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Indiana dream homes; yes, they're still building them the way they used to.

You might have thought that they just don't put up homes this way anymore.

These are homes that are more crafted than built. They're remarkably solid and sturdy, they're full of luxurious and expensive materials, they're ornate and extremely comfortable. They're not all that different from the mansions of yesteryear that people today buy and restore, except that these homes are being built today.

Indiana's executive homes are an entirely different breed from all the others on the market, and so are the people who build them. Many of the homebuilders behind the state's most prestigious homes build only a handful of residences a year, but each home sells for maybe 10 or more times the median home price.

"We specialize in what we classify as one-of-a-kind, architectural-quality homes," says Will Wright, owner of the Will Wright Building Corp. in Carmel.

"Our houses are very much classic homes, with quality detail work and beautiful woodwork," agrees Robert Vondracek, president of the Drake Companies in Valparaiso.

"People want all the luxuries," adds Rocky May of Rocky May Homes in Evansville, "and that's even more important to them than the square-footage."

The people who build Indiana's prestigious homes agree that money seems to be no object for their clients. Buyers are willing to spend $500,000 or $1 million or more to have their homes done right. May's homes, for example, have sold for as much as $650,000, and homes in the Evansville area don't get much more expensive than that. Wright's homes average at least $750,000. Aaron Cohen, president of Indianapolis-based Centaur Consulting Inc., has built $6 million homes. Needless to say, these buyers can get just about anything they ask for in a home.

What exactly are they asking for? That varies, of course, but there are some generalities. "They want most all the modern conveniences: steam showers, kitchens that do everything but make reservations for you at the local gourmet restaurant, marble floors, lots of open space and glass," says Wright.

"They really want big kitchens," agrees Joe Sullivan, owner of Joe Sullivan Homes Inc. in Fort Wayne. "They want custom woodwork and cabinetry, a three- or four-car garage, an all-masonry exterior. Another thing that's commonplace is having the master bedroom on the first floor, with maybe three more bedrooms upstairs, all with private bathrooms."

"The bathrooms are large," adds Roger Delagrange, a partner in Fort Wayne-based Colonial Homes. "You're talking bathrooms the size of bedrooms, and whirlpools or Jacuzzis."

"People also want an office, or study or library," says May, "which is something we hadn't seen as much before." Vondracek says his company also fields numerous requests for separate libraries.

Builders find continually changing tastes regarding home layout. "A concept popular through the '80s was the great-room concept," notes Gary McNutt, executive vice president of the Paul Estridge Building Corp. in Carmel. "But now we're seeing movement toward smaller, more intimate rooms, and more of them. It isn't as important that the rooms be so big. And there's been a real movement to the family-kitchen concept."

That concept, says Hero Tameling of Highland-based Precision Construction, actually is similar to the great-room concept except that it revolves more around the kitchen than the living room. The kitchen area becomes one of the main gathering spots for the family, and even has a fireplace on occasion.

The idea reflects, perhaps, a de-emphasis on the living room as an everyday room. Tameling and others say living rooms in many executive houses these days are smaller than they used to be, and more formal, making them more appropriate for special occasions. The formalization holds true for the dining room as well.

Jake Wagner, president of Wagner Construction Corp. in Valparaiso, says such home-layout trends are fueled by lifestyle changes. "The cocooning of America in the upscale market is very real. People are spending a lot of time at home." Consequently, he gets a lot of requests for special multimedia rooms and fitness centers, as well as family kitchens.

Most builders agree that master bedrooms more often are being placed on the main level. "It's easy living; they don't have stairs to climb as often," McNutt says. Also, when the children move out, the upstairs can be closed off and not heated or cooled all of the time. The arrangement makes it seem more likely that buyers will be able to stay in their executive homes well past retirement. "People feel it's more of a forever home. They can live in a much smaller space later."

Not that the master bedroom suite is small in these homes. With few exceptions, they are roomy and comfortable, with one or two walk-in closets and a large, luxurious bathroom. "It used to be that bedrooms weren't an important factor as far as size goes, but that's not true anymore," says Sullivan. "We're even vaulting ceilings in them. And some of the second, third and fourth bedrooms are as big as the master bedrooms in other homes. People apparently want their kids to be comfortable."

One generally need not stroll very far to find a bathroom in these executive homes, McNutt notes. "Often we end up with six bathrooms in a house," including one for the master bedroom, two others on the main floor, one on the lower level and two upstairs. Functionality is the key here. The master bedroom bath, for example, must work for two, so it has a double vanity in most cases, and in some cases has two showers and even two toilets. Upstairs baths, meanwhile, often have doors into the bedrooms so occupants won't have to walk into the hallway; if there are more bedrooms than baths upstairs, the baths sometimes will be connected to more than one bedroom.

Finding a fireplace is nearly as easy as locating a bathroom. Like historic homes, Indiana's executive homes of the 1990s often have several fireplaces, many times including one in the master bedroom suite and one in the library. The difference--historic homes needed a lot of fireplaces because that's how they were heated, while today's executive homes typically have as many separate heating/ventilation/cooling systems as they have fireplaces. "We often put in four HVAC systems," says Cohen.

That may sound excessive, but the builders explain that there are several good reasons to put in multiple systems. An obvious reason is comfort: Heated or cooled air needn't travel as far through the duct work, which eliminates temperature inequalities common in homes with just one system. Also, it allows for better temperature zoning of the home.

Typically, the upstairs will have its own system, which can be adjusted when the kids move out and the upstairs is used less frequently. The main level might have two systems, allowing two separate zones that can be controlled independently. Some builders zone the house so that the master bedroom has its own furnace and airconditioning system. The final HVAC system can be found on the lower level, which is likely to be used less frequently because many executive homes don't have finished basements.

The builders agree that buyers of the larger homes are increasingly interested in larger garages. "Today, they really all want three- or four-car garages," Delagrange says. "It's just a standard feature now."

In addition to abundant space and amenities, Indiana's most prestigious homes are distinguished by the extraordinary attention given to detail and quality, in both materials and workmanship. Cohen's homes are good examples; he admits his projects sometimes are more expensive because he is so meticulous.

"We probably put 8 percent to 12 percent more lumber in a home than the average builder. We have oversize footings. Our foundations are excessive so you won't have to worry about them. We overinsulate. We like to take the bounce out of the floor, so we pour concrete on the decks on the interior of the house. When we do a library, you won't find any nails because there aren't any," Cohen says, explaining that his craftsmen use less-damaging methods--such as cement--to attach wood paneling to the walls. "We pour 5-inch concrete driveways, while many pour 4-inch driveways. We do a myriad of things that are different, and our houses cost more money."

Most of the builders of executive homes make extensive use of custom woodworking, and they install a lot of marble, especially in entryways and bathrooms. Sullivan says there is a big demand for Corian, a natural, marble-like countertop material that is quite expensive. These builders also spare no expense in the selection of windows; they usually use the most highly rated brands.

Those who buy executive homes in Indiana also spare no expense when it comes to the number of windows. It is in to invite sunlight into the home. Drake, for example, is noted for its solariums, according to Vondracek. Enjoying daylight is important to these buyers all the time now, not just in the spring and summer months. "We've actually gone back and converted a lot of screen porches into year-round sun rooms, or added a sun room," says McNutt.

"The cost of these homes is a reflection of the amount of work put into the design as well as the structure itself," notes Tameling, whose firm is both a designer and a builder.

Builders of executive homes tend to be remarkably thoughtful in their designing and planning. They try to think of everything. Vondracek, for example, doesn't want buyers to be surprised at some point down the road to find their house has a problem with radon, the harmful gas that has been known to seep into many homes around the nation, regardless of how well-built they are. Buyers of Drake homes simply don't have to worry, he says, because the homes have built-in radon-mitigation systems, just in case. He finds that helps a lot of buyers rest more easily, especially buyers from the East Coast, where radon is more of a problem.

Thoughtfulness also shows up in the way this breed of builders deals with customers. Buescher Homes in Fort Wayne, for example, wants buyers to feel at home even as the house is being built, so it erects a personalized sign in the front yard during construction, complete with the buyer's name. At move-in time, the buyers get a bottle of champagne and special glasses, along with an afghan matching the interior color scheme, knitted by the president of Buescher & Associates.

Design of the exterior is nearly as crucial as that of the interior. The home must make a positive impact on those who approach it, so Indiana's prestigious homebuilders give it a lot of attention. "The trend has been for a much more authentically designed house that represents a period in history," says Wright, "a purity in style, something that changes the house from being just the biggest box on the street to a piece of art."

Indeed, a large percentage of the state's executive homes are styled traditionally in and out. After all, a home that varies too much from the norm may be harder to sell at some later date. "I would prefer to build traditional-style homes, especially in the upscale market," Wagner says. "It's important to do something stately and traditional rather than faddish. Our houses are heavily brick."

"The traditional home in Fort Wayne has always been the best bet," says Sullivan. "I build kind of a rustic contemporary home."

"We are seeing a mixture," adds McNutt. "We're seeing stone, and we're seeing use of a stucco-type product on the exterior that's kind of new to this market. There's quite a bit of brick, along with cut stone."

That's not to say there are no variations, however. Chris Brown, owner of West Lafayette-based Chris Brown Construction, has been asked to build so many different styles of homes that he can't really say one is more prevalent than another. One client had Brown build a large log home that became a striking blend of old and new.

What's around the house is important as well. "The setting is a constant concern," Wright says. "You no longer can take a big house and fill the lot completely full of house and have the owner be satisfied. Landscaping is an important part."

Most of the builders agree that established subdivisions are the preferred place to construct a large, executive home in Indiana. "People like the sense of security and protected investment of being in a community. And they like having all city utilities," notes McNutt.

"Most people who spend this kind of dollar amount on a home do not want to be on well or septic," agrees Tameling, who adds that quality of schools is an important factor to many of his clients, and some of the best schools are in areas with established subdivisions.

Consistency is another luxury that subdivisions can offer. Buyers can be sure that the neighborhood will live up to specific standards. "The majority that I build are in enclosed subdivisions with stringent architectural controls," Wright says.

Subdivisions also may have access to amenities such as country clubs and golf courses. Colonial Homes, for example, is finding buyer interest in a subdivision going up adjacent to a new Fort Wayne golf course, Delagrange says.

Still, some buyers want more acreage than typically is available in a subdivision. May says he's working on what essentially is a mini-estate on a 7-acre parcel in the Evansville area. And Brown put a luxurious house on a piece of property comprising more than 300 acres.

Sullivan is developing a subdivision in the Fort Wayne area that has the best of both worlds. It features about a dozen lots, each including about 10 acres. Interest has been high, he says, because it gives another option to buyers who want an executive home but want a bit more property than is available at some of the other exclusive subdivisions.

A major executive subdivision just now showing up on the map is Hamilton Proper, developed near Fishers by the Mansur Development Corp. of Indianapolis. It will grow around a new golf and country club, and feature homes worth up to several million dollars. Five separate villages within Hamilton Proper will accommodate varying architectural tastes.

A subdivision full of prestigious homes probably is as good a place as any to have a medical emergency, because according to builders, many of the neighbors are likely to be doctors. "Our highest percentage of buyers comes from the medical industry, either physicians or people who sell into that area."

"I deal with a lot of doctors," agrees Sullivan. Even more specifically, Brown has had noteworthy success building homes for anesthesiologists.

Wagner says some trends in buyers are due in part to the nature of word-of-mouth advertising, which is very important to upscale builders. He's building a lot of homes for doctors these days, "but earlier we did about three in a row from the Board of Trade in Chicago. I did a lot for people in the legal profession before that."

Successful entrepreneurs are good customers as well, the builders say. Also, company presidents and other corporate executives are easy to find in the subdivisions where prestigious homes are built. McNutt says he's seeing a bit less activity involving corporate execs these days, not necessarily because there are fewer living in big homes but because companies are moving fewer of them around.

Those buying these homes are relatively young, mostly in their 40s, the builders say. There are even some buyers in their 30s. They often have children, and in contrast with recent national statistics, in many cases they are one-income families.

It is, perhaps, a little less likely to find homebuilders amid the neighbors in an exclusive community of executive homes. Though some, like Sullivan, subscribe to the theory that one should live in an executive home to truly understand what customers are expecting and experiencing, others admit that some of their creations are beyond their means.

Concludes Wright: "I don't live in a Will Wright home."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Kaelble, Steve
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:Anacomp Inc.
Next Article:Residential real estate around the state.

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