Even after interviewing eight builders, the one chosen to design and build this contemporary Las Vegas home was replaced by the clients before ground was broken. To the rescue came a designer and builder completing a team whose members, including the clients, worked extremely closely with each other.
The home, completed in June 2009, sits in an exclusive neighborhood due west of the Las Vegas strip’s bright lights, where Tuscan-style homes are banned. By choosing this neighborhood to live in, the homeowners clearly wanted to be different, but that wasn’t good enough. The mission was to stand out within a neighborhood that already stood out from the crowd.
The only way to accomplish this was to truly listen to the clients and invite them to meddle in the process, or at least that’s how Walt Lawler, registered designer and president, Walt Lawler Residential Design in Las Vegas, sees it. “I like my clients to meddle. I like them to tell me what they think. If they don’t do that, it’s not a good project. I need all that client contact; I must interact with them. It makes for a better project. It truly does,” Lawler says.
Check the Ego
Lawler gets it done by not bringing his ego into the equation. “I’m a capitalist first. I want to make money like we all do. So if the client wants the house upside down, I’ll draw it upside down. I do what my clients want and don’t bring my ego into it, which works pretty smoothly. I modify my behavior to fit theirs. I have to be flexible,” he says.
“I also like to keep in contact with my clients. I don’t get a permit and disappear. I’m involved from inception through occupancy,” he adds. In this situation, the interaction worked beautifully because one of the clients has a passion for architecture. “She studies it, she knows it, which makes it easy for her to communicate what she wants because we talk the same language. This is not the first house I’ve had to straighten out, and it has always bothered me that 50 to 75 percent of the time the client is mad at the designer at the end of the day. That’s not what I want to happen,” Lawler explains.
Elise Harron, development manager, Harron Construction Services in Las Vegas, agrees with Lawler that client communication plays an important role in a successful project. She likens it to a short-term marriage. “There was an awful lot of communication. Our goal was to make sure the client’s vision was actually what we constructed, and that required daily communication and hundreds of phone calls,” Harron explains.
Trust is another key ingredient in a successful client relationship, Harron says, and this client appreciated her open-book management style. “They knew what every invoice was and were comfortable with everything. It wasn’t always perfect, and mistakes were made, but we maintained a dialogue which made it work out in the end,” she says.
This project was different in many ways. It was a different style for Las Vegas. It was a different style for the owners. And, it was a style Harron had never worked on. Her husband and business partner had experience with it, which calmed her worries. “I thought it would be too cold and impersonal. Sure, I had fear. But I trusted my husband and the client.”
Construction of the home was not without challenges, Harron says. “It was a challenge getting those angles to work — specifically with what we all referred to as the ‘halo’ around the exterior of the home. The challenge was transferring an angled load across the width of the house and make it appear as if it is suspended.” The solution is rooted in the home’s framing system, she adds.
As the designer, Lawler faced a different set of challenges than Harron. When a design is unbuildable like the original plan for this home, changes must be made. “I moved windows around so they make sense. Now, every window has a view. You can even see the strip while sitting on the toilet in the downstairs bathroom. We paid attention to the details,” Lawler says.
Minor changes were made in various spots. A ledge was removed in one room, window proportions were altered, and the rear elevation was redeveloped, which was significant, Lawler says. “We also added an elevator, and adjusted a balcony that wasn’t right.”
Applying the design/build process to this project allowed for the incredible level of interaction among the team. Surprising things can happen when open minds are at work. Lawler points attention to the black, gray and white mural wall to the left of the main entry (pictured above). The original plan called for a stone wall which would have been more expensive than what evolved. “We hit the value engineering stage so I designed what you see with drywall and metal expansion joints painted gray. This was one of those things that saved the client a little money. They liked it so much they made me sign it,” Lawler recalls.
As much as Lawler enjoyed working with Harron, she enjoyed Lawler’s style, too. “He’s a professional with fantastic ideas, but he doesn’t have the ego such that he won’t listen to other input. A good example is the large wall in the entry space that spans two stories. I couldn’t tell you who came up with the idea first, but within a day Walt sketched it up and ran it by [the owner]. He took what would have been an expensive rock wall and turned it into something more interesting and unique,” Harron says.
She adds, “If you don’t communicate with your customer, and you keep things moving without their input, they will be angry or disappointed because you will not have given them a chance to change their minds when they could have. We explain to our clients that we’re not going to build what is approved on paper and in the contract. We will build according to how they change their minds.”
Walt Lawler Residential Design, Las Vegas
Harron Construction Services, Las Vegas
Location: Las Vegas
Size: 5,500 sq. ft.
Roofing: Berridge standing seam
Garage doors: Wayne Dalton
Tile: Laufen, ICM, Hakatai
Sinks, faucets: Kohler
Countertops: Caesarstone, ICM
Tubs: Aquatic, Kohler
Toilets: Kohler, Toto
Sink faucets: Hansgrohe
Sinks: Kohler, Neo-Metro
Home control: Control4
Lighting control: Control4
A/V distribution: Control 4