One of a Kind Design: Material Possessions

Stages Magazine
March/April 2011

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Paint colors, sumptuous fabrics, unique furniture – these are literally the “materials” that make up interior designer Angela Doolittle’s day-to-day life. The minute she meets with a new client, she’s working to get a feel for the unique set of personality characteristics that make that person individual. She then takes that kernel of knowledge and expands on it to create a beautiful room that reflects their identity.

“My approach is to always keep my client’s wishes to the forefront,” says Doolittle. “I inquire about my customers and clients likes and dislikes and I always try to please them. I like to connect with each one so I can ensure their home reflects their life and style, not mine.”

A twelve-year veteran of the business, Doolittle worked as a freelance designer for several years before testing her entrepreneurial skills. In 2005, she opened Material Possessions, a full service interior design showroom. Clients range from residential to commercial and also include new construction and remodels. The organization’s staff includes experienced interior and floral designers.

“Our clients and customers often tell us we offer one-stop shopping,” Doolittle adds. “They love to come into the store because we always have new and unusual things. We offer anything you need for a home or commercial design including custom window treatments, bedding, and furniture. We also have numerous upholstery options, case good lines, art, mirrors, lighting, rugs, accessories, candles and gift items.”

Part of Doolittle’s success is her knack for seeking out new and unusual pieces that you won’t find anywhere else. She also enjoys designing her own pieces, including custom made tables, beds, ottomans, window treatments, and bedding. Through her experience, she has noticed that current fashion trends eventually translate into home furnishings. Just as fashion trends change with the seasons, Doolittle shares a few of the trends she predicts will be popular for spring:

  • Color – Currently retro looks are very hot in fashion and are providing inspiration for home trends, particularly items from the 1970’s era. Blue continues to be popular in addition to turquoise, melon, olive green, and bright colors paired with greys and neutrals like purple or mustard with grey.
  • Pattern – Pattern can be found in everything from fabrics, accessories, case goods, and rugs.
  • Blown Glass – Vases, lamps, and wall art, including glass balls to be hung on the wall.
  • Butterflies – Butterflies can be found in everything from fabrics, rugs, and art.
  • Elegant snake motif’s – Having long been popular in fashion, this print is now being incorporated on lamps, mirrors, and fabrics.
  • French inspired – Fleur de lis, Eiffel tower accessories, decorative hardware, and French antiques of the 30’s & 40’s.
  • Ethnic pieces – things with a Moorish influence are particularly popular, which is a favorite of Doolittle’s.
  • Animal prints – Peacock feathers and safari patterns.
  • Natural fabrics – Linens, burlap, and natural leathers.

When guiding a client through the process of decorating their home, Doolittle ensures that choices they make will endure the test of time. “A house has to flow together and be cohesive,” she says. “It’s all about comfort! Your home can be comfortable and elegant, but it also has to be livable and use what you love to achieve this. I love my job. I love being creative and really enjoy the relationship I have with my clients. That makes my job all very rewarding for me.”

Material Possessions
733 Lake Harbour Dr Suite J
Ridgeland, MS, 39157
(601) 919-2828


Building Outside the Box: Brian Burkley

Stages Magazine
March / April 2011

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You could say building houses is in Brian Burkley’s blood. After all, he was inspired by his grandfather who was also a builder. Six years ago, as Burkley began drawing up plans for the new house that he and his wife Natalie planned to build, he had no idea his endeavor would wind up leading him right in his grandfather’s footsteps. At the time, Burkley had an eight-to-five job in the banking industry, but had been building houses on the side for almost two years. As construction began on the Burkley’s new home, the couple was surprised when people began approaching them with offers to buy the house before it was even complete.

“I have always wanted my homes to be different architecturally,” says the thirty-two year old Natchez native and father of two. “At the time I noticed a lot of new homes were looking a little ‘cookie-cutter.’ They were all starting to look the same. I wanted to build a house that would stand out.”

It was Burkley’s attention to detail that got him noticed by other prospective clients. He continued to build houses on the side, but as business picked up he realized he wasn’t giving his day job the commitment it deserved. With his wife’s support, Burkley made the decision to pursue home building full-time. He quickly learned the ropes of the home building business with the help of both a mentor and a business partner. Burkley and his former partner built eight houses together before he decided to strike out on his own. Today Deep South Custom Homes builds around 25 houses per year in the Jackson metro area.

“My previous job in banking gave me the finance background and customer service skills I needed to form relationships with my clients,” Burkley adds. “I enjoy meeting with clients and drawing up the plans. I am a very hands-on builder. I like to be creative and this means going beyond my customers expectations to build a one-of-a-kind product they can call their dream home.”

Because of the success his business has seen over the last five years, Burkley felt the need to give back to the community that has given him so much. Three years ago, Deep South Custom Homes was selected to participate in the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway. Local builders across the country are chosen to build a home valued between $300,000 – $600,000, which is raffled off to one lucky winner.

“Building the house for St. Jude was something I always wanted to do,” reveals Burkley. “As a relatively new builder, I felt honored to be chosen.”

The dream home giveaway, which is currently held in over thirty cities across the United States, serves as the largest single-event fundraiser for the Memphis-based children’s research hospital. Since the program began in 1991, it has raised more than $155 million dollars to fund research and find cures to save children around the world. This year marks the third year Deep South Custom Homes has built the dream home in the Jackson market. They have committed to continue participating in the giveaway for the next five years.

“Designing the house poses somewhat of a challenge in that I have to be creative architecturally and make the house aesthetically pleasing while sticking to a tight budget,” Burkley says. “Deep South doesn’t profit from the home; it’s all donated and I have been fortunate to work with vendors and sub-contractors that support my efforts. Building the St. Jude house has become a huge part of Deep South Custom Homes and we are passionate about this organization and what it stands for. It helps raise money for a wonderful cause and allows me to give back to the community for all the many blessings I have received. It has been such a positive and rewarding experience and it gets better every year.”

Groundbreaking for the house took place last November. The 3200-square-foot home will be located on a corner lot in The Townsip at Colony Crossing off Highland Colony Parkway in Ridgeland. A two-story French Acadian style home, the house boasts an open great room and keeping room with 22-foot ceilings and balconies overlooking the front and the sides of the house. The interior will feature top of the line amenities including granite countertops, wood flooring, stainless commercial-style appliances, custom-crafted wood beams and cabinetry, old brick, exquisite lighting fixtures and much more. National dream home sponsor, Brizo, will supply plumbing fixtures that incorporate state-of-the-art technology. Tickets for this year’s dream home will be available to purchase at various locations throughout the Jackson Metro area. Upon completion of construction, tickets will also go on sale at the home’s site during the open house tours. Giveaway for the 2011 dream home is scheduled for this June.

Just as no two people are alike, Burkley believes each house he builds should be as unique as the family that will call it their home. “Not every house I build will fit the needs of every family,” he says. “I go into each project with the belief that there is a family for each house. It’s my job to meet their goals and give them timeless details for the times of their lives. Most importantly, I hope that joy, happiness, and lasting memories will resonate the walls of every home built.” It is this unique approach and meticulous desire to exceed his customer’s expectations that Burkley hopes will lead to his continued success.

Deep South Custom Homes
Brian Burkley
P.O. Box 5825
Brandon, MS 39047
(601) 720-1978

Working Girl: Upton-Neal Interiors

Stages Magazine
January/February 2011

Over the last twenty years, America has seen an increase in the number of eager women becoming business owners.  Susan Upton has been a familiar face in interior design for nearly two decades.  As co-owner of Upton-Neal Carpet One Floor & Home in Pearl, Susan has a knack for transforming homes while still finding time to play the ever important role of wife and mother.  Stages Magazine sat down with Susan to discuss the experiences she faces as a successful female business owner.

 LB:  Tell me about your business.

SU:  We are Upton-Neal Carpet One Floor & Home.  We are locally owned and operated so that means our customers are “buying local”.  This year we became a member of the world’s largest floor covering buying group – Carpet One.  This enables us to buy the best brands for less to sell for less.  It also allows us to offer the “Beautiful Guarantee” which means if you don’t love the floor you choose, we’ll replace it for free. We also offer “Healthier Living Installation” which is exclusive to Carpet One stores.  We are a full service floor covering and interior design store. We sell and install all types of floor covering, wall covering, countertops, blinds, and draperies.  We handle residential, commercial, builder, and property management. This year we became a premier service provider for several insurance companies. It is a great honor to be qualified to provide this service.      

LB:  What was your background prior to joining Upton-Neal?

SU:  I graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in interior design and worked as an interior designer for two other companies prior to joining Upton-Neal.

LB:  What events led to you becoming co-owner of the business?

SU:  I had worked at Upton-Neal for 17 years. I was to the point that I needed to either become a partner at Upton’s or go out on my own. One of the owners at the time decided to move out of the state. God just answered a prayer and opened that door for me. 

LB:  How involved are you in the day-to-day operations of Upton-Neal?

SU:  VERY. Harold Neal -my partner- and I still sell and maintain our client’s accounts that we have built up over the years. We are very hands-on in every part of the daily operation of the business. I have actually been told that I have a little bit of a control problem.

LB:  How do you balance work and family?

SU:  I pray a lot. It’s a daily struggle to achieve that balance. If I am not careful, the store will consume your every thought before and after hours.  My husband and sons have always been so very supportive.   It would have been impossible without their support.

LB:  How do you fight the stereotypes some people may have of female business owners?

SU:  I co-own a business typically owned by men. So I do get the usual “So you and your husband own this together?”  Or “So Harold is your dad?” because there is 19 yrs difference in our age.  I am usually assumed to be the sister, wife, or daughter-in-law or something!   It does frustrate me to hear these comments because I have worked very hard all my life to achieve where I am in this business and I find it very demeaning when people “assume” a woman couldn’t co-own a multi-million dollar business without being related or married to a man in the business.  But I usually just laugh it off and just go on.         

LB:  What is your motivation?

SU:  I absolutely love what I do.  When a customer says “Susan, I absolutely LOVE my new house” or “Thank you for transforming my existing space into something beautiful and functional – and within budget” it makes the long hours worth it.

LB:  What tips do you have for other women who are business owners or are looking to launch their own business?

SU:  Most women are more detail-oriented and make great business owners and managers.  The hardest job in the world is to raise small children and manage a household.  If you have done that well, owning your own business will be easy!  You may want to start small and when you are ready, then expand.   Do not second guess yourself.  If you think you are ready to own a business then you probably are! 

Upton-Neal Carpet One Floor & Home
322 Airport Road South
Pearl, MS

Like a Rock: Granite Transformations

Stages Magazine
November/December 2010

It has been said that the kitchen is the heart of the home. In most families, the kitchen is used more than any other space– whether for cooking, family meals, homework, art projects, gathering around the kitchen table for some good conversation or an old fashioned game of Monopoly. As the holiday season approaches, you may be giving your kitchen a critical eye in anticipation of the influx of family and friends that will be passing through your doors. Perhaps the kitchen in your home looks dated and you find yourself wishing for a fresh new look but don’t want to put yourself through the stress, mess, and cost of a complete remodel.

Granite Transformations in Madison has been offering homeowners several options for bringing a more contemporary look to kitchens and bathrooms since 2005. Granite countertops add not only a unique beauty to your home, but they are more durable and sanitary than conventional countertops. The company’s core product consists of Trend Stone, a product that mixes natural stone with a specially formulated polymer to provide greater strength and durability than traditional granite. “Trend Stone is natural granite that is engineered into a far superior surface for countertops than anything available,” says Brian Sartain, owner of Granite Transformations since 2007. “Our Trend Stone granite is non –porous, heat, scratch and stain resistant.”

The company offers unique, hassle-free installation that can usually be completed within a day or two. A certified installer carefully measures existing surfaces and builds a template to get every detail correct. The countertops are fabricated at their shop and then delivered to the job site. On installation day, the countertops are set in place and permanently bonded directly over the existing countertops. There is no demolition and no downtime.

In addition to TrendStone, Granite Transformations also offers Trend Glass and Trend Mosaics. Says Brian, “Trend Glass is manufactured with granite and recycled glass. These make astonishing, vibrant countertops that would totally change and enhance a kitchen. Trend Glass works better in bathroom applications. We have transformed many bathroom vanities and showers using Trend Glass.” Trend Glass is also extremely durable and low maintenance. It’s heat resistant, cold resistant, scratch resistant and stain resistant. The non-porous surface also does not stain and it very easy to clean.

Trend Mosaics are transparent 4’ x 10’ glass mosaic tile slabs that can be adhered directly over many surfaces. The slabs are pre-grouted with a latex grout that is stain resistant, does not crack, and does not require sealing. “Trend Mosaics used as backsplashes will compliment any countertop,” adds Brian. “There are many styles and colors that are available and better yet the customer can custom blend several different colors to produce a custom backsplash that all your friends and neighbors would envy.”

Obviously, cost is a determining factor when contemplating whether or not to update your kitchen or bathroom. “Many people call and ask ‘How much is your product?’ That is a great question but can not be answered with just a number,” explains Sartain. “We are a high end product. We have done over 1000 kitchens and baths since opening and there has never been any two kitchens or baths exactly the same. Every customer has different wants and needs such as a new sink or faucet, backsplashes, edge type, color, etc. And since no two kitchen

and bath designs are the same, giving an accurate price off-the-cuff is impossible.” Granite Transformations offer free home consultations to measure the customer’s space and determine their needs. A written quote is then presented to the customer.

Adds Sartain, “Cost is what you pay for that item over its useful life. There are different products available for the consumer that are priced less than ours, but none that cost less or are superior to our product. Think about it -who is going to pay to repair for damage to your house during demolition of your existing countertops? How long are you going to be out of your kitchen with that process and having many different contractors in your house for 2-3 weeks completing the job? How much is it going to cost to maintain those countertops with sealants over the life of the product? None of those costs are associated with our product.”

Customers are encouraged to visit the company’s Madison showroom to view kitchen, bathroom and shower displays and feel finished products. Samples are also available so customers can decide on color choices prior to having an in-home consultation.

“Our motto ‘Done in a day, beautiful for life’ pretty much sums up our philosophy. Granite Transformations takes great pride in providing our customers with a superior product and service,” says Sartain. “All of our products are backed by a lifetime warranty against material defects. The holidays are fast approaching, so if a customer is considering new countertops, now is the time to call us.”

A Twist of Fate: Kalalou

Stages Magazine
November/December 2010

It was a simple little basket, perched innocently among other colorful wares for sale at the market square in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.  The year was 1984, and Clinton natives Doug and Susan Williams were vacationing on the island with their best friends.  Susan’s eyes landed on the two-dollar basket and as she examined it closer, realized it was identical to a basket she paid $40 for back home.  “You could see dollar signs ringing up in Doug’s eyes,” said Susan.   At that moment, the wheels of fate began to turn.

As a young married couple trying to make ends meet, the Williamses made extra money selling artwork at local flea markets.  The couple decided the baskets would make a great addition to their booth and recruited their friends to help them carry as many baskets as their arms could hold on the plane home.   The baskets were a success – flying off the shelves of the Williamses’ weekend booth.   It was then that the Williamses dove head first into the import business.  “We didn’t have enough money for both of us to make a return trip to Jamaica,” said Doug.  “I convinced the Jamaican Trade Council to ship a container load of baskets to Jackson with no money down and thirty days to pay.  That was miracle number one of many miracles to follow.”

Less than three years after Susan stumbled across that unassuming basket in Jamaica, the couple’s small venture would grow to become one of the “500 Fastest Growing Privately Held Companies” two years in a row according to Inc. MagazineEntrepreneur Magazine named Country Originals one of the “51 American Success Stories” representing Mississippi.  The state of Mississippi also awarded them the coveted “Business and Industry Super Achievers.”

Over the years, Country Originals evolved into Kalalou – a cutting edge collection of unique products that span the globe and come in a variety of colors, textures, and styles.  The name is derived from a Creole word describing a soup made of a variety of ingredients that is never made the same way twice.  Kalalou now does business in nine countries and features over 1500 product lines.

As if their business didn’t keep them busy enough, Doug and Susan have also developed several charity projects such as Doug and Susan’s Kids Foundation – an organization that provides medical care, education, food, and shelter for kids in Haiti, Colombia, Honduras, and right here in Mississippi.  The charity’s projects are funded through both Kalalou sales and outside donations.  All administrative costs are covered by the Williamses, meaning 100% of the donated funds go directly to support the organization’s charitable efforts.

The devastating earthquake that struck Haiti earlier this year hit particularly close to home.  The pair fund a charitable project in Haiti known as Sister Clara’s Clinic as well as import goods.  Doug and Susan immediately sent money to several families in need and then set out to raise enough money to assemble a shipping container full of care packages, medical supplies, and household necessities.  The goods were then distributed to the employees of a factory that the Williamses have worked with for the last 20 years.  The Williamses’ good deeds have not gone unnoticed.  They have received recognition from Oprah Winfrey for funding and building one of her Angel Network Habitat for Humanity Houses, were honored with the Tozzoli Business Leadership Award from the Mississippi World Trade Center Association, and were recognized by the Jackson Chamber of Commerce as a Super Achiever.

Life doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon for the Williamses.  In 2009, Kalalou experienced record breaking sales.  The couple has traveled the world in search of new and unique items to bring to market and even found time to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.  The Williamses are still close with the couple that helped them bring armloads of baskets back to the U.S. twenty-six years ago.  Says Susan, “Often the conversation turns to the memories of that fateful vacation and that beautiful sun-drenched day in the colorful market square of Ocho Rios, Jamaica.”

Close to Home: When Disaster Strikes

Stages Magazine
September/October 2010

Shelter is one of our most basic needs. Your home not only provides protection from the elements, but serves as the hub of your entire life. When your home is destroyed –whether by fire, natural disaster, etc. – it can feel as if your whole life has been taken away. Feelings of depression, anxiety, and being overwhelmed are common as you try to pick up the pieces and rebuild your life. Where do you start?

If you are faced with losing your home, emergency services should first be notified. Then contact an organization such as the American Red Cross or Salvation Army to help with immediate needs like temporary housing, food, medications, clothing, and any other essential items. Next, contact your insurance agent.

In situations like this, having an insurance policy in place is a life saver. Even those who rent should have an insurance policy. While your landlord will most likely have insurance on the actual building, many renters mistakenly believe that policy also covers their belongings. “When shopping for an insurance provider, a customer needs to know something about the company they are going to do business with or obtaining quotes from,” says Greg Horne, a Hinds County agent with Mississippi Farm Bureau Insurance. “Take into consideration how long the agency has been writing insurance in your state, the reputation of their claims service, and the agent you are talking to.”

Renters insurance is available in three different types of policies – standard, broad and comprehensive. A standard policy is the most basic and provides coverage should your belonging be destroyed by fire, lightning, electrical damage, hail, ice, snow, etc. A broad form of renters insurance typically covers events included in a standard policy with some additional benefits that may include hurricane and flood damage. Finally, a comprehensive policy offers the most wide-range of coverage, includes the majority of natural disasters, and covers more expensive belongings. This is a general description and coverage may differ from carrier to carrier, so be sure to read over your policy carefully to get a clear idea of what is and is not covered.

If you own your home, most mortgage companies will require you to already have a homeowner’s insurance policy in place. If for some reason you do not have a homeowner’s policy, seriously consider

getting one immediately. Why risk losing one of the largest investments you will make in your lifetime? Homeowner’s insurance, also known as hazard insurance, takes into account numerous factors relating to losing a home such as the damage or loss to the dwelling, the contents, living expenses, and liability. There are several different types of homeowner’s insurance:

Most homeowner’s (HO) policies come in various forms and include:

  • HO-1, which is very basic coverage, and insures against fire or lightening damage.
  • HO-2, called “broad coverage,” and includes loss of or damage to property resulting from windstorm or hail, theft, explosion, smoke damage, removal of property, building collapse, falling objects, etc.
  • HO-3, also known as “special” form, is the most common form of homeowners insurance and covers your home and any detached structures against loss or damage from any peril except for those specifically excluded in the policy.
  • HO-8 may be issued for “older homes.” It is a modified replacement policy that will pay for standard building materials and processes in use now.

As with renter’s insurance, look over your policy carefully and discuss with your agent what is and is not covered under your agreement.

“Talk with your agent before filing a claim in order to get advice on the claims process and then report the claim promptly,” adds Horne. “Have a copy of your policy and know your deductible. Also, ask how long before you will get a call from an adjustor.” Once your insurance company has been notified of the loss, be sure to ask your agent about housing during rebuilding and what measures should be taken to prevent further damage such as covering open windows and doors.

Some policies may require you to make an inventory of damaged personal property that includes the quantity of each item, the description, and how much was paid for each item. This may seem like an easy task, but remember in the event of a disaster to your home you will be under a lot of pressure and may not be able to recall everything you own. Compiling an inventory will be easier if you take the time now to make a video or photo inventory of the contents of your house. Keep this along with your policy in safe place such as a safety deposit box. Once cleanup has begun on the property, do not throw away any damaged goods until after an inventory is made. All damage is taken into consideration in developing your insurance claim.

Now that a claim has been made and you and your insurance company have agreed on a settlement, it’s time to begin rebuilding and repairing. Suggests Horne, “Get all repair quotes made in writing. Ask for referrals if you don’t know the contractor.” As with building or remodeling a home, make sure to only use licensed contractors. A list of contractors can be found by contacting the Home Builders Association of Mississippi.

Many businesses are able to work directly with your insurance company and handle all billing, giving you one less thing to worry about. Upton-Neal Interiors, a 42-year veteran of flooring and interiors, recently joined forces with Carpet One to become Upton-Neal Interiors Carpet One Flooring and Home. Carpet

One, a national co-op of flooring and interior businesses, gives local businesses the luxury of more buying power among the major flooring brands, mills, and manufacturers. “We now have a direct pipeline open with several insurance companies,” says Susan Upton, co-owner of Upton-Neal. “Once your insurance company assigns a job to us, we are required contact the customer within 24 hours to set up an appointment. During that time we take pictures, get measurements and provide samples of flooring materials.”

Upton-Neal offers a wide variety of flooring options including laminate, hardwood, ceramic tile, and carpet. In addition, customers can also purchase rugs, blinds window treatments, and granite. Interior designers are also on staff to help clients choose the right look for their home. Adds Upton, “We understand that this is a very unexpected situation, so the faster we are able to get the area measured, installed and settled, the happier our customer will be.”

The majority of homeowners rarely experience a total loss. However, the longer you own a home, the more likely the occasion will arise that you will need to file a claim for interior or exterior damage. Even if you only file one claim over the life of your policy, having the right safeguards in place gives you peace of mind knowing that the roof over your head is protected.

Home Sweet Home

Stages Magazine
July/August 2010

It seems lately the simple act of watching the news is enough to make prospective or current homeowners long to crouch in the corner and hope the turmoil of today’s economy will blow over very soon. With all the talk of overspending and markets sinking, one would assume that building a new home or remodeling and existing home would be the last thing on a person’s mind. However, consider this: the price of real estate – including land – has never been more affordable and the cost of building supplies is the lowest it has been in years. If you have considered building or remodeling a new home, today may be the best time to take the plunge.

“Remodeling has been where most of the residential construction has occurred the past couple of years,” says Marty Milstead, Executive Vice President of the Home Builders Association of Mississippi (HBAM). “There is still a strong remodeling market, but builders are beginning to gradually put new inventory back into the market as financing comes available.”

Custom home builder Paul Graham, owner of Paul Graham Homes, LLC, has also noticed an upswing the in the demand for custom homes since the beginning of the year. “Within the past six months I have had several people inquire about building a custom home,” says Graham. “The interest has definitely increased.”

There are several advantages to building a new home. Since the home is brand new, you don’t have to worry about replacing an old roof, air conditioner, appliances, etc. Many builders offer a home warranty, so if something should go wrong the warranty may cover the cost of repairs. Also, you and your family will have the piece of mind knowing that you are the first people to live in the home. There will be no “surprises” left by previous owners. “The home owner has more control of building exactly what they want and need,” adds Graham. “Also you get a new product with a warranty and all the features are up-to-date. In an older home, you might have to do some updating. There is also the satisfaction that many people get from starting from scratch and seeing the finished product.”

When opting to build a house, one can choose to build either a semi or a fully custom home. When building a semi-custom home, the builder usually presents the client with several house styles and floor plans to choose from. Clients are given the option to select what type of flooring they want, in addition to cabinets, appliances, lighting fixtures and lighting locations. Often, builders will include a “budget allowance” that gives the owner the option to choose fixtures, appliances, etc. Anything in excess of the budget allowance must be purchased at the owner’s expense. A semi-custom home is a compromise between building a fully custom home and purchasing a pre-built spec home where the layout and design is already predetermined. Building a semi-custom home provides an owner with the ability customize some of your home’s features while keeping expenses at a reasonable level.

Building a fully custom home gives the owner the freedom to choose every single detail, from lot selection and the style of the home to the floor layout and room sizes. Owners also have the final decision on cabinet and flooring selections, windows, doors, siding material, paint colors, and lighting. Depending on the features of the house and how unique the client wants their new home to be, custom home builders can expect to spend 2 to 3 times more per square foot on construction costs.

If your current home doesn’t fit the needs of your family but building a new home is just out of the question, remodeling may be the solution. Remodeling will allow you to make custom additions that fit your needs without the expense of building a custom home or dealing with the stress and cost of moving. It is also a great way to add value to your house. According to an annual report conducted by Remodeling Magazine, updates to the kitchen and bathrooms provide the best return on investment. However, experts warn that a remodeling job should not raise the value of your house to more than 10-15% above the median sales price in your neighborhood.

Whether you choose to build or remodel, the hardest part may be finding the right builder. Says Graham, “First you need to look for a professional home builder whose main line of work is home building. Find out information about the builder and if he or she a member of your local home builders association. In Mississippi, there is a Certified Professional Builders Program that promotes professionalism in the building community.” Graham also encourages prospective clients to make sure their builder carries all the required forms of insurance such as general liability, workers compensation and builders risk. “Look for someone you feel comfortable with and want to go through the process of building with. From planning through building, there is much communication between home owner and builder. Find someone you enjoy doing business with. Don’t always go with the lowest bid. A bid is only as good as the amount of attention to detail that goes into it.”

Milstead encourages prospective home builders to utilize the resources his office has available. “A home is the largest investment most people make in their lifetime,” he says. “Why would you hire someone that is not insured and licensed to build it? Our office can help find builders that are licensed and insured.”

May want to include this as a sidebar

Helpful links:
• Certified Professional Builder
• Home Builders Association of Mississippi
• Mississippi State Board of Contractors

The Home Builders Association of Mississippi offers these helpful tips when choosing a homebuilder or remodeler:
• Is the Builder or Remodeler licensed by the State Board of contractors?
• Does the builder/remodeler have workers’ compensation and general liability insurance? If not, you may be liable for any construction-related accidents on your premises.
• Get it in writing. Will the builder/remodeler provide you with a complete and clearly written contract, a document signed by both parties? the contract will benefit bot of you. Review it carefully.
• How long have they been in the building business? It usually takes three to five years to establish a financially sound business. Will they be around after the construction is complete to service any warranties?
• Will the builder/remodeler provide you with names of previous customers? As them if they would hire the builder/remodeler again.
• Have you seen the builder/remodelers work, both completed and in progress? Check for quality of workmanship and materials.
• Are you able to communicate with the builder/remodeler? Remember you will be in close contact with them throughout the construction process and afterward as you live in your new home.
• Be cautious of usually low-priced bids. If the builder/remodeler is unable to pay for the materials and labor as the project proceeds, this may indicate a potential problem.

Brick by Brick: The Story of David Smith

Stages Magazine
July/August 2010

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  That’s exactly what home builder David Smith did in the early 90’s when he and 350 other IBM employees were faced with a massive statewide layoff.  Building on his knowledge as a construction project manager for IBM, David decided to take his expertise and launch his own business.  Eighteen years later, David Smith Builder, LLC, has become one of the top builders of custom homes in the Jackson-metro area.“I have always thought of myself as a high-quality builder,” relates David.  “I am a very trustworthy individual that can deliver on a project from start to finish.”

Smith’s favorite part of the job is the way it allows him to use his creativity.  “Each job is a challenge, but also very rewarding,” he says.  “I like meeting new people and everyone on my team works close together to makes our clients happy during and after the project.”  Recently, he has noticed clients leaning towards building a more family friendly layout with special details being paid to expanding the kitchen area, adding a keeping room, and including additional outdoor amenities.

Obviously, building homes has become a passion for Smith.  Since the market is constantly changing, he continues to stay abreast of current trends by staying active in the industry.  He has served as President of the Home Builders Association of Jackson, Region Vice President of the Home Builders Association of Mississippi, and Director of the National Association of Home Builders.  He also currently serves on the Mississippi Board of Contractors.

More recently, Smith became the first home builder in Mississippi to become a Certified Green Professional under the National Association of Homebuilders Green Building Program.  He was also appointed by Gov. Haley Barbour to serve as Chairman of the State Board of Contractors Building Green Works Program for the Home Builder Association.  Explains Smith, “I became interested in building ‘green’ because essentially you are building a better house.  It doesn’t take more effort, but it does require more attention to detail.”  Smith has noticed an interest in appliances that run more efficiently and help to save the client money in the long run, such as tankless water heaters, high efficiency HVAC units, and better lighting.    “People are becoming more attuned to building ‘green’ houses because information about the concept is everywhere – the president is talking about it, more and more companies are adopting green policies.  Building a ‘green’ house may cost more initially – it really depends on the size of the house.  However, the cost savings you see in the long run will pay for itself.”  If you decide to go green, Smith recommends using energy efficient appliances, insulation, windows and heating systems designed to work together to lower utility bills; installing measures that will help conserve water and improve indoor air quality; and using recycled materials and effective waste management during construction.  Smith is also trained in how to prepare and develop a lot to ensure it leaves a light footprint on the earth and educating his clients so that they know how to operate and maintain their new, more eco-friendly  home.

Smith’s work has not gone unnoticed.  Over the years, he has been the recipient of numerous accolades within the industry.  He was named the 2008 Spring Parade of Homes Winner and again in 2009 for his “Miracle Home” built for the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital.  He has also been named Builder Member of the Year by the Home Builders Association of Mississippi and Jackson.

Adds Smith, “I love making people’s dreams come true.  You start with nothing and end up with a jewel.  It’s a lot of fun.  If it’s not fun, it’s not worth pursuing.”

Merrily All the Way: Merriment

Stages Magazine
May/June 2010

Click here for PDF of original article.

When entrepreneurs Danna Kirk and Page Farris chose a name for their new, up-and-coming clothing and home accessories boutique, they had no idea the name “Merriment” would come to embody the entire philosophy of the store.  When customers enter through the front door of Merriment, they are not only greeted by an array of unique home furnishings and accessories that are sure to complement anyone’s decor, but the staff go out of their way to create a shopping environment that’s  fun, edgy, and comfortable.

“We recently had a customer tell us, ‘You have a great atmosphere here.  It just feels good,’” says Kirk. “Another group of girls told us, ‘We like to shop here because everyone is always happy!’  We like to have fun and our customers know it.  They can feel the excitement!”

Merriment sets itself apart by being a one-stop-shop where you can “dress your home and yourself.”  The pair work hard to find quality merchandise that represent vitality, energy, comfort, and modern style at reasonable prices.  Working with a variety of outside vendors, Merriment has numerous resources at their fingertips to help a customer find that perfect piece.

Merriment offers personalized interior design services for any budget.

“We love working with our customers to find that piece that fits in their space as if it was made for them,” adds Kirk.  “We have worked with several customers who dropped by the store to ‘look around’ and through a series of conversations, we found each of them several pieces for their home.  Just because you don’t see it in the store doesn’t mean we don’t have it or can’t get it.”

Merriment also offers a bridal registry and gift services.  The staff is on hand to help new brides-to-be pick out jewelry and gifts for everyone in the bridal party from bridesmaids, flower girls, and mothers.

Kirk and Page recently expanded their store to include a larger array of apparel – including Peace, Rock, and Glam, Big Buddha handbags, and soon the Life is Good clothing line.  “Why have a store if you can’t have cute clothes?” laughs Kirk.  “Both Page and myself and our daughters have really enjoyed the new additions to our clothing line.”  Customers get the added benefit of having the Merriment staff put together an ensemble that will meet any occasion.  “We had a customer going out of town with her daughter, so we put together some cute outfits for them to come try, including jewelry, handbags, and new luggage to put it in  Nothing like dashing out of town with tags on everything, including your luggage!”  Merriment also offers a complete line of baby gifts – including clothing, blankets, furnishings, and keepsake items.

Making a Splash

Stages Magazine
March/April 2010

Temperatures may still be on the cool side for now.  However, in the blink of an eye warmer weather will be bearing down on Mississippi, leaving you to weigh your options on how to beat the heat.  A swimming pool may offer the perfect solution.

America’s love affair with backyard swimming pools began shortly after World War II.  Today, there are an estimated nine million residential swimming pools in the United States, according to the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF).  Pools provide refreshing fun and an endless source of entertainment for family and friends during the summer months.  Pools can also promote a healthy lifestyle.  Swimming is a low impact exercise that burns up to 11 calories a minute while also toning the body and increasing cardiovascular fitness.  Finally, a swimming pool can increase the resale value of your home.  A study conducted by the National Association of Realtors found that in ground swimming pools increased a home’s market value by 5-10%.

There are several different styles of pools to choose from.  Concrete swimming pools are constructed from one of two materials: shotcrete or gunite. These terms refer to the type of materials used in construction.  Gunite is pumped to the pool’s structural frame while shotcrete is sprayed.  Since concrete pools are custom-built, they offer more flexibility when it comes to design.

Fiberglass pools are pre-fabricated fiberglass shells that are assembled at a factory and then installed in-ground with a crane.  Fiberglass pools can usually be installed within a matter of days.  However, because they are pre-fabricated, design choices are limited.  Fiberglass swimming pools tend to be very durable and low maintenance.

Vinyl liner pools are constructed out of pre-manufactured walls set to stand in the ground. After the area is excavated and the walls are installed, the vinyl liner goes in.  As with a concrete pool, owners have the ability to be creative with their pool designs.  However, care must be taken to prevent the liner from becoming punctured.

“Deciding on which style of pool to install really depends on the budget of the pool owner and how they expect to use the pool,” says Randy Cavanaugh of Blue Haven Pool and Spas.  “Fiberglass and vinyl liners are typically less costly.  However, if you are going to be in your home for a long time, concrete is the way to go because these pools last forever and will provide you the most value for your home.”

Swimming pools do require constant upkeep.  Today, new options exist to cut down on your maintenance costs.  For decades, chlorine has been the chemical of choice for keeping pool water clean and preventing the growth of bacteria.  However, within the last year Cavanaugh has seen a rise in the use of salt-water pools.

“Saltwater pools are friendlier for the environment,” he explains.  “You are using saltwater to generate chlorine and therefore not using as many chemicals.”  Saltwater pools use salt to produce chlorine through the use of a chlorine generator.  When the pool’s pump is activated, the salt water goes through the filter where it comes in contact with electrode plates. These plates split the salt molecules in two, creating sodium molecules and chlorine molecules. This process cleans the water.  While installing a saltwater pool can be expensive initially, over time pool owners will begin to realize a cost savings.  “By installing a two-speed saltwater pump, owners can save on energy costs,” adds Cavanaugh.  “Since the pump is producing chlorine for you, you no longer have to spend money on chlorine tablets.  Saltwater pools are also easier to maintain.”  Many swimmers also prefer the feeling of swimming in saltwater, as chlorine can often burn the eyes and nose and leave a swimmer’s skin feeling itchy and dry.

Cavanaugh also points out that when choosing a contractor to build your pool, always choose a company that provides service after the sale.  “A pool is not done once it’s built,” he says.  “Most pool owners are not that knowledgeable on how to maintain their pool.  Make sure you choose a company that is service oriented and there to answer any questions after construction is complete.”