During a question and answer session at a recent industry conference, a home builder asked Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi for his thoughts about the labor
Although it was the first custom home that they'd ever had built for themselves, the owners of this seashore gem on Kiawah Island, S.C. approached the ambitious undertaking in the manner of seasoned pros. In fact, at the outset of the project, the couple presented architect Chris Rose with a detailed "manifesto" that they had created to serve as a design guide for him to use as he developed the...
Although it was the first custom home that they'd ever had built for themselves, the owners of this seashore gem on Kiawah Island, S.C. approached the ambitious undertaking in the manner of seasoned pros. In fact, at the outset of the project, the couple presented architect Chris Rose with a detailed "manifesto" that they had created to serve as a design guide for him to use as he developed the plans for their new home, an unparalleled oceanfront beauty intended for their enjoyment during their retirement.
The result of their efforts, says Craig Gentilin, project manager for builder Buffington Homes, was that this project really "became the true manifestation of their dreams."
Both the architect and builder say that they welcomed their clients' "involved" attitude and that it contributed significantly to the successful, and timely, completion.
"The inspiration for this home is about embracing family," says Cathy Buffington, who co-owns Buffington Homes with husband, Dan. "Our clients really wanted to recreate the charm and character of the places that they remembered growing up in themselves and be able to share that feeling with their family and friends."
The grand, four-story, 10,005-square-foot, shingle-style home features three floors of living space with the ground level being reserved for the garage, beach entry and showers, and a kennel for the family dogs. Designed with an inverted floor plan, the main level is intended for the use of the couple's overnight guests. The mid level is where the daily living areas are located while the entire upper floor serves as the master retreat. The dynamic exterior design includes multiple balconies, double brick chimney towers, undulating courses of hand-cut cedar shingles and distinctive windows.
Inside and out, the home features a blend of historical styles including Federal, Georgian, Victorian and Charleston details which contribute to its one-of-a-kind character. In addition to its distinctive cedar shingle siding, the exterior features a brick-accented porte cochere entry with a groin vaulted ceiling, and a varied facade which breaks up the exterior massing and adds visual interest while providing virtually limitless ocean views from inside. "While the clients wanted a large home," says Rose, "they did want it to appear so. You literally cannot see the entire house from any given vantage point."
The level of detail inside is equally as impressive. The railing in the main stair tower is actually a double helix. The home's multiple elliptical doorway openings required the finish trim to be painstakingly steamed and bent. "This is extremely difficult to do and required the talents of true craftsmen to accomplish," says Gentilin. "The layering of detail throughout the house is incredible, from the flooring to the baseboards, to the wall finish, to the crown molding, every element builds upon another."
The home's footprint echoes the shape of its site with the main portion of the residence cocked slightly toward the ocean at its circular stair tower. This tower, which Rose calls the "hinge," serves as the key reference point on all three levels of living space, providing a connection to a central hallway on each floor that culminates in a veranda that overlooks the Atlantic. "It is extremely important to develop a sense of orientation in a home as large as this one otherwise you can really feel lost in it."
Despite its oceanfront location, this home did not require steel construction, says Rose, because none of the rooms were overly large. "I knew that the couple would be transitioning for awhile between their old residence and this one and the wife would be spending time here alone as her husband was winding down his business affairs. I wanted to make sure that she felt completely comfortable here all the time by creating modestly sized rooms."
The main level of the home includes four guest suites, each with its own full bath, as well as a private great room and kitchenette. The husband's woodworking shop, separated from the rest of the main floor by the porte cochere, features its own air filtration system.
The second floor everyday living space includes a great room, kitchen with a dramatic circular breakfast room, a media room and formal dining room on one side of the stair tower and a library, billiards room and study on the other.
While the home took over a year to design, much of this time was spent generating the detailed construction documents required by the complex project and not for revising Rose's original plans.
"After we come up with a design for a home," says Rose, "we create a working model of it so that the client can get a sense of it in three dimensions. In this case, the clients were really surprised and pleased because we pretty much 'nailed' it on the first go around."
With a reputation for superior quality construction, materials and attention to detail, Buffington Homes was the top choice by both the client and architect to handle the project, which took 30 months to build.
"While that may seem like a long time," says company co-owner Cathy Buffington, "it was really a remarkable accomplishment to get it done in that time frame considering the amazing number of decisions that the client and the team had to make."
Buffington lauds the efforts of Gentilin, a general contractor himself with over 20 years of construction experience, for his skilled management of a project that could have easily become "unwieldy."
With approximately 15 custom homes underway at any give time Buffington Homes operates using a "master builder formula" in which an individual project manager is in charge of overseeing the day-to-day construction affairs for each home. "We have a staff of highly qualified project managers and carefully select the right one for each case based on their personality and skill set. It really becomes a marriage of the client, designer and the manager. We never have a situation in which a project manager is responsible for more than two houses at a time. In this case, this project was Craig's sole responsibility."
Controlling costs, even in custom luxury construction is critical, says Buffington. "We also have two full-time estimators on staff to provide support for our project managers. We don't start a job until we can give the client a very tight estimate on their actual costs. As decisions are made, they are plugged into an already established formula unique to each project. This helps our managers stick to the task at hand, building the home, because it removes the burden of financial estimating and accounting from their job."
"This is a tremendous help to me because it allows me to do my job and not get bogged down in the financial details," says Gentilin. "I can focus on what I really need to be focusing on, that is, to build the best product that I can for the client."
Once the project was underway, Gentilin brought in kitchen and bath designer, Linda Farrone, of Cabinet Concepts, and interior designer Amelia Handegan, to provide their input into finishing the living space in terms of traffic flow, cabinetry location and personal use requirements.
Although Buffington Homes has its own stable of tradesmen that it relies on, "for this project we recognized that we would also need a lot of outside help," says Gentilin. "Right from the start we took the 'divide and conquer' approach. For example, the millwork requirements were just too extensive for a single individual to handle in a timely manner. We actually had five different companies that were responsible for these details. This really helped keep things on schedule because if someone had a problem it did not impact other elements of the construction process."
"It is critical that an oceanfront house always be built taking into consideration the worst case scenario that it may be exposed to," says Gentilin. "Not only should it be designed so that water can get in and out as quickly, and in as unrestricted a manor as possible, but you have to recognize the effect the harsh beach conditions have on the construction materials themselves."
According to Gentilin, maintenance is a huge issue for homes in his market. "This environment really puts the 'lifetime' guarantee of a product or material to the test." Exterior finish materials for this home included cedar, slate, brick, and closed-cell PVC millwork — all selected for the durability and beauty.
"We put a tremendous effort into waterproofing the entire structure," he says. "In fact, we essentially treated the exterior walls as if they were the roof of the home. The shell is completely waterproof even without the siding on it."
All of this extra effort will enhance the longevity of the home, he says. "The owner will not only have a tight structure upon completion, but also one that will not present problems 20 or 30 years down the line."
Gentilin, who visited the site every day during construction, says that he considered this job as a rewarding challenge. "It always seemed to make me smile — in spite of the long hours."
The home was completed in February 2004.