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Designing a Sustainable Vacation-Style Home

sustainable vacation-style home during construction

Cristian wanted a summer house on a lake in Northern Michigan. His wife, Pilar, didn’t like the idea, because they would have two houses to maintain and that didn’t sound like a fun way to spend her vacations. She said, “Why don’t we build our summer house and live in it year-round?” 

That was the beginning of their journey to designing and building the home they had always dreamed of living in.

Pilar has always wanted to live on the outskirts of town, on a well-wooded property with space for gardening and plenty of bird-watching opportunities. Eventually, some friends offered to sell them an ideal piece of property. After a couple more years of dreaming and planning, they had developed a clear picture of the house they wanted.

Cristian and Pilar interviewed several architects. They chose Giraffe Design Build, because they appreciated Giraffe’s ethic of creating inspired designs, employing the highest craftsmanship, and taking care of our clients and the planet.

“They seemed to have the same values that we had,” Pilar said. “We wanted an eco-friendly house, and that was important to Giraffe, too.” They also wanted to work with a design-build company, because of the inherent advantages when the designer and the builder collaborate as partners throughout a project. 

Handpicked related reading: What to Expect During the Design of Your Home

A Year-round Vacation Home

Crisitan and Pilar came to Giraffe with three goals for their future “year-round vacation home.” They set out from the beginning to design a home where they could age gracefully in place — the entire home must be friendly for older people with disabilities. This would be their “forever home,” and they want to be able to fully enjoy it for the rest of their lives. 

They also want a house that would bring nature indoors. The two-acre property offers picturesque views and green acreage. Their priorities include a lifestyle of gardening, outdoor time with pets, and plenty of space for out-of-town visitors to enjoy—a kind of destination spot for family.

Finally, Cristian and Pilar want to reduce their carbon footprint. Incorporating energy-saving designs is important to them, and the home’s design would need to allow them to live off the grid as much as possible.

Read more: This Sustainable Home Is a Sign of Things to Come

Designing a Dream Home

Pilar and Cristian wanted a house they can retire in — a single-story house that will accommodate them as they age. They began working with Giraffe to design a one-story sprawling house. The living space included wider hallways for wheelchairs and accessible traffic flows throughout the rooms — especially the kitchen and bathrooms. 

To invite the outdoors in, Giraffe designer Steven Varnum incorporated large windows that were placed to also provide privacy. “This is our vacation home, so we want to sit there and look at the birds,” Pilar said. “We have a lot of four-legged family members, so we need the house to be friendly for them, too. Our cats are indoor cats, so we included windows that would go from ceiling to floor in all four corners of the house. Now our pets will have a full 360-degree view of the entire property, without going outside.”

The couple also enjoys entertaining friends, and family often visit from abroad. The home design should have welcoming, comfortable guest bedrooms for extended stays, and common spaces to accommodate large gatherings. 

Cristian and Pilar worked very closely with Steven throughout the design phase of their new home. “I showed them lots of pictures of things that I liked, and there was a lot of conversation around that,” she said. “I came up with the first idea of the design, then Giraffe accommodated it to the property, to the surrounding environment, and to the budget. Steven did a great job creating something that I had in my mind. It was like he was reading my mind.”

Dream Meets Reality

Every design-build home construction project is iterative, and the final design rarely looks the same as the initial idea. At Giraffe, we collaborate closely with you to find inspired solutions at every turn. Our goal is to design and build a home that brings greater delight than the initial concept would have. 

Cristian and Pilar’s home went through several design changes, as well. For example, they discovered that a sprawling one-story house was outside of their budget. To honor their commitment to age in place, we moved the guest rooms from a wing of the house and put them on a second floor. 

Other design changes included right-sizing the living spaces so they were large enough for their needs, but still cozy. Certain code requirements affected the design. And there were a myriad of little solutions throughout the house. “I needed a pantry,” Pilar said. “It took some time to find where to put the pantry, because of the flow of traffic. You need to think about when you enter, and how people move around — all those things the designer decided.”

Although the original plan had to be altered in significant ways, they’re delighted with the results. “That’s what the design process is,” Pilar said. “You have this grandiose idea, then you need to face reality. That’s why you hire professionals.” 

“It came out really nice,” Cristian added. “The house has a nice shape.”

Because the process was so iterative, the couple was glad to have chosen a design-build company. “We had both the designer and the builder at every meeting,” Pilar said. “Every time the designer or I came up with an idea, the builder knew exactly how expensive it would be. If we needed to, we could cross it off and come up with something else. That was really nice.”

Bringing Design to Life

The house is now under construction, and Pilar and Cristian are excited to see it coming together. “I really want to see how the cats will like it! I think they’re going to love it,” Pilar said. “They’ll be so busy looking out the windows, they won’t think they’re indoor cats.”

Cristian looks forward to working in the garden. “It’s going to be exciting to work on the outside in the next few years,” he said. 

“For the rest of our lives, probably,” Pilar teased. “We enjoy gardening. We’re going to be busy!”

Working with Giraffe has been a major part of their delight. When asked what they appreciate most about collaborating with their designer, their first comment was the way Giraffe treated them. “They drove all the way out to our current house in Northville,” Pilar said. “We both work, so they had to come out on weekends. That was really something.”

Giraffe Design-Build creates inspired designs and environments, built with excellent craftsmanship, delivered with integrity and empathy, to delight people and planet. We create a partnership with homeowners through the design phase, prioritizing our clients’ experience and concerns above our own.

If this sounds like the type of home-build company you’re looking for, let’s talk. We’d love to work with you to design your dream home.

Start a conversation with us today!

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