Mosaic Tile
Mosaic tile can be funky or deeply classical, but if it’s not installed professionally, it looks like something out of a craft kit. Enter Tracey Gravier Bell and Robin Oldham of Smashing Times, who not only run a tile studio open to the public, but they also handle custom work—from bathroom mirrors to kitchen backsplashes to pool walls. They are classically trained and their work is impeccable.

Good lighting is crucial to the million-dollar look. No cheesy track lighting or bad chandeliers, please. Do your research: study magazines, go on home tours, shop all of the good stores. Best bet: hire a designer, even if you can only afford him or her to consult for the lighting.

Switch Plates
Adios, tiny screws. We are clearing up wall acne big time with smooth, screwless switch plates from companies such as Lutron and Powerline Control Systems. Upgrade from switches to touch controls painted to match your wall color. Lutron offers 23 decorator colors, including stone and slate finishes. Covers are available for phone and computer jacks, too. Not only are the new plates attractive, but they also control the lights throughout the entire house—from the front porch to the pool—from a single keypad or telephone.

Fireplace Mantels
Designers and architects agree that a beautiful fireplace mantel can become an instant focal piece and is therefore worth splurging on. Search out an antique or restored mantel in the design district or in salvage shops where great mantels have been pulled from teardowns.

High Ceilings
Not too high, please—22-foot ceilings are pushing it, even in the foyer. And also not too low—eight-foot ceilings are so passé that most consumers buying these homes have demolition in mind. Appraisers warn us that energy conservation is the next home trend. Your best bet: 12-foot ceilings with ceiling fans.

Hand-scraped wood floors, wood floors inset with marble and limestone—beautiful but costly. Experts say go for plain-vanilla wood flooring: it’s classic and timeless. Tiles and mosaics are hot, and everyone loves smooth marble and limestone. A word to the wise: those honed marble, travertine, and limestone floors are fragile and maintenance is tricky. After a year or two, some appear to have a permanent, dulling film. Higher luster finishes look cleaner and are easier to maintain.

Windows are one of a home’s three most expensive components, right up there with foundation and framing. Why? Today’s windows are thermally engineered for the Dallas climate to seal out the heat. New windows not only preserve your precious A/C, but they also reduce maintenance because they come with factory-applied enamel finishes that will never need painting. Top names: Pella, Marvin, and Pozzi. Architect Michael Malone says any reputable builder will install a clad, thermal product in new construction or remodels. Don’t settle for less.
Patio Misters
In Dallas, we live outdoors as much as possible, and we love to entertain around the pool. Come July and August, that’s hard to do without passing out. Landscapers say patio misters are in hot demand west of the Rockies; in Phoenix, everyone has a backyard pool and a mister system to cool down the patio. (Misters lower exterior temps 8 to 20 degrees—even in Dallas, in August.) Leave it to the pros: new exterior misting systems work quite well with high-pressure pumps and micro-mini nozzles, says Larry McKenna of Cool Unlimited.

Fire Sprinklers
Read your building codes—fire sprinklers are now a given in many communities, both in new home construction and condo units. Proven to save lives and property, today’s sprinklers are flat and color-coordinated to your ceiling paint; you’ll never know they’re there until you need them. The peace of mind is well worth the expense—and ask your home insurer for a discount.

Sinks and Faucets
An entire industry has developed over the last 10 years in high-end sinks and faucets. Work with your designer, builder, or contractor to get the look you want; in Dallas we have access to it all. Read magazines, look at advertisements, get on the Web, stroll through showroom spaces—Ferguson, for instance, has a showroom on Slocum near the Dallas Design Center, and carries Kohler. The Great Indoors and Expo Design Center have major brands to choose from. Ann Sacks and Waterworks are two other great stops.

Think Clean
Once that beautiful home is completed, you’ll want to keep it squeaky clean. If you are installing a whirlpool, check out Sanijet—unlike other whirlpools, you can actually clean the system of bacteria and other undesirable materials. A clean bath: what a concept!

Outdoor Lighting
Nothing enhances the exterior of a home more than well-placed landscape lighting. A visitor from the New York was touring the Park Cities recently and could not stop commenting on the lighting. This man has seen just about everything, and he was using words like “enchanting.” Even in a mid-sized home, the addition of landscape lighting can make all of the difference in the world. John Watson, who pioneered the concept here in Dallas, says while there is no limit to what a homeowner can spend on landscape lighting, a basic plan isn’t as expensive as most people think. And it goes without saying that the security benefits are almost priceless.