Designing to a client’s budget and desires can sometimes prove to be the biggest challenge in a project. These two factors can greatly influence a client’s satisfaction throughout, and after, the process. Windstar Homes, located in Tampa, Fla., was faced with this challenge on its Montebello project.
“The client was fairly active, although they were aware of our reputation. They were attracted to us because they heard a lot about us and lived in a neighborhood that has a lot of our homes,” says Bobby Gross, principal.
In addition, this client chose Windstar because of its design-to-budget philosophy. “The client came to us with a budget that was realistic but also wanted a lot. Everyone wants more than they want to spend,” says David Lesser, principal. “Lofty client desires are always challenging.”
Wants, needs, solutions
This client gave Windstar similar basic requirements as many other custom home clients: number of bathrooms, formal living room or not, and more, Gross says. But they also were more specific in regard to the home’s layout, including providing pictures from magazines reflecting the design they wanted.
The lot added into the design challenge. “It was challenging getting everything they wanted in the budget on the site without being house-heavy. But we accomplished all those things,” Lesser says.
The clients wanted all the bedrooms on the first floor, and the media room located off the kitchen. In addition, the lot wasn’t very deep but rather wide, creating the challenge of putting the rooms where the client wanted them. “We were given a tall order. And we were not going to create rooms that were too small. We have a formula for every type of room,” Lesser says. “We reviewed every single thing they asked for. With a collaborative effort, we were able to do that.”
Windstar was also faced with a rare challenge of building across the street from the clients’ current home. “When your client lives across the street from where you are building their new house – talk about pressure,” Gross adds.
The clients sold their home and moved across the street into the Montebello house. The style of this house features Italian Renaissance vernacular according to Lesser. “The style is one of the most common in that area. We are always encouraging people to push the envelope but these clients loved the Italian Renaissance vernacular,” Lesser says. “This home very much fits into the neighborhood. The first thing you see is the tower that has a copper spire out of the top. It’s very captivating on the approach.”
Providing a framework
Open communication and teamwork are the keys to accomplishing all of the tasks of this house. Windstar involved the whole team in the design from beginning of the project. “[This] makes sure we aren’t over-designing for their budget,” Lesser adds.
This plan also eliminated change orders. Lesser prefers to avoid change orders and thinks this is the best way to operate business. “Some people think change orders are this huge profit center. What they do is bog down the process even in the best circumstances,” he says. “We give allowances based on our experiences without having to write checks for change orders. As we are designing, we are also specifying.”
Windstar relies on a thorough 11-page client questionnaire to help eliminate change orders or communication breakdowns. Questions on the questionnaire are based on 15 years of design/build experience and have evolved over time.
“It’s very lengthy and involved but important. One of the things we like to find out is in the master bedroom – what side of the bed does each person sleep. If we create separate bathrooms, we need to know which bathroom goes with which side of the bed,” Lesser says. See box on page X for examples of questions on Windstar’s questionnaire.
In addition to creating a map of what a client is looking for, the answers provide Windstar with a record of what they want. “It prevents future altercations from occurring,” Lesser says. “You want to have some documentation of their budget. If there is ever a question on the number, we can always show them their stated desires.”
In addition, Windstar showed the client a portfolio of its designs which they pulled bits and pieces from to integrate into this one. The stair tower is an example of this – it’s a derivative of another Windstar home.
Lesser and Gross also pride themselves on continually designing even when not working on a specific project. “We like to constantly be on the board creating new design queues,” Lesser says. “That information becomes part of our portfolio to inspire our clients. Most people can’t articulate what they want unless they see a visual aid.”
Lesser attributes the project’s success to, “our unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction along with surrounding ourselves with the best people in our market.”