The builders of these primary residences in Arizona, Connecticut, and Texas faced a similar challenge: Develop and maintain strong relationships with their clients. That’s true of any custom job, but Chris Shea of Domus Constructors, Norwalk, Conn., can’t emphasize that mission enough.
Scott Frankel of Frankel Building Group, Houston, already knew his clients because they were once his neighbors. Frankel assessed that a new house would serve their needs much better than remodeling the old one. He also needed to maintain the goodwill of the homeowners living adjacent to the site, as they would be affected by construction noise and dirt.
Often builders have to deal with community design guidelines, fussy building departments, and conservation agencies. For example, builder Dave Reese and architect Scott Giesen navigated through such requirements as limited landscape lighting, low roof pitches, and darker exterior paint colors. Shea and architect Howard Lathrop had to develop a site with wetlands sitting on the border between two Connecticut towns without disturbing the existing border marker. They also had to stay on top of filtration, erosion, and sedimentation control.
Style that defies description
The sunroom was originally going to be a screened porch. The five-sided room has a stunning view and a high-pitched wood ceiling with exposed beams.
Shea and Lathrop’s 8,000-square-foot custom home hugs a hilly site on a former estate. The three-acre lot straddles the borderline between Norwalk and Westport, Conn., and has a 20-foot slope, wooded areas, and a meadow, plus the aforementioned wetlands.
“It took a lot of going back and forth with conservation, primarily conservation in Westport,” says Lathrop. “We had to accommodate runoff in water gardens, most of which were already on the site.”
The metal roof features an array of 10-kilowatt solar panels. Excess hot water generated by solar energy is dumped into the geothermal system, pool, and spa. A propane system was added for backup.
Creature comforts abound. The master bathroom has a sauna and a yoga studio with a kitchenette. The wine room has a “secret” passageway to the cigar room, which in turn accesses the master bedroom via a circular staircase.
Jon Pompea of Creative Metal Fab, Stamford, Conn., created the superstructure for the library catwalk. The walkway surface is an aluminum grating that filters sunlight, creating shadows on the walls.
The staircase in the entry hall makes a grand statement with its curved handrail. “It creates a certain false perspective,” says architect Howard Lathrop. “The walls tilt in, and as the stair meanders up through the space, the ceiling slopes. That’s something the clients wanted.”
Back at the hacienda
Custom-home market trends: Phoenix
• Less square footage. “Our clients want smaller homes nowadays,” says Dave Reese of Platinum Homes, Scottsdale, Ariz. “Instead of 6,000 to 7,000 square feet, they’re more in the 4,500-square-foot range.”• No private swimming pools. “Our swimming season is only a couple of months longer than it would be, say, in the Midwest. To heat a pool in the wintertime when people are having guests is not economically viable,” Reese says. Besides, if the community recreation center has a pool, there’s really no need for the client to build one.• Hardwood floors. The home featured in this article has more wood flooring than any built by Platinum Homes to date. “And we’re doing it more and more,” says Reese.• Lighter interior finishes. Phoenix architect Scott Giesen notes that clients are leaning toward lighter, brighter interiors. Darker floors and furnishings are on the way out.• Brick as a trim element. Bucking the local trend, Platinum Homes used a substantial amount of brick to accent the parapets, the low decorative wall framing the front entry, the fountain, and the fireplaces.
The Whisper Rock home featured here is Spanish Hacienda style, characterized by a flat roof and “a fresher style that’s lighter and brighter,” says Dave Reese, principal of Platinum Homes, Scottsdale. It’s about 4,600 square feet—smaller than the homes Platinum has been building lately (see sidebar). The site is approximately 2-1/2 acres and has a large grove of trees on one side. Architect Scott Giesen, principal of Giesen Design Studio, Phoenix, designed the L-shaped house to capture views of Lone Mountain.
“[The clients] wanted a great room rather than a formal living room,” says Reese. “There’s also a hearth room behind the kitchen that can be set up for a breakfast nook or a variety of other uses.”
The Whisper Rock golf courses were a big part of the attraction for these homeowners, who tend to entertain small groups rather than throw large parties. Due to Arizona’s relatively short swimming season, Reese discourages clients from building private pools, but he does maximize outdoor living opportunities. This home has a spacious, covered outdoor room, elegant brick fountain, and built-in barbecue at the rear as well as a patio in the front. Both are equipped with fireplaces.
In keeping with the hacienda flavor, various fireplace styles are featured including this beehive in the master bedroom.
The great room is oriented to a large, covered outdoor space and captures views of Lone Mountain and the southern sky. High transom windows let in sunlight without overheating the house.
Light-colored wood floors contrast with a darker cabinet finish in the kitchen. The flooring is French white oak with a taupe wash, “which turns out to be the same color as our dust, so it’s really forgiving,” says Reese.
Making a smooth transition
The kitchen faces a veranda at the rear of the home and features an island with a prep sink and an angled counter for food preparation and serving. The arched doorway on the right leads to a home office.
To facilitate entertaining, the kitchen, breakfast room, and great room open to a large veranda and summer kitchen. Off the kitchen is a media room where the family can hang out and watch TV. The home has a formal dining room off the foyer as well as a study that is the husband’s sanctuary, complete with hidden closets.
Like nearly all of Frankel’s projects, the home is LEED certified. “The clients didn’t want a lot of maintenance, and when we started explaining what sustainable means, it made total sense to them.”
For Frankel, building green means using open-cell polyurethane insulation and other materials that can stand up to Houston’s heat and humidity. “We use two-coat lathe-and-plaster stucco on 95 percent of our houses,” he says. “If it’s done right, it [performs] very well in this climate.” Instead of exposed wood on the exterior, the company uses fiber-cement siding and trim and concrete masonry soffits. Hybrid, semi-tankless water heaters and variable-speed, 16 SEER HVAC units are always on the equipment list.
In the clients’ previous home, the master bathroom was just a bathroom. This one is more like a spa with its oversized shower and soaking tub and connects to an enormous walk-in closet.
Rodney Stevens, Frankel’s in-house custom-home designer, is adept at making new homes fit seamlessly in established neighborhoods. To add both timelessness and visual interest to this home’s front elevation, Stevens used stone accents and archways, a second-floor balcony, and dormer windows over the garage.