Designing and building a high-end custom home starts with a different mentality from other custom building, according to Forrest Watson, project manager at Beck Building Company in Avon. In the ultra-luxury homes of affluent owners, it’s all about taking your time.
“The owner allows the architect and the contractor, a lot of times, to work together early on to allow the design to meander,” Watson said.
That lengthy preconstruction phase “allows us all to work toward owner goals, but also allows the design team to really go out and be creative.”
It also gives owners time to make sure the team of experts they’re recruiting for their home will be able to work well together.
“They’re really allowing a team to be built based on their likenesses,” Watson said. The vast range of experts involved in a high-end custom build—architects, interior design firms, electrical, lighting and even landscaping, to name just a few—means it’s important to ensure early that a team is aligned in goals and vision so that builders and owners can “minimize surprises and … have a clear direction to what we’re building to.”
Contemporary or Craftsman?
Watson said his clients are typically drawn to contemporary styles: “a lot of clean lines, structures that are very modern in appearance.”
He noted, “The details are what drive the look; the cleanliness of the places or the surroundings that you’re creating, this is the environment that they’re after.”
However, Drew Fairfield, outside sales manager at 84 Lumber, a national building supply company with a location in Grand Junction, noted that custom builders in his area have been interested in American Craftsman style for their clients.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of painted trims, doors, molding. We’ve been seeing a lot of shaker-style doors, a lot of eased edge bases, cases and headers instead of milled, a lot of shiplap,” Fairfield said. “The traditional Craftsman look has been [popular for] the upper-end homes.”
Travis Willmarth, kitchen sales manager at 84 Lumber, noted that he’s seeing more rustic designs among custom builders, with custom metal chandeliers and shiplap in rooms throughout the home.
Tara Wise, COO at Timber Ridge Properties in Greenwood Village, is seeing some of that as well, but she noted that heavy Colorado rustic designs seem to be relaxing into a softer French Country style.
She noted that “about five years ago, we were doing tons of heavy stone and big timbers, that Colorado Western kind of look.” Now, Timber Ridge is using timbers in accents such as beams, handrails or reclaimed wood walls, but keeping designs lighter and brighter.
“Right now, I’m noticing kind of a French Country style is popular: lots of white, lots of grays,” she said of clients’ homes. “Gray is a big color right now. People are doing a lot of gray accent islands in their kitchens.”
Ultimately, though, Wise stressed that the key to custom building is listening to the customer.
“There is not ‘one’ customer. Right now, we have seven homes going and not one of them has the same style,” she said.
The sunny side
“Glass has always been a big part of mountain design to capture all the stunning views we have,” Beck’s Watson said, but he noted that homeowners are using it on a grander scale in luxury homes.
“People are really trying to invite that outdoor environment indoors,” he said. It’s not just a liberal use of large glass windows or moving walls, though.
As Colorado becomes more densely populated and prime mountain locations are snapped up, some homebuyers may have to settle for a less desirable lot. The team should take time to find the ideal situation for the home on the lot, not just in terms of the view but in how the home will be heated or exposed to elements.
“That comes very early in design; setting the house on the site is quite the study,” Watson explained. “These lots that are maybe less desirable become more desirable [if you] take a little more time and effort.”
Lift-and-slide doors that create an “invisible wall” in a luxury home help blur the line between indoors and outdoors, Watson said, but he noted, “there’s a lot of coordination to allow that kind of condition to occur in these houses, with structural requirements and understanding how those details come together.”
Wise at Timber Ridge also uses panoramic and folding glass doors to create an entire wall of windows.
“In every one of our houses, we do giant sliders. We do big 10-foot sliders, or we’ve been working with those panoramic doors lately,” she said. The problem with these large glass doors, though, is they don’t come with screens, she added.
Builder customers at 84 Lumber are employing pocket patio doors or moving wall systems “to really open up their great room out to an outdoor patio,” Fairfield said. “We’ve also seen a builder recently do a bifold door over his counter in his kitchen to open up to his patio.”
With all that glass, builders need to plan for window treatments to help manage solar gain and privacy. Watson said he’s seeing a lot of shade boxes to help homeowners maintain minimalist designs.
“To keep that clean aesthetic, we’re spending a lot of time in the early development of the structure to create what we’re calling shade boxes up in the structure of the ceiling,” he said, “so that all you see is a tiny slot that allows the shade to roll out. There’s a lot of coordination to make that right.”
For example, “a lot of times the shade box is on the exterior wall,” he explained. To make room for it, the “structural engineer will have to increase steel sizing or the framing sizing, or the layout of the framing joist, to allow that pocket to be accommodated that close to the structural wall. It’s intense.”
Open layout, hidden storage
Open layouts are still the prevailing preference for home design, Beck’s Watson said. He noted that open floorplans allow “people to be in their different areas, but also be in that family environment.”
“The kitchen is always the spot where everyone seems to congregate,” he said, so “those spaces are wide open to, a lot of times now, the living room, the dining room, and then extending into the outdoor spaces.”
Bedrooms and other private areas give family members a way to keep to themselves when they need to, he added.
To keep the clean lines homeowners want in open areas, Willmarth at 84 Lumber said inset cabinets and hidden pantries are taking off.
“Inset cabinets are the next level,” he said. “The door is inset into the frame of the cabinet so it gives it a flush look.” These kinds of cabinets take longer to make, he noted; as much as eight weeks, or longer depending on which finishes the customer chooses.
Walk-in pantries hidden behind cabinets are another way to keep an open layout from looking cluttered.
“You just push the cabinet door [or] hit a button and then the doors will open,” he said.