The Feminine Mystique of Building:

In all my years of custom building, one observation has held true, in almost every case; women know what they want in their homes and oftentimes even know how to achieve it. Some have logged hours of DIY programs, pored over design mags, have tried their own hand at remodeling or refinishing. But all have spent time simply LOOKING at their own home, imagining the best space to set their soul free. The right home needn’t be ostentatious or large in order to work, but it needs to be designed to fit your lifestyle and sense of values. Innately, women are attuned to those factors.

When I started my business in 1994, it mostly catered to sprawling, vacation “2nd homes” in the mountains. Couples nearing retirement came to western North Carolina from the flatlands of Florida and Atlanta, escaping the heat, wanting to sit on the veranda and feel the mountain breeze. They chose “top-of-the-mountain” lots (to get the views) and wanted nothing less than 4000 square feet. They envisioned grandchildren in their future, hiking through trails of rhododendron and stoking wood fires on twinkling winter nights.

Husbands generally deferred to their wives for design decisions, but it was also the women who were intrigued by the process and followed it closely, from bulldozers to framers to tile-setters. Many times I heard the phrase, “I’d love to do what you do.”

Nuts and bolts aside, women are “naturals” when it comes to the building trade, so it stands to reason that a woman-builder can understand what an owner is trying to convey—sometimes when they don’t even know themselves, because it’s just a feeling. There’s a certain “X-Factor”—an intangible element—to interpreting an owner’s wants and needs and turning them into a living space, and it starts from the very first meeting.
All this is to say that when choosing a builder, trust your instinct beyond all else. Do your homework, of course. Speak to their clients, go see some of their work. If you can visit a work-in-progress, even better: observe the neatness of the job, the attitude of the trade contractors and the sense you get of their relationship with the builder. Don’t just rely on the old “3 bids” rule. It’s not uncommon for a contractor to simply throw out a price they think will win them the job, then fill in the blanks later. Estimating is a lengthy and complicated process. Cutting it short will most likely result in lots of unexpected costs during the building process.

The trend now seems to be toward less square footage—”quality vs. quantity” and creating beautiful, often multi-functional uses within smaller spaces. Owners want to spend less time maintaining their homes and more time just enjoying them. An outdoor area—screened porch, fireplace, hot tub, some meandering rockwork—have replaced game rooms and bonus rooms. Ways to bring the outdoors inside are at the top of everyone’s list, and rightly so. What better way to decompress than on your chaise, looking up at the trees or the stars…..

Even the current use of colors—soft grays, sage-greens—are meant to soothe and de-clutter the mind. Whatever your style, home should provide solace from a noisy world. Even if you are entertaining, offering your guests a clean palette makes them feel welcome and at ease.

The best projects are partnerships—between the owner, the architect or draftsperson and the contractor. Bringing the team together from the beginning establishes the lines of communication and encourages openness to new ideas. It’s a creative process and when people are expressing their creativity, in any endeavor, they are happiest and most productive. And we do want this to be fun, as much as possible, right?

Ladies, let’s put on our virtual hard hats and get this job done, as we do so well!


Written by Mary Stewart