Versatex Contractor Council: Part 4


This is the fourth in a four-part series derived from the transcript of the Versatex Contrator Council, On the Level 2.0, which was held in Baltimore in October 2014.


Shifting Trends in Architecture, Features and Materials

For many years, homeowners have focused on kitchens, baths and outdoor living as reliably worthy of extra investment. But changing fashions in floor plans and space utilization, coupled with new technologies, health concerns and cultural influences, are changing the way homes are built. Our panel weighed in on recent developments in the high-end markets they serve.

Bring the Outdoors In, and the Indoors Out

“[In South Florida] we do outdoor kitchens with a Caribbean or West Indies look… lots of louvers for outdoor living. Not a fully enclosed room, but creating a place to entertain, with multiple small spaces. That’s what all the big houses want to do. Inside, all your bedrooms and bathrooms, and around the outside, a place to throw a big party and have a cool hangout. You’re on the water for a reason.”

“In other markets, that turns into an awesome screened porch, even here in New England where you’re going to need to be covered or heated, a big part of the year.”

“The trend is that you want the outdoors to be indoors as much as possible, and the other way around. For us, because it is New England, you can’t be outside as much as you’d like. We’re seeing people who want additions with a lot of glass. If we’re doing a kitchen over, they want big windows. They want one space to flow into another.”

The Continuing Love Affair With Kitchens

“The kitchen is still the most important part of the house. Kitchen and bath, that’s where the money is. Outdoor space is coming up, but it’s always second fiddle to those kitchens and baths. The square-foot price is all spending in kitchen and bath.”

Not-So-Universal Design

“We’ve stopped even mentioning universal design — nobody wants to admit they need it. It’s unbelievable. The kids tell them, ‘Ma, Dad, you can barely get upstairs anymore,’ and it’s a fight even then.”

“The work we’ve done on aging-in-place just hasn’t turned into a lot of money. It’s been little things like a grab bar here and there. More of a home repair kind of business. But there is a company in our home market [New England] that’s growing at an insane rate, called Home Healthsmith. Their average job is small, but that’s specifically what they’re geared up for, and they are really good at it.”

“But, hold on, the Boomer generation is just now starting to enter retirement. I don’t think we’ve really hit the whole potential of this thing.”

Shades of Modern

“We’re seeing a lot of what you could call ‘clean Colonial,’ right out of the West Elm catalog—gray on gray on gray. Even in South Florida, instead of Mediterranean style they’ve switched to Modern. 

“And with that comes that flush, recessed baseboard. There’s nowhere to hide. The clients think because it’s clean and simple, it’s going to be perfect, but here again you need to manage expectations. Everybody thinks there’s less stuff so it’s easier, you know. But those perfect shadow lines? Forget it.”

“Just paint it gray.”

“Open space, steel, a lot of glass.”

“A lot of dissimilar materials. A house we just did, it’s got a zinc roof, cementitious white panels, lots of red cedar …”

“Flat roofs.”

“No baseboards. Quarter-inch reveals around everything.”

“Even the traditional homes have some Modern touches now.”

“They create these spaces that they don’t necessarily live in, they just walk through.”

“It’s like everything is a blank, and then they throw in a crazy-colored couch or a piece of art to give it focus.”

“A Modern house is harder to do than a place where you can cover the seams with moulding.”

“They’re beautiful, but they’re demanding as hell. We just finished one and there was what they call a Fry reglet, basically a half-inch shadow line. No baseboard in the house at all. That half-inch line is the constant, everywhere. It goes along the floor, around the windows, all the way through the house, zig-zags up the stairs. So when you’re talking about the level of sub that we would hire, you know we didn’t do that in-house. Not only did they have to be good, but they had to have that much more exposure to that many more facets of the job. It’s not just hiring a good sheet rocker and it’s done. It’s a flat, straight wall that’s 30 feet tall!”

Healthy Houses

“Mold and radon scare homeowners more than they scare us because we know how to deal with them. Lead is the big problem — a big part of my business is restoring historic homes. But it’s 100 grand every job to comply with the lead laws, which don’t change a damn thing.”

“In the last 10 years, insurance claims for mold have just gone through the roof on the East Coast, what with big storms and Hurricane Sandy. You have all these old homes in low-lying towns, and there’s nowhere for the water to go except into your basement. So mold abatement for us is huge. People find out about it on the internet, and it becomes a big, scary issue. So there’s big money in it. But it can be dealt with. We’re breathing it right now, just not enough to matter.”

“We’ve had some demand for healthy houses. Some customers are tuned in, but not all of them really understand it. It can mean anything from insulating concrete forms to installing media filters for the furnace.”

“There’s so much more concern about asthma and so on now that houses are so much tighter. There’s just no natural air flow in a building anymore. So you literally have to find ways to put air into a home.”

“What’s funny is that the new energy code prescribes all these great insulated walls, but it does not prescribe any kind of ventilation. What we’re going to find, a few years from now, will be more people with more health problems, more indoor air quality issues.”

“Where we build [Maryland/D.C. area], they were having a lot of mold issues because of these super-tight houses, so on new homes our county makes you put in energy recovery ventilators.” 
“This is where the media could step in. They ought to have more shows about the guts and the workings of houses, on ventilation systems, on mold, radon, lead paint, the importance of all that.”

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