Joel Beals is our newest designer at Giraffe, and he’s also a customer. He and his wife Patricia are building a home in Ann Arbor’s Water Hill neighborhood. They wanted to hire Giraffe for the project, but we were so impressed with Joel’s design sensibilities that we brought him onboard our team.

As a result, the Bealses have a unique insight into Giraffe Design-Build. They’ve experienced home renovation projects from a customer’s point-of-view before, and now Joel knows what goes on behind the scenes on a daily basis. 

Because of their unique perspective on homebuilding, we asked the Bealses to share their experiences with us, and to pass along words of wisdom to other homeowners who are getting ready to start their own home build or renovation project.

external view of the Beals house from the back yard

Creative Downsizing

For this project, the Bealses razed their one-story home to its foundations and redesigned it from the ground up. They were downsizing from a 2,750 square-foot house on two-thirds of an acre to a small lot with a 760 square-foot foundation. 

The new home will be a three-story house with a modern sensibility. The foundation is the same as before, but a cantilevered second floor above the three-season porch allows an additional 40 square feet on the 2nd and 3rd floors.

The Bealses took a European approach to their new space. Patricia’s parents are from Spain, where everything is built a bit smaller—especially the bedrooms. “We’re trying to have a smaller footprint, but still be very functional,” Patricia said. “Everyone has their own bedroom, but we have good spaces where we can gather as a family.” 

“We were very limited by the size of the lot,” Joel added. “So we were forced to make every square foot work—and I think we did.” 

Inspired Design

It was Joel’s design sensibilities that impressed us as we began talking with them about the project. Their choices were driven by the lifestyle and rhythms of the family, yet there was a commitment to inspired design, which is one of Giraffe’s core values. 

“We loved the idea of having an open space, where we can all gather,” Patricia said. “So the kitchen and living space will be pretty open, because it’s where we’re going to spend most of our time. The deck is kind of an extension of the space for us, so we can be outdoors more.”

That shared commitment to inspired design is what attracted Joel to Giraffe. “Most design-build firms just want to get a project done,” he said. “But the owner of Giraffe, Martin, really takes design seriously. It’s what attracted me to the company and I think that’s unique in Ann Arbor.” Patricia added, “They had really good suggestions, even though Joel did most of the design work. That back-and-forth dialogue was really good.”

Related reading: Designing Your Home Build Journey: Take Time to Dream

Concern for the Environment

Another ethic that Giraffe and Joel share is a concern to delight people and planet. At Giraffe, we have a responsibility to our clients who hire us, but we’re aware that our projects will become part of the context beyond the homeowners. That includes extended family members, neighbors and the broader community. Buildings have a tremendous influence on our psyche and sense of satisfaction. We strive to deliver structures that honor that fact.

When designing the Beals’ house, great thought was given to the impact it would have on the neighborhood. “We didn’t want to create a house that felt so different from everything else around it, but was still a modern twist on what some of these houses could potentially be,” Patricia said. “So that was something that we were thinking about—not to create some huge monstrosity. It needed to fit the footprint and be practical. We’re hoping other people will notice. We’re kind of curious to know what the neighborhood thinks of our house!”

Then there was the impact on the planet. High ceilings and large windows throughout the home will not only open up the space, but provide an eco-friendly way to cool the house in the summer. By using ceiling fans, the Bealses will be able to control the climate of the home without relying on an air conditioner. They are also wiring the roof for solar panels.

For Giraffe, delighting the planet means recognizing that we are stewards of our planet. We take seriously the task of making the best use of our materials, and which materials to use—lumber that is sustainably harvested and green materials. And we build structures that reduce a home’s carbon footprint, whenever possible.

Lessons Learned

As both a Giraffe customer and a designer on the team, Joel has a unique perspective on the design-build process. He has experienced both sides of a project, which gives him an insight most people don’t have. So we asked him and Patricia to share their lessons learned.

Track your costs

Their biggest tip is to watch your budget. “The budget got away from us on our first project with Giraffe,” Joel said. The project was a kitchen remodel, and the custom cabinetry added to the cost of the project. “We’re doing an IKEA kitchen this time, and adding custom touches to it,” Patricia said. “Joel likes to build things, he has the ability to build things out. We’ll add door fronts to make it look custom.”

Some home-builders, like Giraffe, will help you reduce expenses by doing some of the work yourself. If the budget is a concern for you, be sure to ask firms about this option before you hire a builder.

It also helps to be thrifty. “Joel scours Craigslist consistently for stuff,” Patricia said. “I don’t know how many light fixtures he’s gathered over the last few months. He found some really cool used designer light fixtures. Even the chairs for our dining table—Knoll chairs that we got for $100 apiece.” Joel estimates that they have saved thousands of dollars this way.

Be patient

It can take a while to get a project going. Refining the design and getting permits from the city took longer than the Bealses expected it would. 

Also make sure your design-build team will be good project managers who can keep subcontractors accountable and engaged when needed. As part of his arrangement with Giraffe, Joel is managing the project himself, and has seen the importance of engaged project management. Subcontractors are busy right now, and they can’t always be onsite when you want them to be. Make sure your design-build team can keep subcontractors on schedule.

Be flexible

“Be willing to bend. There’s always something that comes up,” Joel said. “You can’t be too rigid. The process isn’t always straightforward.”

For example, the Bealses had dreamt of a true cantilevered deck, without supports, but it was cost-prohibitive and would have extended the project. So they adjusted their expectations and added supports. The decision wasn’t easy, but it saved money, saved time, and enabled them to get the most enjoyment out of their home. 

Know your priorities

Though the cantilever decision was a hard one to make, it enabled Joel and Patricia to stick to their first priority for the house: plenty of windows. “Windows were the number one priority for us—getting the light in,” Joel said. “We’re the window house.” 

Large windows feature prominently on every floor of the house. Because the footprint of the house is small, windows were important for opening up the space. That, and the nine-foot ceilings, will help make a small home feel more spacious. “That’s an instance of finding the one thing that’s most important to you. Other things can be tweaked,” Patricia said.

Together with designers like Joel, Giraffe Design-Build creates inspired designs and environments, built with excellent craftsmanship, delivered with integrity and empathy, to delight people and planet. If this sounds like the kind of home-build company that fits your builder profile, let’s talk. We’d love to be your partner to bring your dreams to life. 

Call us today to start a conversation about your dream renovations.