Design inspiration can come at any time, especially if you were on the home tour during the 2009 Custom Builder Symposium & Design Institute held in San Diego this past November. The selection of homes featured on the tour once again had builders and designers oohing, ahing and inspecting every little detail.
“The homes were phenomenal,” says Mike Payne Jr., vice president of operations, Payne & Payne Builders in Chardon, Ohio, which also was named Custom Home Builder of the Year during the two-day event. “They’re on the ocean with incredible views. Those builders and architects face site-specific challenges. They had small sites but needed to provide a lot of square footage and drama. So for example, one of them incorporated wells to introduce daylight into the lower levels. And when you walked into one of the homes, you immediately see right through it and look out over the ocean. It’s amazing,” Payne says.
The sunny oceanside environment is different than most parts of the country, but worthy of inspection, says Kathryn Alexander, president/owner, Alexander Design Group in Wayzata, Minn. “A lot of what I saw can be applied here in Minnesota. Our firm deals with upper-end homes and custom waterfront properties, so the oceanfront remodel was comparable to what our clients are looking for in either a teardown and build new or remodel of an existing home. The other homes in the tour all had inspiring ideas,” she says.
“I sometimes find that tours aren’t challenging enough for me, but not the Symposium tours. My personal favorite was the Wardell Builders house in La Jolla where they took the sublevel of the house all the way to the lot lines to pick up extra square footage. We are involved with a lot of variance work because of code restrictions and hardcover requirements. What a creative way to work around setbacks!” she says.
As the sponsor, Lutron Electronics has a hand in choosing the homes on the tour. Effort was made to find homes that fit the interests of both builders and designers, says Erik Anderson, Lutron’s residential solutions manager. “We looked at construction, traffic flow, layout, all things that both architects and builders would be interested in,” he says.
Common among a few homes on the tour were methods for temporarily separating formal and informal spaces; features Payne enjoyed seeing. “I also liked the use of indirect lighting in the showers, ceilings and other places. The lighting was incredible. In the shower example, rather than using cans, they built a small soffit and hid track lighting behind it that shined light down the walls. It was soft lighting that gave the tile wall more texture than it would have had. In one of the family rooms there was a soffit around a coffered ceiling that hid rope light. It was clever,” Payne says.
Anderson from Lutron enjoyed the reactions to the lighting company’s occupancy sensors. “Part of our job is to create awareness of products they could use. Here you have these builders and designers of high-end homes who get so excited about a little $130 product that really wowed them,” he says.
Anderson also finds it interesting to stand around a window casing with three builders from different regions who construct it differently in each of their home towns. It’s also interesting to watch builders’ and designers’ eyes to see what catches their attention, such as unique lighting fixtures, ceiling treatments and other unique features, he adds.
“The [home] tour is a fantastic way to interact with builders and architects and to share opinions on what they see in the homes,” Anderson says. “It’s also a great way to compare one market to another, how homes differ. As a sponsor, we’re learning how to better position our products to the market. We have a lot of time to interact and talk about facets of these homes that don’t have anything to do with lighting.”
A progressive city such as San Diego provides an opportunity for a builder like Payne from Ohio to experience different architectural styles. “The traditional style back home is nothing like they do [in San Diego]. It’s great to be exposed to that and to potentially take some style elements home. It gives us more tricks in our bag,” Payne explains.
A first-time Symposium attendee, Payne enjoyed the experience. Aside from the home tour, he enjoyed networking and meeting other builders in a surprisingly intimate setting. “When we arrived we didn’t know anyone, and when we left we felt like we made lots of friends.”
The home tour takes place the day before the Symposium’s educational events begin, which is a great way to get geared up and in the right mind-set for what attendees will learn and discover over the coming weekend, Anderson says. “Seeing the different architectural styles, interacting with colleagues, it gets their wheels turning; it warms them up for the main event."
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