Little did I know that an exciting, unique project was about to get under way. Longtime clients Joel and Shannon Cantor gave me a call in 2008. They wanted to build a new home on Davis Islands for their family of six. They were offering me the rare opportunity to be the project manager for the entire design and construction, not my typical role.
As a licensed interior designer, I am traditionally called on to select the interior finishes, including flooring, cabinetry and plumbing fixtures. Then I assist my clients with the furniture, window treatments, light fixtures and all of the other items that make up an interior.
I had never been asked to be in charge of the entire job by managing the team, which included the architect, builder and landscape architect.
A whirlwind time was ahead as I agreed to this challenging task.
A savvy real estate developer, Joel Cantor knew how exciting and overwhelming building a home could be. He also understood the process: To receive the most accurate bids (and ultimately build with the best craftsmanship at the best price), he would need to complete the entire design first.
As for choosing architects to interview, we decided that the Cantors should first identify homes that they really liked in the area. From this list, several top architects were found, based on design of a particular home or the architect's reputation for our desired style.
The winning architectural contract was awarded to BDG Architects, which had designed several homes in the coastal genre we were seeking.
Over five months, we worked with BDG to develop a site plan that would take advantage of sweeping waterfront views of the Hillsborough Bay, the floor plan and the exterior elevations. At the same time, I selected all the interior construction finishes, such as flooring, cabinetry, plumbing fixtures, moldings, built-ins, custom ceiling designs.
Then both BDG and my firm, Studio M, created drawings and schedules that specified every square inch of the home, both inside and out, so the builders could easily make their bids.
During this design phase, the Cantors and I decided on four builders who would be invited to bid. Now with the drawings complete, each builder received a full set of architectural drawings and interior design drawings.
Because the Cantors were leaving for summer travels, I was tasked with making sure the builders understood the scope and information they were given, which happened at separate meetings with each builder. I had never bid out new construction projects for my clients, so this was fun and educational.
All bids were received by email within the month. The Cantors were still gone for the summer, but by email and phone, we selected Monogram Builders.
Groundbreaking began shortly thereafter. Because all of the construction finishes were already chosen and documented, I focused on the "decoration" phase, which meant selecting all furnishings, light fixtures, paint colors, area rugs, wallpapers, window treatments and other items for a comprehensive design scheme.
The construction framing stage was taking off as well, and I was visiting the site to answer questions from subcontractors and to make sure my design intent was being carried through. I typically spend some time on job sites during this phase, what in our field is called "construction administration." But for this job, I was on the site almost daily, being the eyes and ears for my clients and making important decisions.
Now it was time to hire a landscape architect. We chose Dix Lathrop and Associates and began designing the landscaping, pool and pool deck.
This was one area that was given an allowance in the bidding process, meaning we established a budget but had not chosen selections as we had with the rest of the home. We now spent time to finalize and implement these details.
Again, I am usually not involved with the landscaping and pools, so this was an area that gave me a new way to use my design sensibilities and learn more about landscape architecture.
My overall assignment was to make sure every aspect of the home flowed together with the consistent theme. Ultimately, all nonstructural decisions needed my approval, which I actually thrived on. I was in constant communication with the builder and its subcontractors.
After about 14 months of construction, it was now time to move in the furniture and the rest of the pieces to make this house a home. A lot of details go into making this phase a success, with choices in bedding, accessories, artwork and other special finishing touches that are unique for each set of clients. Their lifestyle, hobbies, and color and style preferences play a role in choosing items just for them.
The Cantors moved in in April 2010 and have enjoyed their home tremendously. They have hosted fundraisers for first lady Michelle Obama and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson there.
The house has been rented during the week of the Republican National Convention. In addition, they have opened their doors to many charity events, and even allowed my firm, Studio M, to have our 20th anniversary celebration there last fall.
Michelle Jennings Wiebe, ASID, is president and principal designer of Studio M in Tampa. You can reach her at (813) 221-5260 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Studio M, go to interiorsbystudiom.com.