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!

Green products are durable and maintenance saving

Kermit the Frog once sang, “It’s not easy being green…” but with the wide selection of products,  building green becomes easier each year. New homes today are significantly more energy efficient than they were even 10 years ago. And probably 100% more energy efficient than they were in the 1970’s. Green built homes are also safer and healthier because of using non-toxic building materials and products that do not create out-gassing. Special attention is also paid to good ventilation and air quality. (A necessity when constructing a tight building envelope.)

Constructing a green home does come with some additional costs. A better insulated home and energy-efficient appliances will cost more. However, many green building products such as energy efficient windows and doors, geo-thermal heating and cooling systems, long life siding and roofing, and recycled decking material can result in significantly lower operational and maintenance / replacement cost savings. So while building green will cost more up front, you’ll be able to recoup your money by large savings on energy bills. After-all, we all know the answer to this question: “Will energy costs go up or go down in the future?”

Green, at any price point is not accomplished through product selection alone. Some other strategies can cost nothing or very little. For example, depending on the orientation of your home, positioning the majority of your windows on the south side gives you passive solar and natural light gains. Low-flow faucets, shower heads and toilets are widely available so the cost is neutral.

Are you seeking a home that will improve your quality of life? Desiring a home that is durable and easier to maintain? Want to use building  products and practices that are good for the environment? Green building means building smarter and not compromising on the environment or its future. It’s a practical response to a variety of issues that affect all of us.


The idea of a separate zone in the home for guys to hang out is gaining a lot of traction in the homes we build. The earliest know man cave was probably  the cast-off old sofa and battered TV in the basement or a spot in the garage for the Harley or the lovingly restored muscle car. It’s not just about the “stuff”, but a place all your own to hang with your buddies, chill out and bond.  However, just like the garage  – it has evolved. Big time!

How do you start designing your ultimate man-cave? There may be a few nonnegotiable items: A flat screen TV (the bigger the better), a sectional couch (preferably leather) and a well stocked bar. Beyond that, you’re going to need a way to tie it all together.

You can start by picking an object (pool table, poker table, jukebox, sports memorabilia) that you like to begin to create a theme, overall look and colors of your man-cave. For inspiration – there are  great websites devoted to man-cave theme spaces and ideas.

Also, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Builders Association Home Expo (January 11-12-13th)  will have a feature booth dedicated to creating the ultimate man-cave.   Although meant as a guy retreat – don’t be too surprised if the wife and kids also enjoy the “hang-out” ambiance of your man-cave. (Just as long as they respect that no-shades-of pink-allowed rule!)