STRANGE & INTERESTING TALES from a Custom Home Builder

As a custom home builder, we’ve encountered all kinds of strange and interesting tales. Thought I would do a short, lighthearted, post about some of these.

One of the more memorable and strange requests was from, I’ll call him “The Bachelor”. He was doing a whole house remodel and wanted his and her toilets….side by side. I couldn’t ask about why because I didn’t want to know. Oh boy, women want the man to use an entirely different bathroom, much less sitting on the john next to him! We didn’t end up doing the job but I often wonder if he found “The One who would sit by his side, come what may”!

Women don’t want this kind of sharing!

Then there were the people who wanted us to remodel their home and at our first meeting, they produced a sketch of the layout they had drawn up. Wait…why is there a bathroom that opens up into the kitchen? The woman thought it would be really convenient. I will always laugh replaying in my mind Kevin trying to explain to them why it wasn’t a good idea!

Kevin recently visited a home that the people had purchased for the land, not the home.  They were wondering if we could help them fix the home. Some of the problems would have been hilarious if someone didn’t have to figure out how to fix and pay for them. Here are just a few of the problems:

  • The showers controls were totally outside of the shower, requiring one to exit the shower to change temp or pressure.
  • The hood over the stove was so high that the exhaust system was useless.
  • An old remodel had expanded the kitchen but they placed the refrigerator around the corner and from the cooking triangle one had to go around this large island to get to the refrigerator.
  • Then there was the wet bar where someone had either not wanted to waste a pre-cut countertop or someone did a lousy job of measuring and the top hung over the sink on one side by about 2 inches.

Several years ago we encountered the strangest floor plan I’ve ever seen. The people had bought it site unseen before moving here from Ohio. First of all, there was so much wasted space. The rooms were small but the halls were huge- like 6 feet wide and when you walked through the front door, you stepped right into the dining room. There was no pantry in what was a huge kitchen but rather it was a converted bedroom that was located down a long hallway. Words cannot express my dismay!

Then there was our client who didn’t want to have to leave the Master suite to get to his liquor- well it would have been a long walk- I’ll give him that. So, we built a wet bar in the bedroom. Along the same line, we built an indoor putting green adjacent to the master so that our client, an insomniac, could practice his game instead of roaming the halls at night. Hey, this is exactly why people build custom homes!

And, of course, we’ve built many cool safe rooms but I can’t disclose any details. Let’s just say that the options out there now for these are mind blowing.

Or our custom home client who had a little kid’s mini kitchen just off the main kitchen. Mini fridge, microwave, sink and cabinets were stocked with all of their favorite snacks. I actually really like this- it’s keeps their little fingerprints off the one in the main kitchen ūüôā

Then there was the time we built the rectory for the Catholic church in Ahwatukee and Kevin opened up a cabinet door and a huge gila monster emerged! I’m sure the priest forgave his language, given the situation.

Back when we were first getting started, we built a custom home for an engineer who counted every 2 x 4, 2 x 6 and piece of wood in the entire house making sure he wasn’t getting ripped off. Nothing against engineers, as they happen to be some of our best clients, as they appreciate the quality and efficiency of our homes.

Some of our favorite clients were Italians who immigrated to Canada and we built their second home here in Arizona. She was Sicilian and about 4′ 10″. I think I told in a past blog how she rolled out her homemade pasta every day but couldn’t comfortably do this with a normal counter height. So, we built the island at a very low height and made some other adjustments to make living more convenient for her.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this. We did a full remodel on a townhome and Kevin went to pick up the final check. He left and was at the end of the block when his phone rang. It was the woman. She asked him if he could come back. When she opened the door, she grabbed him and hugged him in a full-on frontal position and kissed him before he knew what was happening! I guess she was super happy with us- or with him rather. A simple thank you is just fine!

Hope you’ve enjoyed these Strange and Interesting Tales!


“How much will my house cost per square foot”?  It’s a question that builders get asked a lot and it’s a fair question.  However, when a potential client asks this question without plans in hand, builders literally cringe.  It’s not that we don’t want to answer it, it’s just that there isn’t a simple answer and builders struggle to communicate  as to why there isn’t a simple answer.  In addition, it’s a terrible way to predict the cost of your home.

Imagine if someone called up a car dealer and asked how much it would cost for a car.  They tell the salesman that they are looking for a really nice car but not top of the line.  The dealer would have to have much more information in order to even come close to an estimate.  First of all, “really nice” is relative.  To some, a Ford Explorer might be really nice but to others, that might mean an Autobiography Range Rover.   Big difference in price.  And beyond that, do they want leather seats? A sunroof? What about the stereo system? 2 wheel or 4 wheel drive? Turbo?

Now extrapolate that out into a custom home that is many, many times more expensive, thereby exaggerating the price range differences.  In addition, there are far more options on a home with a very broad range of costs.  When you carry out all of the potential differences in all of the thousands of potential components in a custom home, the range is so wide that you might not even land in the ballpark.  We really have no idea how much your custom home will cost without seeing at least conceptual plans.

Curves are more expensive than straight

You can imagine the cost difference between a ceiling like this and a flat, 10′, ceiling.

A few months ago, a potential client was trying to figure out how much framing would cost, knowing that this has become the major cost in a custom home.  “Well you know how much it will cost per square  foot  to frame a house, right?”, they insisted.   No, we don’t.  Is the house going to be a simple rectangle or will it have angles or curves?  Also, did you know that it costs far more per square foot to build a long, shallow home than a big square home? That’s because the ratio of walls per square foot is much higher in a long rectangle than a square.   Is the lot flat or will earth work be required?  Are the walls 2 x 4, 2 x 6,  or 2 x 8 or a combination of these sizes? How high will the ceilings be (10 ft versus 8 ft makes a big difference in price) and will they be the same height throughout?  How many window and door openings, etc. etc. etc.  And that’s just the framing!

An area that impacts the cost in a huge way is that of finish materials.  Take for example an appliance package.  You can get an entire suite of GE Stainless appliances for $3,000 but just your Wolf Dual Fuel Steam range can set you back almost $20,000.00.  As you can see, there are so many elements can drive huge price differences, making a cost per square foot estimate

This Wolf 60″ Dual Fuel Steam Range will set you back almost $20,000.00

very unreliable.  To illustrate even further how difficult it is to give a cost per square foot estimate that will even be relevant…. we could build several homes with the same exact plans, on the same lot and the cost per square foot could vary from $165- $385-  just due to the variances in the finish materials selected!

Then add the fact that different builders quote cost per square foot differently.  It used to be that only air conditioned square footage was the number that was used (called livable square footage) but now some builders are including expensive non-air-conditioned space (non-livable), as well. Let me explain, back in the day the non air-conditioned spaces were relatively inexpensive shells: garages, patios, etc.  But many custom garages now have cabinets, epoxy floors, a sink, a ceiling fan, expensive garage doors, exterior architectural elements, etc.   Patios no longer just have the standard grey broom finished concrete.  They  have expensive flooring, outdoor fireplaces, and the same expensive roof over it.  If you have that expensive non-livable square footage being thrown into the livable square footage, it makes the cost per square foot in the a/c space deceivingly expensive.   Imagine if one builder is giving a cost per square foot estimate based on this method versus one who is quoting it based only on the livable space?  This would be skewed on the low side.  Think about it, an expensive garage has a far greater cost per square foot than a basic bedroom so by excluding this from the cost per square foot estimate, you are leaving out some major costs.  Something else to keep in mind when talking cost per square foot is that,  all things being equal, a smaller home will have a higher cost per square foot because expensive spaces; such as, kitchens and bathrooms, are a greater percentage of the overall space.

When a builder is pressed for an answer on cost per square foot , if he (or she) guesses too high, the client may not move forward with a home that actually would fit within their budget and if he guess too low, they may proceed and then not be able to afford the home.  It’s a real catch 22 and that’s why builders hate this question and struggle to answer it.  It’s not as simple as one might think.

Some things can you do to make sure that you don’t end up with a home you can’t afford to build

First of all, you can have your builder show you some plans, elevations, the finish material list and approximate cost of some of the homes they have built.  That way you can get a general idea about what kind of home  can be built in a certain price range.

The other is to get architect and building designer recommendations from your builder. Find one that’s a good fit,  then have everyone sit down to discuss the client’s expectations. If both the builder and designer think that this is doable, then you can proceed with confidence and if not, then you can decide where you go from there. If you move ahead, then you have a team who is well aware of the parameters in which they must work and the builder can check in with his trades and weigh in in real time.  In addition, if the owner is going to use an interior designer (highly recommend), then this is the time to bring them in, as well.

I can’t even tell you how many times people have come to us after plans have been drawn with an expectation of a certain price point based on a cost per square foot estimate and then are highly disappointed to find that the price comes substantially higher.  Often this is a result of the plans being designed with expensive architectural details or materials that aren’t easy to eliminate without going back to the drawing board.   Sad.  

I hope that this has given you a little more insight into why builders struggle when you ask them about cost per square foot.  They aren’t trying to hedge or be vague.  They just know that there’s a good chance that they will be wrong without more information.  Please feel free to share your input, questions or stories and let me know if there is subject that you would like me to address.

By Kimberley Cullumber Alexander, Partner,  Alexander Enterprises Construction & Development, Inc.

Disclaimer:  This content is proprietary and can only be shared as a link or if credit is given to the author.

INTERIOR DESIGN TRENDS – a Builder’s Perspective (Part III)

Now that we’ve talked about all these cool Interior Design Trends, let’s talk interior design mistakes and why you should use common sense when incorporating trends.

Right now, there is a huge issue in neighborhoods across the country (and even in my own neighborhood) with homes that were done in the trend of the day.¬† For example, the homes that went with the heavy Tuscan vibe back in the day are not getting much love.¬† To remodel some of these can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.¬† ¬†Tayler Alexander-Perez , of Launch Real Estate in Scottsdale, AZ, says,¬† “Years ago, people didn’t mind buying something and fixing it up but now days buyers want a home that is move-in ready.¬† At some point these hot trends cycle out of favor so if a trend has been used with a heavy hand, at some point the owner will either have to invest¬† a significant amount of money to remodel, reduce the price accordingly, or find a buyer gutsy enough to take on a major project”.¬† ¬† ¬†I find this to be true, we get calls after a home has sat on the market and the owner wants to know what they can do to make it sellable.¬† In a million dollar plus home, this can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is good for our business but it really hurts to see fabulous homes that have become irrelevant due to trends.¬† ¬†To avoid this happening to your home, try to incorporate the trends in things that are not that big a deal to switch out and keep the big ticket items more timeless.¬† If you do your entire floor in a trendy pattern or every counter top in the trend of the day, then ripping it out and re-doing it is a major expense.¬† For some, money is not an issue and they can go for it, enjoy it and call us down the road, but for most people this is an issue.

Although they were all the rage years ago, overdone Tuscans aren’t getting any love these days.

I like to think of Interior Design Trends like my wardrobe.¬† If everything is trendy in my closet, then I’ll have to spend a lot of money every time the trends change. But if I have a few cool, trendy pieces that I can put with a mostly classic wardrobe, then I am able to transition with minimal cost throughout the seasons.¬† If you are unsure about how trendy you should go, it can be worth every penny to consult with a designer who is able to strike the perfect balance between Trend and Timeless Design (and yes, I know of some great ones).

Hey, thanks for spending some time with me discussing Interior DesignTrends and let me know your thoughts! I’m interested!

INTERIOR DESIGN TRENDS – a Builder’s perspective (Part I)

Me at Kohler’s Design Center, Clintonville, WI.

I would like to chat about some exciting Interior Design Trends.¬† ¬†I’ll discuss the “Builder’s Perspective”¬† in Part III.

I have gathered information on the Interior Design Trends that I’m discussing through my interior designer friends, our reps in the industry, and industry news.¬† In addition, as a guest of The Kohler Co. and Ferguson Showrooms¬†for the First Look Tour that took place in Kohler, WI., I was part of a select group of builders and designers that were immersed in upcoming design TRENDS and products.¬† ¬†(A complete side note here-¬† if you’re ever in Wisconsin, do yourself a favor and stay at Kohler Co.’s, The American Club, the only 5 Star hotel in the Midwest.¬† ¬†And… their spa is incredible!¬†¬†The Waters¬† ¬†is the best spa- hands down- that I’ve ever experienced!¬† Now, back to the subject.)

In  the 2018 Ashton Woods National Home Buyer Survey   ,which sets out to identify trends and owner preferences, there is some very interesting information.  Owners say:

  • They prefer rustic elements over industrial. I personally LOVE the Industrial vibe so a little Rustic /Industrial marriage could still work!
  • They prefer natural wood over white.
  • Their least favorite cabinet/countertop combo is dark cabinets/dark tops.
  • Their favorite cabinet/countertop combo is light cabinets/dark tops.
  • They prefer rustic & transitional interiors over contemporary and farmhouse interiors but they prefer¬† Ranch and Modern for the architectural style.
  • They are shying away from¬† the Bohemian, Coastal and Scandanavian looks.

I will be  discussing just a handful of the new Trends in this Interior Design Trends series:


¬†When I first heard of this interior design trend, I was appalled.¬† I still remember the old antiqued gold fixtures that sat right alongside the avocado appliances and orange shag carpet.¬† ¬†However, I have to admit that I’ve changed my tune.¬† I especially love the copper and rose golds.¬† I did my powder bath with copper fixtures and the ceiling in a rusted, copper metal, which I love.¬† The matte copper fixtures have an industrial flare, which I happen to love.¬† Interestingly, although the gold/bronze fixtures are trending, many surveys find that people still prefer brushed nickel and stainless finishes.¬† Some of the products you see in the photo below: California Faucets Avalon single handle wall faucet in weathered copper, custom metal cabinets, Kohler’s new matte black toilet (a gift from my fabulous Kohler rep),¬† and Kohler’s Artist’s Edition Antilia Wading¬† Pool sink¬† ¬†(which I love and have in my personal home).¬† (The photos look very dark because they are impromptu from my iphone just to show the coppery/rose gold fixture colors.¬† The cabinet is metal).

Builder: Alexander Enterprises Constr. & Dev., Inc.  Design by Kimberley Cullumber-Alexander, in collaboration with other design professionals.


I like adding some natural elements to a black and white kitchen, such as the brick backsplash shown here or some wood. We haven’t done a black and white yet so I borrowed this from the internet and have no idea who to give credit to.

Although this color palette is timeless, it is trending even stronger now in Europe, New York and Los Angeles.¬† Designers are incorporating black into the all-white kitchens, baths and main interiors of the past…..a black island, black tub , black plumbing fixtures and geometric black and white patterns in flooring.¬† I especially love it when the look is softened with wood and other natural elements and speaking of….


Greyhawk on Black Mountain in Arizona, designed by the iconic, award-winning Gerry Jones.

When I think of organic interior design, I think “Frank Lloyd Wright”.¬† This trend incorporates clean lines, lots of light, natural materials (wood, stone, plants) and is fresh and modern.¬† My husband and I attended an event at this home and it is organic design at it’s finest! Gerry Jones, the designer, is self-taught and revered in the world of architecture and master planning.¬† He was also an instructor with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Talliesin West School of Architecture for over 17 years.

Builder: Alexander Enterprises Constr. & Dev., Inc.  Design by Kimberley Cullumber-Alexander


Designer: Kristen Forgione, The Lifestyled Company

In  2018,  the patterns have gone even bolder, more oversized and more dramatic.  No one does this better than my friend Kristen Forgione, owner of The Lifestyled Company in Gilbert, AZ (see photo).

Thanks for hanging out with me.¬† ¬†Feel free to comment and let me know what types of things you would like to know about in the building¬† and design arenas.¬† I’m interested in what you have to say!


A TREND called Hygge


Old School Home Gym

Brooklyn Pub style Home Gym

TRENDS come and go but I think that this trend called “Hygge” is here to stay.¬† “Hygge” is a Danish word that refers to “the constant pursuit of homespun pleasures”.¬† ¬†I read about this predicted trend years ago in a book by Faith Popcorn called The Popcorn Report.¬† She called it”cocooning”.¬† As custom home builders, we have definitely seen this trend taking hold in¬† the past few years.
Today’s home owners are looking to incorporate more of their desired activities into their home lifestyle.¬†They want to exercise, cook gourmet meals (inside and outside), enjoy a resort style pool, watch movies on a big screen and work from the home office- all without ever leaving their homes.¬† This creates more¬†time in their days by cutting down on time commuting.
Speaking of this trend, we are just finishing up this super cool home gym!¬† These clients both have high-powered careers and were having to get up at 4AM to go to the gym before work; so, they decided to add one to their home.¬† ¬†These clients are from Pittsburgh and wanted an old English pub feel to their workout room.¬† I love the gorgeous¬† copper ceiling and old brick, which was the homeowner’s vision.¬† They wanted to walk out of their home gym and cool off in their own resort-style pool, which we are almost finished with and will post when it’s complete.