Beauty: One Detail at a Time

Approaching the front of the Pugliese home in Princeton, N.J., one immediately notices the exterior stonework above the main entryway. The square-cut stones — an element driven by the homeowner — create a unique look to the front of the home. The home’s exterior is elegant, interesting and invites visitors inside.

Upon entering the open, circular foyer, a stone fireplace is seen directly ahead in the distance in the family room, drawing visitors through a hallway and farther into the home. Walk through that porthole into a columned gallery featuring a sunroom on the right and a large, beautiful kitchen on the left. From there, step down into the family room where a gorgeous view of the trees in the back yard awaits.

While the drama created by the interior space makes an immediate impression on anyone entering the home, what might have slipped the mind is that the exterior and interior of this house are from two different designs that have been skillfully merged to become one stunning work of architecture. 

The exterior is based on a creation of Nancy Sarno, vice president, customer services and production, Grant Homes, Mendham, N.J. Sarno created a rendering of the exterior with a stone façade for a previous project that was never built. The homeowners saw the rendering and fell in love with it, so Grant Homes brought it to an architect who customized it for the client.

The merging of the floor plan of one home with the exterior of another was a challenge, says Jay Grant, CEO, Grant Homes. “You cannot do something like that without the design/build process. And you cannot have a product in mind, a budget in place and start construction in a timely manner without the design/build process.” 

Grant combines the design/build process with what he calls his open-book construction management program, which helps the company execute efficiently and deliver properly. The combination of these two elements is part of what makes Grant’s business successful.

The open-book process provides Grant’s clients with the knowledge to say; “I know I just added $140,000 to my project because of the changes I just made.” This knowledge is important for homeowners to have so Grant Homes does not have to redesign or recalculate when clients make changes. The client knows what Grant knows, and why costs may change based on a client’s decisions. 

“The ability to use design/build allows a project to evolve, and allows us to give estimates of the project costs as the home moves forward. As long as we communicate well on how the budget will be impacted, we don’t have to stop to re-cost,” Grant explains.

Piece by piece
The Pugliese home sits on land Grant purchased in a rolling lot option. This concept allowed Grant to tie up 10 lots by purchasing one in advance and agreeing to a schedule for buying the other nine. Grant first sold the Pugliese property to an owner who sat on it for a year and then sold it to Pugliese. The project was design/build from day one, but the owner wasn’t always certain what the style of the house would be. 

“(Pugliese) went looking for a builder, and I was the builder he chose to work with. Because he did not have a house plan or an architect, he rested a lot of confidence in me and my company, and as a result he ended up with a better product. They relied on us as experts, which made the entire process much smoother, because it’s our job to make the project run smoothly,” Grant says.

Grant’s involvement with his clients progresses through the sales, design and start-up modes. He then hands off the project file to Sarno for design work and Mark Jandoli for project management. Written communication about what the clients desire in their home is included in that handoff process. 

Sarno takes over beginning with selections. If any of the client’s selection decisions require an architect’s input, the architect is contacted immediately. “Each architect we work with has strengths. When it comes to matching client with architect, we can have clients meet with a few architects so they can choose one, or we can steer them to a certain architect that would fit them best based on what we know about the client’s tastes and how the architect works,” Sarno says.

Selection decisions must be charted and organized, and Sarno’s job is to make the entire process easy for clients who need to make hundreds of decisions, which can be overwhelming, she explains. “We take it in little pieces and make it as easy and fun as possible.”

With a house this size, dividing the process into pieces is important. For example, the front door is its own project and is handled as such. “This client had no idea what the front door would end up looking like,” Sarno says. “So we showed them a lot of options; looked at the pictures they had; and reviewed different quality levels, costs, upgrades, and how the detail over the door all affect each other.” 

Before the selection process begins, it is important to tell clients they can make changes as construction of their home moves forward so they don’t become overwhelmed. “We had about 65 change orders on this house, but that’s not really a negative,” Sarno says. “As the clients went through the house, for example, they thought a certain element should be curved not arched, so they changed it. The only time we insist that there be an ending to the number of changes they make is for something like the plumbing. You can’t simply pull out rough plumbing because the client has changed his mind on the location of certain plumbing fixtures. But with other aspects that aren’t as critical as plumbing we try to accommodate the client with their changes.”

An equally critical element of Sarno’s job is the need to keep homeowners from becoming too eager and excited once they see a home’s exterior shell completed. “The façade goes up quickly and owners can get excited when they see it. So we explain how the slow, detailed work starts on the inside and we have to remind clients to be patient with all the interior detail work that makes each home special and unique.”

Focus on architecture
The exterior style of this house is European, Grant says, with a dramatic entry and a rectangular stone façade outside. “It’s gorgeous. The look of the front, with the square-cut stone, and the limestone treatment around and above the front door, that was unique. And that was a client-driven element,” he says.

One example of the custom work made possible by the design/build process is in the kitchen, where the Puglieses had a specific vision for the color of the kitchen, Grant explains. To satisfy the client, the kitchen designer did numerous color samples for the cabinet doors. The clients wanted a specific creamy yellow, which took 12 iterations to perfect. 

One of Grant’s favorite elements in the home is the kitchen hood. It is made of maple wood, even though it might not look like it. “We hired a local artist to paint it like faux limestone. We were really pleased and proud of how that turned out. It’s almost impossible to tell unless your face is right up on it.”

The faux painter did such a fantastic job the owners hired the artist to paint other parts of the home, Sarno says. For example, the columns in the family room are painted to look like marble, complete with faux grout lines. 

Above these columns are massive, matching truss configurations that add drama, as well as create a conversation piece. “For those trusses, my carpenter had to find slabs that were big enough to cut into that shape. There was quite a bit of jumping through hoops to get those beams that way and involved a lot of custom work. This is another example of the kind of flexibility the design/build process allows you,” Grant says.

Another interesting element is the detailed woodwork in the library which is one of a kind, Sarno points out. “We had our cabinetry fabricator in Vermont work with the client, and the client’s son happens to be artistic and worked with the vendor and came up with the work in the library. The capitals on the columns are beautiful carvings, as is every aspect of this room. It’s all unique, including the detailing around the bookshelf where you see more carvings. The carpenter put it all together in a team effort,” Sarno says.

“We’ve got a tremendous team that works together,” she adds. “We lean on one another and count on each other to get things done, and to do them well. We’ve all got different skills and if one person is strong in a certain area and someone else needs assistance, the other person steps up to the plate. I believe that being a custom home builder you really need a team like this that works together.”