting home plans. I kept saying, I could do this or that better than this or that builder. I kept dreaming of the day and kept calling bankers to see if they would give me a break and give us a loan. I distinctly also remember me walking by Pete, a nice sales person at Duchows. He was sitting at his sales desk near the front door and I sat down at this desk and he told me about how he financed his home. I was so jealous of the interest rate he had locked-in. The rate was a stunningly low 9.9% and we both just knew we would never see rates that low again. Seriously, this was how we felt , and this was his rate. The year was around 1988 or 1989 as I recall and the rates of the day were 11 or 12% as I recall. If someone else out there remembers this time period, please correct me if I am wrong, but double-digits were not unusual at all. Boy have we all gotten spoiled with today’s 4.9 or 5.3% rates.
When we finally did find one very special banker who had the “power” to grant our financing dreams, I was elated when the day came when we could actually begin construction of our new home. I was out at that home every moment I could manage to be there. I got a natural “high” from being on that job site. Today, I still feel that high and I still clearly recall my emmotions of that first home start every time someone comes to me and we start their new home. For some, the starting process of appraisers who appraise way to low of a value, or the back and forth cost cutting the clients go through to get into their budget, or the struggles getting the design approvals all make the dig-day just that much more special when it arrives.
This last week, I got to do something which was as high of an emotional high as when I built my first home. I began construction on not one, but 4 new model homes, all in the same general location, namely, Reflection’s Village , in Richfield. If you don’t know, I live in Richfield, just 2 minutes from these 4 homes. To be more accurate, I did not actually commence construction on all 4 homes, yet. I have dug holes and started basements on 3 of the 4 and the 4th is coming very soon as we await a Wisconsin sanitary permit to arrive.
These are not just ordinary (we don’t do ordinary) Miracle Homes. Each of these homes has something “special” unto itself. Each has something new that has never been done quite like this before. One, our HYBRID Ranch (read my earliest blog posts) is so fantastic in unique features, I am up at all hours researching and designing just how we will be able to create all of the many fantasies we have imagined.
We have imagined a new version of our invention, the “Flooding Patio”. This is a sunken patio, complete with tables and chairs which can be easily (and quickly) flooded to become a wading pool. You can sip drinks and entertain while you and your friends dip their toes into 2 inches of cool water OR you can fill this patio a few feet deep to use for kids play and swimming.
We are taking our concept of our unique invention the Tri-Screen theatre and making it more deluxe than ever. This is 3 , 10 foot movie screens that are adjoined to create one huge 6 foot tall by 30 feet long image. We use a camera rig of 3 cameras to shoot footage of ocean waves by the beach, of lush green forests, or of purple night city-scapes. The intient is to put our viewers into the image and make them feel as though they are “there”. At the same time that each 7 minute scenes change from , say, the blue seaside waves to the green forests, all the table tops and bar top , and even the walls of the room all turn the corresponding color and the (player) baby-grand piano music changes to suit the new scenes mood. All of this done automatically, all on cue.
For the kids, we are working on our first kid’s bedroom suite where the sitting room/play room joins together to become a wonderful theatrical experience not with video screens, but rather in fully lighted rooms showing what in effect is more like a stage show/puppet show that is (again) fully automated. When this Miracle invention is complete, we hope to have kids be able to take their favorite illustrated book and bring it to life on stage. The action would be synchronized to music and lighting and other moving effects which I have never seen done before. I think it is safe to say, that every room both inside and outside(yes, outside rooms too) have something very special to remember.
It will all begin with a special presentation in our main garage entry which will resemble a seminar stage where we will give a short 10 minute presentation to everyone who enters the homes. Imagine, deciding that instead of sleeping in your master suite tonight, you and your spouse decide to sleep in the backyard cabana. An at -home get-away that makes you feel like you are sleeping at a vacation resort destination. Catch an outdoor movie right from your cabana’s bed, just outside the glass wall.
If anyone thinks they have seen or heard it all, we are just getting started in making your home, the most magical, special place of all. Now, I go back to spending my wee hours of the night making sure we have enough pixie-dust loaded in our wands to make this all really happen.
Note: Don’t forget to see me at the Spring Tour special open house night this Thursday night 6 to 8 and this weekend 12 to 4. I will likely be in Jackson. We are also open Monday night from 6 to 8.
April 24th, 2010
Today was the second Saturday of the annual MBA Spring Tour Of Homes. It poured and drizzled rain all day so I was curious as to the attendance potential. We had about 30 visitors in all at the 3 open locations. Not too bad, considering.
One hot item we are showing is the option of having a 2 panel door instead of a 6 panel. This is nothing all that new. 4 years ago, I made sure our new model homes back then were going to show 2 panel doors. Back then, 2 panel were a newer thing. Back then, arch topped cabinets were just going “out” of vouge so I made sure the doors were also squared on the top panels. It has taken a while for this trend to catch on, but it seems like it is now here. Today when I was at our Jackson Spring Tour model home, it came to mind how popular this 2 panel idea has now become.
This Jackson home looks pretty complete in most ways, except it is missing 3 doors and the corresponding door frames. You see, door frames usually come WITH the doors attached and all is stained and finished. I have been waiting for the last 3 , 2 panel doors to arrive to this job. My supplier tells me he has tried to get these doors at several distributors, and they all seem to be experiencing a run on these doors. Today’s home buyer still sees a lot of the more common 6 panel doors. Funny thing, the 2 panel doors cost MORE than the 6 panel. The reason is because while it may appear cheaper to make 2 panels instead of 6, the 6 panels are made in such huge quantities and are so plentifully warehoused, the factories are seeming to take longer to re-tool and re-organize to change the emphasis to the 2 panel doors.
Another thing I run into all the time when it comes to selling the upgraded 6 panel doors is the seemingly informed consumer. The consumer is not the problem, the mega-home center phenomenon is the culprit. When we quote someone the current up-charge for a solid wood door, we find many times our client does not understand why our up-charge is more than the price of a new door at Menards or Home Depot. Today, you see 6 panel doors in newspaper flyer’s for these type of stores touting a low $99(more or less) per door price , and we are charging $125 or $135 for the seemingly same door.
We find this same situation occasionally in the area of lighting or plumbing or whirlpool tubs. Funny thing, on many other items , we usually find our prices often lower than those big stores. Let me try to generalize an explanation as to why SOME builder items MAY sometimes cost a little more than at the mega-discount home centers.
Let’s take the 6 panel pine door. The mega-stores usually use a common pine species of wood. Common pine can be troublesome to stain as it may look blotchy since stain unevenly absorbs into common pine. The grain of common pine doors is usually uneven and not especially attractive when compared to hardwoods like oak , maple, or cherry. The type of pine doors we use is a higher-end species of Riata pine. Riata pine takes a stain considerably better and has graining that is more attractive than common pine.
In the past, we have ordered doors from the mega-home centers. When we have had an issue of peeling veneer or splitting jambs occur well after the warranty period, the stores understandably will not cover the deficiencies. When we have issues with our supplier’s doors, they are usually quick to resolve the issues, even (in some cases) long after the warrenty period is over.
Remember, if you do see a door listed in a home center flyer, it is usually headlining the lowest price “starting from” kind of price. This is to say the smaller the door , such as a 24 inch door, the less the price. You need to also make sure the low cost doors are pre-finished since staining and varnishing the doors and jambs would cost anywhere from $25 to $35 per door if the door is raw wood. You need to also know that the price for the builder’s door usually is including the labor to install it and the cost of the door knob/lever and that hardware’s installation as well.
Lastly, you need to consider the color matching. Home centers do offer pre-finished doors. The problem is that if the finish of the doors do not match the general color of the rest of the surrounding woodwork, it may not be an easy fix. I will be first to admit, that a pine door , or veneered oak or maple door may never be an exact match for the solid wood trim in the home. This is the nature of wood species and of pre-finished products in general. Whenever I run into the client who is hyper-critical about having all the home’s trim match precisely, I point them to take another closer look at our model homes. Our models trim and doors do not precisely match. I will say however, they are usually pretty darn close .
Despite my efforts to make accurate representation of what a client may expect in this color-matching idea, we still get 1 out of 100 clients who becomes fixated on having all the home’s cabinets , doors, and trim match precisely. In these cases, I seriously doubt any home center would jump through the hoops and go the extra mile we need to try to make the client happy. Other than ripping out the home center’s doors and returning them with no easy color-match resolution in sight I can not imagine them doing what our door reps do to try to please the” unusual” demand.
In the end, we want to try to build the best quality home with the least potential for call-backs. Using a supplier who has a proven track record of working with your builder is well worth any little extra nickels you think you are saving in the short term. Building homes is a long-term endeavour.
I hope to see you all out at the Spring Tour this weekend (12 to 4) or this coming Monday or Thursday nights form 6 to 8. I will likely be in either the Milwaukee or Jackson locations.
April 28th, 2010
Our bigReflection’s Village project continues to move forward in Richfield. Today, we back filled one home and lumber is coming tomorrow to begin pounding nails at about noonish. The very last time we can tweak a project is the day before it begins the rough carpentry stage and , as with anyone who is seeking to do their best, we tweaked this one up to the very end. We were working on some final things today.
The 2 story home we are building at Reflection’s Village is our super-popular Dream 2000, also known as our “Rent Buster“. It is indeed a special home when it comes to a mix of low price($199,000 starting price including any $60,000 lot, located about anywhere in Southeast Wisconsin. After building this home so many times, I wanted to bring a fresh approach to the design by adding something new on every floor.
The basement has a nice walk-out patio door(not a part of the $199,000 price, as are many, many other options we are adding which bring this package up to about $379,000with a $115,000 lot) and we are adding a basement bedroom and bathroom along with a raised seating platform for the theatre area. We are adding transom windows above most of the second floor doors for passing sunlight through the upper floors. We are also adding a huge pantry expansion which will have a long 9 foot food prep counter in it, a sink, and even a small freezer in it. Lastly, we are adding a big side porch of about 11 by 20 feet which is covered by a trellis arrangement. We are installing devices to allow us to keep the patio doors open and not get bugs into the home AND keeps the air-conditioning IN the home as well.
When folks see the normal version of this Dream 2000(we have one in Milwaukee and one in Jackson), we commonly get surprised faces from the many details we have put into the home. The home does not look as inexpensive as you may first think. This past weekend, we had someone who wanted to see this home but wanted to first peek at one we had under constructionin Ixonia. I told them they could take a peek but that the drywall was just being finished. They seemed happy to take a peek perhaps thinking they could see past the bare drywall. After they saw the home, they were just not excited about the home. A few days later, they became convinced to meet one of our staffers at the finished version we had in Jackson. The effect(so I am told by that staffer) was dramatically different. They were so glad they took the time to See the finished version.
Taking this example into account, I was reminded of just how emmotionsneed to play the key role in any home purchase. I have said before that homes are usually sold in the first 30 seconds after someone first sees the home and the rest of the time before the actual contract is spent in justifying and hammering out the details. In my example, both homes were pretty much the same homes but one was not decorated or carpeted, the other was. We had taken a few neutral colors such as tans and browns and splashed these colors onto a few walls to accent the rooms. We had the doors in place and the wood flooring and cabinets installed. The home was not furnished but the impact that a few walls of color and the home beign ”finished” was more than you might imagine in delivering an emotional impact.
Most of us want to think we can judge a home by seeing how the home is layed out and how big the rooms are and don’t need the razzel-dazzel. Most shoppers think they can look at a floor plan and decide whether it is suitable for them. If you think you are the kind of person who can judge a home by just seeing a printed lay out or where the walls are, try it for yourself. You can start by seeing the floorplan of our Dream 2000 on our website. Then, go to our map and locate the Ixonia subdivision where we had last year’s Parade Of Homes. Try to see what impact these two homes(a ranch and a 2-story Rent Buster) have , then go to see for yourself these homes the slightly more finished stage(still no furnishings) in Jackson or Milwaukee. You might be surprised to see the big difference and may not even think these are the same homes. We are open this Thursday night from 6 to 8 and open this weekend from 12 to 4. Remember, this weekend is the last weekend for the MBA Spring Tour Of Homes. Get more detail at mbaonline.org and by clicking-on our homepage Spring Tour link.
April 30th, 2010
I have often wondered about whether I will be able to be doing things in my creative life , creative ideas that I may never have the time enough or money enough to ever see come into reality. I want to share some of my (a very few of my…) creative dreams with you that I have always wanted to do, and I only hope someday, I will find the time, situation, and money to do them, before I pass from this earth.
I have always wanted to create an elderly care home which would be the kind of place that would bring a new dimension of peace and excitement to aging lives.It would bring a better quality of life to older folks. More than hospital rooms disguised as hotel rooms, disguised as real home rooms. More than a sitting area and an eating area and a few card tables for crafts.
I would design someplace that the family members would actually want to visit because the place had something special for the whole family to enjoy. Having families “want” to visit (instead of having to drag them to see great grandma or cousin Albert) is important because seeing younger folks interact helps keep the residents young. If I were to build such a home, it would have pool tables. It would have a video arcade and game room. It would have a playground to let youngsters tumble and frolic while older folks could watch and enjoy the laughter of play.
I would have a small “church” complete with pews, an organ, an alter, and stained glass. This would be a spot where some may go to pray and reflect and praise wihtout having to always find transportation to a church. We could have guest preachers and small services at Christmas and Easter. When a resisident passes-on, we can have a special area to put thier portrait and special memory photos so others can pay their respects, or place flowers.
I would have a pet shop where folks could go to snuggle with pets, and an art studio where arts could be taught and artists could teach how to paint, draw, or sculpt. Perhaps a few kilns for doing ceramics.
It would have a gift store where an outside entrance and signage would invite customers to buy gifts, some of them hand made by the residents. This way, business minded guests could keep their minds sharp by seeing commerce at work and maybe even turn their work into a few dollars profit.
I would have a restaurant styled area which projected video images on all the walls so as to mentally transport guests to exotic settings while they eat(by the sea shore or on a mountain top). This would allow them to explore and travel without leaving “home”.
I would have parks and ponds, and a theatre stage where music could be heard or plays be performed by guests or residents. The movie theatre would be big enough and comfortable enough to allow everyone to enjoy movies just like going to the cinema.
I have seen people in my life who were seemingly healthy adults go into elderly care homes and then deteriorate and die. I think it has something to do with these folks not feeling alive but rather being put into “storage” until they pass. I know, if I were in one of these homes, I would be hard pressed not to age and give-up. I need to design and build one while I still can. We all need to feel like we are not shut-out of normal living and all need the ability to contribute in some way.
On a much lesser creative scale, I have always wanted to design and have my own kind of restaurant. In my place, like the elderly home idea, where folks would be transported visually to different remote spots on the earth, or to the greatest Wisconsin sights. A place where you can bring the family and “get-away ” on a small escape vacation to the tropics when you have had too much snow. The grand piano would play different types of music for each destination or season.
I have always wanted to build a fantastic tree house which has running water and all the amenities of home, next to a stream. The tree house would have lots of glass so you could see upward and feel like you were sleeping under the stars at night.
I have always wanted to build a bedroom where you could walk into this children’s bedroom and find yourself walking on a suspended rope bridge going directly into a huge indoor tree fort. You see, the floor of this bedroom is suddenly gone because it is open to the basement entirely! You would climb up stairs to get to the sleeping hut in this tree and another hut for the play room. The trunk would have a curving slide to take you from the top of the tree to the very bottom of the trunk exiting in the basement, near an indoor pool.
I have always wanted to build a bedroom entirely out of legos. I thought this would be especially fun to build the walls, bed, dressers, chairs, even the doors and window frames entirely of legos. Then build common non-lego toys out of legos.
I have always wanted to build a teenager’s room which was decorated to be messy and beautiful. I would have the carpet seamed with cut-in shapes of clothing astrewen about the floor. The dirty sweat socks are actually seamed into the carpeting along with the shapes of jeans and t-shirts, all done in carpet. The bed spread and window curtains would all be made of fashionable clothing sewen together to form these items. The walls would be soundproofed so they could play the music or guitar or drums as loud as they like, and I would have a stack washer dryer right in the room to make doing laundry as easy as possible.
I have been an amateur magician since middle school and I would love to have a bedroom with shallow stages all around the room so I could display my large colorful stage illusions on all walls and be able to perform them at a moments notice for guests. I would like to make it so my bed could “magically” rise from the floor and a couch group would rise up onto the main level of the floor for changing the room into a lounge or bedroom.
I have always wanted to build a living room or rec-room that was built on a turn-table so it could turn in various directions to favor the views or sun light. It might feel like you were in one of those spinning restaurants or just be static.
I would like to build a master bedroom that has two toilets as well as two sinks and have a special way to automatically separate the beds when someone is snoring (see a previous blog article)too loudly.
In this year’s parade of homes model ,I am calling the “HYBRID WONDER HOME” I will have the opportunity to do several things I have always wanted to do. I will be creating outdoor “rooms” that feel like indoor rooms. I will be creating a portion of my fantasy restaurant complete with automatic piano and changing video environments, I will be creating the first kitchen ever to have no space wasted between the counter tops and the wall cabinets. I will be putting a laundry room IN the master bedroom closet area, and many more things that I have always wanted to do.
The term bucket-list seems a current popular term. It means making a list of things you want to do before you die(kick the bucket). I may not ever get to do all of my bucket list(I have so many more things I want to create) but thank God for the many blessings he has allowed me to create or help create. It is not about the creation, it is about the smiles and lifes you impact with the things you create.
If you want to join me for some creative idea sharing or hearing more about our 3 Parade homes we are now building in Richfield’s Reflection’s Village, I hope you will stop out at the models in Milwaukee, Monterey, or Jackson. I would love to share a lively conversation. Remember, this is the last weekend for the MBA Spring Tour Of Homes from 12 to 4. We will also be open this Monday night from 6 to 8 in Jackson and Milwaukee. I hope to see you there!
P.S. I would love to hear your feed-back or comments. Please feel free to post them. I get a LOT of spam comments so please comment by mentioning something I actually wrote about in your comments. Thanks for blogging!
May 12th, 2010
I was thinking of how important first impressions really are , not just in homes, but in everything in life. Like it or not, we are born pretty judgmental in nature. We may SAY we should not judge others but what we are really saying is we should not TELL others of our judgements very quickly or easily.
When I meet someone, I am automatically making a quick opinion from the second I meet someone. When we see a heavy set person (I verge on that group myself) or a skinny person, we start judging them as either eating too much or eating too little. When we see someone who is not dressed very well or is dressed as a fashion model, we immediatly form an opinion but, well tempered individuals tend to keep their words to themselves. It is just how we are built and , speaking for myself, I try to gather more information before I ”confirm” what I am already thinking.
The other day, I was driving down the street near my Richfield home and saw a modest sedan car of a decade or older age stranded on the side of the road. It was near a round-about, you know, those new traffic moving , somewhat confusing wonders. I slowed down to see why this car was on the side of the road. Here is how my mind worked.
I saw who looked to be an African-American heritage middle aged man pacing quicly next to his car with a cell phone up to his ear. He was dressed in a nice suit with a hanky in his pocket. I immediately knew there was a gas station about one block away but needed to know why this man looked stranded. I passed him and considered that while I am always busy, my immediate schedule had about a half hour I could spare for my fellow human being, if I “had” too. I turned my vehicle around and circled back to see if I could help.
I would not have done this if this man and his car had not passed my initial “smell” test. I had indeed formed a quick first impression which needed to be confirmed with further investigation. I pulled my car in behind his and rolled down my window as he approached my car. My quick question went out of “hey, do you need some help?” He explained he was going to a funeral and had run out of gas and his wallet was left at his Sister’s house in Racine. He had an Illinois license plate. He said he was on his way to Racine to see his Sister again and get his wallet. He also said someone had already stopped to assist him and had gone home to get some gas and was supposedly now on the way back to help him. He also went on to say he was wondering what was taking this would-be helper so long? I offered to get him some gas and come right back. He seemed very grateful.
He said he could not leave the car and he did not have money or a gas can. If I wanted to, he offered to have me talk to his Sister and confirm that he was legit and that his Sister was busy at work but he assured me he would re-pay anything I would do to help him. I went to get some gas. The clerk let me borrow the stations gas can and moments later, he had enough to get to the station. I already knew I would pay to buy this man some gas. Did I mention, he had a Bible on his back window sill which I saw when I drove back to talk to him with the gas can? I followed him to the station and he requested I let him fill the tank up with $50 or so. Suddenly, the hair on my neck began to raise with doubts.
I told him I would give him $30 to get him to Racine and that was more than enough to make the trip. As he filled the tank, he was so thankful and I told him he did not have to repay me since I think one good turn in life should be passed on to others. I told him to do a favor for someone else, some other time. As he was coming to the end of his $30 fill, he then asked if he could have at least another $20 cash so he could get some food for his trip back. At this point, I knew I had been “suckered” and just said NO and I moved on as nicely as possible.
My lesson was that first impressions are not always correct. Was I sorry I helped this man? Actually, I would be dishonest if I told you I did not feel like I was taken advantage of and I was sorry I had stopped to help him. When I thought more, I think all things happen for a reason and this may be for me to sharpen my judgement skills more in the future. It could be that this man will see my generosity and something in him may change due to it. It could be I just don’t know what good will come from this for many years or ever, or it could be this incident allows me to have a blog subject tie-in.
So,…how does this possibly relate in any way to homes? I will get to it.
A second story. I have gone to Disneyland many times. I once paid for a backstage tour as part of a Disney Institute learning program. I was learning how to “create magical feelings” in business or such. My small class/group entered Disneyland before it opened to the public for the day. We saw main street before the old fashioned music was playing. Before the old fashioned dressed people were driving those old fashioned vehicles down the street. Before the barbershop quartets were strolling or cotton candy vendors were pushing their carts. We saw modern service vehicles on the street. We saw workers polishing their many brass railings and pressure washers washing down the roads and porches. We saw painters touching up building details, and boxes of merchandise being wheeled into the stores. Some building lights were turned on and some were off. I did not feel the “magic” I usually associated with this familiar place. If this would have been my first impression of Disneyland, I probably would NEVER be able to feel the same way I now feel about this place. I had a strong first impression which continues to stay with me.
We have all heard the old saying,”you never get a second chance to create a good first impression“. I take this statement seriously. I go out of my way to make sure that others in my organization feel the same way I do. I , sadly, do not always succeed in making others see my vision.
When I built my office, I wanted to have happy music playing cheerfully as you entered the grounds. I wanted to have a clean front yard, well manicured grass, bright colorful flowers and not a weed in sight. Folks need to feel as though they are stepping into a fantasy when they enter our grounds. A picture-perfect setting, right out of a story-book. I have not succeeded..fully. I am trying. I want my receptionist to always offer a nice greeting and a beverage of choice. I get upset when phones are not answered immediatly on the first or second ring. This is not always possible but I refuse to allow a machine to do this important greeting. I never believed “Your call is very important to us, please stay on the line .” I want the guest’s name to be written on our lobby board of welcome. I want our messy store-room door ,which is visible from a part of our lobby , to always be closed so no one sees this imperfect area and ruins the illusion of perfection. I want everyone in the office to be cheerful and the bathrooms clean and the carpets vacuumed. I want no debris or parcel post cardboard packages in the lobby. I want the coat closet cleaned and uniform clothes hangers when folks hang their coats. I want a ridiculously organized and clean lobby and office. I want a dynamite, pristine backyard area for guests to wonder into while they await an appointment. I want to make the impression that if someone builds with us, maybe this too could all be theirs.
I don’t always suceed at creating this first impression at our office or at our model homes. I don’t want model home visitors to be allowed to simply come right into the home because they have been waiting for a salesperson who was running a few minutes late. Imagine if Disneyland decided to just open the gates because they wanted to not let anyone wait to enter. Imagine everyone entering the park as I did and there was no happy music, no lights were on, some bulbs were even burnt out! No candles were lighted, no fireplace was turned on. Imagine that the carpet had a muddy mark from a previous visitor or there were open toilet lids , or a soiled or maybe even a clogged smelly toilet. Imagine seeing a candy dish with only 5 pieces of candy left and 3 discarded wrappers in the bowl. Imagine seeing a garbage can in the kitchen that was overfilled and a basket of torn or dirty booties in the foyer. Why can’t we all see what we are or are not doing to create first impressions.
Now imagine, this group of visitors who this late salesperson just felt so compelled to allow to enter and any one or three of the above items was to see some of these shortcomings. Once the first impression has been cast there is simply no possible way to say to them” Now that I have the home properly turned-on and cleaned and quality-checked, and the music and lights are now turned-on, can you please just go outside and come in again?” The better way to treat those awaiting guests is to say to them,”Sorry for being a little late. I will go in the garage entry , unlock the hoouse, , turn on a few lights and be right with you. I will make your wait worth it!”. We only get one chance to create a good first impression. I am sorry to say, I still see infractions of this from some of my my most seasoned staffers. Sometimes, we just forget to sweat the details like we know we should. We are however, much better than most in this business, but still not as great as we could and should be.
If anyone out there ever enters one of my homes (or office)and has a bad or less than great first impression, I hope you will blog/comment me and let me know. If you are selling a home or having guests to your home, remember, you must create that great first impression.It does not just happen all by itself. It is the way everything looks, everything works, feels, and even smells that everything combines to make the “magic“. That includes not only the home, but the way the salesperson or home owner presents him/herself as well.
May 17th, 2010
Creative juices are flowing heavy around our offices as we are currently in the midst of doing something we have not done in many years. We are building 3 model homes , all at the same time! that means 3 sets of carpenter crews are all working at the same time. That means we have new questions and issues of products ,and measurements, and colorsthat are needing our constant attention as the builders in the field run into un-clear numbers and engineering situations as each new piece of the puzzle comes together.
You might think that following a blueprint would be good enough but when we are building new designs or modifications of old designs, new questions are bound to arise. Is an overhang supposed to be 12 or 14 inches? Does the concrete porch with the storage area below it have the most recent stell engineering plan, or is it the one from last week that has been changed? How thick do we really think those window grids should be? What choice of red bricks do I think will work best for which area, and can we find a close enough match for the near-by walk-way pavers? When you are building one new home at a time, you have a lot of these questions When you build 3 at the same time, the effort seems more than 3 times as much!
Last year for the Parade, we built a 1600 square foot ranch we called our “Little-Big House”. THis year, we have modified and improved the design and we now call it our “Little-Big House 2.0″. I was going to call it the “Son Of Little-Big House”, or “Little_Big House, The Sequel”, but saying “2.0″ seemed more Generation “Y” which is what Miracle is trying to aim our design sights on to.
The biggest alteration in this new modified version is that the home is about 2 feet narrower and about 2.5 feet deeper. The exterior is absolutely going to charm everyone. It will remind you of an older Victorian influenced home of the 1930′s to 1940′s era. Last years version was craftsman in influence. This year, Virtually every home in the Parade (In Richfield’s Reflection’s Village site), is a craftsman design. When I saw the designs , I thought they were all lovely homes but I was SO happy I had taken a different path as it appeals to me to have something that is not fitting into the “group” and stands a bit apart.
Victorian styled homes did not have too much in the way of masonry. They did have a lot of smooth painted woodwork. I have to admit, I am a little afraid of doing the woodwork in a smooth look since those rough-sawn siding and knotty boards commonly used in today’s homes provide a lot of hiding space for less than perfect exterior detailing. Since older homes had this smooth , no knots, no grain, more furniture detailed look, I am going to try to go that route.
This means, we will have to carefully attend to puttying the wood’s knots and imperfections before we can just start staining and painting. This home is going to be a cute combination of cream-yellow and white. I have found some ornate looking flower boxes and most windows will have them built-into the bottom of each major window. We are putting the roofs over each main window hanging over the window and being held-up by ornate carved wood brackets. The corners all have the look of a fancy square wood pillar with crown moldings on the tops. The garage is somewhat “hidden” as a side entry garage. The basement is being designed as a sort of separate apartment level complete with a kitchen(bar) with stove, theatre area, big bedroom with attached bathroom and its own laundry room. There is even a space for an extra bedroom or study or exercise room if you desire. Of course, this being a basement, we need to have a pool table area.
The main floor has a Master bedroom separated away from the other two bedrooms and a big central great room with seating enough for 22. The dining area had seats for 8 to 10 with an additional 6 to 7 stools at the breakfast bar/kitchen. There are so many unique details in the decorating of this home but one of my favorites is the master suite which does not have a door on the main section of the master bath. This is much like a luxury hotel where the sink area is not in the same area as the toilet and shower.
I also really like the alcove we have made for tucking the bed’s headboard into. We have a second alcove for a tall dresser and a huge 13 foot long master closet with a clothes chute going from this closet into the first-floor laundry room.
The garage is a larger 2 space size but we added an extra 4 feet of storage area along the entire rear of the garage so you can use this for storage or for a longer vehicle or boat.
Colors are such a big part of this home as I hope to have this home looking like an older grandma’s cottage complete with white painted cabinets that have a accent was of pewter on the detailing of the cabinets. The doors too will be similar and the hardware a dainty dull-gold. Not your typical black or brushed nickle colors at all.
If you are in the Reflection’s Village area (Richfield off 175, you can see it from the main hwy 45 just north of Germantown) why not stop by and see how things are looking. We have just erected 2 (of our 3) 8 foot by 12 foot mini-billboards ,(one by each of our 3 homes) at Reflections. They are hard to miss!
Next, I will give you a heads-up preview on our second home we are building for this year’s Parade. Thanks for blogging with me. I am always glad to read your comments, just emember to mention something specific from the blog so I don’t erase your comments as potential spam.
May 26th, 2010
There are some things I know I will only get to do once in my life and others I may only get to do a relatively few times. This item falls under the category of something I will only get to do a few times. Specifically, building a three homes at the same time, in the same neighborhood all of a showcase quality, all with some or many new twists and turns and innovations, ALL will be in the big Parade Of Homes event coming this Summer to Richfield’s Reflection’s Village.
I have written about Reflection’s before, but Reflections Village is somewhat of a “great experiment” and one that is exciting indeed to think may be possible. A small village unto itself, complete with fishing pond, club house and pool, a central park with band shell, nostalgic-styled homes, playground, extensive lush landscaping, more walking paths and sidewalks than I ever thought possible in one community, and a shopping district, which is starting with a fancifully designed bank building. Perhaps this shopping village area will one day have restaurants, a barber shop, bakery, gift shops, who knows, but ALL in a quaint town square style.
A few years ago, I had a strangely similar vision to do something like this a few miles away in Germantown. I envisioned a circular town square where a waterway would join the parking lot to the village via a river pathway. Small tour boats would take visitors to the center of this town via these boats. Horse carriages and old 1920′s streetcars would also transport guests “back” into a world which was seemingly cut-off from today’s world by means of high landscaping and berms.
My dream DID get off the ground. We had done millions of dollars of work on this development having cut in the waterways and a huge pond(almost a lake), and put in most of the infrastructure for this town square of 12 homes and a big main office building. We got the foundation for the 15,000 square foot building installed. We had the land preparred for my personal residence. The designs were all done and paid for. We got all the septic systems installed. All the major grading was done. We blasted enough stone (and brought in huge stone crushing machines to pulverize the rock into smaller usable stones for the building’s construction) to make the entire 80 acres look more like a stone quarry than the future town square it might become.
I had envisioned a place where the community could come to see live theatre on our office’s seminar stage. A place to have community fireworks on special events. A place where we would have a unique mini-golf course, a tethered hot air balloon ride for getting a birds-eye view of the countryside, but mostly, a place to see the very latest home ideas of all sorts. We would start with two concept homes and one central “castle“(actually a colonial building but at night it’s shape would remind you of a castle) which would be the client center for selections of home products. There would be music, fun, and adventure with annual art fairs on the grounds and maybe even a restaurant. A horse stable to allow folks to ride the trails in a wooded area around the pond. Our special guests(those who had bought one of our homes) would have an anytime pass to a video arcade, sand beach, and party villa which could be reserved for functions. The interior of the main building would have historically recreated rooms from famous buildings to serve as conference rooms. It would be a place which would attract home shoppers and fun lovers alike from across the state and beyond. Much of this had been approved, some of this needed to be approved.
All of this came very, very close to happening. Then came 2006 and it’s great and sudden decline in home sales. At first, it seemed like maybe we could continue this project on a less aggressive , slower path. As the months continued to pass, and sales continued to slow even more, it became apparent that this was not the right time to continue this dream. We pulled the plug, sent the excavators home, having just finished a $100,000 deep water well, we stopped proceeding to install the pumps. We removed the driveway culverts and put everything on ice, awaiting the time to improve and allow us to continue the dream. Not a week passes that I don’t think about the dream and the hibernation of that dream and wonder how, when, and if we will ever be able to awaken this sleeping giant. With banking circumstances as tight as they have gotten, with the housing market having changed so radically, I just don’t know the answer.
I do know that God always has a plan and that plan is far greater and more creative than any idea I could ever imagine. This brings us full circle to Reflection’s Village. Strangely , our Miracle Village would have not been exactly like this development but the similarities are definitely clear. At the heart of our involvement with Reflections, will be our most creative innovative ideas in new homes. Better yet, unlike Miracle Village, in Reflection’s, anyone can live in one of our(or other’s) creative homes.
In my previous post, I gave you a report on our first home of the 3 we are building. Stay tuned for news on our second home design we are building. It is a stressful time in getting these 3 homes completed, but it is a great time , a fun time as well.
To let you know how the market is doing, we have signed 4 new home sales in the last 10 days. I expect we will sign another 2 this week. I keep thinking the home market is back, but I still don’t see the real action in the higher priced homes above $300,000. Since Reflections is likely in the $300 ,000 to $500,000 arena, I hope with the best interest rates…EVER(?), with banks just starting to loosen their grip….a little, Reflections, as I said, is the “great experiment“. If it works, who knows what dreams may be awoken.
I hope you all will take a drive out to see the excitement , (I swear I can actually feel the excitement) happening in Richfield. The development will probably hit the airwaves with our radio and newspaper ads in a few weeks. If you do go out there, make sure you pick up one of our full color flyer’s in a brochure box under our big “bill board” signs, identifying our homes.
Thanks for taking the time to read the blog. I appreciate comments, but make sure I can tell them from the many spam comments I get daily by mentioning a specific detail of a blog entry. I erase sooo many questionable spam comments.
Until we dream again,
June 2nd, 2010
It is nearly 3 am and I still am up doing creative work on the Richfield Projects, a tri-fecto of new Miracle Homes. Tonight, the main goal was to get the first landscaping plan done so I could show it tomorrow to our concrete flat work(that is the patios, sidewalks, driveway items) person, Dan.
I have designed many such plans and I have found that each time I have finished such a plan, I believe it to be a fantastic plan that is better than anything I have ever done before. I am now experienced enough to know that what I designed tonight was a plan I am quite happy with but I know it may not win any awards for the “best” anything. In fact, I think, while it is a great ,solid plan, I doubt any visitor to the home will say”hey that front yard landscaping was my favorite part! Who did the landscape plan?”
The thing is , that this home is already an expensive home and I simply can not afford to design an all brick driveway or fancy brick walls or ornate iron work gates or even an in ground sprinkler system for that matter. You see, designing a home must always be keenly focused on not only wanting the most creative items but also it must focus on overall costs and where I am going to really spend the big bucks. Most importantly, each item must have it’s place in creating a pleasurable experience to our guests.
On this home, my big money is being spent on an over-the-top basement bar area and huge backyard entertaining area.I call it “Club Wonder”. Since I ned this home to be as low of a price as possible, I decided to have the audience(that is my term, at times, for the home’s visitors)take their journey through this home in a logical and dramatic progression. Let’s take a quick look at how we can build the drama of this or any home. If I was to show a brick paver driveway, wrought iron fence detail and huge fountains with ornate stone work, then I may disappoint the guests when they see all this super high end stuff and then see an interior that is less of a “wow” factor than the front yard. The same goes for the back yard or basement. I need to always be giving the visiting guests a bigger, then even bigger “wow” as they see each new area. The effect, if done right, is that the exiting guests feel entirely overwhelmed and are smiling from ear to ear.
That means my outside front lawn area must match and fit in the whole picture but the next area they see, which is the front porch, must beat the “wow” factor of the front yard. The first rooms must be better than the front porch, then so on and so forth as we proceed to always be trying to create a better impression that the room or area which preceded it. If this was a play, it is kind of like staging the grand finale to have the best impact. The last room or area must therefore always be the grand finale which must beat the “wow” s found in the rest of the home.
SO….back to my front yard plan and method. If someone comes into the home or leaves the home telling me the front yard was the best part of the home, then I have failed. If I had unlimited budgets, I can always find ways to top anything I have done in the early parts of the home. On this home, I began by planning the home knowing my basement bar area and backyard will have the biggest “wows”. I will have a lot of pavers in my back yard and wrought iron as well. This means, I might put a small, very small, suggestion of some pavers and a dash of wrought iron in the front yard. I have a big fountain in the back yard so I want a little fountain in the front yard.
As I plan the landscape, I must also plan the path which I hope the visitors will take to enhance their visit. I hope they will come into an area where I or my staff can first give a brief presentation before they enter. This helps visitors know what to look for and builds excitement. This gives them a chance to put on their shoe covers and get a brochure and find out the little details like how big the home is and what the price is to build the home.
In years past, I have thought of holding this mini-seminar on the front porch area. This year, I am going to try to have visitors enter the garage area and then proceed to a garage door that happens to exit onto the front porch. The rest of the journey is intuitive and logical as they can only get to the basement after they have seen the rest of the home upstairs and then the back yard is only reachable by going through the basement. The exiting is then through the garage again so my greeters can also say good-bye to exiting guests or the guests may chose to watch more of our video presentation now that they have seen the whole home.
My office/home foyer today is full of flower boxes. One of these homes has flower boxes under about every front window. This should be quite a site of nostalgia. I do hope you will consider stopping by and seeing these homes now under construction in Richfield’s Reflection’s Village.
Leave a comment if you have something to say. Until next blog…
June 12th, 2010
Last night was typical of several of my “last nights”, I was up until 3:30 am working on creating new brochures ,and art , and plan revisions for our big current project , for building 3 elaborate Miracle Homes all at the same time. If you have read any of my recent series of Richfield Reports, then you know how this is both an exciting time as well as a time of some intense moments. This past week, the intense has overshadowed the exciting moments. Things seem to be coming faster and faster. I have, unfortunately, not been very current in my blog postings lately, so I wanted to bring you all up to speed.
The toughest project of the 3 is our all new design called the “Hybrid Wonderhome” (spell-check will alert this fictional name for sure), which is surely to be one of our most amazing homes we have ever built. This is a home which I have come to self-categorize as being one of our “spectaculars“ (another fictional use of a questionable word), is a home we have tried to take a notable Disneyesque( Help, I am trapped in fictional words and can’t get out!) slant to it’s presentation. If you want to see the basic “wild ideas” that went into this home, go all the way back to my very first blog ramblings to get the picture on why I wanted to create this unique home.
Beyond the essential reasoning for the design, this home has something new in every area from the front landscaping to the final exit. As homes go, this one is a theme park attraction “E” ticket ride of a home with an open front porch which allows you to air condition it(and keep out the bugs) even though the sides have no screens or windows. Even as we are gathering all the items to make this happen for the first time in any home, we are working on a basement night club where we can mentally transport guests into exotic and fun differing environments via multiple projection screens. This little item alone involves us having to make one part of the basement(I won’t be pretentious by calling this a lower level, …which it is) 12 feet tall!
Today, I spent most of my morning with an appointment for selecting the 3 home’s doors, patiently waiting me to drive back to my office, which is only 2 minutes away. I was nearly an hour late! The delay was in trying to explain to our rough carpentry crews just how and why they needed to build many unorthodox and unusual things that not blue print could ever adequatly show. One such item was a bar counter top that could change to fifferent colors on cue to match the rest of the room’s color changes. There we were,as we were sweating a half inch here, and a quarter inch there, so that our guests would all be able to see the unified images on the three 10 foot wide movie screens. When finished, we will have a 30 foot long continuous image which will transport you visually into the exotic or peaceful, or exciting locations.
Yesterday, I was in active conversations with a music composer I have worked with , who now lives in Nashville , to have him compose the musical score for Club Wonder . That is the name we are calling this special place. Today, I was on the phone talking to a local Piano shop owner to find out how I can reproduce the piano section of Club Wonder’s musical score , so it can be played live (on a baby grand piano)while the rest of the music plays over speakers to pre-recorded music. Boy, the price is a bit more than I expected but…we will see.
Last night, I was up, as I said, to early in the morning working on the last details for a full color preliminary “sneak-peek” for this weekend’s opening for Reflection’s Village(The Richfield location for this Miracle-only event) so everyone can get the layouts and concept art in short form at the Saturday/Sunday 1 to 4 event. As an aside, I will be there along with my electric blue golf cart to take folks on a quick tour of Reflections Village grounds. This week, I had the cart brought into Milwaukee to get tuned/cleaned so it was ready. Tomorrow morning, I have to get the cart over to our “INFO- DECK”. This is a temporary cedar deck which is at the development with three huge photo-mural signs as a backdrop. Tonight, I was installing the signs and getting some patio furniture so folks can sit on the deck. I wonder, serving some lemonade or bottled water might be a nice touch…if I can find the time to make it happen tomorrow morning.
Two nights ago, I was up, again, very late-early , to get at least some form of a web page set up to support Reflection’s Village and this weekend’s kick-off event. The page just went live a few hours ago. Not bad but we can improve it for next week. Please feel free to check out that site. Yesterday morning, I was out of bed early to the audio studio in Brookfield to cut our radio commercial for this event. This radio commercial can be heard on our Miracle Reflections Village web page and is running all weekend on WKLH, WISN, and the Polka station WTKM(?). Next week, it will add WTMJ to the mix.
So much has happened on the 3 homes as far as construction and while I am surely there every day, I am most grateful for our crack staff including office support and our special construction manager Mark Scheel, who has been an absolute God-send. Plumbing , electric, and heating-cooling , as well as audio-video, were all completed on 2 of the projects(Our Little-Big House 2.0 and our Rent-Buster Elite. not the HYBRID Wonderhome ) so we can now insulate on Monday and Tuesday of this coming week. With any blessing at all, we will be dry walling by the middle or end of the week on at least one of the 3 homes.
This week, we also found the siders and had our ups and downs with this process. If you do not know, the siding on a home is usually done more on the rough or , let’s say, casual side. I don’t care if you are the highest-end or lowest starting builder, the job of siding a home (including all the trim wood around windows and the various posts and vent details) is not usually a job of finishing quality. that is why siding has usually a rougher wood-grained look of rough-sawn cedar. Commonly, large headed galvanized nails are used and simply painted over later. Rarely do you see finishing nails anywhere near a sider’s tool belt. Another thing is that no sider I have met seems to measure the spacing of those nails since the nail heads can’t be seen from a short distance away.
I approached this project by drawing an object lesson for out siding crews so they might not forget. I drew a quick sketch of a grand piano and next to it I drew the wooden crate that the piano is shipped in. The rough constructed crate represents the way most siding today is done. On this home, I went on to say, we are NOT building piano crates, we ARE building the piano. I went and I did the unusual thing of hiring , not siders, but a more pricey finish carpentry crew. After a few hours I checked back to see their results. I was amazed to see they were doing a good job of a good sider but not a good job of a finish carpenter. I again explained, we are building pianos but so far, all I am seeing are crates. They said they would make changes and get it right. You see, we are using smooth sanded woods not the common heavy grained woods. We had a tough time special ordering smooth Hardie Plank cement board siding. Lumber suppliers don’t seem to stock it. The look I am going for is the smooth furniture look you might see on an old Victorian home. Believe me, you need to pay a much higher cost to get the look we are trying to achieve. I hope someone besides myself notices. I fully expect many home shopers may just not understand why these homes may cost a little more than the common discount builder offerings. I have always wanted to build a home with a highly polished exterior look , hopefully, I will get it.
It is now about1:30am Saturday morning and I could write many more paragraphs but I will close with the biggest smile this week for me. Most homes that compare to the HYBRID WONDERHOME square footage, would take about 10 days to 2 weeks to do the rough carpentry phase. Nothing much else can happen until this phase is done. The builder cost to do this phase is usually between $7,000 to $10,000. The Hybrid’s rough carpentry is still not completed and it is now a a 5 week job at about $30,000(or…yikes..more!). The roughing phase took a dramatic turn for the better in the last 2 days.
I saw that since the excellent (I sincerely mean that) crew I had on the job were not yet even started on the basement, and I need this whole phase done by next Wednesday(3 business days from now). I was sure i would not make schedule. So, I convinced the present crew, and negotiated to have a second larger crew come in and tackle the entire basement. I am blown away by the fast and highly detailed work that is now gracing our basement. No, it is not done yet , but I suspect, they will be done in another day and a half, by mid-Tuesday! Unfortunately, the basement is a disaster zone as far as being a mess . The crew worked late and did not clean-up. Since I need this home to show for appointments and our opening Sneak-Peak event tomorrow by 1pm, crews will be coming early tomorrow to stack lumber and sweep up.
I am so looking forward to letting folks see just what we are up to, so I hope you will join me this weekend to get your sneak preview special brochure. If you want to see the homes, as I hope you will, You may have to make a “quik-appointment” on our INFO-DECK so you sign a waiver agreeing that this is, after all , a construction site and you need to be careful in the homes at his point. If it is not too crowded, I would love to give you a personal tour and golf cart ride through this magical development.
There I go, getting all excited, all over again!
June 18th, 2010
If you have ever been in one of my homes, you may see a touch of Disney in some of them. Over the years, I have been asked why I seem to try to use Disney as a theme thread in my homes and advertising. A few years ago, one local magazine even went so far as to try to write a 60 Minute-style expos’e article about me as being sort of a man who is trying to BE Walt Disney. They mentioned that when I was a kid, that going on a trip to a Disney theme park was the “Holy grail” of vacations. Boy, did they get it wrong!
As a kid, I never actually went to a Disney theme park nor can I really remember even asking to go to one. We were the kind of family who was happier taking a trip to the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee to take in the sights. We even liked going to the East coast to see the big International Sailboat Show on several occasions, but for some reason, Disney was never much on our radar scope.
The first time I went to Disney, I was a college aged kid on a trip to Florida, selling (of all things) small boats at a boat show. I thought I would take a bus ride to Disney World and see what it was all about. My interests were in advertising and art and I loved the way that all the Disney theme park people were so freindly and what a great impression all that cheerfulness made on the visitors. I also marveled at the great architecture and the wonderful , fanciful art all around the theme park. But, how does this relate to homes? We’re coming to that.
Many years later, past this event, after I had gotten into the home designing and building business, I wanted to try to bring that same friendliness and cleanliness(did I mention just how immaculate that Disney theme park was?) to my business. I put on my advertising/promotions thinking cap and tried to find a large business entity that I could strive to emulate as a model for my own business.
Many business do this. It is part of creating a business model. As I was considering which major successful business was closely aligned with my own desire and motives, I considered what my business was trying to be. First and foremost, I wanted my business to be a creative and innovative place to be. I wanted our products to also reflect this air of creativity . I wanted our place and people to be as friendly and cheerful as possible. It became obvious that the one company who rises to the top of folks minds when you are thinking about creative company’s would be Disney. What Walt Disney was to cartoons and theme parks was an inventor and innovator. We should strive to be the same to the world of homes.
It seemed logical to me that if we were to mentally connect the public’s eye with the best aspects of Disney’s ability to make folks happy, we would more easily be able to “brand’ ourselves(that is a fancy term for aligning ourselves with something our proposed customers may want to have, or find attractive) and identify ourselves to the public. Few knew what Miracle Homes was but many knew who or what Disney was. For this reason, I chose to make a mental connection with the Disney brand, but I did not want to become another Disney by any means. I did not attempt to grow a mustache or wear suits or take up smoking, or move to California, to try to be like Walt. I wanted to use Disney as a starting point but then wanted to make sure we grew our own distinct identity.
Then came Miracle Mouse. To be more exact, Miracle Mouse, our little creative mascot character, came before I ever decided to attempt to try to adopt Disney as a brand image. This character is seen by some as a close-copy of Disney’s Mickey Mouse character. I certainly do see the resemblance but here’s the real scoop on why I chose a mouse mascot, and how he came to be.
I had grown up in a family that enjoyed sailing on Lake Michigan. One favorite sailing magazine was called Cruising World. In that magazine, there was a page that was artfully decorated to show how to build a certain boat project. In those cartoon-type drawings, there was usually a small mouse somewhere in each drawing page. I thought this was a cute thing and also thought how any other character, other than a mouse, would be too big and not be able to be put into all the various drawings I would do for my homes. This first mouse I saw in that magazine was rather realistic so my first Miracle mouse experience was really me just going to my main home illustration artist and simply telling him to draw-in a small mouse who maybe was wearing a hard hat and suspenders. He was to be a subtle add-on to each home illustration. I gave little more direction than that. Todd Dakins, an illustrator drew this first Miracle Mouse. I thought, when I have any illustration done for me, I would try to include this little guy somewhere for folks to discover.
Years later, I decided we were going to do our first television commercials. I decided to do something clever by trying to have our little creative mascot make a small appearance at the end of every commercial by doing something different as he walks onto the final shot. One time he would walk- on carrying our logo. The next time he would walk-on then trip with the logo. The next time he would parachute onto the scene and his parachute would unfold to become the logo. Each time, he would do something different.
To get this little guy animated, I went to an animation studio in Racine. When I met with this studio, I gave them my idea of what Miracle Mouse should look like. They gave me a stack of drawings of what the character could look like intead. I had gone to art and advertising school for 7 years (I had the no -degree plan) and I was a pretty good political cartoonist in my high school years. Suddenly, it came to me. This mouse could further my public suggestion (branding)that we had the Disney-flair for creativity in home designing/building. I could design my mouse character to have some distinct items on him that might bring back a mental relationship to Mickey Mouse. I had to be careful as I did not want to copy the character using his round ears or white gloves. I gave him black hands. Micky had a snout, so my mouse could not. Mickey never wore a hat or blue jean suspenders but Miracle Mouse would wear this and have brown work shoes instead of Mickey’s big yellow shoes. I tried to envision him as perhaps a beaver, or cricket, or muskrat, or badger instead. But none of those animals seemed to roll-off the tongue as easily as Miracle Mouse did.
Disney never ended his commercials with a tag line about being Christian based, or having his family in the picture, but I wanted our own identity merged with that established Disney identity, not just a carbon copy. I decided to try to make my place of employment worthy of being a place folks would want to live and work. I (and my wife Jacquie of course) decided to take the whole company on vacations together. We decided to take everyone out to eat once a week. We even decided to give little merit awards and public recoginition for doing nice things. We took managers to Disney University to learn how to please people. We gave surprise big checks to workers at our Christmas party . Some of these checks were thousands of dollars and no one was expecting a dime before we gave those checks.
I went the extra measure of creating an office environment where we all were wearing the same Miracle Team attire, and created a large swimming pond in our back yard for the staff to use on weekends or on lunch with their families. We decided that if we were to be good citizens, we would be generous in giving to our community as well. Everything was working so well and our staff named us one of the top 25 workplaces in Wisconsin!
We became the fastest growing home builder ever to hit Wisconsin. Our staff grew fast and we soon were building a new facility as we had to move to a larger facility to keep up with our growth to a staff of 70. By this time, I decided to try to produce our own television commercials that were fully animated. The bids to do this were over $110,000 for a 30 second commercial. I thought this was ridiculous and that I could do them myself if I had an experienced person or two to show me how. I decided to try to hire a few ex-Disney artists to be on our advertising and marketing staff. They brought with them an air of creativity and bought us to another level of creativity.
When the housing market crashed, the new building project was put on “hold” and we layed off most all of our advertising department including all the Disney artists, except one. Today as we get ready for our home for entry into the MBA Parade Of Homes opening of our Hybrid Wonderhome in less than two months, we are working on premiering our read-along Miracle Mouse children’s book in our kid’s bedroom suite. I hope you will come over THIS WEEKEND to meet me and take a sneak-preview of this exciting new home we are building(and two others right next door) from 1 to 4, in Richfield’s Reflections Village development. The feeling might not be exactly Disney , but it is as close as you may come this side of Orlando.
July 16th, 2010
As I write, I have just came in from the “field” (I have spent most of my waking hours this week seemingly in that same “field”) of overseeing our 3 homes we are building in the upcoming MBA Parade Of Homes. I am exhausted and excited at the same time. I am now rarely going to bed before 2 AM and I am still usually up by no later than 8 Am for meetings out at the Parade.
As tense and as exhilarating as it now may seem, it will only get more rapid paced as we enter the final 5 or 6 weeks approaching our August 20 opening. One of our homes is now completely drywalled and has about half of the finish carpentry completed. Our second MBA Parade home is almost ready for counter tops and carpet. We will be doing the landscaping starting late next week. Our third MBA Parade home is just finishing the drywall and won’t be ready for finish carpentry to begin until the end of next week at the very earliest.
The two big side projects that are seeming to consume a lot of creative hours is our “Story Tellers Lounge and our virtual reality in-home nightclub called “Club Wonder“. In Club Wonder we have several sensory things happening at one time and they all need to be interwoven into a timeline to happen automatically. For example, we are projecting one curved 30 foot by 6 foot high video image around 3 sides of the room. The effect is to make you think you are sitting on a blue beach or in a green forest , or in an orange dessert, or in a purple hued city at night. Each video scene is realistic (not unlike reality since it wraps around the viewer and is nearly in proportion to the audience. and changes to the next scene every 7 minutes.
When the scenes change, that means the color of the image (blue for the beach scene, for example) also is complimented by the lighting in the room substantially changing to that same (blue) color. The room seemingly changes color every 7 minutes. At the same point, we have different smells which are introduced into the club as well.
The music in the club is being done both with a baby grand piano and alternating (without the piano) using recorded orchestrated music. The color changes effect and video images, smells, and even the counter tops(which have lights inside them) each change and need to be synchronized to do so automatically. I have done complicated “shows” with multiple stages of action happening at the same time but this one is really touch technically speaking. Today, I had several meetings with the masterminds involved. The end report:keep your fingers crossed and hope it all comes together!
The next complicated items in this Wonder Home is the Story Teller’s Lounge. Here we have a simpler set of automation’s where our Miracle Homes mascot character, Miracle Mouse, has his own illustrated children’s book which we are bringing to life on a 55 inch flat-screen which begins each show by elevating out of a small stage area, ON CUE(we hope). There are two other smaller 26 inch television flat screens which are directly over the bigger screen. All three of these televisions interact to “read” our children’s story to anyone who is willing to sit through the 15 minute full show.
At some point in the show, their is a thunder storm sequence. During that sequence, we want the room lights to dim and the a few strobe lights to flash as thunder and lightening is heard and seen on the screens. One of the three screens has the books words which are highlighted as each word is read. This is a read-along experience. We are trying to blend books and videos together. Using another of this room’s devices, a mother can place any book under the table camera next to the couch and each page appears on the screen as it is read the good-ol fashioned way.
The hopes of this home, called our HYBRID WONDERHOME is that guests will have a series of wonderful experiences of which these are definitely two of the highlights. The more we can have our guests enjoy themselves and interact with the rooms, the more memorable their stay with Miracle Homes will be. After all, as the wise advertising man once said, folks don’t buy the steak, they buy the sizzle. Likewise, I always found that our real separation from the many other fine builders is that we excel in creating a sense of creativity and a spirit of innovation. This extends into everything we do!
If you would like to get a preview of these MBA Parade Of Homes , Miracle Homes, we surely want you to see them this weekend. Per the official rules of the Metropolitan Builder’s Association, Parade participants ARE NOT allowed to show the homes in a public open house forum, prior to the offical opening. That poses the problem however of builders needing to show their homes in order to sell them . To see these homes this weekend so we might try to sell them , it can be done 2 easy ways. First, you COULD call our office at (262) 628-9091 and arrange a time to see them one-on-one with us. The second way is to come to the site at Reflection’s Village subdivision and go to our special INFO-DECK area. At that area, you can make your immediate appointment to view these spectacular homes. We did just such a one-on-one showing today(Friday afternoon) and I believe we had genuine interest in potentially buying one of the models. They sure seemed to enjoy seeing them AND getting a golf cart tour of the whole development with me. If you do visit, you may think your car can drive to see all the development’s sites but you would be really missing a lot. The various wide, paved walking paths are only viewable using your legs, bikes, or our golf cart.
Don’ t miss the fun this weekend from 1 until 4. Reflection’s Village is Wisconsin’s ONLY community of it’s kind. With a pool/club house, extensive walking paths, a shopping district with a bank, shops and eateries, as well as a fishing pond and lush landscaping AND old-World charming homes, where else are you going to find this kind of lifestyle? Come and see for yourself , just off 175 in Richfield, a few blocks South of 167W(Holy Hill Rd).
Thanks for bloggin’.
A BIG P.S. I will be on Channel 4′s Morning Blend this coming Friday July 20 to give you a real pek at the Miracle MBA Parade “magic”! The program starts at 9 am.
October 2nd, 2010
I have not written to you since before the MBA Parade Of Homes opened several weeks ago. Now that the Parade is about 3 weeks behind us, I wanted to give you some scattered thoughts about the Parade and other related items.
I think we had an excellent Parade in ways of both attendance and homes sold. Last year, the Parade was nearly as big in attendance , except we had the added issue of it being so “off the beaten track” in Ixonia. The weekend after the Parade ended, so did all the attendance. I think the weekend after the Parade, we had less than a dozen visiting groups come through our Parade home. Contrast that to the HUNDREDS of visiting groups who came through the weekends following this Richfield located Parade!
As my wife Jacquie put it to me after we closed today(Sunday), “getting such big numbers does not mean much in home sales”. She is right except that it sure beats having a dozen visiting groups. There is more likely going to be one buyer in a hundred visiting groups than 1 buyer in 12 groups. Sales , by and large, is a “game” of numbers and it all begins with having people visit the homes.
Something interesting happeneda couple of Friday’s ago. I wrote a brief e-mail to radio talk show host Mark Belling about what I feel is a challenging situation currently happening in Richfield. The Richfield powers-that-be have decided that they want to closely regulate and limit home builders who may wish to put a model home in Richfield. This may be in large part due to our Miracle Tour Of Homes event which we had held in Richfield many years ago. Some fo the neighbors did not like the visiting group numbers.Richfield now wants to regualte Model homes to the extent that, in reality, they are in fact prohibiting building any model home in Richfield. That is a pretty big problem since we just built 3 model homes in the Richfield Parade Of Homes subdivision, Reflections Village. Beyond our 3 homes, other builders have also built their models in Richfield not suspecting their huge investments would be in jeopardy of not being able to be actually utilized as the “models” they intended them to be. Now that the Parade is over, Richfield builders are expected to immediately ONLY use these homes to sell these select homes. The way the regulations are currently written, Parade builders can not pass out or explain any information about any other homes or properties other than the precise home which is open.
If this sounds confusing, stay tuned. After 20 years of living in Richfield, I can tell you that the town board is usually a pretty good bunch of level headed folks who have the best interests of the residents in mind AND want to promote business and residential growth as well. I know they are talking about refining the currently(recently) adopted rules, so as I said, …stay tuned!
As for the 3 homes we currently have in Richfields (now former) Parade Of Homes site,as I said, I think the response now a few weeks after the Parade is PHENOMINAL! Folks, if you have not yet been out to this Parade site, I invite you , I implore you, do not miss seeing these homes.
If you have ever been to Disney World or Disney Land, and have seen the old fashioned Victorian-styled main streets that greet your entry, this is as close as you will find in any community to a real working village of that style. If you have ever dreamed of living in a Disney-styled community, take one look at the beautiful bank being built in the town square andyou are just seeing the first glimpse of something VERY special. If you have seen on paper or photographs any of the three homes I designed for our Parade homes, you won’t really understand the detailing and attention to painstaking finishes until you can see and touch them for yourselves. We are open this weekend(I will be at the HYBRID WONDERHOME myself) from 1 to 4 and Monday and Wednesday nights from 6 to 8. We have had visitors from as far away as Sheboygan and even Door County who enthusiastically comment it was worth the trip.
One thing I always get a kick out of is hearing the comments and often just over-hearing candid comments from guests who tour these fantasy-like homes. I have heard it all but I seem to hear the HYBRID most often referred to as being better than our basketball court home from the (Park Bay) 2004 Parade. Just as we had with that home, the HYBRID is now having many repeat visitors who are making this a special trip to bring more of their friends and family to see this home.
If you do visit, remember to stay at least 8 minutes in our lower level “Club Wonder”. That timing is what it takes for you to see the entire nightclub-styled room change colors. We have 4 colors ranging from blue(water scenes), to red (Disney scenes at the parks), to Green(forest scenes), to Purple(Milwaukee scenes of the city). Each time the scenes change, the counter top colors change, the wall colors change, the rope lighting color changes, and even the baby grand piano music selection changes to suite each type of scene. If you have a good nose for detail, when the colors change to blue, smell the air. You should notice we are putting the smell of ocean sea mist into the air. When the Green scenes of the forest come into view, take a whiff and see if you smell the scent of Evergreen pine and Redwood bark. HINT: The smell machines are located behind a wall art which is slightly elevated away from the wall to allow the smells to be fanned out from a secret hidden alcove.
One of my biggest worries for the Parade was the high likelihood that getting three huge 10 foot movie screens to align to show a half-circle type projection may not line up convincingly enough. If the video screen images did align well enough, the worry was whether we could match the music to the changing scenes, and whether the lights would be synchronized with the changing images and music. Then the smells and lighting effects could easily not match therefore detracting from the sense of wonder we were trying to capture.
I can tell you that after running the “shows” in Club Wonder for anywhere from 5 to 10 hours a day, everything went off without as much as a minor glitch! That was perhaps our biggest Miracle of all that it all just worked!
I am not much on predictions but here is one I will go out on a limb to offer. The HYBRID WONDERHOME is very likely to be sold in the next several days. We have several(as in more than 4) very interested parties who seem to all be coming closer at the same time.I can say that I will be heartbroken along with the ones who do not get the opportunity to live in this marvelous home. The realization for some of the interested parties is that this home truly can not be repeated at (or even very near) the same price. We have received so many discounts and donations for this spectacular home that the price is likely $100,000 or more lower than it would cost us to repeat it. In this slower housing market, that is great since everyone is looking for a bargain, and this is a big one. $649,000 is a bargain opening price for this one of a kind, rare , home. If all goes as I suspect, don’t let this home become occupied without you seeing it first. I believe it’s days left to be open are numbered.
I don’t want to ignore our other two Parade homes. They too have recieved some drastic parade-only discounts and those two are also stunning in their exteriors and unique styled interiors. I have heard(more than once) that our two- story model reminds people of the train station at Disneyland. I just had such a ball and joy designing and building these living fantasy homes and I hope it shows.
One more detail before I leave , for now. When you do visit these homes, look in the upper windows. Two of the homes have what appears to be second floors from the street view. Once inside, you will see these have no second floors. You will notice we didn’t just put some closed curtains over these upper windows or paint them black. We constructed “faked” walls with old-fashioned striped wall paper effects and completed them with hanging wall pictures and even some old table lamps which appear to be sitting on a desk or dresser. This is all fakery to set the impression that these are livable homes. This too, is much as found in the second floor windows at Disney’s main Street buildings. I have seen folks stand at the curbs at night and examine the 4 windows I am referring too. Oh, if you do come at night, our HYBRID has authentic gas lanterns(coach lights) across the entire front of the home. They actually need to be hand lighted each night. When I light them, I feel like I am stepping back into history, what fun! We also had several of them converted to electric bulbs so the lights we need to use for driveway safety are matching the gas lamps. Pretty cool, if I do say so myself.
I have been delving into a new creative WILD IDEA in home design that I would love to tell you about. I will do that in the next few days time. Thanks for reading the blog and I will try to keep this a more regular thing now that the Parade is in the rear-view mirror.
October 9th, 2010
I just finished visiting our weekend open houses and the market seems stronger every week. Before I go into my creative mode on the couch with graph paper and pencil in hand, I wanted to share a new direction and passion I have recently been spending a lot of hours contemplating and drawing and re-contemplating. I would be most interested if anyone of you would like to offer your opinion on this new design idea, since I am only guessing it may have an interest to some or (hopefully) a lot of potential home buyers.
I have always enjoyed designing homes. My designs, whether very big or very small, always try to use every square inch of space. I love exploring and inventing new ways to make homes feel larger and be more dramatic. A few years ago, I hit on the idea of designing what I called our “Little-Big House “ which was a 1,500 square foot ranch. The biggest problem with designing such a home is that fresh home visitors would often walk around the home then say they were not interested because the home was a little too big. When I would ask what size they were looking for, they would often say something like “Gee, we really are looking for something around 1,400 to maybe 1,500 square feet.” When I tell them that the home they think is too big is really only 1,500 square feet, they just look a little puzzled and eventually just walk away . This always mystified me. My only guess is they must not either believe me or they must be still wanting a smaller house yet.
This past (most recent past) MBA Parade Of Homes, I designed our Little-Big House 2.0 version. This time, the home was 1,555 square feet. Folks would again come in and either instantly “get-it” or they again would say they want a smaller home and we never hear from them again.
The same type of thing happened again and again at our flagship Parade home(we had 3 homes in this years Parade) the HYBRID WONDERHOME. Folks would often have their breath taken away by the many marvels in every room. I always try to orchestrate the homes to build in surprise effects as visitors journey from room to room. The overwhelming comment was that the home was simply much bigger than they were looking for. After all, they were “heading for retirement ” or “looking to downsize“. This home however was the smallest home in the entire parade and probably the smallest home to be in the MBA Parade in many years. When I would tell that to visitors, they would again kinda shrug their shoulders and move on, never to be heard from again.
(PAUSE... Let me stop here to say that with the HYBRID WONDERHOME, lots of people really “got it”. In fact, we had no real trouble getting both serious interest and real offers for this very special home. It is difficult that we only had one of these homes which recieved so many Parade Of Homes vendor discounts and donations that we can not repeat the home for anywhere near this homes selling price. I had to sadly convey this message to several folks when we did finally/recently accepted an offer. If you want to see this magical home, I would suggest you don’t wait too long. But I digress.)
Back to our regualr blog…. All of this unusual reaction to my smaller homes caused me to conclude that my designs may be in fact very small but the small home consumer was trained to be seeing homes that feel smaller than I was showing when it came to the small home market. In short, since these homes felt so big, my telling them this was in fact a small house seemed to be dismissed by what their eyes were showing them.
All of this observing, and contemplating had sat with me for a while and the result was another direction of design for me to explore. If these “Little-Big Homes” were feeling so big, maybe I should explore just how very small of a home could be really be designed. In the past, I have designed as small as an 1,100 square foot ranch. The home was to be for a government program and could only be 1.5 baths and it never was built.
I had never really been able to design much smaller than 1,400 or 1,500 square feet since anything smaller would not be permitted to be built in most subdivisions or communities. So, even if I had spent a lot of time and creative thinking to come up with an even smaller home, it would not be able to be built so what was the point.
A month or two ago, a couple came to me who had started my path on re-thinking this smallest home by revealing that there are in fact, many areas where you might be able to build a 1,000 or even an 800 square foot home. Vacation homes! In fact, these folks had some lots in Door County and were interested in maybe pursuing these smaller homes. I have spent a lot of time in Door County and my Mother has a gift store in Fish Creek for over 20 years. So I began to explore where some other areas might be that would also allow such smallest homes to be built. I actually have found a lot in West Bend which might allow this. Then I started talking to my industry contacts and they too revealed areas which may allow such a smallest home to be built. Since the feasibility of building such a micro-home might be possible, I then had to explore just how small a home could be designed and still be a home that you might not feel was too cramped to live in.
Here’s where my early college years living on our family 41 foot sailboat in Door County came into the picture. Living on a 41 foot sailboat is a very large sailboat, and people in warmer climates would easily live on such a boat and feel they had room to spare. Gosh, I know of stories of a lot of warm weather climate folks who live on 30 or 35 foot sailboats and they think nothing of the space being too small. I figured that my 41 foot sailboat actually had about 30 feet of interior cabin length and the whole boat was only about 12 feet wide and was pointed on one end. The headroom was about 6 foot 6 inches at best.
Visitors who came into that boat felt this was a huge amount of living area. Yet if I told you that your bedroom would only be 6.5 feet in length and maybe 7 feet wide, you would instantly be repelled by the size seeming this would be way too small. We, the home buying public, have all become acustomed to working with pre-conceived room sizes. Every home on the Multiple listing service MUST list room sizes. We judge by room size before we even see the home! The reason why such small spaces seem to work so well on a boat or Cruise ship is that everything is so well thought out and much of the furnishings are built-in.
Using my long time Passion for yacht design and now my long time passion and experience in home design, I was able to design a wonderful , (I think) very large feeling, 900 square foot home. This home has 2.5 bathrooms and three bedrooms. One bedroom has a built-in queen bed, one bedroom has a bunk bed, and one has a king sized bed. The kitchen is not just a galley mini-kitchen but a wrap-around full fledged kitchen. There is storage in a big pantry, a cleaning closet, a front and back hall closet, lots of windows, and even an optional basement. The master bath has a privacy doored toilet “room”, the kids bath has a 5 foot tub and a linen storage area in the bathroom as well. The great room fits a full sized couch, a love seat, and a large chair/recliner. There are built in book-cases, a fireplace(which can heat the whole house for about 20 cents an hour of natural or LP gas), and their is even a first floor laundry room. This is not lacking in style either. I have all sorts of dramatic little touches which you might expect only to find in the highest end homes. The exterior is refined, classy and old world. In short, this is a very cute , completely livable home. If you need a fourth bedroom, the basement has a design which has a rec-room(or den) and yet another queen sized bedroom. I have designed a 1 car attached garage(bigger is optional, of course). In short, it all works and it all feels most livable.
Because it is a small home, you can load up the features such as granite counters, exotic hardwood floors, solid panel doors, fancy everything ! Because you are building so small, you can put in all the best because you are using so little of each product!
If you could (and you can) get a small lot for $10,000 to $20,000 , you could in theory have a all new home, for a package of well under $125,000. I would even go so bold to imagine a way to bu8ild the whole thing(a few less high end items) for under $100,000!(!!!)
If any one would like to see the initial plans for what I am endearingly calling my “Yacht Series” of micro-homes, please drop me a line or give me a call. Now I am going to head for my happy-place (the couch) to continue my work a little “yachting” magic on a ranch version.
I attended another Green Building/Energy Star building day of seminars this past week. I can’t wait to share with you a few mind-blowers I learned about being “green-washed”. HINT: If everything is “green” then nothing is “green”.
Until next time, I do hope you will weigh in on the Yacht Homes idea. It may be just me but….
October 13th, 2010
Last week I attended a full day of seminars relating to a variety of Green Building and Energy Star topics. I must have gone to so many of them but I still enjoy hearing any new information that is hitting the market.
One drawback to hearing and reading so many things about “Green”, and Energy Star building was nicely summed up by one speaker. This speaker makes his living consulting with home builders and home owners on how to achieve a suitable level of Greeness. I have to say that he and I think an awful lot alike. part) green building is all well and good but it is MOSTLY a lot of feel-good gestures and advertising hype with little really being all that green in the end.
Let’s take the compact florescent light bulb for a great example of what is being called “green-washing”(a new type of brain-washing being done by many builders or vendors). Folks commonly consider Compact florescent light bulbs to be a very green idea. They save energy, therefore the consumer is lulled into believing they are somehow doing their little part of saving the world while also saving energy, and saving money in the long run. On the surface, compact bulbs sound like a wonderful idea and it sure makes you feel so good when you buy them, doesn’t it?
Consider the flip side of these bulbs and you may never want one in your home or in your plans to save the World either. When these bulbs burn out, you are supposed to take them to a qualified re-cyler to properly dispose of these bulbs. You see, these bulbs all have two quite dangerous things inside the bulbs that could permanently harm(or worse) an infant or a pet if broken on a carpeted floor or not disposed of correctly. First, let’s admit that it is highly unlikely that most users today are making the extra effort to find and then hand-over their bulbs to that elusive certified bulb disposer. Since all such bulbs contain lead in their circuit board connections, if you do not take your bulbs to a proper re-cycler, and instead put them into the garbage, you are putting harmful lead into places where lead should not be placed. You could very well be harming the Earth in your improper disposal.
Second(and more important), if you should accidentally drop and break these bulbs onto any carpeted area, the manufacturers only remedy is to remove and replace the carpet. Oh, and you had also better take that old contaminated carpet to a proper re-cycling or disposal service. You see, the big thing here is that every such bulb has mercury in it and this toxic ingredient can not be suitably cleaned out of any carpet. A small infant or pet who come in contact with the contaminated area may become poisoned!
With-in 2 years, the only light bulbs you will be able to purchase are these Fluorescent compact bulbs. The advice of the seminar expert, buy a truckload of the regular bulbs before they become extinct. That solution sounds highly impractical. There is no real good answer.
We have all become “green-washed” into believing that we are saving the world when we use compact fluorescent bulbs. We have also become “green-washed into believing that building a home of Insulated Concrete forms are a better, greener, more energy wise alternative to conventional building methods. We think that bamboo is a greener wood to use for flooring. We all think solar panels and solar energy are the way to go(see an earlier post of mine on this subject). “pop-POP-pop” those bubbles are just as easy to pop as the florescent bulb dilemma, and the speaker gave examples of how those items could all be problematic as well.
If anyone would like to get any more detail or contact information for this speaker, I would be happy to share them with you. He ended his seminar by saying “If everything is Green, then nothing is green”. He was referring to a whole other subject of everyone hopping on the bandwagon of touting why their product or service is green. I can not make it through a page of my Builder Magazine without seeing an ad for a product and , sure-enough, it is hard to find any product of any kind that does not claim to be green. In most cases these green products are the same, unchanged items which builders have been using for decades, only the sales jargon has changed.
So, how does the truly energy conscious consumer really build a green or energy friendly home? The same way they always have. Insulate it very well, build efficiently, build a smaller home(less use of the World’s resources in smaller homes than in large ones, less money to heat/cool smaller homes), use energy efficient systems that have pay-back cycles less than 7 years, and avoid untested new-fangled ideas until they have a proven track record.
Until we blog again,
October 21st, 2010
I was thinking today about doors. Doors may not seem all that exciting, but I will use them as an example of how I sometimes get creatively “bored”. The same analogy could be applied to many other things I come across in my home building journey.
Last year in the 2009 Parade, I decided to build a Craftsman exterior and followed the interior of that home with doors that carried the flavor of a Craftsman home. This year, it seems everyone wants a craftsman style home. Trouble is, I was designing Craftsman exteriors way back 10 years ago in our Lannon model center. Like many home shoppers, I too try to visit many model homes, visit home shows, and look at the newest home trends in magazines. When I build my homes, I want to try to introduce items, features , and decorating that no one has ever seen before or at least may be very uncommon. In that way, I want our homes to stand apart from the mass of other homes folks visit. If I can offer a unique trim molding, or a unique layout feature, or , yes,even a unique door, that makes us just a little more memorable to the home shopper.
Getting back to last year’s MBA Parade home, I drew a design for a door panel layout I had in my head of having a three panel door with two long/tall panels on the bottom which extended up to bout 3/4 way to the top of the door. Then I wanted one squarish panel on the top of the door. I must have seen this door somewhere, but for the life of me, I have not seen it anywhere I can remember.
I went to the finish lumber supplier and showed him the style I had in mind. The supplier came back to me with a special door company in Canada who would custom produce these doors. This was an available option, but he had never seen one before(except in print). When I showed these doors at last year’s Parade, lots of of positive comments flowed. This year, I began seeing more of these doors in other builder homes, so I took a guess that some of the other builders in this year’s Parade may be showing this door style. I didn’t want to take a chance of repeating myself(or others) so I decided to try another three panel door design where we have essentially three equal square panels. Again, I can’t ever remember seeing such a door and I thought the look would appear classically old. Besides, no other builder would likely have seen this so , again, my home would stand out.
When the Parade opened, I heard that many builders are using the style of door which I had used the previous year, so I was glad I had gone in another direction. A client came to me a few days ago and wanted to know if we could price out including these really neat doors he saw with two skinny tall panels and one top square panel. I felt like saying “That is last years “old” news! Why not try something “new” ?” . Of course, I would never say such thing. This caused me to think of a few other times when things I do seem to become more common a year or two later. It probably is not because of someone copying me, but rather just because of timing. Last year, I discovered a vendor who offered a multitude of drywall accessories and I started using them in a certain way. I found myself to be the only builder using this, or so the home shoppers would tell me. This year, the supplier of these drywall products told me he had several other builders who are now inquiring and, yes, using the products in similar ways to my own. This technique was used in another builder’s home and I bet by next year, many more buildes will be using this.
A few weeks ago, I talked to my basement installer who told me that my basketball court home in the 2004 Parade was the first of what would be many more, for many other builders. They claimed that before that Parade, they had never done a basketball court in any basement.
So,…what does my headline about being bored creatively have to do with any of these things? I am not sure exactly why, but when someone comes to me asking to use something I have used so many times before, I am always happy to do it. After all, I may have become creatively bored of the product, but that client may have just seen it for the first time or might have simply always wanted it. I am in the business of fulfilling people’s home building dreams. Not building monuments to my tastes or desires.
Even so, if I am building a new model for Miracle, I want to always try to show things folks have never seen before. At this year’s Parade, I can’t tell you how many folks would look at one of our latest inventions and either shrug their shoulders or comment on what an odd thing we had done. ” I don’t get it? Why would someone want such a thing?” is often the demeanor. My answer is usually to the effect that I want to show something new that no one esle has done. In a strange way, I wear such comments as badges of honor in the creative idea department. My idea of room-to-room windows to let sunshine travel laterally through the home, my concept of walls that don;t touch the ceiling, or door-less rooms(check a recent blog on this), I have yet to see in any other home. Funny thing, even doing these kinds of things I find creatively boring after doing them once or twice. The fun becomes trying to enhance and perfect these kind of WILD ideas.
Last year, for example, I invented( at least , I think I did) a camera rig which held 3 cameras and played them back on 3 large movie screens. The effect was a sort of wrap-around eye-max experience. This year in the 2010 Parade edition, I tried perfecting the Tri-Screen(as I call it) concept by marrying it to music and lighting effects as well as introducing smells for some scenes! If I w0uld have just repeated what I had done before, I would have been creatively bored.
I hope each of you who have seen an idea you really like, maybe think about how you too can expand upon the idea or give it your own creative twist. Anything can be improved and , unless you are the “play it safe” type, I encourage each home buyer to stretch their imaginations and overcome creative boredom.
October 26th, 2010
Last week I heard from a long time member of our Church that Miracle Homes and me, Tom Hignite, was in a Milwaukee Magazine article. My first thoughts were about the old article which ran way back in 2006 in their magazine which ,in reality , was grossly inaccurate . It was written by someone who came into the story with a certain point of view and wrote a story to fit his viewpoint/storyline, despite most facts to the contrary.
I was forewarned about these reporter-like tactics, but I was convinced that I had never cheated anyone, lied, had an immoral affair, or had any legal battles which I wanted to hide. I do not drink, smoke, party, and have always tried to do good things for others in the way of helping and donating when the occasion arose. My company was even noted BY Milwaukee Magazine as one of the top 25 places to work in the Milwaukee area. Since I was confident of my history and was so sure my nose (and company) was clean, I agreed to be interviewed for an article about me and my company.
I never weighed into the equation how my advertising tag line of being “a Christian based home builder” was apparently the major thing they were most affected by. I can only guess now in hindsight that they had had enough of this guy(me) who always professed his religion so now they were going to show what a hypocrite I really was. They seemed to always bring the questioning back to that statement.
They interviewed my past Pastors, friends,relatives, employees, and even my past employers. Each called to tell me they had been contacted and about what great things they had to say about me and my past. The funny thing was that these associates were also asking me “Tom, what did you do to this guy? (Dan Libbit, the reporter)He sounds like he really does not like you and was looking for dirt. He was not very interested in hearing any good things about you”.
Since he could not find any juicier stories to support his thesis, what this reporter finally was left with was to portray me as some kind of nut case who is trying to be the next Walt Disney. Worse yet, he painted my business as being on the brink of bankruptcy, and his sole supporting reason for this was because he found one employee (we had 80 at the time) who did not particularly like me. This staffer had just been told that her job was being cut, and she was working towards a closing of that department. That ex-staffer simply asked if maybe folks under our roof were soon to be talking about such financial hardships. You see, at the time, I had an advertising/animation department(there’s that Disney connection) which, due to the bombing 2006 economy, we were closing down that department to a minimal staff of one.
This article may not have been anything about sex, lies, pay-offs, cheating someone,or trouble with the law, but his portrayal of my company as being even remotely close to being financially questionable(not backed up by any numbers or facts, just what he had supposedly heard someone ask someone else), set me up for what would be a few years of clients asking questions about our solvency. Each time any one would ask, it feels like the innocent peaceful guy who is asked, “is it true you really beat your wife?”.Every time you try to answer this ubsurd question, it can come off as though we are maybe hiding something. When we set up our big home show booth in the January Expo(following the November article just 3 months prior) we kept hearing things like“Hey , I thought Miracle Homes was “gone”".
It is a funny thing how perception has a way of becoming some folk’s reality. We wanted to let the public know everything was still humming along fine here at Miracle. So, in the following months, we produced a series of television specials which would go on to garner 3 Emmy nominations and became the most highly ranked local viewership in their time slots. In some cases, the ratings were higher than the local 6pm news! We needed to dispel the Milwaukee Magazine’s slanted negative article. It seemed to work pretty well and we heard less and less of this concern.
We made it through the mis-information and time went on , as they say, to heal most all wounds. Here’s where it gets currently ” interesting”. 2 months ago, again, I got a phone call from a Milwaukee Magazine reporter. The reporter wanted just a little of my time to ask a few questions about the popularity of ranch style home designs. You would think I might have learned my lesson from the first time. I thought if I did not return his call he could spin that as a negative if he wanted too. Since this article was to be about homes and this other article was now over 4 years in the past, things might be different. After some consideration, I called this reporter back. It seemed all he wanted was my opinion and comments on just why I thought the ranch market was such a strong market.
I told him, I was probably the wrong person to be talking to since I strongly disagree that the ranch is the dominant home design choice at present. While Ranches are surely still popular, the 2-story has over-taken the Ranch. I went on to say that if he was going to write an article which showed the real direction of home designs, I would say the 2-story is , and has been, handily beating the demand for ranches in the last 2 years of my experience. He did not seem happy to hear that at all. I thought he would probably just not use my comments since I went on to say we are selling about 10 2-story homes to every 3 ranches we sell. I went on to say that the ranch is a more costly option since the basement and roof had to be bigger on a ranch over the same size square footage in a 2-story home.
He then asked if I ever saw the ranch market going away completely(or something to that effect). I said, that would not likely happen since older folks would usually gravitate towards the ranch since it avoids a staircase to a second floor. That quote was the only remotely accurate quote he used from our discussion, but he fragmented/edited the quote. He went on to quote me using the phrase “Hybrid Ranch”. This is a statement I would not make since it is inaccurate.
Funny thing. As he went on to then change the name of a home of ours (The Miracle Hybrid Wonderhome) to the Hybrid Ranch, he missed the bigger story about this new style of home which is the first time such a design has been shown in this market(to my knowledge). This home, in which they used the photo, is in fact NOT a ranch. It is also NOT a 2-story. That is the whole point of the home. This is a totally new direction of home design where we meld ranch and 2-story together, into something which is part of both but belongs to neither category.
This newest Milwaukee Magazine article was quite short at only less than a page in length. Even so, they had to again, mention that my company was the one who advertises the “Christian ” tag line and go on to say my company was somehow “controversial“. Other than their 2006 article, I can not remember anyone else ever considering us controversial. This got-cha at any cost Miowaukee Magazine attitude, again set out with a pre-concieved point of view(This time about ranches) and now continues to support their inaccuracies with added little digs to fan the flames.
Last weekend, one of my long time sales folks came to me saying he was surprised to hear someone again ask about our financial situation he had read in Milwaukee Magazine. The salesperson was perplexed as he had not heard this since that 2006 article had run. He told that inquiring person , we have just built 3 homes in the Parade Of Homes. We had just erected a giant a giant billboard on the highway pointing folks to see our models. We are in the paper and on the radio every week. What more can we do to dispell this rumor?
It is a funny thing how rumors, as false as this, can have such a lasting impression on the public. I guess I really can’t blame them. After all, they don’t know any more about me than what they may have read about me. Now I know what it must feel like when one of those movie stars who sees something false written about them in the Enquirer!
I do hope you will read the short 3/4 page mini-article, if nothing else, than to see what Milwaukee Magazine can do to “create” their own stories. The reality is that ranch designs, while surely popular are not nearly as popular as 2-story homes. The reason is likely due to this tighter budget buyers who have found the 2-story to be the biggest value. Walt Disney would be proud of Milwaukee Magazine’s story-telling!
It is in the November Issue, now on news stands.
October 30th, 2010
I find it difficult to put into words but the feeling I get when I go to see our 3 newest homes AND the wonderful new development we have built them in is that I am having an “affair” with this Richfield development called Reflections Village.
I know my Christian background tells me that I should never hold material things in the same regard as spiritual things, so I must stress that this is on an entirely different level from that BUT, IF I were to love material things(somewhere down the line from church, family, fellow human beings, and so forth)I would definitely be “smitten” by this whole concept and what promises it has ahead.
As you may know, I enjoy the creative efforts of making , and innovating new things. I enjoy stretching the imagination and designing things that no one has ever seen before. I hope that does not sound too self serving.
About 20 years ago, I came to Richfield to build my very first(personal) home. We started Miracle Homes right out of our home a few years later. A few more years after that, we came to Richfield’s building inspector to see what we had to do because we wanted to buy and expand onto a near-by 38 acre property. We did that and , other than a few years when our staff of 60 out-grew that property and we moved for 3 years to the near-by community of Polk(across from what is now Cabela’s retail store), we remain today in Richfield.
As a part of this town, since we first started our business here,we wanted to “give-back” to Richfield, we went to the fire department and made it a target of our financial support. We did the same for the Richfield Historical Society. We never did this in the mind of someday needing a favor or pats on the back in return, it was just the right thing to do. Since the economy has gone “tight” on real estate in the past few years. “givng” has been something we now have on our “future” to-do list.
When we wanted(NEEDED) to expand our building to fit our growing staff, we decided to build a fantasy-like business development on our land. Our current home would be right next door to this new , big building. They would be only 100 feet apart or so.
I wanted to make this something that the whole community might use and have it be a gathering place for many. I had designs to create a large theatre for home building seminars which could double as a community theatre. I had ideas of recreating famous historical rooms(George Washington’s sitting room , or Abe Lincoln’s Cabin) to be used as conference rooms perhaps for the community to use to spice-up other companies or churches off-premise meetings. I designed a large indoor pool for guests and visitors to use as well as an indoor mini main street which looked like an old street but was actually company run gift shops, magazine shops(library style), a video arcade, even a “pet shop” ( really just a 2-story bird atrium and a few caged bunnies to hold and pet for young visitors). The elevator was made of glass and it went through a fountain and as you passed through the fountain, you saw Wisconsin game fish. On the lower level, this big fish tank surrounded the elevator on three sides.
A children’s play area would be only accessed via secret book case passages and once inside, a series of tunnels would meander with peeking windows throughout the public areas, ending with a slide to where you first began. The main lobby would remind you of a grand old hotel and you would feel like you had stepped into some opulent vacation rather than be coming to a business meeting or such. For the staff, the offices where more of suites and many had themes. In the midst of the book keeping (remember, this is primarily a construction business) area, this expansive room was to display a tall house built of children’s building blocks which seemed to have small characters building the structure. Every hour, the whole block structure would shudder and appear to be on the verge of collapse. At noon, the whole thing actually would collapse. After lunch however, it would be re-building itself again until it finally collapsed again at the end of the workday at 5pm.
In the midst of the grand hotel-like foyer was a grand piano. Here our Miracle Mouse mascot was playing the piano with special songs which evoked that day or day part, or season. We would have cheerful wake-up songs (Lois Armstrong’s What a Wonderful Day)or Disney’s” Hi-Ho, Hi-HO It’s Off To Work We Go”) when it is time to start work. Once the day started, the piano would suddenly stop playing and our piano playing mascot would slump down and go to sleep laying his head on the Piano bench with pillow. He would snore away until it was time to start his piano music for the lunch hour. After lunch music, he would sleep again only to awake for “quitting time” music. When it was a visitors birthday or if a visitor wanted a special request, Miracle Mouse could be awoken and he would do his special song for that visitor. In this way, the piano would signal what time it is of the day to staffers.
We would have an interactive area where you could see first hand how homes were built and see a virtual history of home building in a museum like experience. We even had a magic shop where you could see unusual optical illusions and a magicina could perform close-up magic for special events. The bunnies could appear then go into the pet shop area.
It was to be a grand thing indeed. We even had the plans done, the place rough staked, and the artist rendering in progress. Boy, was I in for a surprise. As I said, I was really naive in the ways that community approvals worked. I thought that since the village president(or perhaps he was the past president, that’s how un-politically connected I was)was plowing our driveway snow, and since I had shown him the ideas and he seemed to like them, I never imagined anyone would have any issues with this “wonderful” dream.
Boy was I ever wrong! I will tell you what they thought and how things always happen for a reason, in my next posting. Until then, suffice it to say that Richfield really is a wonderful place to live and if you have not yet seen Reflections Village …see it. Our 3 master-work homes are open Monday and Wednesday nights 6 to 8, and weekends 1 to 4. Bring your imagination and see 9 beautiful(other builders) homes, and one drop-dead beautiful bank now opening in Reflections Village mini-town.
Don’t miss the conclusion to this creative endeavour next time!
November 4th, 2010
You might want to start by reading the first part to this blog entry but I will try to make this stand on it’s own.
It was about 1988. My wife Jacquie and I were living in a small 2-bedroom apartment near (now defunct) NorthRidge Mall. Like many newly weds, we were doing all we could just to pay the monthly bills. Going to movies and out to eat, were not luxuries we could easily afford. We had one child, Nik. A year later we had another boy, Sean. Neither of our familys were what anyone would call “rich”.
I was on a home dreaming binge of going to open houses and reading home plan idea books and sketching plans of my own. I was working as a marketing person/salesperson at a Pewaukee Boat dealer, Duchow’s Marine. Jacquie was working as a systems analyst keeping track of tyme machine transactions. I was the artist, she was the book keeper. She found it unusualthat I would spend time dreaming of building a home when it simply was not practical for us to afford thisany time in the forseeable future. I had some weighty tax situations which had followed me from several years before we were married, when a rubber raft(yes rubber raft) business I had owned , had gone bad.
I was not deterred by nearly every bank in the book that told me we could not afford to build. I found one small bank where the banker did allow me to purchase a lot and if we would pay the lot regularly, we could then, maybe be given a loan to build the home. I drove by a cul DE-sac lot in Richfield which was 2.5 acres for $26,500(this was 1991-ish) and the interest rates were about 13 to 14% as I recall. I remember Pete , a Duchow’s Marine associate of mine who I envied his good fortune as he told me about his 9.9% mortgage rate he had gotten a few years before! I just “knew” those low rates would never be seen again in my lifetime.
Back to Richfield. We bought this lot , spent a few more years searching for a bank who would give us a mortgage and a few major and minor “miracles” later, we had found our mortgage.The biggest thanks went to one powerful banker who simply decided to take a chance on us. We went though quitea lot to find a builder who could meet our budget of the home I had designed. During one Parade Of Homes event, I remember taking my plans to about 6 different builders who all looked at the plans and deemed my price goal was unrealistic. We finally found one seemingly good home builder, and shortly after starting construction, we separated with that builder over , what I would call, differences of opinion on quality. I remember, for one example, seeing our vinyl siding being installed where the nails were not hitting any studs or wood of any kind. Vinyl siding is supposed to always have the nails embedded into solid wood for holding strength. When I tired to tell the sider how to “do his job”( a big taboo, as I should have communicated through the builder and never directly with the contractor-except that builder was not able to be reached and I couldn’t sit around and watch someone do a job which would need re-doing, but ….I greatly digress). We soon found ourselves being our own general contractor!
Many of you have heard of those “We build or You build Your Own home style of builders. We ourselves had already paid our fees and had gone that route so we were already prepared to build the home all by ourselves(with the Build-Yourself list of “approved” subcontractors). That whole story will have to wait for another blog. Suffice to say, we would never go that route if we did not absolutely have to. We did not really save the money we hoped.
After building our original home in Richfield, we did not think we would be building another home UNTIL my father had gotten a small West Bend subdivision lot after “horse-trading” with a banker for some of my father’s soil expert services. Using the lot for collateral on the loan, after 2 years living in our “new” Richfield, we built our first “Miracle Home” which opened in mid-Winter to nearly 125 visitors and nearly immediately got 2 offers. Someone from Milwaukee came to see the home and wanted us to build his family the same home in Oak Creek. I quit my Duchow’s job (which I loved ) and went into the full-time home building business.
I remember the first time we came up with the name “Miracle Homes”. We had wanted some way to never allow ourselves to forget the blessed situations and answered prayers that led us from a seemingly hopeless Milwaukee apartment, to a nice Richfield home , to a home building business, all in just a few years time. I wanted the name to reflect Christ without calling ourselves a name which could place ourselves seemingly on a pedestal, or turn-off non-believers, or other faiths. I did not want the name to be too preachy, just a reminder to us..always. To carry this a little further, I somewhat subliminally incorporated the sign of a descending dove , hidden into our home graphic logo.
I remember how upset Jacquie was when I insisted we needed a company phone number apart from our home number. Even though we operated out of our Richfield home’s den(right off the foyer), we did not have any staff and Jacquie wanted to just use our home number in case this home building thing was not going to last. I was confident (or cocky) enough to insist we would succeed and that we should not want to mix business and home calls.
After a few early years of building about 15 to 20 homes a year with just Jacquie and myself, (all for clients, we did not want to build without a buyer’s contract on speculation), we had hit a “wall”. I thought we had now learned our craft , had some great designs and now was ready to introduce ourselves into the Milwaukee market. We joined the Metropolitan Builder’s Association in 1997(as I best recall), and a year or so later we launched onto the Milwaukee scene with our first radio ads and our first appearance in the MBA Parade Of Homes.
Shortly before the Parade, we hired our first staffer Connie. She seemed like a great friendly personality, as did Rick. He would come a little later and was our first expediter. The logic seemed simple. I had come up with a company goal of becoming the most Successful Home builder in Washington County, Wisconsin, and then the entire World! Talk about a big bodacious goal! We thought , if we could build 20 homes with just Jacquie and myself, than by hiring another “Tom” and another “Jacquie”, this would allow us to double our output.
We were to soon find out that it did not quite work out that way. I will expound on this point next time in our next final(?) part of this blog series. Richfield played a major role in our success and I think they may very well play a major role in our future success as well. What a place to live! You really ought to see it for yourselves(perhaps this weekend or Monday/Wednesday nights at our 3 fabulous Richfield models. 2 are still for sale if you want to see Richfiled from the “inside ” for yourself)
Unitl we blog again…
November 8th, 2010
You may want to start by reading the first 2 parts of this three-parter, but I will try to make this one stand on it’s own merits for those who don’t want to read a “novel”.
My wife Jacquie and I had several “miracles” of our own which paved the way to us moving from Milwaukee, building in Richfield, and a few years later opening our own business. A few short years after opening Miracle Homes, we hired our two first staffers to hopefully be then able to double our home building out-put. It did not work that way. Both Connie and Rick were very hard workers and had very good attitudes. I would recommend them to any future employer.
The reality is that no matter how excellent your staff may be, you simply cannot expect the same work hours , heart and soul efforts that the owners of the business just naturally have . That is because, if the business fails, the business failure will drag down every dream of those owners and potentially be a financial ruin for those owners for years to come. Business owners risk everything to open their doors and do business. If everything goes wrong in a certain business, the staff usually moves on and does not need to carry the burdens of that failure. Not so for owners.
I think it is for that reason , more than any, that business owners pour every waking moment into their business. Therefore, hiring two more people to work alongside Jacquie and myself, just did not equate to twice the productivity.That was my first big lesson in business hiring expectiations. We were however able to grow our production capacity to 30 to 40 homes instead of our pre-staffer level of 20 to 25 homes. Since we had the lofty goal of becoming the most successful home builder in the area, we wanted to continue to expand. I had no idea how many staffers we could fit into our Richfield home/office. We were working from a den which was off the foyer. As we added another staffer, we fit 3 people into that den. As we tried to add another, we found the foyer was big enough to add a desk and have the copy machine fit as well. We had a circular metal staircase going up to a loft from the foyer, so we finished off that area to become a accountant’s office for our newly added “controller”. When we found that controller not working out, we outsourced that position and then the loft was to become the new home to our first sales staffer. A half year later, that sales person had another staffer to share sales space with, soon, another.
By the time our little business grew to 6 staffers, I realized our growth could out-grow our home-office. I went to Richfield to ask what we could do to expand our business. I found that 6 staffers were the maximum we could be allowed to have in such a home business arrangement. The (then) planner of Richfield told me to find a piece of land where we had no neighbors to bother and build there. I searched and found a 38 acre parcel just a few blocks down the road from our present location. I asked the planner what he thought of that location and he said that he could not imagine this site bothering anyone since we had a factory across the street. I also knew that we still had a potential issue with the number of staffers which would surely exeed the current 6 allowed on site. The planner had expressed that the home business rules were currently under re-consideration and that the number of staffers would most surely be increased to do with acreage and building square footages.
With that, we built our current home-office. This 7,500 square foot home is essentially a 2,500 square foot ranch with a large lobby separating it from the office area. It has a lower level finished out (complete with a basketball court, which would later become our television studio for our home show specials) and a loft area. I designed it so the future owners(there always are future owners) could use half of the building for the family and the office side for a great in-law or guest suite. While we ultimately did even outgrow this building in the hey-day of home building in the 2004 area, following the home market down-turn, we did return to this home where we now, once again, comfortably meld our home and business life together.
There is something that just feels so right about being able to roll out of bed and into a meeting room of visitors on a Saturday morning or working for a few minutes at midnight in the office then walk a hundred feet to my living room. I think, I hope, this arrangement also feels better for our staffers who will surely not find such an environment in most any other workplace.
In 2004 and 2005, we tried to build onto our current Richfield home by first going to the Richfield officials to see how to accomplish this. They told us the process to try to re-zone the parcel so we could build a large office building on the side or near our home, on our property. At first, it seemed to be a very happy thing indeed. As I explained in Part 1 of this blog series, I was enthralled by the whole idea of creating something that would be a landmark building for Richfield and the community. I was blinded by what I could not see anyone possibly objecting to such a creative endeavour. Boy was I wrong!
When I went to the first Richfield meeting on this, there was a group (it felt like a “mob”) of folks who were there to object to our plans. They saw this as an invasion of their near-by residential lifestyle. I could not understand why they did not seem to object to the 125 staffers that the tool and die factory across the street from our property may cause to their lives. They did not seem to see see any harm from the Drywall compound factory or the gun barrel factory, or even the neighbors who had a small factory and horse business across the street from them. They did not seem to mind the truck/auto repair home business which was operating without the sanction of Richfield who was my direct neighbor.
I hope this does not sound like I hold any grudges against any of these neighbors since I truly do not. Each of us has our own unique perspective and I just had trouble seeing their perspective. At the time, I was first genuinely surprised that these folks had not just called me or come to me to discuss their concerns or talk this out. When I came through the town boardroom doors, it seemed I was the enemy. I went to the apparent “ring -leader” of the group afterwards at the back area of the meeting hall and quietly asked him if we could meet to discuss the whole thing. This man who had never talked to me before curtly told me we had nothing to discuss. Another stranger came to me in the midst of the room and accused me of jeopardizing my Christianity. A few days later I heard this “ring-leader” was holding a neighborhood meeting about me at his house. I called and dropped-off a letter asking him if I could please be present at his meeting to try to resolve and understand the issues. He declined to have me there.
I tried to reach out by having my own meeting and inviting the neighbors to talk this over. Many did come and a few changed their minds to support(or at least not object to) our ideas but most did not change their minds. It was not a pretty situation and one which I felt terrible about since I did not want to have anyone feeling negative about us. I had adopted the mantra that if everyone would just hear me out, and see our traffic and impact studies and STILL were not convinced, I would with-draw my idea to build our expanded office building.
The day came when fianlly got my chance. I had a big Richfield model built for the presentation. I did my big town board presentation and it seemed to not gain any traction. The Milwaukee news media had now picked-up on the whole matter which seemed to be for the worse . At the same meeting, a Germantown official came to me asking us to consider building in their town. I started on that path to ultimately find a good 80 acre parcel, all the approvals, and a most cooperative board. We did have another group of objectors to the whole idea. Again, if the board and the neighbors would hear me out and still not want it, so be it. This time I got the go-ahead. I with-drew my building ideas for Richfield and a few months later started digging ground in Germantown.
The time now was about 2005 and the market was changing…quickly and abruptly. We had blasted and crushed huge mounds of limestone into what now looked like a quarry on our new Germantown property. The many waterways which were hoped to carry boatloads of home shoppers to the central home village hub was almost finished. The septic systems were installed for most of the future high-concept homes and offices. The road beds were constructed. The earthen berms which would separate the homes visually from the streets were largely in place. The complicated foundation walls for our main office building were erected. The main building steel and pre-stressed concrete panels were ready for erection. The deep well which was the answer to a controversy about water table usage , was drilled and ready to pump water from the deep aquifer level. We had even had the Germantown fire department burn down an old farmhouse which Germantown wanted removed from the site.
It seemed like all the pieces were coming together since the big ground-breaking ceremony just a few months before. Things were about to take a course correction and I was about to have a major “wake-up call”
I know it is old news to some, but it is funny how things really do seem to happen for a reason and , some might say, for our “good“. Today, I am so thankful for the good folks of Richfield having taken the course they did. It is funny how time can provide perspective to every situation. In our next, final Richfield report, I will tell you the lessons learned and the new creative directions which were born out of this and still carry on , funny as it may seem, in….Richfield.
I do hope you will come out to visit our Richfield homes In Reflections Village Monday and Wednesday nights from 6 to 8 and weekends from 1 to 4.
Until we blog again,
November 16th, 2010
There we were, digging dirt on what was to be a landmark project unlike anything (I dare say) ever seen anywhere before. A small circle, or village, of 12 homes and one castle-like center building complete with waterways for our guests to enter by boat from the parking lot. The homes would each have a retail component where you might shop for the latest plumbing items in one home’s garage/store, and art work and home decor in another. All run by Miracle Homes and could become part of any new Miracle Home. There would be a swimming beach, mini-golf, horse riding, a club house, fitness center, and much more. All would be extra “perks” for any Miracle Home client as a sort of club for Miracle Home owners.
After years of planning , and meetings, and creating, our Germantown project , Miracle Village, was now seemingly just a few months away. A year ago , the home building business had been going so well that I had even decided to expand our advertising department into a totally new direction which would try to fulfill another passion of mine, cartooning and illustration. If it is true that each of us has many goals in life we want to accomplish, one of mine would be to to have an advertising and illustration company.
My background and education was in art and advertising. I see home design as a great extension, or a combination, of most of the arts. If I could choose only one profession, it would be home designing/building. If I could choose two, it would be illustration or film making, or theatrical productions.(If I could have a close third, it would be doing restaraunt and hotel conceptualizing, fourth, nursing or elderly home design, fifth….) I had always thought that once home building would become self-sufficient, I would branch out into accomplishing one of my other passions.
As we (with God’s graces and blessings)had grown Miracle Homes into something which seems now to be a juggernaut of a business, I began to take steps into using my energies to start hiring a staff of creative artists to attempt to (get ready for this) animate a children’s story ala the best Walt Disney classic 2d animated movies. I had seen a major shift at Disney of this major, historic creative company . Disney, who had all but invented the art form of hand drawn 2d animation , now was laying-off their animation staff by the hundreds. They slammed the doors closed on many of their animation studiosaround the World including their Orlando Florida location, leaving a great pool of artist unemployed. Disney’s idea seemed to be that they would have a smaller animation staff to create the story concepts then partner with overseas , lower cost animation studios to do the heavy lifting of the actual bulk of drawing. This seemed to me to be the loss of a great American heritage and art form. At the time, it also seemed a great business opportunity.
I flew to the coasts to interview many ex-Disney animation artists and eventually ended up hiring 14 such artists. We started on a project which was to carry our Miracle Homes mascot character Miracle Mouse ( many might say he bears a certain resemblance to another famous mouse or two)character into his own short movie featurette. I had dabbled in using Miracle Mouse in short animated bits at the end of our live action television commercials over the past many years. I had learned a little(very little) about the animation process from those commercials and reading on the subject. I had gone to various art colleges for my art education(the 7 year, 5 school, no degree plan) but , that detail will have to wait until another future blog entry. Back to the subject at hand, our new building project Miracle Village.
Everything seemed to be going well. Our unique project was underway. A new creative buiness was finding it’s start. Home sales were continuing their trend upward, ever upward when it happened. As I recall, it was around the very end of 2005 and early 2006 when we first started to feel the home sales starting to decline. For the first many months, we wondered if this was just a small , temporary blip downward or if perhaps I was not giving enough of my efforts to the home building department. I tried to shift my attentions to focus more to advertising the home division and our newly expanded Appleton division and a little less to animation and Miracle Village. We were still having barely satisfactorysales numbers but Jacquie and I were getting increasingly concerned. A lot of good folks where under our roof and were depending on us to succeed.
Finally in late Spring 2006 , I announced to our animation staff that if we did not see the home sales trend reverse itself in the next 3 months, we would need to lay-off that department. Animation artists have come to see animation as being somewhat “nomadic” by nature (as they may work for a year or two on a certain project then be layed-off until the next project is ready).Many of these artists had hoped this would be different. I had hoped I could offer a more stable work environment for this profession. That was not to be. With the warning signs now becoming more apparent, I wanted this staff to have as much lead time as possible to find other work . It was obvious to me, as much as it would break my heart, that if down-sizing at Miracle was to occur, this department had to be first. That day did come 3 months later , despite my attempts to advertise our services to other agencies and try to promote to find an investor in our project.
We continued to monitor the home sales situation with plans to consolidate our 3 year old Appleton operation into our main office next and then ultimately having to (temporarily?) halt our Miracle Village project. We had hoped this would be only for a few months, until the housing market returned. At that point, we were most blessed indeed to have had the fortune of not having gone the route of investing in large tracts of land, like most of our Home building competition had done. Having land when the market does not want to buy land is a very hard thing to overcome. Now was the time to pull down every cost we could find, consolidate our workforce, right-size the company to the market buckle-down and ride out the storm.
As fun and rewarding it was to ride the housing wave upward, the ride to re-size our company to being the right size for the market was one of the most mentally difficult thing I have ever had to do. What we all had to keep in mind was that as long as we could remain creative and innovative in our home designs and make the move into the new market of smaller, less costly homes, Miracle could and would survive and , funny as it sounds , even eventually expand and regain any lost ground, over time.
Jacquie and I had grown Miracle Homes in our early years by building 15 to 25 homes all by ourselves. We could do that again if needed. The road had been a bit bumpy but Miracle had remained strongly intact. Thanks to the help of a somewhat famous political Wisconsin name, we entered into the area of building our first spec-homes. This business “friend” had land and lots. He also had the vision to succeed and saw that if he wanted to succeed in selling the land, putting houses onto these lots was far better game plan than trying to sell raw land or lots.
We got on board and we started designing unique smaller homes in the lower price categories.This developer was also a Godsend in overseeing our right-sizing efforts and walking alongside us AND reminding us how comparatively well we were doing in this depressed housing market. Now 4 years later, with God’s many graces, we have succeeded in remaining a top performer in what many call the worst housing market ever to hit America.
We have had opportunities come our way, and new doors have opened. This past year we even had the opportunity to build 3 spectacular homes in the MBA Parade Of Homes! Most financial expertsseem to agree that this housing downturnhas bottomed, is not going to get any worse and is now starting to trend slightly upward. Home sale prices have started rising ever so slightly. In the past few years, I had thought we were pulling out of the housing sales declines only to find I was wrong, but this time….?
Along the way, my perspective has changed to see how the road-block of Richfield having blocked our way to build our office project on our own land, next to our home, was in fact a huge blessing in disguise. Our current home and office situation is the perfect size for us and this market. hindsight is surely 20/20. Along the way, we have somehow remained able to remain “creative” and introduced new home building concepts and ideas, as well as offer the lowest priced (Dream Series) homes now in this market!
As for the animation part of the picture, I have developed a network of talent and when ad agencies come to me for doing the once in a while animation project, my one remaining ex-Disney staffer and our various off-premise artist network have kept this door open as well.
I hope to never lose sight that we are primarily a creative based company direction of creativity just so happens to be the art for of designing and building extraordinary homes…..in Richfield.
I hope you will stop by this Monday or Wednesday night from 6 to 8 or this weekend from 1 to 4 to see our creative masterworks in Richfield’s Reflections Village.
Until we blog again,
November 19th, 2010
It seems that more and more predictions are being made every week as to when the home sales slump(recession) is ending. Last week I attended a seminar from a few expert speakers including one from the Federal level who came up from Chicago. I always like when the Feds speak because you would think(and they will tell you so) that they have no agenda or axe to grind. They are only there to report facts and figures.
The speaker reported that by any measure of economic measuring, by any means of doing such measures, and by any way of looking at all of the historical data, The recession has in fact already come to an end.
I thought you might be interested in knowing the “facts” that Mr. Willaim Strauss, Senior Economist and Economic advisor of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago had to say in his speech last week.
1. Economic hard times may have been with us since 2006, but the actual recession did not start until December of 2007.
2. We have now had 5 consecutive quarters of gain in our economy.
3. The “Great Recession” (as it is being called) ended in June 2009 and the Economy has expanded by 3.1% over the past year.
4. Growth has been much slower over the past 2 quarters.
5. Very few sectors of the Market are still falling. Most businesses are slightly gaining or flattening but at least they are no longer falling.
6. We are currently in the “recovery” stage of the economic cycles. That means since our economy had lost 4.1% of our countries total economic output, we are in the phase of regaining that loss, hence, we are in recovery. At the present projected rate of recovery, we should be rcovering this loss by the late 4th quarter of this year! That is coming soon.
7. This has been the slowest recovery in ALL recessions in our history. The main reason for the slow recovery is lack of credit.
8. Right now, companies, banks, and many higher income people have large reserves of money they are saving(holding on to) and they are ready to spend it. they are watching for the market conditions to improve before spending.
9. The housing market sector has bottomed and is now increasing but it will not bounce back quickly but rather it will be a slow and steady increase.
10. Nationally, Vegas and Florida home prices are yet to find bottoms.
11. The housing market right now is more affordable than it has been in decades. Interest rates are at historical lows. People “should” be jumping in to the housing market. Housing “should” by all rights be gong gangbusters.
12. Inflation is not a problem and should not be in the near future or next year. Interest rates will creep up slowly but still be very good. Not as good as may be found currently.
One other item that was not housing related but I thought was interesting enough that I wrote his statement, as close to “ word for word” as I could manage to write. He said , “The concept that we are loosing industrial production in America is pure manure! We are mechanizing production processes, so manufacturing jobs are less”. I know general public sentiment is that we are losing jobs overseas, so I thought this was an interesting comment.
Let’s shift gears away from that seminar and into my sales field. I seriously can not remember a November when we have had more sales activity than this time we are currently living in. Usually, a sector of home buyers are waiting for the Holidays to end before really looking at homes again. I have not seen this normal market condition as of yet. Our model homes traffic (especially in Reflections Village – Richfield) has been very strong. We have been pricing more and more homes every week.
Just as we down-sized to meet the declining housing market in 2006/2007, we are currently staffed and poised to handle MUCH more building than we are currently signing. That is because we do not want to see any negative service come to our clientele. In the home business, it does not matter how many radio ads or television commercials I put on the air. Referral business (repeat business) is by far the strongest advertising we can do. For that reason, we are well positioned to build MANY more homes than we are currently building. As a side note, we are pricing homes for 3 clients currently who have built before with us. What a blessing!
We have signed several contracts in the past two weeks but we still have huge numbers of potential building slots in our production schedule. The last thing we want to hear is that we seem too busy to give great service to any client. Our construction managers and clients seem to having a very satisfying time(I would wager to say the best I have ever seen) building homes since the work loads per Miracle staffer is so manageable and comfortable. That excites me since I genuinely like satisfying people and I know that these folks will surely send many more friends and associates our way.
The big question is, are we out of our housing slump? I would be forced to say a cautious , yet enthusiastic “yes”. After several years of declining sales, it seems like Christmas is coming early this year.
Speaking of Christmas, I spent the day out at Richfield’s Reflections Village along with a staffer or two starting our Christmas decorations and lights. We removed the water from the big 10 foot diameter concrete fountain in front of our Hybrid WonderHome in Richfield and have started creating our own “Tree Of Lights” in it’s place. I am using the front (garage) windows on two of the homes and gathering the items to put up a grand set of animated and lighted Window displays. My boys and I were rummaging through the warehouse earlier today finding all sorts of fanciful Disneyesque times. I hope you will all stop by and see them when they are finished next week.
I really hope you will stop out tomorrow and see me at our Reflections Village Hybrid WonderHome. We are open from 1 to 4 as well as Monday and Wednesday nights from 6 to 8. One last note of optimismwas observed this last Wednesday night at our Richfield models. . We had 5 excellent visiting groups! Hooray (cautiously/optimistically) for housing!
Until we blog again,
November 27th, 2010
WARNING: This blog should have been 2 blogs! It is quite long but, I hope “tolerable” or even enlighting.
There are certain questions which seemed to get asked a lot at our open houses. I have formulated standard answers to most of them, as they are based on easy to understand facts. Such questions as “How long have you been in business?(Since 1993 but we built our first home in 1990), “How many homes have you built?“( I say north of 2,000), “How long does it take to build a home?”(3 to 6 months), most of the answers to common questions are just simple facts.
Then there is the question of which this blog topic is based on today. That question usually comes at the time someone has just seen one of our new-fangled creative innovations or inventions. The question is “Where do you guys come up with all of these creative ideas?” Sometimes that question is followed by something like “Do you have a creative team or do lots of folks contribute their ideas?” The answer COULD , just like the other common questions, be also answered by a citing an easy factual answer, but the question is one that if answered factually, it makes me seem like an egomaniac. I have been accused of many things but those who know me know I have always had trouble answering this question since I don’t feel comfortable citing the fact that …(are you ready,here-goes)…I am usually the one who comes up with creating our ideas and I am the one who tries to find ways to make those ideas happen. My creative “team” is usually just little-‘ol me, or at least for the main “creative” part. THERE, I said it. Having said it, you can see now just how big-headed such a statement seems….and in fact IS. I want to say that just because I come up with an idea and may draw it out in fine detail, I often need to get creative folks into the picture to get these new ideas or new items made into reality.
For expample, in one of our theatre-type projects, I wanted two side stages which would have moving statues of Marylyn Monroe and John Wayne.I would draw the basic poses and find the resource material for references but then I know the right source to send this plan to to get the statues made.
Better said, I am the “hub” of the “creations” as I make the preliminary drawings, then tweak the preliminary drawings and models to meet my bigger picture vision. If , for example, in our latest edition of the Parade Of Homes Model, I wanted a room to smell like an evergreen forest on a timing cue, I can think all I want about how to do this, but that alone will not get the job done. I needed to ferret out a source who had smellizer machines(and I was not even sure such machines actually existed!). I obtain the source to get the machines, I design the area to hold them, but someone else actually has built the machine and, under my direction, then someone else actually installs them in the manner I direct them to be installed.
In the same Parade model, I wanted a new exterior item which would resemble outdoor mural banners. The intent was to give a sense of whimsy and charm to the backyard while also giving privacy and acting as an exterior “wall. For this idea, I drew the detailed wall sections, placed them on the plans, then my on staff draftsman took my drawings and transferred them to computer renderings. I critique the computer renderings and then, if needed, my draftsman re-works them until they are in line with my original “big picture” intentions. I then draw(I came from an artist background) the detail of the mural art and hand that over to an on-staff ex-Disney illustrator who then proceeds to ad his own creative flair.For example, I drew a cow on a surf board with a polka-dot bikini covering the utters. This staff artist then proceeds to create his own idea of a stylized cow which has his own creative touches. The cow , the surfing waves, the beach, the tiki-bar and it’s patrons are all first created by me. Then our artist ads his own details and then , just like the draftsman, shows me his art for approval before proceeding into production. We have a source who we send the items to to make the banner/murals. When they return, I brainstorm with someone who has never seen such a thing/application before(because this is a new system and now needs a new mounting system customized to work with hanging the mural from all 4 sides). Much of our new creative innovations are seat-of-the-pants engineered, then put into reality by the trial and error process.
I hope this gives you some idea of how things are created here at Miracle.
You see, while I do spend many hours thinking and living in what I call my creative mode, coming up with lots of wild ideas, while I am the one to push these ideas into reality, I truly can not take the credit for making these dreams into reality. I am the hub of the idea, but then others must get involved to carry them out, and later, pay the bills to make them happen. In a bigger sense, IF I am true to my religious beliefs. I must admit, for years, I simply found it easier and quicker to tell a white lie, when folks ask who comes up with all of our unusual ideas, (admittedly not a very religious thing in and of itself) than to say something brash like “I create the ideas”. Instead, I would say, something like“Oh well, it takes a lot of creative heads and it is hard to tell where all the ideas come from but I am just happy to be a part of it”.
When folks ask that on- the -spot question, they really are not wanting some long-winded answer or religious story, so I tell this “pat” answer. Over the years, I have asked associates and even my church Pastors, what the proper , honest thing is to say in this situation. Shall I just give a cute answer and avoid the question such as “Gee, that’s our big secret, but they sure are some cool ideas”. That is not really an answer, just a side-step. I have a desire to give glory to God since I believe he created (sorry for getting a bit religious here but my blog seems to have a way of getting my thoughts out that I might not otherwise easily verbalize) us all. So, my answer of late is “well, the ideas just seem to fall down from Heaven into my head then onto our plans, then it takes a lot of hands to make them happen”.
The problem is that in saying this “cute” religious answer, it still seems quite self serving to my way of thinking. This writing I am afraid has no conclusion or big revelation. I would however ask anyone out there reading this to give me your thoughts on giving a quick, honest, and satisfying(to the questioner and me)answer to the question of “who comes up with all of our creative ideas?”
As my blog headline insinuates, I thought, in light of this question/answer dilemma, I thought it might be fun to try an experiment in creative thinking right here on today’s blog.I promise, I am giving this little thought or pre-organizing. I have no current idea , I am starting now with my mind being essentially a blank slate for this experiment. I want to simply demonstrate how I brainstorm a creative idea(s) to myself and things I tell myself when I go through this intimate (until now) private,personal creative process. I usually start with some initial question to myself, and then just see what direction I find and where it all leads. Let’s begin my experiment. Here is how it goes.
Picking just any subject while I type….let’s see…let’s pick the subject of multi-generational dwellings. Most municipalities have pretty big issues with anyone who may just choose to build a mother in-law guest suite onto the home. You see, you can not have a totally separate “wing” on the home , complete with sleeping/kitchen/laundry/bathroom/living area. I know from studying the newest generation of home buyers that soon having 2 houses in one will be a very hot item. In this economy, it is much cheaper to have two families living under one roof. Family members are wanting to now live under the same roof after adulthood, or parents are wanting to move-in instead of going to a nursing home. Young unmarried adults are having babies and grandparents are being the care-takers for these kids.
I think having two houses in one house is a wonderful idea but let’s think of the possible ways it could be done and NOT be considered a duplex situation, because, believe me, communities will notallow duplexes to be built unless zoned accordingly. I have sat across tables from village planners and it just will not be allowed. The problem is that many folks who want 2 family homnes, do not want the ordinary duplex lot.
I have tinkered with having a traditional ranch design then finishing out the basement to be fully set with laundry room, bath(s), a bar which has everything a kitchen would have, and even multiple bedrooms. Because many rec-rooms already have bars and guest bedrooms, and laundry rooms, putting a whole, self-contained level into the basement would not be an issue. Now let’s think about the access from the garage. I think, since this could be a 2 family situation, let’s think making a 4 car garage. Just so the garage does not overwhelm the home from the outside, perhaps one stall can be a double-deep one?
It is also not unusual in designs today to have a second staircase from the garage going into the basement, so this could be in fact the private access to the basement. Another way could be to have the one back hall entry into the main level be more of a front foyer which would have doors which could go from the main level into the basement level without being seen from the main level. Just like an apartment where everyone enters a common lobby, then can choose to go upstairs or down or on main level.
Hey, I just had a brainstorm idea with that last item. Let’s say we take a traditional 2 story home and now do this complete living level for the basement. Now lets do the same for the upstairs level. This might be a little harder since we are walking the tight-rope between duplex and single family. We need this to be deemed a single family to work in most neighborhoods. We could however use a master bedroom on the first floor home design, and maybe a “study”(second bedroom) next to the master. Now on the second floor , we could make one of those popular bonus rooms over the garage. This could have another “full” bar/kitchen and lots of seating area. The bedrooms could be 2 or 3 upstairs. I think this could work. In effect, we would now have 3 levels of potential self-contained living. The trick is to do this in a smaller house of say, a 2,200 square foot 2-story. I think that could be done!
As for the ranch, let’s brainstorm say a 1,500 to 2,000 square foot ranch, then put a full efficiency apartment over the garage as a bonus room.
As for building in natural daylight into the basement, we could use those deep window wells for egress windows but the views are not very desirable. I would like to explore the notion of a downstairs/basement courtyard. The courtyard would work even on a flat lot and could be covered partially by roof.
My mind now goes to the subject of how cold it gets in Wisconsin. I recently built a series of outdoor “rooms” into our Parade home model in Richfield. Lots of folks loved the concept but would say “too bad you can only use the outdoor rooms for 6 or 7 months a year“(if you are lucky). This open basement courtyard now makes me think of how to keep this area and exterior rooms warm, yet open to the elements. I just experimented with using devices which blew air to create invisible walls of wind. The theory was that they were to hold in/out bugs and temperatures. Since (I think) I was the first single family home builder to use this technology in this manner, I am now experimenting in real life with how to make this work, or optimize it. Perhaps heated concrete could make a difference. I know blocking wind is crucial in making out door room temperatures tolerable.
What if I could design wind blocking exterior walls in all 4 directions and yet make them not seem to close-in these outdoor rooms? Perhaps, using trees or tightly placed evergreen tall hedges on one side, then scattered openings with blocking devices beyond the visual of those openings might work. I heard recently of electric heating panels which creates warmth radiantly but draws little energy and is pleasing to the eye as it appears to be a ceiling tile. What if I could use that on the bottomside of a main floor outdoor deck which covers an exposed basement patio? I have just such a home in Richfield. Perhaps I should get my hands on such a device and test it?
The creative process goes leaping from one idea to another. Then I grab my pad of graph paper and start doodling a concept or two. Then I go Googling to find out if such a radiant heating device has any specs available. The process keeps going and growing.
I am afraid this blog has grown into a very long one so perhaps we should end this edition. The concept of creative ideas starts with first seeing a need or problem(Why can’t we live outdoors in the Winter, for example, or Why can’t we build multi-family homes in single family zoned areas?) and then asking why can’t we put our normal rationals aside and see what everyone else is not seeing. Most don’tsee, just because no one else has questioned the norms or tried to break a false boundry.
Thanks for staying with this very long blog. I invite your comments.
I hope to see you all at Reflections Village in Richfield this weekend or Monday and Wednesday nights 6 to 8pm.
December 6th, 2010
There are two things I want to share in this Holiday related blog entry.
We have just had our first big snowy weekend. Even though we only got an inch or two of the white stuff, the first snow always seems to feel like a blizzard. Maybe that is why our model home attendance was so far below the norm(even for Christmas time). I do hope you will consider coming out to see the cool, yet modest Christmas decorations we have done in our 3 model homes in Richfield. When you see our Hybrid Wonderhome, don’t forget to look into our front(garage) window. I have set up a large display which evokes the feel of a grand old department store window. The motif is Disney (gee, what a surprise) and specifically, Mickey Mouse motorized spinning on top of a small piano. Then there are stacks of colorful wrapped git boxes with Mickey’s dog Pluto on top of the stack looking down at Mickey. Donald Duck’s nephews are wrapping gifts and are a bit tangled in the ribbons. Lastly Pongo(the father Dalmatian from 101 Dalmatians) is eagerly standing up with his paws on the top of a freshly opened gift box. A few of Pongo’s pups are playing near-by. A Cheshire Cat stuffed toy is protruding from this open box as are other open boxes featuring Minnie Mouse and Dumbo.
If you visit this home at any hour, night or day, we are playing Christmas music on the exterior speakers and the big front porch has the fireplace burning(gas) as the indoor/outdoor television plays Christmas television specials such as The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. In the front yard, there was a 10 foot diameter round concrete fountain. My creative juices saw a lot of possibilities for decorating this area. I thought of trying a large snow-man about 20 feet tall, all made of wire and lights. I thought of a tall stack of foil covered presents, maybe with our mascot Miracle Mouse sitting atop the upper box. Then I got an idea which just seemed so suitable to this big round concrete structure. With a little help from our warranty person Mark and our lumber supplier(also named)Mark, I procured two plywood sheets which were ten feet long instead of the common 8 feet.
Cutting these plywood boards to fit neatly onto the top of this fountain, was the first step. Next, we took a 14 foot long square four by four timber and cutting a square hole into the middle of the plywood, we put the tall post into the center of the fountain base, standing up 14 feet into the air. Several cables were used to attach to the top of the tall center post and angle to the base of the plywood circle. If you can imagine it, the twelve cables and wires which held up the center post, now looked like the framework of a Christmas tree, with a 10 foot diameter bottom.
Now with the structure of a tree built, I had a few options to consider. The obvious first choice was to run verticle strings of lights up each of the twelve guide wires. This however seemed just a little too typical and not terribly original. I then thought of another idea. I bought fairly economical nine foot strands of faux evergreen garlands. Starting on the tipy top(where I had fastened a lighted snowflake design) I started to circle the tree structure essentially swirling the garlands in a candy cane-style swirl with the strands about a foot apart. I then attached similar swirling strands of white lights attached to the garlands. I placed huge white sparkly snow flake flat “ornaments” onto the tree. Since you could still see through the swirls of evergreen and lights into the interior of this hollow tree structure, I placed 3 flood lights into the middle of the tree interior. The effect is to see a unique tree which is instantly familiar as a large tree, yet, just like all of our design efforts, something no one has ever really quite seen before. In other words, uniquely standing as it’s own creative take on the common Christmas tree. I like to think it’s similar to the fact that our homes are instantly recognizable as homes, but each is uniquely Miracle in design.
Inside the home, we added a few creative touches of Christmas here and there. The funny thing about most home builders, they don’t usually take the effort to decorate their homes for any Holiday. I always think that just doing a very little touch of each holiday shows the public the additude of detail that we take the time to do that others do not take the time to do.
Homes are all about evoking feelings and moods. What an opportunity to do a little something to bring the warmth of Christmas into our visitor’s experience. We have scented candles burning, stockings hung,and videos changed to the Christmas variety. To top off the Hybrid Wonderhome’s minor Christmas decor change-over, the new owners(they are likely not moving in until the early months of 2011, so hurry on over)were generous enough to bring over one of the largest red Christmas poinsettias I have ever seen! You can’t miss it , right by the stairs.
We are open Monday and Wednesday nights from 6 to 8pm, so I hope you will come over and see the Christmas ”magic“. We are also open weekends from 1 to 4.
Now just a little teaser item to leave you with. We have been working on a new major promotional incentive package to be a part of our homes. If you listen to the radio this Wednesday on WISN and B93(Wklh and WTMJ start next week), you will hear a hint of the BIG NEWS. I have been building and selling homes for a very long time now(over 2,000 homes by my calculations) and I have never heard of a promotion like we are about to launch. If you want to get a head-start on the basis of this one, you will have to call us on the phone or stop by the models. These incentives are truly incredible(even though that sounds a lot like over-the-top ad lingo, it surely applies to this one).
Thanks for bloggin with me. Until we blog again…
December 9th, 2010
Sometimes at night when I am in my creative mode, I am thinking of so many ideas I find it difficult to concentrate on WHICH creative thing to think about. I hope you all realize that when I write these blogs, I generally am a pretty “open book” on what is on my mind and , even though this could easily sound like a c’mon from some salesperson hawking their product, I hope you will see beyond the fact that I own a home building company and have an interest in selling homes. If I was not in the business, right now, I would surely wish I was in the business of homes. Here is where my creative juices are flowing presently.
I see the prices of land and homes right now so low, and interest rates so attractive, that I know the bottom of the market is here or perhaps was already here with-in a few months time. As you probably know, the secret to making money at anything is to buy the item for a low price and sell it for a higher price. The difference is the profit. The lower you buy the product you are selling, the higher the potential profits will/should be. (Sorry for the grade school economics refresher)
Right now I am feeling anxious inside, and I know that I should never feel anxious in anything, as a general philosophy of my life. The reason is that I have not really taken full advantage of this market being so “right” to build. I myself should be really thinking of building. Not to sell the homes, but to rent them out. I am thinking that many folks in this rough economy are really struggling to hold onto a home or need to get the cash out of their existing home. If they could sell their own home and rent another new home, not a multi-family, that would have to be an attractive option!
Normally, this would be a potential loser since renting income might not even pay for the mortgage which I would have to have to build the new rental property. I think however, since I am a builder and have attractive , near wholesale prices available to me, AND since I can buy an $80,000 lot(of just a few years ago) today for under $30,000(if you know where to look), the math works now. It may not work when the economy improves, but it does right now, with these current interest rates!
Another wild idea I had a few eeks ago was to re-define the way that folks may be buying or building a new home. I intend to re-package the way we market homes and , instead of selling empty boxes, on empty lots, we will introduce Wisconsin’s first Fully Furnished New homes! By golly, that has a certain ring, and appeal to my ear. I know our Rent Buster series is a great launch into new homes for many. I also know that when first time home buyers are looking for a new home, the idea of having just enough money to buy the home is usually their reality. With this new scenario, the new home buyer would have the furniture, mattresses, television, appliances, lamps, the whole thing, all in one attractive package.
In a short time, we will be unrolling this and right now, we are getting ready to furnish our first such model for this 4 bedroom $199,000″ Rent Buster Complete” package. We have gotten to the point at my business that we are building these 4 bedroom Rent Buster homes just so darn efficiently, and we are buying our materials at such excellent price levels, that we can do what other builders must feel is some kind of voo-doo or come-on advertising. I am here to tell you that it is all for real . The value and quality we are now offering just could not be here if it was not for this remarkable housing market.
The only problem with finding creative solutions to the problems of the housing market is that many good, honest, smart shoppers just don’t trust that offers this good are real. We are trained as consumers to find the flaws of any offer. Every offer must have it’s weak side, but in the same vein, every offer must have its upside as well. If the upside outweighs the downside, the offer will work. If I was to be the first banker offering to loan money to buy a home(for example) and I announced to the public that I would loan money for homes, everyone would be looking for the “catch“. The catch is that I want to be paid back and get back more money than I originally borrowed to you for the home. The other catch is that if you can’t pay the money back, I would get the home back from you and your family could be out on the streets! WOW, that downside sounds pretty frightening when you think about it. If you only looked at the downside, no one would ever borrow money to build a home. But…. the upside is you get a beautiful home, a great quality of life, and all the pride of home ownership that goes with it. It is usually (some would still argue) a faily safe long term investment.
In a likewise way, over a year ago, we introduced a program we call “Live In Our Home For Free, Until Your Is Sold”. The upside is HUGE! Abosolutly HUGE! First, you don’t have to wait to sell your home first before you buy another. Next, you don’t have to sell your home, move into temporary housing, then move into your new home. Then, you can get a higher dollar(usually) for your existing home because you don’t have to sell your existing home with all sorts of personal effects in the closets and all sorts of clutter. You don’t have to interrupt your family life with suddenly having to show your home to prospective buyers. You can stage your existing home and sell it at your leisure . You don’t have to be “trapped” anymore in the needing to sell before you can buy. As I said, HUGE upside!
Just like the first guy who decided to loan money to buy homes, I believe I am the first entity to offer this program. One night, in my creative mode, I just decied to try to tackle the common problem of everyone being stuck doing nothing , not being able to build or move-on with their lives until their home was sold. We have now done so many deals with this new invention of ours and, here’s the great news, not a single deal I can remember was stuck with 2 homes for more than a month or two past the time they moved into their new home! Here;s the other kicker, most EVERY buyer who utilized this method was apprehensive about taking this route. Now every one I have met who took it, seem to think this was a great idea.
Just like the home loans scenario, there ARE potential down sides to this program. THERE HAS TO BE. I would however say that the VAST majority of the folks who sold their homes got what they wanted for their homes in terms of dollars. As for the details and downsides, I will leave that to your inquiries to our staff(sorry, but we don’t want to make this too easy on our competitors). The long and short is that we will continue to make your house payments on “one” of your two homes, until the home is sold. Our risk is we could be making payments for years. The reality however is that this has not happened, and is most unlikely to happen.
Now that I am thinking of it, I still have one home left to sell in our recently closed Monterey model center. Tomorrow, maybe I will see if it doesn’t make more sense to just rent that property out rather than sell it! You see, creative ideas can come at any time!
December 17th, 2010
This blog entry has been linked directly to our homepage as a special way to ease into the biggest announcement we have had in recent memory.
First, the over-all “big Picture” then some details to follow. We have been trying to find new and compelling reasons to continue to further separate Miracle from the myriad of other builders. To do this, regular blog readers know that we try to push the creative design area and do things that no one else has thought of doing. We want to do the same creative innovating in the area of giving home buyers the biggest “bang” for their dollar as well. Here it is.
1.) We will continue to offer our hit “Live In Our Home For Free, Until Yours Is Sold” program. If you are unfamiliar with the details on this aspect, we have an area on our site which explains this OR you could just go to back two or three blog entries for a pretty good explanation of this. In short, this is pretty much as good as it gets if you have a home to sell before you want to build.
2.)We continue to offer our PHENOMINAL Rent Buster homes. Again, our site has more details on this but the short version is that you could buy a 4 bedroom 2-story home (we have ranches too, of course) for a fairly complete $199,000. There are lots of good things about this offering not least of which is the aspect of the lot(building site) for the home. You can choose ANY lot, ANYWHERE in Southeastern Wisconsin from Kenosha north to Appleton, west to Lake Mills. We do travel up or over beyond that for a little more. The home is ,very well built, using the same contractors and materials found in our million dollar custom homes. We do allow as much customization as you like. The package is a baseline package which comes with good quality carpet and vinyl flooring, dishwasher, all lighting, mirrors/towel bars. The package includes a $50,000 allowance to go towards the lot of your choice. Lots today are going for less than that in many areas. That means if you find a $40,000 lot, for example, the package is now $189,000. We also have about $25,000 in the $199,000 package for lot improvements, permits, and such. Ask us for a list of lots in your preferred area.
3.) One of our most popular promotions we have run before is our $1,995 finished basement. This is one that makes many a competitor shudder as I have heard so many clients tell me that the “other guys” have expressed that our finished basement is little more than a small space with cheap finishes. One step into our finished basement model and you instantly see that is not true by any stretch of the imagination. This is a large(about) 600 finished square feet of space with fancy corners, solid woodwork package, all set for a future bathroom(door installed too) and even a set up for a home theatre wall and place for wet bar(a little more buys the wet bar too). We include good lighting, a designed area to fit a pool table, and even the cat5 wiring to the theatre area. My favorite area is the drywall build-out surround wall which has effect hidden lighting behind it! Other builders would charge easily $50 to as much as $100 per square foot. That could be a $30,000 to $60,000 value for just $1,995! Remember, this can be added to our $199,000 Rent Busters, or any Miracle Home.
4.) OUR NEWEST PHENOMINOM. We have partnered with American T.V., Appliance, and Furniture to be the first and only (to our knowledge) home builder to offer the whole house to be completely filled with a whole lot of furniture, appliances, and even the large Samsung 50 inch 1080 DPI High definition television. We now have changed out our two story Richfield “Rent Buster” to display this incredible package. Highlights include 2 couches, recliner, coffee tables(one even rises to act as a snack table for a couch), 5 table and floor lamps, a dinette set(which has a nifty double bench seating for two and other chairs too), 4 very nice kitchen stool/chairs(they match the dinette/dining chairs), and a dining low-hutch/bureau. For the Master suite, we have a very nice master bedroom set which includes dovetail constructed drawers throughout. This package includes a long dresser with mirror, tall dresser, two night stands, and a queen bed complete with (not the lowest end offering) Sealy Mattress and box spring too!
Now for a few of those details. Due to the nature of our partner arrangement on this, we are only able to offer this on homes signed from Thursday January 6 through Monday January 31st OR 10 deals, whichever comes first. If you don’t intend to build until later down the road, don’t dismay. You can delay your build until later so long as you confirm and(modest) deposit your paperwork in that time frame.
As I mentioned, we now have this package of “goodies” set up in our Richfield Reflections Village 2 story home. If you are not shopping for a 2-story home, we have 2 other non-2-story homes at Reflections Village as well. As a side enticement, this developemnt site at Refelctions Village ,is now called the WONDERLAND OF HOMES and has 6 other fine home builders models to visit as well, so you can really make a day of fun home shopping our of your visit. We are open at our models Monday and Wednesday nights from 6 to 8 and Weekends from 1 until 4. We are Christmas decorated right now too. If you would like to see our Northwest Milwaukee area(off Good Hope/91st street area) homes, you can see our 2-story 4 bedroom rent buster and another Miracle model at that location.That location is open weekends from 1 to 4 only. During our official kick-off January 6 through 9, we will offer longer open hours and other c’mon-down incentives.
As for other details, I suggest you take a few moments to call one of our sales folks at (262)628-9091 to get your other questions answered.
Creativity goes beyond decor and layout of homes. This could very well be our finest creative “value” moment yet!
Until we blog again,
December 24th, 2010
Merry Christmas everyone,
It is Christmas and I am in the Christmas spirit once again. I would encourage anyone who has not yet seen our spectacular(I could say “amazing”, but that seems to be THE word of 2010) Hybrid Wonderhome in Reflections Village/Richfield to not miss seeing the special Christmas decorations trimming the exterior. The front display window even has Mickey Mouse and his gang celebrating the season. A must-see!
First, as my blog headline insinuates, I have a few bits of Big and Small news. Here is the BIG news item. As many of you may either know or perhaps expect, we , like many home builders, have been members of Milwaukee’s home building organization, (namely) the Milwaukee Metropolitan Builder’s Association.For short, in this article, I will call them by their short name, the MBA. I do not remember the exact date we joined this “club” but it was probably around the 1997 or 1998 timing.
The chief reason we originally joined was nothing more or less than the fact that I wanted to be in the Milwaukee Parade Of Homes. The only builders who could be in the Parade were builders who had been members for at least 1 year and were in “good standing”. I had been building homes since we created Miracle Homes back in 1993,( If you don’t count me and Jacquie having built our own home around 1990). Jacquie and I were largely building homes in the Washington County area and saw no real reason to join the Milwaukee association. While my younger days pass time had been to build “things” and do carpentry, and design things(amongst many other pastimes) , another one of my passions was in the field of marketing. I had spent some of my artist college education also dabbling into marketing and advertising. This all leads to some big news, so I hope you will indulge me a moment or two longer on my little history tutorial here.
Back to my advertising/marketing experience, I knew when the timehad come that Jacquie and I had gained enough solid home building experience, we would launch ourselves heavily into the Milwaukee market and I knew the Parade was to be a part of that launch. Therefore, a year before our Milwaukee launch, right on schedule,I joined the MBA. I did not really investigate any other potential reasons for being a member as I had only one need for them at that time.
That first Parade went smoothly and that Menomonee Falls Stockton Bay model was one of 7 homes in that 1997 Parade. We won several major awards including the People’s Choice which was the biggie as I saw it. We had an elevator, a suspended plastic deck built around large trees which we had planted. The deck had a garden (dirt and all) incorporated into the elevated deck. I had designed a small front walk-way patio with a pond that took water from the pond and diverted it into the short-walled patio to cool your feet. I had a 4 car garage with a car washing bay. I even had an 80 inch rear projection television built flat into the wall of the great room. The skylights electronically opened their shades and the look -out basement on this 2,200 square foot ranch had incorporated a unique masonry window well on the front of the home to let daylight (and egress) into that unexposed bedroom.
I had cherry custom cabinets which had fronts that disguised the drawers into the craftsman motif., creating the appearance of drawers even where there were cabinet doors! I had invented a central vacuum system where the cumbersome hose would retract “automatically into a central cabinetso the vacuum was always ready to use and easy to put away. I used an unusual amenity of iron welded spindles and wood top hand railings. Now that I read this, some 12 years later, much of what I was doing then, is now in vogue! Remember, the average size of a big screen television at that time was a whopping 25 inches, and everyone was using wood spindles. Our involvement in the Parade and our launch into the Milwaukee market worked very well!
Flash-forward a few years and a few Parades later, and we had also became a big player in the MBA wintertime Home Builders Expo in downtown Milwaukee. We also had joined a third MBA -only event known as the Spring Tour Of Homes. Life seemed “good” as we became one of the largest volume home builders in the Milwaukee metro market and arguably the most prominent as our slew of seemingly, non-stopping radio ads hit the airwaves. We were building a brand for ourselves and building a list of (mostly) happy clients too.
At that point something changed that I had not expected. It seemed as we grew to own more of the area housing market share, we started to hear our clients confiding in us and telling us many negative things our competitors were telling them about us. My Dad had told me that the same folks who would cheer you when you are going from nothing to the top are sometimes the same folks who want to topple you from the toponce you get there. As I tried to separate ourdesigns and products from the other builders by using (for example) 2 by 12 lumber, when they all were using 2 by 10 lumber, or when I was including surround sound systems and appliances when they were not, I would naturally explain this to the public in our various ads. This seemed to feed the fire in my competition’s bellys to the point that when I appeared in a Parade or Expo-type MBA event, I became less and less popular with my competition, the MBA members.
Each time I came up with some new home building innovation or new marketing item,(and announed them to the public) life just got worse at in the MBA ranks, even though sales and(most importantly)the smiles of our clients continued to rise to new heights. Along the line, I had decided to create our own Miracle Parade Of Homes-styled event. I would build 5 or 6 new models, introduce new inventions, and open them a week or two before the MBA Parade to try to sell everyone a home before the MBA event would even open. In our Version of the Parade however, we had free admission, free entertainment, wild home building ideas, seminars by yours truly, and a grand all-free cook out with everything from burgers to cookies. We discounted and created specials and always sold a lot of homes during the event. Our Miracle Tour Of Homes was a resounding success selling as many as a record 55 new home contracts during a single event one year!
By and by, the MBA members created new rules to compensate for the “Mirracle factor” as I heard one MBA member put it.One new rule was not to allow any member advertise for a few weeks before AND after their Parade. We used to advertise that we would give a special discount to anyone who showed a ticket stub from the Parade and soon thereafter, the MBA told us not to advertise using the name Parade since they claim they own rights to the phrase “Parade of Homes” . It got so difficult that one year, when our Parade overlapped their Parade by 1 day with-in those few weeks MBA advertising moratoriumthey had created, a member filed a comlaint against us to the MBA. For this infraction (they wanted us to close on a Saturday instead of a Sunday, as I recall, but the major newspaper flyer had already gone to press stating the dates weeks before they requested this of us) one MBA member filed an “ethics complaint” against us. The members of the ethics commitee seemed ecstatic during the hearing and while handing down their suspension of our membership for a period of time.
I decided the best aproach would be to try to make this a win-win for everyone and doubled my efforts to try to play nice in the sandbox. After all, life really is too short to have anyone upset with you, even if they are your competitors. The MBA was encouraging builders to present higher calibre home show displays. We built a fantasy-land-type home show booth to be unveiled at the MBA downtown January Expo. This booth had our mascot ,an automated Miracle Mouse, come out of the roof-top window shutters every 15 minutes and put on a cute family presentation for the crowds. We had a train that ran around the gutters, and our intricate museum-quality miniature home models flipped over to our custom sound track music. We introduced large flat panel televisions(back then they were pricey and still a tad unusual ) to tell our Miracle story. Folks came from the entire show floor to see where the delicious smell was coming from? The fake smoke coming from our fake chiminey suggested we were baking fresh cookies in our booth kitchen . Bank experts would sit in our cozy doll house-like closing booths to help answer any finance questions and even pre-qualify home shoppers right on the spot!
It wasn’t long before the MBA created a new rule which stopped any finance folks from working in any Expo booth. This year, they created a rule to not allow us to continue our long tradition of giving thousands of fresh baked cookies to Expo visitors. Last year, we were stopped from giving Parade Of Homes young visitors, a free T-shirt that could be colored and erased.
This past Expo the MBA seemed to differentiate us from other builders. Two other home builders ran their own home show events with-in the time frame of the MBA advertising moratorium. No apparent action was taken from the MBA. In this year’s Parade event, we built an unprecedented 3 homes. Our attempt to try to “get along” by using our radio ads and special 8 page Journal Sentinel tabloid section to help advertise not only our homes but also the MBA Parade Event seems to have only created more ethics questions from our MBA member competitors.
Some relationships , apparently , are not meant to be. As a person who tries to bring my religious background into each decision, many times over the past many years, I have pondered if the simpler path would be to just separate from the MBA and go our separate ways? I have always tried to resist this easy temptation as I wanted to find a way for us all to co-exist and (funny as it sounds)for me to help the MBA in whatever way possible. I began to apply myself into working on various committees and attending more MBA meetings. Last week, following further intense times with MBA members, then a week of clear thought, I was finally compelled to resign our membership withthe MBA . I do wish them the best as we try going our mutual ways in 2011.When two parties can’t find common goround, sometimes neither party is wrong in their position.Their thoughts and ideas just don’t agree.
There is always much more to any significant story such as this but after 1650 words, the time has come to give you my smaller tidbit of news. For the first ime in many years, we will not be baking our cookies at the MBA Home Builder’s Expo event this January in Downtown Milwaukee. I still hope everyone will brave the cold. parking, and traffic to attend this worthwhile event. It opens Thursday the 6thof January and goes for 4 days through that Sunday. It is in the back third of the main hall this year. Smaller than in the past, for sure, but still well worth the $7(parking extra) admission price. This year they will again be having a few notable speakers from the cooking and television circuit on select days. For full details, please visit the MBA website at MBAonline.org
Before, or after, you have paid your visit to this event, we are having special House Party Event hours at both Richfield and Milwaukee. We are part of 9 fabulous actual new homes and we have some special longer night time hours to accompany our many super specials. Oh, if you are looking for some of those delicious cookies, we will be serving them hot and fresh in our basement Club Wonder virtual reality night club, the only one of it’s kind in the World!
Stay tuned and …Merry Christmas! Until we blog again in 2011,
January 5th, 2011
Every year, we Americans seem to have the traditional habit of making our new year resolutions. It is our human nature to always want MORE or BETTER in the new year than we had in the year which just ended.
I have not made any such resolutions for myself personally, but , this year, like many before, I have lots of resolutions and things I put in my sites for our company to accomplish. Writing this blog gives you and me the opportunity to look back on this blog next January and see how many of these goals are accomplished or came true. I will try to keep this interesting.
My first goal/desire is to develop more home designs and make more people happy this year than last. I guess that is my clever way of saying, since I want to believe we make all of our clients happy(some more than others, but all pretty much. ..happy), if I want to make more folks happy, that means only one thing, selling more homes. In 2010, our numbers were about 51 (or so) home starts, or home sales closed. My optimistic forecast for 2011 is closer to 75 than to 50 homes.
I want to continue to develop what I have affectionately dubbed my “Yacht” series of homes. These are extremely high quality/featured homes in very small sizes such as a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath home for about $75 to $80,000 WITHOUT the lot or around $115,000 to $135,000 with a fully landscaped/driveway package on a nice lot. I won’t tell you the home size, but let me just say, if you want to see a floor plan, I will have one on our web site soon, or you can stop out and see me at Richfield during our current 4 day 28 hour happening in Richfield’s Wonderland Of Homes(Reflections Village). We are open Thursday through Saturday from noon to 8! Sunday from noon to 4.
My next big desire is to continue to add more magical touches to our website. You may have noticed a few tweaks already with the opening music and the floating “Miracle Bubbles”. The site will have a new exciting category of a gallery of home designs I have developed which may not have been built or ideas that never quite got off the ground. For example, one client wanted our Lake Bay ranch design in the worst way but their lot of choice was only 30 feet wide. I re-designed the whole house to work wonderfully(if I do say so myself) as a 20-something feet wide version. Now you will be able to see ideas such as this and dozens of other plans which get designed each year but for some reason or another, never get built(usually financing or cost issues, or sudden life change situation). This section will be called my Designers Palette. Look for it in the next month or sooner.
Another big idea I have had for years is to build a home model in a very public place “inside” a larger building. By putting such a model at a landmark instead of in a subdivision situation, the exposure would be fantastic! While I am not at liberty of telling you exactly where, I can give the example of how many folks do you think would see our homes if I were to build a model at the Zoo, or at the Domes? I am not planning on putting a model at either place, but it is along that kind of line of thought and we are working on it!
I want to open new models in other areas such as Hartford and Oak Creek/Franklin area, as well as return to Ixonia and Jackson , where we have had good past success.
I want to re-launch our big Summer Home Show called our Miracle Tour Of Homes and make it the biggest Home Shopping event of 2011 in this area. In some of our past editions(we have not done it for the last 2 years, since we have been in the MBA Parade Of Homes during that time) we drew more visitors than any other home shopping event. Not to short-change our high-concept homes, but maybe our free cook-out or free hot air balloon rides had something to do with that.
I am hoping to launch a new Miracle Homes Restaurant which gives diners more than an eating experience . Much like our Club Wonder in-home night club in our lower level of our Richfield Hybrid Wonderhome, visitors would receive a full sensory experience of taste, visuals, smells, and sound. We will attempt to mentally transport our clients to other parts of Wisconsin and the World to give them a dining experience they won’t soon forget and will not be able to get anywhere else in the World!
I want to continue to explore our new idea of the truly complete home package which includes landscaping, furniture, appliances, rec-room, everything you need to have a complete home(who knows,maybe even the curtains!) We are launching this idea right now, starting January 6. We have one of our homes in Richfield completely furnished from American, right down to the lamps, and 50 inch Samsung hi-def television. The real trick is to do this whole package thing and keep it affordable and top quality too. Anyone who doubts what we can do for just $199,000(plus a few grand more for your added packages)including the lot, should see what we have done for themselves.
We want to continue using our performance edge in custom designing homes and increase our custom home projects to more and more so that about a third of our total business is truly custom, one of a kind , unique homes.
I have a whole host of crazy and wild ideas I want to continue to develop. In recent years, my passions have been in the areas of creating rooms with less doors but still affording privacy. That come from me seeing how movie theatres don’t use doors on their bathrooms anymore. Doors get in the way. I have also been expanding my abilities to transfer natural light through the home using windows between rooms. These are the glass type that you can not see through. The ultimate goal is to not have any need to turn on home lights except at night. I have had a new breakthrough idea which takes this natural lighting one step further and can even be used to naturally light basements(not using windows or any current technology).
Yet another big thing we are doing is that we are bringing back our weekly television specials which garnered 3 Emmy nominations and got great numbers of viewers when we first played these shows a few years ago. We are re-doing sections of these television specials and re-packaging them to play again using some new content sections mixed with existing content. The first show airs this coming Saturday on Channel 24 at 11am. They will run for 12 weeks. That is 12 Saturdays in a row. I hope you will watch!
There is always a bigger plan for each of us than any man can ever see. I am thankful that we are one of the blessed businesses to have made, and continue to make through a tough economy for housing. I am sure we will have many a twist and turn in our road for 2011. Each day continues to be enjoyable as we see so many happy people enjoying their homes and their home building experiences. Wow, that really sounded like a blatant ad, but I do mean it. Life is good and life is fun.
Until we blog again,
January 7th, 2011
In recent years, I have been doing many things with television both in our homes and , in a way, in yours too. I just wanted to remind all of you bloggers out there that tomorrow morning, and the next 11 Saturdays, at 11am on channel 24, we will once again be running our popular television” specials” .
About three years ago, we came into the market with our own unique spin on home builder shows. I had always seen so many local paid programming home builder shows that all had some things in common and I had always felt if I were to produce our own television shows, they would be different from all of those. For example, those shows all seemed to be constantly hawking the audience to either buy their homes or to use their suppliers. I have no real issue with either of those things except that I think that kind of thing should be used exclusively for in the commercials, not in the actual show content.
How many home builder shows have you seen where the host starts to interview the product supplier and the interview usually starts with a hollow exchange of “hellos and thanks for being here and it is my pleasure to be here today and so forth. Those same segments seem to always end with the interviewer patronizing the interviewee saying something like, “that’s terrific! Can you please tell our audience why (builder name) uses you as their supplier of choice, and then they always ask, so if our audience wants to contact you, how can see/learn more about your product?” My opinion is that television shows are more popular when they stick to informing and entertaining. The commercials were made for for selling things.
In our show, titled Tom Hignite’s Home Imaginators, the first thing we did was to never do any of what I just explained. We don’t usually mention the name of the supplier or if we do, it is very brief and never do we ask those other filler questions.I think the audience knows that the host didn’t just meet the guest for the first time just whatn the cameras started rolling. In our show, we don’t tell anyone to buy anything or come out to see us anywhere EXCEPT IN THE ACTUAL COMMERCIALS. We make a point never to mention our phone number, e-mail address, or even our company name! Sure we mention all of those things, but ONLY in our 3 or 4 commercials and then in a short message after our show end credits have run. In that way, you the viewer can always turn-off the show if you don’t want to hear our last, after show, plea.
When this show first ran on channel 4 a few years ago, our ratings were very large. Some times, the numbers of folks watching equaled the numbers who watch the 6 o’clock news! I think the chief reason for this is that we show the viewer new and unusual things they likely will find interesting and not just show you our fireplace installers or plumbers showroom. We show you ideas that are way out of the box and by showing you these unusual things, we assume (if you are interested) you will be clever enough to find a way to ask us later for the supplier information you might want.
This show was blessed to garner 3 Emmy Midwest Emmy nominations including BEST ORIGINAL MUSIC,(written and recorded just for us), BEST GRAPHICS/ANIMATION, and BEST OVERALL non-news SHOW. We did not win, but I think we were one of the first paid programs to get nominated for much of anything. Even though we did not win, our few trips to Chicago to attend the ceremonies, were neat to be a part of.
Our new shows are mostly the same 6 shows we ran before except we have added a few new bits of information and interest segments to each show. The shows will run for 12 consecutive weeks starting(as I said) tomorrow at 11am. Then, if you like the kind of things you see, we have 3 beautiful homes we are selling in Richfield that are open tomorrow from noon to 6 (special hours)and on Sunday from12 to 4.
On Monday, I will be checking our ratings to see how we did numberwise, but I hope all of you home shoppers will stop out and see me tomorrow to tell me how you liked it entertainmentwise!
See you at 11am!
January 13th, 2011
Hello from sunny Orlando Florida,
I , five of our Miracle staffers, and our lead carpenter subcontractor all have traveled to the Largest Home Builder Show in the World, The International Home Builders Show. I am writing this blog edition from new device which I have yet to figure out completely. On my new IPAD, I do not have the knowledge of how to do spell-check, or make some words bold, or italics, or such. This is how a “raw” blog looks, before I use technical enhancements to make this a more readable finished product.
I have previously blogged about how this single show has more great new product introductions and new applications, and motivational speakers, and seminars about home construction than you are likely to find anywhere else. It strts on a Wednesday and goes through this Saturday. tickets are several hundred dollars per person, but we do have some generous vendors who are able to allow us to economically enter the show.
Today, we started at 7:30am registering and then attending the first seminar series at 8:00. There was an elaborate opening ceremony with comedian Frank Caliendo, and a big song and dance style review. The seminars were so plentiful, that all 8 of us went to different subjects. My sales staffers went to find out how to make sales in the current economy. I went to a seminar about Internet marketing. They stressed creating new blog content (funny how that seminar seems to have motivated me on that point). Our book keeper attended sessions about new applications of Quick-Books in constructions. There was a session about building better framing techniques for our carpenter foreman, and lots of big ideas for me to
see about designing smaller homes and features for the next generation of home buyers.
You may know that Disney World is only a few minutes from our door at the Disney All Star Resort rooms we are staying at. You get the general picture and tomorrow we start again ,early AGAIN. since it is midnight, I think I will pick this up tomorrow without need to explain my trip details.
As for leaving you with one thing to think about till next time, here is one tidbit. On the plane trip here, I went into a home dreaming mode and started to imagine a wild idea that had not occurred to me before. I sat a while and considered mental images and dimensions. Then, I grabbed my graph paper onto my fold-down tray table and started sketching the first(I think) 2-story home, with basement, that would have no stairs or elevators to allow wheelchair bound people to go to the second floor or basement!
Until we blog again,
January 31st, 2011
Yachts are a different kind of animal when it comes to designing luxurious spaces into rather small square footage areas. Nautical(called navel architects)designers have a few industry “tricks” they have employed to find ways to expand living spaces. If you have ever visited a boat show and stepped aboard a yacht of say, 30 to 50 feet, you would come away saying that you could probably not only live aboard such vessels, but you would rather enjoy the great high end luxuries packed-in to these floating palaces. It would not be unusual to pay a Million dollars for a 50 foot motor yacht.
It is a good thing that motor yachts are not purchased by square footage. If they were, no one might ever buy one. A typical 50 foot yacht can be as wide as 16 feet. They are, by nature, pointed on one end of this space. If this were a house, that would mean your million dollars would be buying about 800 square feet of interior living space. If this was an 800 square foot home, a million dollars would be a ridiculous amount to pay for that type of square footage. Homes of this meager size are usually low income, unspectacular homes. Most communities would only allow such homes in trailer parks.
For the past many months, I have been toiling-away on a new idea. The idea of using bold, striking architecture, very high end materials and detailing, and borrowing some of those design “tricks” from the yachting industry(I used to spend a lot of time on my family’s 40 foot yacht in Door County when I was a teenager) to design a new series of homes to place under our Miracle banner. I have not yet arrived at the best name to call these micro-mansions(that name too is in the running), but I have a notion that the market for smaller, luxury laden, beautifully designed homes is gong to be a “white hot” sales market in the coming years.
I am busy readying our first 4 designs of this new “Yacht Series“. The designs are a small 3 bedroom 2-story, a slightly larger 2-story, a split bedroom ranch, and a hybrid design which is neither 2-story nor ranch but places the master on the main level. All 4 homes are being viewed as the perfect answer for renters who can only afford a monthly payment of $600 to $800 per month. These are the perfect vehicles for getting someone their very own home, very own attached garage, very own 3(or 4) bedrooms with 2.5 bathrooms, and very own back yard, all for the price of renting but now, you don’t have to rent.
Talk about luxuries, these homes seem to have it all. hardwood floors, solid panel doors, wider solid trim, lots of windows, great exterior detailing, granite or Corian tops, fancy mouldings, raised panel walls, full basements, Energy Star and Green built through-out! These are highly efficient insulation packages. Lots of ceramic tile and even(gasp) many custom built-in furnishings too! Let’s include high-end appliances, garage door openers, sidewalks,concrete drive, even a patio or deck and landscaping.
These complete, luxury homes can be built for less due to their size and I fully expect(fingers crossed and hands folded) the first 4 to be offered for sale when they open in mid-June for $150,000 or less. Actually, I am hoping a little less frilled model can be bought with lesser amenities but still including the home, lot, driveway, landscaping and appliances for under $120,000!
If you are not the first home kind of situation, maybe you are the retiring type. Maybe you are the type who has always wanted to build that vacation home up north and guess what? We do build as far away as Door County and out to the Dells!
Forget the price(I know that is kinda hard to forget at these prices), the designs are marvelous and I would challenge you to find better detailing even in much larger homes carrying much larger price tags. I am using all I have learned in having designed and built over 2,000 homes and if this kind of dsign interestes you, you can get in on the “ground floor” of this one. Even though we have not yet publicly(except here and now) announced these homes, we are getting a few supposed takers who would be interested in buying one of these even before they are built and open. We are however NOT pre-selling these homes as we will be fair to all and only start to pre-sell these first 4 homes on the first day they are open to the public in June.
That may sound a bit presumptuous in this re-surging housing market, but I know renters will be lining up to get their first glimpse at these beauties when they have their coming out party“grand opening”. I have already started a list of highly interested wanna-be home owners. If you would like to be on that list, just drop me a line. We do have one of these smaller preliminary Yacht series homes now on our website under our new “Designer’s Palette” section. This is the smallest of the homes in the series and it is only the preliminary concept drawings. The newest tweaks have changed the design quite a bit.
Another possible name for this new series is Eco-Homes series . Because they are so small in size, they are the ultimate idea in being Earth friendly because they use less material and less fuels to operate them. Their small size makes them “Eco” as well, as in economical to own. As I said, I am searching for a better name for the series. If you have a name sugestion, I would love to hear it! As for a tag line or slogan try this…
Downscale your “rat-race”,
Upscale your life-style
….SIMPLIFY your life.
Until we blog again,
Upscale your lifestyle,
February 10th, 2011
In my last blog, I gave a few thoughts about our newest series of homes tentatively called our “Yacht Series” This is a series that is supposed to resonate with a whole new generation of home buyers. When offering a new home design, naming the home design is somewhat akin to the process of naming a baby.
Just as in baby naming, different names bring to mind different attitudes and opinions. When we named our first son Nik, since he was born the day before Christmas, Nick seemed fitting (St. Nicholas). To give a creative twist, we dropped the “c” in the common Nick, and it seemed more exotic. For son Sean, we went with the tough guy persona of celebrity Sean Connery. With this new home series, I wanted a name which would relfect what these homes were to mean the Generation Y home buyers. Let’s review.
1. They need to be ultra cool in their flair, somewhat like what the I-Pad is to the full fledged desk computer.
2. These homes , like a yacht, are quite clever in their “smallness” because they use such high standards for design and highest-end materials that you never notice how small they really are.
3. These homes , for all of their quality and high styling, still need to be very affordable to the masses. These homes, after all are for a generation of the lowest income buyers we have ever seen enter the market. They each average an income of about $25,000 annually.
4. This group of buyers wants less frills, and has no desire to have this look like their parent’s homes. They want lots of entertaining spaces and are not so much interested in lots of maintenance or difficult landscaping or high monthly energy bills. The homes must simply “work” in what they do.
5. These buyers are renters who desire to own something instead of rent something but they have nothing to buy except old, non-cool grandma homes. If that is all they can get for their dollar, they would rather stay put in their contemporary apartments near the city night life.
6. This tech savy group is the perfect consumer for the newest practical items such as the IPad and the Scion , or smart cars of today. They are also interested in “green” and “energy star” items, to a point.
The orignal thought was that his group may really respond to the name “yacht series”. The story is simple enough. A really luxurious small home, with high styling, in effect,…a yacht! Then I asked myself, does this group really want to be associated with a floating palace? The apparent opulence of owning a yacht may not really be a life goal of this Generation Y buying group. Other names got considered.
Eco-Haus(looks good on paper but only on paper)
Geo Homes(Chevy tried that route. It did not last)
Then , while listening and brainstorming took weeks of time to ponder and research, the ideal name came to mind. A name that I just knew was the right name which would immediately appeal and convey the strongest message of what these ultra cool homes would and should be. In my next blog, I will have a one word blog. It will be comprised only of the new series name. Until then, let’s see if any of you can change my mind and come up with a better series name. If we use your name, I am sure we could make it worth your while.
I will name the name on Saturday night’s blog , so please comment your ideas to me as soon as possible.
A few last bits of news about this and that. I just heard that this January’s home sales in Wisconsin (heard it on WTMJ radio news today)were 20% higher than last January . In every Southeast county home sales went up except Ozaukee. Go figure! Our January sales were way over a 20% increase. Probably our best January since 2005.
Our February sales are shaping-up nicely too and we have two spec-home closings on schedule for this month’s end. I have been buring the midnight oil designing homes for several clients. We signed a very nice client who is giving us the honor of building their larger custom lake home.
As of February 1, all Wisconsin homes must now have carbon monoxide detectors. That little option has been a standard item with our standard Miracle series for at least 5 years!
Our Saturday morning television specials are enjoying nice ratings which seem to be growing each week. I do hope you will join me this Saturdayon our next show for a walk into one of our most elaborate homes , maybe one of the most elaborate homes ever built, our Grand Bay. See the circular great room with 20 foot high domed ceiling and two-story Disney bedroom!
I hope you will not miss this special “Tom Hignite’s Home Imaginators” this Saturday morning at 11 on channel 24.
Look for our name of our new home series next time, same blog!