Welcome to this edition of the Houston Custom Home Builder podcast series, brought to you by Houston’s leading luxury construction team, Morning Star Home Builders. I’m Greg, your host and for today’s episode, we are joined by one of Houston’s best known and most accomplished custom and luxury home builders, Ted Cummins. Ted, good to talk to you this morning. How are you?
Ted: I’m doing well. How are you, Greg?
Greg: I’m doing very well. It’s been a couple of weeks since your last podcast episode. I think we were talking about … I guess the last couple ones, you were talking about kitchens, or secondary kitchens, service kitchens, and outdoor living space. I think we’re going to change it up a little bit and talk about more interior and some detail that people appreciate, but maybe not think about all the time, or at least not as much as you do.
Ted: Well, one of our things that we describe our company is the difference is in the details. That’s why custom homes are being built today. I don’t know that they’ll ever go away. At some point in time, people who want the home to meet their individual needs and to have some wow factor and have fun with the home, is where we step in. We’re all about the details. It’s really a cornerstone of our company. Ceiling details, in particular, is what I wanted to talk a little bit about this morning.
Greg: The ceiling, so everything’s going to be at eight feet and flat, and dry wall… you’re talking about, let’s branch out and try a few different things.
Ted: Yes. Well, obviously, even in production homes, I don’t think you find eight foot ceilings anymore. Maybe you do.
Greg: Again, that’s why I’m not a home builder.
Ted: Yes. No, I understand. I understand. Really, these days, what we call is the plate line of a home is from basically floor to ceiling. That plate difference was 8, then 9, and now pretty much in custom homes, the standard is 10. Some one-story homes, they’re raising the plate to even 11 or 12. The ceiling’s still getting taller, which brings you more volume. I think the challenge becomes, if you don’t pay attention to where you do them instead of all over the house, even though you get more volume, the tendency of the home feels a little bit more cold and less unique. It’s more a bigger box. That’s not something we typically recommend in design.
Greg: Okay. In going all the way back to one of your first episodes, and when Yvonne was talking about the questionnaires that you all have and the questions you’re asking, is this something that you all touch on? Is what a potential client’s views on ceilings are? Is this more of an educational where you tell someone, “This is what you should be thinking about.”
Ted: One of the first places we start once we get into our design process is I challenge my clients to go to Houzz, Houzz.com. Create an idea book and literally create an idea book of ceiling, and designs, and ceiling treatments, the different ceilings that they like. At least we try to mix that up through the house. I’m not suggesting that every ceiling in every room is different. The key places, we spend a lot of the time in family rooms, game rooms, kitchens, master baths. Those areas, probably, even outdoor living spaces usually have some type of ceiling treatment or design in that.
As I was making some notes for our conversation this morning, one of the things that I was just thinking about is why is it even important? I believe that a good custom home should, obviously, we’re going to identify and meet your needs. We also, for those that want to be thinking about that, it’s a little thing called resale. I believe that a well designed custom home will not only be something that you’ll enjoy living in over the years, but when it comes time to sell it, yours is going to stand out as different. People walk in immediately going, “This is a custom home.”
Greg: Different in a good way, right? You can go different in a weird, bad way that makes resale tough. I just assume you’re talking about in a distinctive, classy, beautiful way.
Ted: Back to the design process, so one of the first questions we ask our clients, what architectural style do you want your home to represent? Is that French Country? Is that more traditional? Is that a home you would see in maybe the southern part of the country, i.e. the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, that kind of stuff that’s more traditional with a porch and dormers? Are we talking something more of a Tuscan or Mediterranean look? Identifying the architectural style, and the reason that’s important is trying to marry that outside inside. Once we know the architectural style, then that opens up the conversation and gives me a little bit of direction of what to show people and to determine what kind of ceilings make sense if we’re going to pick a Tuscan style of architecture.
Greg: Are you comfortable building almost any kind of architectural style? Let me ask you a different question. Does Houston have a set style of its own, or is it a big enough growing city with enough different kinds of people who like different things that whatever a client wants, it’ll fit in one way or another in Houston?
Ted: I think the latter. Houston’s obviously, with four million plus people around … Obviously, not everybody likes the same architectural style. I would say there are regions of the country. It’s why I enjoy looking at different architectural style when I travel. It’s kind of fun to see what’s more popular in those areas. We’ve done it all. We have a more contemporary farmhouse in design right now with a client. Probably 10 years ago, we designed our first Victorian three story, very gingerbread, three-quarters wrap around porch architectural style, which is very, very different than anything I’d done. I do a lot of Tuscan, Mediterranean. I do a lot of French Country, so we’ve kind of done really a wide range of homes.
Greg: Okay. I’m going to show my ignorance. I apologize in advance. You’re talking about ceiling options and taking all these different architectural styles inside. I’m assuming I don’t know of as many ceiling styles as you do. Maybe you can tell us a couple different ones.
Ted: Well, for example, if we’re building a Tuscan home or Mediterranean, which both of those are pretty close, maybe even more of a Spanish look. Think stucco and stone, primarily. Think tile roof. The pitch, the rake of the roof, the steepness of that pitch or that roof is very much determined by the architectural style that you’ve chosen. If we’re doing any kind of a Tuscan Mediterranean style, usually the pitch of that roof is more flat. Now, it’s not flat, flat, but it’s not as steep as maybe a church steeple, when you think of really steep. It’s more of a lower pitch roof. Therefore, when I come inside, the ceilings would reflect that same architectural style. We might do a vault in the family room. Just think of an upside down V, kind of a vaulted ceiling. Most people recognize a vaulted ceiling. Well, the architectural style of Mediterranean or Tuscan, that steepness of that would be a lot less steep versus a French country that may be more steep. Does that kind of make sense?
Greg: It does.
Ted: Then, again, based upon architectural style, then would say, “Okay. What else do we want to do to the ceiling?” Do we want to run beams? There’s so many different combination of beams. We do a lot of those. Almost every home, we’re doing some type of a vaulted ceiling that’s maybe in the family room, again, maybe in the kitchen, maybe in the master bath. Whether that’s a vaulted ceiling, another one we do a lot of is we’ll call a barrel ceiling. Think of a barrel that you cut in half. That depends on how steep you want that barrel. It could be a little bit more flatter of that same shape, what we call a groin vaulted ceiling, which is really hard to describe over the phone in just an interview. Think of basically four arches that come together in the middle. Typically, you see those more in Italy in some of the old cathedrals and very much a European design that goes back from centuries, a long, long time ago.
Greg: I got that one. I hadn’t heard of that, but you described it very well. I know exactly what you’re talking about.
Ted: A lot of those, because they were done by Masonries, a lot of those were done in stone or brick, which is pretty amazing when you think about that masonry and being able to do that, and to keep those. A lot of those are still in existence today hundreds of years later.
Ted: Another one we call a coffered ceiling, which some people get confused of that versus what I would say is a bump-up ceiling. A coffered goes up to your plate. Then, it runs up to an angle usually about two or three feet, maybe at a 44, 45 or a 33 degree angle, then flatten off, then angle back down to the wall. We refer to that as a coffered ceiling. That’s a simple detail. It’s pretty cost effective. We do a lot of those as well, maybe secondary bedrooms or game rooms. Then, the bump up is what we call as go up to your ceiling plate again, come in another two or three feet. They go straight up maybe a foot or two, flatten off, and then come back down again. Some people might recognize the term, tray ceiling. Those, often times, we’ll put crown molding up with some type of accent lighting. Typically, now it would go in tape light.
Greg: Is this something that, all of this is available on Houzz.com, so people can see these pictures? Do you like your clients to get out in the real world and see examples? How do you show someone? How do you make sure that, when they say, “I want this kind of ceiling,” they actually know what they’re talking about and they’re actually going to be happy with it when you’re done?
Ted: Well, I do a combination of things. One, we’ve got a lot of photography on our website, HomesbyMorningStar.com. We have also presence on Houzz. You can go, you can search Morning Star Builders in Houzz and find our pro page. We’ve probably got 200 plus pictures just on our Houzz account online, as well, in design with our clients, we’re pulling up Houzz, we’re looking at our website. We’ve got photography of some of our projects in our conference office where we do our designs. Then I can point up. I’ve even got a marker board in there where I’ll even lightly sketch, this is what I’m referring to. We’re going to paint the picture, so we make sure that we’re communicating. Pictures are one of the best ways to communicate, especially with these kind of details.
Greg: Now, what about materials? Are people asking to use different materials on ceilings?
Ted: Absolutely. That’s changing every minute. When I think materials, obviously beams are one of them. About beams, there’s even different types of beams. You may go, “What do you mean by that?” We did our Southern Living house back two years ago, Willowcreek Ranch, and the beams were all milled from a company, they were solid trusses that we had milled and put together. They were solid beams. We’ve done some that look like that, but they’re what we call a box beam. They’re made by typically, it could be a wood manufacturer or maybe even our trim guy to build those. They’re hollow, so there’s a lot less weight. They’re a little bit less expensive. Most of these ceiling details, especially the beams, are really not structural. They’re simply cosmetic.
Ted: They’re more of a look than providing … They’re not holding up the ceiling. They’re just attached to the ceiling to provide the architectural style that we’re going after.
Greg: Even those big, solid beams that you’re talking about, solid wood, that’s stylistic. That’s not structural?
Ted: Most of the time, that’s the case. There are some times where it is structural, but I would say most of the times, they’re simply an architectural detail, not providing any kind of a weight baring load on the roof. Then, another beam, and they’re becoming more and more popular, is … we’ve done some as well, they’re actually styrofoam that are stained or painted. They’ve got the texture, the molds. They’ve got really well done on the details where it’s got the knots, and the grooves, and almost kind of a check or splintered look that we’ve done as well. Interesting about the faux beams, they’re very lightweight. They’re very easy to put up. Again, if you think of tall ceilings that might be even two stories tall, you can’t tell until you get up on a ladder and knock on it. Then, you figure out what it is. There’s a website, fauxwoodbeams.com. You can go and look at styrofoam beams, and pick out the kind of style that you’re after.
Greg: All right, that one took me by surprise. I was not expecting that.
Ted: Yep. Then, we talked about the ceiling details. We also talk about treatment. We do a lot of tongue and grooved wood. That could be four or six inch wide. That’s tongue and groove. That can be painted or it can be stained. It could be outside. It can be inside. Those are done a lot. Again, that ties more into French country and even some Tuscan. Really, a lot of different architectural styles still enjoy a wood ceiling, so whether that’s painted or stained.
I mentioned our groin vault. I’ve got on our website a very intricate home that we did. In fact, it was an inventory home that I had designed that we built and sold. It was the first one that we did as a groin vault. It was all done with brick. It’s a memory maker when you see it on our site.
Greg: Well, I’ll have to dig that one up and make sure I include that on the show notes here. That sounds wonderful.
Ted: Yes. Yes. We will do that. Then, the use of tile or even stone. Again, one of our showcases, I think that was in 2011 showcase that we did for Southern Living. We did a really neat barrel vaulted ceiling in the master bathroom. All that was done with deco tile. Then, we crown molded it. Then, put some accent lighting, tape lighting, in it that just glowed that reflection off the tile in the master bath. That’s another pretty striking look.
Greg: Okay. We’re wrapping up on time here, but I wanted to ask you one more question as a total novice.
Greg: Again, I like to show off how little I know. When you’re doing that last treatment that you talk about where you have stone or brick up on the ceiling, how is that attached so that I don’t have to worry about it falling down and hitting me when I’m under it?
Ted: Well, most of the brick done anymore is actually done in a veneer brick. It’s either bought, purchased from the manufacturer as being a thin or cut brick. Think of more of like it’s being laid on tile. We actually have to frame that shape by the framer. We then cover it with plywood that’s attached to the framing. Then, we put in a wire mesh lath. We then put in, the masonry does what we call a scratch coat, which is kind of a light concrete adhesive. Then, that brick or stone is applied with concrete and then grouted in.
Ted: In fact, it’s very sturdy. You literally would have to chisel out a brick or a stone to get it to come off. Unless you’re chiseling on your ceiling, you should be safe.
Greg: Yeah. I usually don’t do that. I think it’s safe. Well, Ted, as always an education. I really appreciate it. You already said it once, but why don’t you say it again. If someone’s interested in checking out some of these pictures or finding you and wants to talk to you about building their next house, what’s the best way to find you?
Ted: Yes. Obviously, the Internet’s probably the easiest for everybody these days, homesbymorningstar.com. You can also find us on Houzz.com, it’s a great website. Literally, I think they’ve hit over 10 million photographs of interior and exteriors of houses these days. We use it a lot. Those are two great ways to find us. We’d love to help someone out there if they want to design or build a custom home.
Greg: Wonderful. I look forward to talking to you in a couple weeks.
Ted: Very good. Thank you, Greg.
Greg: Thank you for joining us on this episode of the Houston Custom Home Builder podcast series. If you have any questions or would like to contact us at Morning Star Builders, you can find us on Facebook. You can always visit our website at HomesbyMorningStar.com. That’s HomesbyMorningStar.com. We appreciate your time with us today and look forward to bringing you another episode soon.