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 two of Houston’s best known and most accomplished custom and luxury home builders, Ted and Yvonne Cummins. Nice to talk to both of you today. How are you?
Ted: I’m doing fine. However, my partner had a phone call to take, so she’s not a part of this one today, but she’ll be on the next one.
Greg: That’s great. So maybe a potential customer called and she is helping them? Which kind of inadvertently leads us right into the top of today’s podcast. I wanted to go kind of backwards and talk … re-cover something maybe we touch about before, the process that the two of you really take seriously when you first meet with clients and when you’re drawing up new plans. I guess you call it the design-build process?
Ted: Yes. It’s a process that’s not unheard of. There’s people doing that all over the country, but we really think it’s really a place to reconsider the traditional process of simply securing your lot or even thinking about designing before you even found a lot, which we don’t recommend, but going off and just hiring an architect or a designer and then doing it without somebody’s counsel or somebody being beside you that can bring ideas that might enhance the project and even being able to help out on the budget.
Greg: It seems like every time we talk it doesn’t matter what our subject is, you come back to design-build. I mean it’s all … I don’t want to say it’s all inclusive, but it seems like it’s one of your … Maybe your top priority? It’s something you come back to constantly.
Ted: Well, it’s because I think that’s how we ultimately are able to identify and meet clients’ needs. We have a great example. We built a home for a couple up in High Meadow Ranch, just above Tomball, probably now eight or nine years ago. We now got a phone call from their adult daughter who wants to build a home and we were the only ones she called, because we did such a great job on her parents’ home and she wouldn’t consider using anybody else but Morning Star, so that was a phone call we received.
Greg: That is nice. That’s quite the testimonial, isn’t it, when you’re the only option?
Ted: Right. Right. Obviously we know that that’s not the truth, but … She did have options, but she chose … and when you’re a smaller company … us, for Yvonne and I, it’s really about the relationship. It’s not about the velocity or the volume of homes to build. We’ve made that as a business choice, to really stay small, to work on pure custom jobs, that’s part of my passion, and to really focus on doing a job well than turn around and become a volume builder.
Greg: Right. Can you take it from sort of the big vision, design first, customer first … Can you give us a couple of real life examples of what this might mean, so even if it’s not a house that I would get, how you took someone’s specific concerns and turned that into their custom home?
Ted: Yes. In this particular example, I’m talking about the second generation home. I guess we’ll just use that term, so not to reveal her name. She’s a single woman, works a lot, has done very well in her professional world, but her therapy and her passion are horses. So when it came time to wanting to build her personal home, horses were very important to her. It was really the number one priority as relates to her project, her specific home.
She had a relationship with another couple who developed a little piece of property just on the east side of Tomball, the northwest Houston area, and it has an arena on it, it already has pasture fenced in on it, and he developed another couple extra lots when he developed his own personal home and barn. So she brought me over there and showed me what she wanted to do, so that was kind of the start of the roll of what we were starting to think.
But the interesting part is that she made a comment to me, she said, “I want to connect the barn to the house.” At first I was a little taken back by that, because I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a barn connected to a house. My immediate conversation to her is, “Well, if we do this I want to make sure that the elevation” … Again, my bar, when you pull up in front of the property, that you say, “I’d love to see inside that house.” I don’t want people to say, “I’d like to see inside that barn,” and it looks like there’s a little house attached to it.
Architecturally, we wanted to really make sure that the focus was on the home, and by the way it looks like there’s a barn that’s part of it as well. That was all about … when it comes time to … as we sit down with her really identifying what her needs were, then really coming up with a workable plan. She wanted a one-story home. Again, she’s a single woman, so the house … I think was around 3,500 to 3,700 square feet, still a very nice size home on a single story.
We connected the barn literally so when she walks into the laundry room there’s an additional door. When you walk in from that door into the barn, you actually walk into the tack room. That’s going to be an area that’s still conditioned. That way her feed or her other supplies and that kind of stuff is temperature controlled, and then step back into the barn.
There’s going to be eight stalls, so this is not a small barn. This is a pretty good size, real life barn. She’s got multiple horses and plans to get up in the seven to eight range. It’s been a very interesting … A really interesting project.
Greg: By being so open to the design build process, it sounds like you open yourself up to some difficulties or some challenges, which I’m sure you’re more than up to the task of fulfilling, but it sounds like some of these are going to be a little bit outside the norm, which has got to be fun?
Ted: Well, and that goes back to my passion for design. I mean it’s really again … I hate being repetitive, but it really is identifying and meeting needs, for what gets people excited. For her, this home will be her home for many, many years. She’s very situated and wants to be at that location. She’s in a fantastic community, where she doesn’t have to worry about … You know, for people to be able to have seven or eight horses, you’ve got to have a fair amount of land involved. She’s on a two acre lot, so this is a very unique little community that allows her to have more horses than she really could even have on her own property that’s literally across the street.
Another very interesting thing about the home is … We’ve not done this before … But because her strong views are in the front of the home, she didn’t want her cooking center, she didn’t want her kind of entertaining area behind the back of the house, because that’s not going to be where she wants her views, because the horses are going to be across the street in the pasture.
Think of almost a luxury hotel, where you walk up to the front and there might be a fireplace, there might be a fountain detail, there might be a sitting area that’s outside that welcomes you into the home, and that’s what we’ve done with this home.
Greg: Yeah, and it sounds like that totally worked around her needs, and not your fall-to playbook, that some other people might work that way? Do you have another example that we can cover in this episode?
Ted: Yeah. Another project that we did, this is a number of years ago, a client came to us … This is up in High Meadow Ranch again that we built, just north of Tomball. They had actually secured 15 acres, so this was a large tract of land. Not only was it a large tract, they wanted a pond. They wanted a very different architectural style at the time that I had never done before, which is a Victorian home.
There’s not too many people, especially in this day and age, that build a Victorian home. We have a very classic third floor Victorian with turrets and that kind of octagon that jets out from the windows up in the bedroom, with a three-sided wraparound porch that was raised, very, very ornate, very true to the architectural style of Victorian. There was primarily siding and just all the icing that goes on Victorian home.
Greg: That’s funny, because the last episode that you did, we talked about a very different style, so it’s funny to imagine a very Victorian home coming out of your portfolio.
Ted: Yeah. Again, the difference of a design-build is we go out and look at the land, and the land was relatively flat. Well, how do we get this raised porch when you’re on a flat piece of land, making it not look really weird? When we designed the home for a porch, and she had a specific requirement … We’re talking … I think there’s at least five or six steps going up to the home on the porch.
We were able to … Obviously it cost some money to build the dirt pad up, but we designed the house, built the house on the dirt pad, but before we put on the porch we came off with a bulldozer and cut off the pad area and then brought the porch out and then down. I know it’s kind of hard to describe that. We’ll have some pictures online. We can see the finished home.
Again, she … And that had to overlook the pond, so we had to make sure that we designed the home for the views out the front so they could sit in their rocking chairs on their big front porch with the wood ceiling and the wood decking. They had this vision of their retirement of sitting in their rockers on their 15 acres, on their raised porch overlooking the pond.
Greg: That’s really interesting that people have that kind of vision and you have to be … like you need a client … you don’t need, but some of these clients are so dialed in to what they want and you have to be so open and flexible, right, so that you can then come to it with how do I get from zero to what they want?
Ted: Yes, and not try to talk them out of things. I mean we’ve had some clients come to us after they worked with somebody else and said the builder tried to talk them out of it, or the architect didn’t believe what they wanted to do and thought they should do it this way. It really became more about them versus the clients, and that’s something that we feel very strongly about, is we want to be your guild, we want to come alongside you.
If we think there’s a mistake that’s really avoidable, we at least want to have that conversation, but I tell my clients, “At the end of the day, you have full veto power.” We want to support them and guide them, but we also want to come alongside and really want to make that project better.
Greg: Wow, that sounds awesome. I bet you have a few more examples. Do you think maybe we can come back and do another episode and talk about … I really like hearing about these different kinds of styles and different kinds of thoughts and considerations you have. Maybe we’ll do another episode about some of these design-build creations?
Ted: Absolutely. I think there’s more stories to share. Again, I never even built the same house twice in 17 years. Every project is unique and different and was designed to meet those clients needs, so I’d love to tell more stories.
Greg: Thanks for sharing Ted. I’m looking forward to the next episode, as always.
Ted: All right Greg. Thank you very much. Have a good day.
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. We appreciate your time with us today and look forward to bringing you another episode soon.