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!)

Luxury Shower

Visiting a luxurious spa isn’t the only way to unwind and recharge.  Homeowners today are seeing the benefits of  enjoying a sensational shower experience everyday.

Roomy showers, clear glass enclosures, steam generators, body sprays, built-in benches and even sound and light systems help create a spa experience at home you can appreciate each morning and at the end of a long tiring day. Custom showering designs are nearly as limitless as your imagination. You can enjoy the cascade of a soft waterfall, soothing raindrops on your head, or an invigorating massage with wall mounted water spray tiles.

Muti-function (and multiple) shower heads have specific massage options from pulsating blasts to gentle mists. Steam showers are not only deeply relaxing, they also help your body  remove toxins and impurities while cleansing your skin and promoting respiratory health.

More custom showering options:

  • Combine a handshower with a slide bar for quick and easy height adjustments to accommodate every member of your family from tall dads to little kids
  • Digital shower controls allow all family members to save their individual showering preferences for temperature, water flow and more
  • Discreet speaker systems designed for wet environments are another great way to personalize your shower experience
  • Grab bars make getting in and out of the shower easier for people of all ages and abilities

Afterall, our bodies are mostly made up of water and we can’t live without it. We have a connection to water that transcends the physical. Our daily communion with water allows us to restore a needed balance to our mind and spirit.

Fireplaces add wamth to your home

There is something about the warmth of a fire that is both mesmerizing and comforting. Today’s fireplaces are inviting and efficient for everyone. Some people feel there is no substitute for a wood burning fireplace.

The advantages are:

  • The sight, sound and smell of real fire burning.
  • They burn a fairly inexpensive and renewable fuel.
  • Today’s wood burning fireplace inserts are  much better at retaining heat and have far fewer emissions that older version fireplaces and use less firewood.
  •  A source of heat in your home in case of  a power outage or furnace failure.

The disadvantages are:

  • You have to buy, stack, and haul wood into your home, and clean up the ashes.
  • You have to spend money maintaining your chimney (The EPA advised you to have your chimney inspected and cleaned every year).

Lifestyle demands and personal taste dictate that wood burning fireplaces are not for everyone. Gas fireplaces get better each year as manufacturers make improvements. Not only are modern gas fireplaces very energy efficient ( You can enjoy a  whole night of a burning fire for about a $1), certain models are so well designed it takes a trained eye to detect that gas is being burned instead of wood. Many are AFUE rated, meaning they are rated as heaters and can operate with a thermostat for zone heating. And it’s very nice to conveniently  enjoy a fire at the flip of a switch too!

Fireplace options go well beyond gas and wood. Multi-sided fireplaces are available in see-through, corner and peninsula designs. Or an indoor-outdoor fireplace can be placed in a screen porch or patio on one side and seen on the living room side as well.

Whether you are building or remodeling your home, take time to fully think about all your fireplace options. Later as you find yourself curled up in front of the fire as the snow falls, you will know you made a sound (and warm) investment.