RHB: Lavelle Part 2
When we last visited with Mike and Kristen Lavelle they were about a third of the way through the building process on their beautiful Mediterranean-style vacation home located in Hammock Beach, Florida.
The Lavelles are fortunate to have extensive experience building custom homes (this project is their 5th). The good relationship they enjoy with their builder and the fact that they know what to expect through the process has enabled them to keep this project moving along smoothly and at a steady pace.
We caught up with the Kristen Lavelle during what many homeowners consider to be the most enjoyable portion of building a home: the stage when final elements such as cabinetry, trim, flooring and paint colors are being added and the house looks more like a home every day.
Since the Lavelles live over two hours away, they don’t get a chance to visit the construction site as often as someone who lives locally might, but they do make a point to visit every few weeks.
“Now we’re at the point of excitement,” said Kristen. “We were just at the house a week ago and seeing it made it feel more like a reality. We go out every six weeks or so, and since there’s more time between visits we really see substantial progress each time.”
Because this project is a vacation home, the Lavelles are also spared some of the stress that comes from building a primary residence, namely making sure it stays on schedule so you have a place to live when you need it.
“We have no timeline right now and we’re in no rush. It takes an emotional toll on you when you have a timeline, but we don’t so it makes it easier,” said Kristen.
Though the stress level is lower, the building process has still made an impact on their daily lives.
“The building process has certainly added pockets of increased workload,” said Kristen. “I already work 70 hours a week and travel a lot for my job, so it’s kind of difficult to manage this. But the process has been good for us because our builder pushed us to make a lot of selections up front so we wouldn’t be in a state of continual selection-making, which seemed laborious in the beginning but in hindsight has worked out well.”
Work has progressed smoothly on the home from the time they broke ground on the project, but quite a bit of legwork had to be completed to get to that point.
“Weather has not been a problem on this job at all,” said Kristen. “What took the most time was getting the changes made through the designer, and then getting through our community’s architectural review board, which was quite stringent.”
The Lavelle’s first saw their plan built as a model home in a neighboring community, but because their lot was too narrow to accommodate the house as designed they had the plan modified by Sater Design Collection, the creator of the plan. Articulating and then re-drawing the modifications took several weeks to accomplish. Overall the plan looks quite similar to the original, but it is narrower and deeper to better fit on the Lavelle’s site.
“The review board was challenging because our application hit when they were in a transitional period of changing the restrictions and requirements. They made the decision to no longer allow people to do one single exterior color, so we had to make sure there were color changes between the three floors, “ Kristen said. “It wasn’t how we preferred to do the exterior, but if we didn’t do it the plan would not have been acceptable to them. They are trying to maintain a certain look for the development and limit required maintenance so the properties will continue to flourish.”
Budget seems to be the aspect of homebuilding that presents the most challenge for many homeowners, but the Lavelles have not had any surprises so far. Part of this is due to past experience in building and having an idea of what to expect and knowing that it’s important to communicate what they want up front so there are no surprises down the line.
“When we negotiated the contract with our builder, we had seen the model home, and we worked with them to identify all the changes we wanted to make. They gave us a general allowance and we’ve stuck to it pretty well because we know from past experience how this works,” Kristen said.
“A bigger challenge for us was coming to terms with all the room sizes being smaller than the model because of the narrower width,” added Kristen. “Once we had the plan resized to meet our lot requirements we were concerned that it wouldn’t be functional for us, because our primary residence is twice that size. Now that the walls are up and we can really see the size we’re thinking about adding a cabana. It will be less about the pool and more about adding a family room, outdoor living space, and more room for guests. We’re in the process of evaluating that option now and have gone through diagrams with the builder to show him what we want to accomplish. River City is going to price it out, and it might be considerably different from what we thought when we started. Every room in the house was impacted by shrinking the width. We don’t feel like we’re going to have enough casual, comfy living space to accommodate how we envision using the house as it is now. Adding a cabana will solve that dilemma for us.”
Entertaining friends and family is definitely in the plans for the Lavelles. So far no one has seen the home yet because none live close by, but they have all seen the plans and are excited to have family gatherings there. Relatives can expect to find a home that is quite different from the Lavelles primary home.
“We may bring a few items from our home, but we’re largely looking at this as an opportunity to furnish with new items in a different motif than our current residence. Our main house is on a lake and is an Old English Estate. The house at the beach is more Mediterranean and has a coastal feel. We’re definitely leaning toward decorating toward that theme and we want it to feel like a real vacation home,” said Kristen. “Judy Nichols at Nichols Scott Interiors has been working with us on a personal basis to help identify the right furniture and window treatments and she’s helping us with the furniture layout so we’ll know where to locate the floor plugs and those sorts of things.”
Kristen says she and Mike both have really enjoyed the process of building this home, and look at it as an opportunity to indulge their creative sides.
“Taking a vision and making it reality is really fun for us. We’re both what most people think of as ‘non-creative types’ – we’re both accountants – but we’ve proven that we do have a lot of creativity and you can see it as the house is coming to life. Sometimes you see a problem and at first you think you may not be able to overcome it, but you find a way to make it work. Our cabana concept is a great example in this house,” said Kristen.
When asked what advice they would give to potential home builders, Kristen offered these tips:
“Try to stay focused on the right things and not the wrong things. When we built our first home we were 25 and 28, and in our youth and inexperience we focused on the wrong things. We focused on aesthetics instead of things like the efficiency of the appliances, and that cost us a lot in the long run to maintain the house. The good news is we learned from our mistake and knew for the next one to be concerned with things like the efficiency of the heating and air and whether it’s appropriately sized. We also learned the importance of grading the property for water run off to ensure no damage to the house. Now we focus more on those things and the aesthetics are secondary.”
Join us in our next installment where we’ll get an inside look at the Lavelles finished home.