Whether you are remodeling or building new, you’ll need to make important choices about color, trim, hardware, flooring, and windows. We asked Dallas architects, designers, and high-end contractors where it makes sense to splurge—not only to create the house of your dreams but also to create a solid investment for the future.
Create a Grand Entrance
Alberto Perez, president of Cantera, says the front door is like a woman’s face. In other words, this is not the place to skimp. Go for a bold, massive door, either ornamental iron or well-preserved carved wood. Or hunt for old doors at antique shops or on European trips; Jayne Peterson brought home a vintage 1940s door from Germany—the WWII bullet holes give it character.
Okay, You Can’t Afford a Grand Entrance
Then buy a stock door and select some special hardware to define it. Today, hardware is jewelry for the home. Try Nob Hill in Inwood Village for a hand-forged knocker, distinctive doorbell, or one-of-a-kind hinges to add richness to the front door and entry. Pierce Hardware in Snider Plaza carries Architectural Hardware Koncepts and Fersa from Argentina—all gorgeous and all handmade.
Cut corners, but don’t skimp on the framing. Sometimes people spend more on impressive finish-out than the bones of the house. How can you tell if the frame job is good after the home has been constructed? Head to the attic and make sure the cuts are tight where the rafters meet the ridge beams, the braces, and the framing you can see. Check exterior cornice work, too. Because the roof is the most complicated aspect of framing, if you see a well-done attic, chances are walls and floors are well framed, too.
A good paint job separates the million-dollar-plus home from the $499,000 special. Quality paint is paramount—that means Sherwin Williams, ICI Glidden (very high quality, used all over Mark Cuban’s house), Benjamin Moore, or Pratt & Lambert. It goes without saying that oil-based products must be used on all woodwork for durability.
Custom Knobs and Pulls
The million-dollar look is nothing if not original. Brad Oldham, who creates one-of-a-kind knobs, pulls, knockers, hinges, and hooks, is based in Dallas, though most of his celebrity clientele are from out of town. (He also makes beautiful custom tile.) Yes, he’s top of the line, but Brad’s work is a great place to splurge.
The Perfect Corner
Rounded corners are a sign of the times and very hot in the local market. And they’ll cost you an extra $1 per linear foot. Jerry Johnson of Caperton Johnson suggests using rounded corners downstairs (in public spaces) and regular corners upstairs (in the kid’s rooms and other private living areas). What you spend on rounded corners you can save in shoe molding. Shoe molding is “out, gone, adios,” says contractor Steve Snider. (Shoe molding is that long wood piece where floor meets wall.) Lazy carpenters never get shoe molding to fit right anyway.
When Steve Snider came home from Italy a few months ago, he had big news. “It’s over,” he said. “I did not see one piece of granite in Milan.” Well, granite is still very hot in Dallas and probably will be for a while. Stone and cement? Yes, but those who have it are tiring of the upkeep. The brewing trend? Solid laminates, think Corian and Wilsonart’s Gibraltar, are hot in Italy. Really “in”: shiny laminated surfaces. Spring for a solid-core surface, says Sandra Irvine of SMI Designs, in the laundry and pantry where everyone usually uses laminated surfaces such as Formica. The solid-core surface is more durable, gives a sleeker look, and is well worth the extra expense.
The million-dollar look is a “finished” look, and nothing does it better than fine molding, cornices, and door casings. But, friends, there is such a thing as too much molding. In Dallas, I have seen multiple installations where the molding is larger than the doorway. Hello, this is not Versailles; it’s Dallas. Three pieces max, and this will actually save you money. Corners must be mitered perfectly at installation, but you still have to recaulk and repaint in one year—after settling.
A great stairway is worth a splurge. Do pretty balustrades with a pewter or nickel finish and a great runner. Or go bare—no carpet at all.
Authentic Faux Finishes
Thank goodness the faux-finish fad has passed and the master artisans and crafts people can resume their work in peace. Dallas-based artist Mary Donahoe Lytle, whose clientele is equally East Coast and high-profile Dallas, studied with Leonard Pardon in London, best known for his work on Buckingham Palace. And this is the level you want to go for if you are truly interested in the million-dollar look. Mary’s fees are not exorbitant, and her work is breathtaking.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.