Custom Home Design Build Specialists

We are so ready for the arrival of warm weather after what was definitely a long cold winter and now a wet chilly spring.  What preventive maintenance should you do in the Spring to prevent major problems to your home? We’d like to share this checklist to help you avoid big repair bills, increase the efficiency of your mechanicals  – and have time to play in the sunshine later.


1. Check for loose and leaky gutters. Improper drainage can lead to water in the basement. Make sure downspout drain away from the foundation and are free and clear of debris.

2. Low areas in the yard or next to the foundation should be filled in with compacted soil. Spring rains can cause yard flooding, which can lead to foundation flooding and damage. And when water pools in these low areas in the summer, it can also be breeding ground for mosquitos.

3. Inspect your roof. Now is the time to inspect and repair shingles, flashing around vents, skylights and chimneys to prevent water damage inside your home.

4. Examine the exterior of the chimney for signs of damage. Have the flue cleaned and inspected by a certified chimney sweep.

5. Inspect concrete slabs for signs of cracks or movement. All exterior slabs should drain away from the home’s foundation. Fill in cracks with a concrete crack filler or silicone caulk. Power wash and then seal the concrete.

6. Have a qualified heating and cooling contractor clean and service the outside unit of the air conditioning system.  Clear away vegetation  as the air compressor needs good airflow to work efficiently.

7. Check caulking around all doors and windows. Improper caulking allows for moisture to get inside your walls and cause mold. This is also a perfect time to wash all windows and replace damaged screens.

8. Pressure wash your deck  and re-stain if needed.

9. Repair any cracked or peeling paint on your home, which makes your home look nice and provides a barrier from the elements.

10. Prepare your lawn mower for summer. Change the engine oil and sharpen the cutting blade.


11. Replace your furnace filter. A dirty filter lowers the efficiency of your home’s HVAC system.

12. Check and replace fire extinguishers. Check the gauges to make sure they are charged and ready for use.

13. Test smoke and fire alarms, replacing batteries and cleaning dust from the covers.

14. Clean ceiling fans. In addition to providing a calming breeze, ceiling fans increase the airflow throughout your home.

15. Deep clean your carpets.

16. Clean out your refrigerator and freezer. Vacuum the coils for maximum efficiency.

17. Inspect the washing machine fill hose. Look for cracks that could become leaks. A leaky hose under pressure can cause major damage in a short period of time.

By taking time now to prepare your home for spring, you’ll save money on your utility bills, avoid big repair bills later on, and have plenty of time to enjoy the nice (and hopefully drier!) days ahead.

Double pane windows

Double pane windows offer noise reduction from noisy boats.

Noise can drive you crazy. Your neighbor with  his leaf blower early in the morning.  A barking dog at night.  Your kids  playing their favorite video game for the hundredth time. And you’d rather not hear those sounds coming from the bathroom walls.

If you are thinking of building  a new home, there are  lots of options to turn down the volume and create a serene oasis:

The Floor Plan:
The least expensive option. You can put the master bedroom on the first floor with no room over it. You can put an office between two quiet places – the front hall and the master closet. A good option for a media room can be over the garage. The two story foyer you love does look elegant, but it’ll also send noise to second story bedrooms.

Floor and Walls:
When the floor plan can’t resolve sound issues, use a sound-deadening product for floor and walls.  Soundboard is an insulation board that goes behind the drywall.

Enjoy increased energy savings AND a quieter home too. A good choice for damping sound is  a double or triple pane window.

Using closed cell polyurethane spray foam insulation on a home can achieve 40% home energy savings.  The spray foam also fills many crevices and difficult spaces, creating a better sound barrier.

Solid core doors:
These block sound more significantly than hollow core doors. Also consider adding weather-stripping and a threshold to the door to quiet the equipment room.

Soft close hinges for cabinet doors, drawers and toilet seats:
They virtually eliminate the “banging”.

Insulate the plumbing waste pipes. 

Eliminate sound wave vibration:
Certain sound waves cause vibration which is amplified as it passes through walls. When ever possible, locate items that cause noise and vibration (ie., the big screen TV, clothes washer, dish washer) to exterior walls rather than adjoining interior walls.  For speakers in the wall and ceilings, you can dampen sound with sound batts made from dense glass wool, or a product called “mass loaded vinyl.”

Now close your eyes… feel the serenity and inner peace that is not disturbed by jet skis racing past your lakeside abode. No bass booming from “Top Cun”  playing in the home theater. You have a energy efficient quiet, comfortable and peaceful home – At Last!


Kitchen Island

It’s difficult to argue with the logic of Universal Design.  If a home can be designed to be safer, easier to maneuver in,  be more intuitive, and in general – equally efficient for small children, capable adults as well as the mobility challenged (which can be anyone of us at any given time) – why not do so? Its benefits apply to people of all abilities. The arguments against – it’s too expensive, or the home will look too institutional are highly inaccurate. In fact, one of the primary UD features – a more spacious open floor plan is the primary trait of almost any new home built today. In terms of cost, adding a walk-in bathtub or an elevator can add significant dollars, but basic UD features can add as little as $1,000 to the cost of a home. the return, however, can add anywhere from 1-4% to the selling price.

Some characteristics are completely invisible – incorporated into the structure for future adaptation. For instance, grab bars require blocking in the walls to provide the required support strength. You may not want the bars just yet, but installed during construction prevents the need to tear up the walls later. Similarly on two-story homes,  having closets stacked (one on the 1st floor and one one the 2nd floor directly over the first) can be turned into a home elevator if the homeowner’s physical condition requires it.

Some common UD features:

  • Stepless Entries
  • 3-foot wide doors
  • 4-feet wide halls
  • More drawers than doors in the kitchen
  • Enhanced task lighting
  • Non-slip floors. Minimize the use of carpeting and uneven floor changes in high traffic areas
  • A full bathroom with a barrier free 36″ x 36″ minimum shower (with sliding shower head and bench) and a bedroom on the main floor

There are hundreds more.

How does technology fit into Universal Design? There is a growing prevalence of electronic or infrared-activated faucets, commonplace in public places and gaining popularity in the home. Not only do they have a sanitary benefit, they can be operated by anyone. (Which would also be great benefit if you own a loves-to- drink-from-faucet cat!) Window treatments are also being automated. Remotely operated shades or blinds make sense when conventional pull cords are blocked by furniture, and not reachable regardless of the homeowners’ abilities.

Security and lighting are also making life easier for homeowners. A camera at the front door is a nice convenience if you are able-bodied, and a near necessity for a person unable to get up and go to the door. Lighting controls and dimmers are an amenity to some, but take on more importance to someone whose eyes are experiencing temporary or permanent light sensitivity.

In summary, there is a shift taking place in which Universal Design is becoming more mainstream and even expected in homes.  The cost of some items keeps some from becoming mainstream just yet, but remember when the cost of flat-screen TV was ridiculous too? Now they are everyday electronics.  Universal Design is not just for people who are disabled; it’s for everybody else too.


Lakefront Home Design

We talked  to many people at the Lakeland Builders Association Home Expo in Lake Geneva Wisconsin and The Lake Home and Cabin Show in Schaumburg Illinois over the last two weekends. It was great to see a lot of interest in building in our beautiful part of Southeastern Wisconsin after the slow down in construction the last four years! Many are just starting to look for property in the Lake Geneva area to build their dream home. Property prices have stabilized and are starting to increase, so don’t wait! A number of folks asked what would provide the most value to them when desiging and building their home.

Some of the main factors that add the greatest value to your new home:

1. Location: Consider buying the most you can afford. Location is everything. If you like being on the water, historically, lakefront property experiences stronger growth in value.

2. Design: A well designed home adds enormous value! Not only will you enjoy living in a beautiful home designed to enhance your life –  at resale time, you’ll find a greater return on your investment as well.

3. Kitchen: Not too many people complain about a kitchen being too large, too much counter space or too many cabinets. Spend money on the kitchen.

4. Family Room/ Great Room: Like the kitchen – oversize the Family Room, and make it a little bigger than you think you need. Like the kitchen, that’s where your family and friends gather.

5. Master Bath: It’s the place where you start and end your day; a place to unwind. Upgrade the size and finishes. If  you sell, this will be a good return on investment.

6. Room Size: Make sure your rooms are large enough to meet your needs. It would be very expensive to do it after your home is finished if you realized you need more space. (This won’t be a problem after you go through our comprehensive Design Outline process. We make sure to “right-size” your home to fit your current need and future needs.)

7. Closets:  No one has ever complained of a home having too many closets!

8. Maintenance and Energy Saving Products: Paying extra for products that over time will save you money over replacement, maintenance and energy costs is smart  and you’ll feel better about saving the earth resources too choosing products that are durable and “green” too.

Bottom Line: Invest your money in the places that matter the most to experience the greatest value and enjoyment for years to come in your new home.


ELL Stove DetailsSome people make the mistake of  thinking that design is all about something looking great. That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just how it looks. Design is also how it works. Steve Jobs actually said that, describing the creation of the iPod  in 2003, but his comments also ring true for designing a home.

More than how it looks, great home design is about functionality and useability. It should make life at home easier and more pleasant. As all of our former clients will attest – we do spend a LOT of time getting to know you in the design phase, asking hundreds of questions about all the activities that make up the fabric of your daily life at home. Or mission is to make life more comfortable for you from the time you get up in the morning to the time you are ready to turn in for the night. Tthe layout  and space, and design details (both large and small) of your home should ease your way through everyday tasks – not drive you crazy.

For instance, how far is the kitchen from where you bring your groceries into the house? Do you need a separate office to shut out the noise of family life, or do you prefer a desk in the hub of the home – the kitchen? Do you and your spouse get up at different times and don’t want to wake the other? Do you have acitvities that require special rooms and extra storage? Taking the time and effort to plan your home will pay off big in a more liveable home, higher resale value and even lower construction costs – since changes to the plan during construction can be costly.

It’s the details that really matter. Going back to Steve Jobs, he said the first and most important question he asked before beginning the design of any new product was, “What’s the user experience?” Once that is determined, he continued, “the pieces just come together.”  And when we ask clients after move in if they’d change anything, and they frequently answer  “Nothing. Everything is great!”  –  that’s very satisfying to hear!