Custom Builders and the Details

Whatever forces are at work during the creation of an upscale custom home, a builder can never underestimate the importance of details.

November 01, 2008

No one knows for sure who coined the expression “God is in the details.” It was a favorite aphorism of architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, though some believe writer Gustave Flaubert was the originator. Flaubert is also credited with the saying “The devil is in the details.”

Whatever forces are at work during the creation of an upscale custom home, a builder can never underestimate the importance of details. That's why you need to be frank with your clients about the amount of time it will take and why it pays, in the long run, to hire the best artisans and tradespeople they can afford.

The home featured on pages 16-21 is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. As you can see, every detail in this home was planned and executed with the utmost care. Builders Mosher, Dolan, Cataldo & Kelly assembled some of the finest trades in Michigan, including plasterers Don Zanni and Louie Fidele; tile contractor Jay Thompson of Thompson Marble and Tile; and flooring contractor John Yarema of Johnson Hardwood Floors, who selected and installed character-grade walnut flooring. The Nielsen Group designed and hand-carved the wood details in the library.

Interior designer Jacquie Traub brought in Walls of Virtue to do the wall finishes. “As big as it is, the home has a feeling of warmth and closeness because of the wall textures,” says Traub.

Such large-scale projects are often lengthy, and this was no exception. The construction phase alone took three years. Including preliminary planning, design and selections, it was nearly six years in the making, says Traub. Fortunately, the relationship between builder, architect, interior designer and client was based on mutual respect and the willingness of all parties to let creativity roam free. Keeping your trades, design partners and customers in the loop and soliciting their input is a good way to avoid miscommunication and defuse tension.

For builder Doyle Mosher, the biggest hurdle in executing high-end custom homes is the vast number of decisions the client has to make — and make promptly, especially in homes of this size. Mosher believes a good architect or interior designer can be extremely helpful in guiding clients through the selections process — which is challenging enough with a production home and often overwhelming with a huge custom home.

You may never build a 25,000-square-foot house, but the same principles apply to any custom project. Let designers utilize their expertise to help clients make smart decisions about options. Consistently deliver homes that show attention has been paid to the smallest detail and you'll be on your way to a bumper crop of referrals. By the same token, details that are overlooked or poorly executed can undermine the entire project, not to mention your reputation.

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