Period Home Builder Leads Design Revolution

MIDDLEBURY, VT — Connor Homes may very well be leading a design revolution.

This is appropriate, says Mike Connor, because the firm – a general contractor that specializes in historic architectural design and construction – usually designs spaces reminiscent of the American Revolution.

Connor, founder and CEO of the firm, explains: “There’s a tremendous interest on the part of the public to live in a house that feels like an old house. However, many people don’t want to have to deal with all of the hassles associated with a truly old house.”

Driven by customer demand and a willingness to explore more transitional looks, the firm expanded its services to include custom kitchen and bath cabinet design.

“Recognizing that kitchen cabinetry and design for today’s market is an architectural departure from what would be found in a period home, we wanted to embrace all of the modern functionality of a contemporary kitchen while still maintaining an architectural sensitivity to the character of the home in which the new kitchen would be installed,” Connor stresses.

That thinking led the firm to start making cabinets for its general contracting business clients about 10 years ago. “At that time, we were looking for cabinetry that was compatible with the historic architectural character of the new homes we were building,” Connor explains.

The decision to expand its services several years ago to include custom kitchen and bath cabinetry is now paying dividends for the firm.

“When the recession hit, we had to scale back like many others did. However, we have certainly done okay during the recession compared with some other companies,” he says.

Specifically, the firm expects to finish this year with close to 40 houses designed, not far off from its pre-recession pace.

“In fact, our thought now is that it’s time to really start growing again,” he adds.

“Our primary clientele for kitchen cabinets is the buyer of our homes, although we occasionally build cabinetry for others,” Connor explains. “However, as we are asked more and more to produce our cabinetry for an ever-widening customer base, we anticipate that we will focus on making our cabinetry available to other consumers.”

CABINET CHALLENGE

After nearly four decades as a historic architectural builder, Connor admittedly found the prospects of cabinet design somewhat challenging at first.

“There is no history tied to the kitchens that we put into older homes,” he offers, “so what we try to do is create an interior that gives you the feeling that it’s rooted in historical architecture. However, the kitchens accommodate the modern living needs of the homeowner.”

In keeping with its focus on historic-looking homes, the firm offers only a few door styles. Its main product line is a maple raised- panel, beaded inset door for both the kitchen and bath.

“By not offering a lot of cabinet styles and doors, we’re able to do an extremely high-end cabinet at a reasonable price,” he explains. “At the same time, we offer custom services, so if someone wants to do something that is different from our standard, we can do that, too.”

The maple used for the cabinets is typically sourced locally just a few miles from the firm’s facility.

“There’s a green aspect to the material because it doesn’t have to travel far before it becomes a cabinet,” he stresses. Also in keeping with the idea of being kind to the environment, Connor emphasizes, “if you don’t have to rebuild for 25 or 30 years, there is a green impact that can trump almost anything.”

SHOWROOM SUPPORT

The 10,000-sq.-ft. Connor Homes facility, which encompasses the company’s manufacturing site and showroom, offers design and marketing support.

“Our showroom is different from a traditional showroom in that the kitchen and bath items are displayed right alongside completed houses, so you might find a bath vanity sitting next to a window that was built in our shop,” comments Connor.

He adds that his company is able to do a lot of cabinetry that most kitchen and bath shops aren’t capable of because it does complete home interiors as well. “We’re able to do specialty bookshelves, linen closets and tub surrounds,” he remarks. Connor Homes also produces its own plank and butcher block countertops from a variety of woods.

“I think the architectural detailing that we are capable of gives us a lot of credibility,” he continues. “We have the space and ability to put out very high-end cabinetry using traditional equipment.”

He concludes: “This puts us in a great position for future marketing, which will focus on attracting clients who may already own a home and might want to include a custom-built kitchen or bath.”

DESIGN DETAILS

According to Connor, the firm offers custom design services handled by a design staff that includes a certified kitchen designer and certified bath design specialist.

“Our design philosophy reflects the idea that a kitchen is not a design element unto itself, but rather a coordinated effort with the whole house design,” he stresses.

Because the company offers a range of complementary products for the home, its designers not only offer custom kitchen and bath cabinetry, but also specialty built-ins, stairs and all woodwork.

“The end result is harmonious and coordinated interior woodwork and cabinetry, all consistent with the overall design intent of the home,” Connor states.

“The successful melding of that early detailing with a modern kitchen design allows us to create a sophisticated and functional kitchen that meets all of the contemporary demands of today’s consumer while suggesting an architectural heritage with roots in a former time.”

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