Is a Parade of Homes Right for You?

When it comes to building custom homes, Russell Burton, managing member, Burton Custom LLC, Littleton, Colo., thinks big. Although it is the smallest home in Denver's 2005 Parade of Homes, at "only" 5700 sq. ft., the Retreat, shown left, proves that choosing good details can have mammoth buyer appeal.

September 01, 2005

Out of the Ashes


When it comes to building custom homes, Russell Burton, managing member, Burton Custom LLC, Littleton, Colo., thinks big. Although it is the smallest home in Denver's 2005 Parade of Homes, at "only" 5700 sq. ft., the Retreat, shown left, proves that choosing good details can have mammoth buyer appeal. He adds that, "parade homes showcase what custom builders do best."

Burton says that parade homes are great exposure for custom builders because potential clients can get a good feel of each builder's quality, innovation and capabilities. "In the luxury home market, builders expand their client base mostly through word of mouth," he says. By building in the Denver parade, Burton feels his company advertises its strengths through its product.

He says they have generated tremendous response from his past parade homes. In doing so, he has found there is little need for any "formal" advertising. "We definitely get most of our business through word of mouth," he says, "I build parade homes because they're great marketing tools."

Although custom home builders must invest at least a year into the process, Burton believes it is well worth the effort. "The Retreat is the third parade home I've built," he says, adding that parade homes are a great way of establishing a builder in the marketplace.

As with past parade homes, Burton feels a key factor of his success with parade homes is that he designs the homes with livability and comfort in mind. "We first try to create a home that's livable and turn it into a parade home," he says, rather than designing the home around the bells and whistles. "We've received a lot of positive feedback from both the public and our peers who see our homes as very comfortable and livable," he claims.

Burton says there is the challenge of integrating enough of the right product, but not too much. He says that it is easy to be impressed by all of the gadgetry, but he believes that a simpler approach is better. For example, vendors approached Burton on an outdoor kitchen area complete with built-in sinks, grills and other accessories. "We thought it was a nice concept," he says, "but we passed on it — we sometimes have to fight the urge to get too fancy."

The 2005 Denver Parade of Homes is located at Pradera, a master-planned community situated in Douglas County, Colo. Pradera also offers its residents a private golf course, clubhouse, tennis courts and pool.

"The parade of homes amplifies every detail of a builder's skills," says the Retreat's designer, Amy Crowe, senior designer, Concepts Unlimited, Denver. She adds that parade homes generate an amazing amount of publicity through comments made by visitors to their friends.

Not only do parade homes generate exposure to potential clients, Burton claims that parade homes help to establish relationships between local architects and designers and the builder. "We have gotten many clients and built new, lasting relationships with other vendors as a result of building the parade homes," he says.

Burton believes that another plus of the parade is that it helps builders become more efficient time managers. "Because the home must be completed by the time the judging begins," he says, "it has helped our company become more proficient with site-specific deadlines."


When Burton teamed up with Crowe and architect Marty Beauchamp, associate principal, Knudson Gloss Architects, Boulder, Colo., the first thing they all envisioned was the concept of "living well."

Burton's client niche is the successful, active adult. When planning the Retreat, he enlisted the help of salespeople who deal directly with custom home buyers. "We work closely with preferred building communities," he says, "they give us great market data on what these buyers want." Features such as a main floor master suite, entertaining spaces and outdoor living are in high demand.


With these aspects in mind, Burton wanted the Retreat to feel like a spa, with lower maintenance features. "We wanted to design something that combined fun, soothing relaxation and comfort," says Crowe.

"We wanted the Retreat to be as functional as possible," says Burton, "we wanted to include flexible spaces in a casual atmosphere in which it was easy to entertain guests." He felt entertaining spaces were very desirable among his clientele. He adds that the Retreat mimics the aspects of Pradera that cater to active lifestyles.

The lower level of the home incorporates an exercise room, massage area, steam room and sauna. It features additional access via a hidden spiral staircase in the master closet. Bordering the exercise room is a spa located on the side patio of the home, offering privacy to its occupants. "Once homeowners have exercised, all of the 'spa' comforts are right there," says Crowe.

Designed in Colorado contemporary style, the Retreat's open floor plan allows the home to flow from space to space. Furthermore, it integrates the outdoors as part of its living space.

"Because outdoor living is a high priority with buyers, we've tried to optimize outdoor spaces," he says. The Retreat features four separate outdoor spaces that enhance the home's livability: a covered deck from the kitchen, a loggia on the main floor, a patio off of the lower level and a front courtyard. These areas, says Beauchamp, "allow dwellers to enjoy different times of the day outside around the home."

As far as the inside was concerned, "We wanted to incorporate rooms that people will use," says Beauchamp, "We're seeing priority going away from the formal living room — we find clients would rather have a study — and adding that remaining square footage to the great room/sitting area because that is where most of the family's time is spent."

Yet the Retreat offers some unique characteristics, as well. A chef's room, located off the kitchen is a private office area where home chefs can plan menus or simply have privacy. It is wired for computer access to store recipes and menus for later viewing via a screen in the kitchen area. Also, dual refrigerator/freezer units flank the granite-topped island because, says Crowe, "you can never have enough refrigeration space."


Another unique highlight is the master bathroom. Sandblasted glass shower doors offer privacy. The bathtub features a disappearing edge with a trough. Dual decorative waterfalls, on both ends of the tub, incorporate river rock backing with glass. Water recirculates through this system to simulate the soothing sound of a stream or river and, "enhances the room's humidity and purifies the air," says Crowe. The tub fills from a ceiling-mounted faucet adding even more visual interest to the room.

Burton feels that his clients have a strong attachment to their outdoor surroundings, which is why so many "natural" elements are incorporated into the Retreat. Not only in colors and textures, but also in the exteriors and water features found around and in the home.

In addition to the split face river rock in the bathrooms, granite countertops complement the stately, yet casual interiors. "The colors within the home are nature-oriented, very warm — bordeaux, pumpkin and olive as well as neutral colors," says Crowe, "the tones are similar, but the textures change drastically — it keeps the home from looking mundane." Deep hickory cabinets add to the warm surroundings.

The Retreat's exterior incorporates natural elements, as well. Natural stone and a stucco finish are contrasted with a deep crimson red on the windows and front door. "The goal was to make it blend into the surroundings — we wanted to complement it and not take away from the location," says Crowe. Copper accents, wood bracketing in the gables and trellises over the hot tub and entryway complete this natural feel.

Low maintenance was also a factor in the Retreat's design. "Our clients want to be able to have a nice home without using the weekend to work on it," says Burton. Crowe adds, "for example, kids could play outside and come in the house without worrying about damaging the floors."

To reduce maintenance needs on the grounds of the home, Burton hired landscape designer Chad Harvey, Colorado Green Grass, Parker, Co., to create a xeriscape garden that incorporated lower maintenance plants. Other positives of xeriscape gardens, claims Harvey, are reduced watering costs and irrigation needs.


After the parade, Burton follows up by contacting those people who have shown an interest in their product. "When you build in a parade," he says, "people see what you can do and understand the building process — that's the best advertising we could have."

What advice would Burton give to other custom builders contemplating building in a parade? "I would tell custom builders to jump in both feet if you have the opportunity to build in a parade," he says, "parades push the company to a higher level of excellence."


Out of the Ashes

At less than three months until completion, a parade home builder's worst nightmare came true. A fire, caused by stain-filled rags that spontaneously combusted, had virtually destroyed the Dolce Vita, a 7116 sq. ft. home built by Sonoran Custom Homes, Lakewood, Co., for the 2005 Denver parade of homes.

The rebuilding began on May 11. The home was completed an 79 days later. "We worked around the clock, literally," says Shon Kokoszka, Sonoran's president of land development and acquisition. He says the foundation of the main home was destroyed, so they basically had to start from scratch.

"We pretty much tore everything out," adds Matt Daugherty, Sonoran's president of construction management.

"We had two crews of 50 framers each who worked 12-hour shifts — the shift change looked like a Wal-Mart parking lot," says Kokoszka. Framing was completed 16 days later, according to Daugherty.

"It took our 30-person crew only four days to lay the foundation," says Kokoszka, "as soon as it was ready, our plumbing contractors were working on the basement while the framers began building."

"It was the most synergistic project I've ever worked on," declares Kokoszka, "we had electricians working inside at the same time stoneworkers labored outside." He says there was even one instance where he saw a stoneworker hanging a light fixture. He adds that there were no fights between subcontractors—everyone helped one another out.

"Everyone stepped up, put in 110 percent and showed what we were made of," Kokoszka says, "we basically crammed 8 months of work into 79 days," Not only did they build the model quickly, they say the quality of their work was outstanding. "We weren't rushing," he states, "we just applied more labor to get the job done more quickly."

"We knew we had to get the house completed on time or face disqualification from the parade judging," says Kokoszka, "we didn't have any doubts that we'd complete the work on time." When they had a working house, he says the crew basically lived in the home, slept in sleeping bags and went right to work. "The day the judges were entering the home, we were literally walking out the back door," he claims.

Although they did incur additional expenses, says Kokoszka, "it was worth every penny," adding that they believed that they had the best product in the Dolce Vita.

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