How The New American Home Went from Dream to Dream Home

New American Home 2013 Wine Room

Inspired by a California wine shop, the 2013 New American Home wine room, and all it’s originality, is the result of a sound partnership between Blue Heron and Timberlake Cabinetry.

The goal of The New American Home is simple: amaze people. The process? Not so simple. To transform an idea—scores of them—into impressive reality is a year-long journey. And by the way, it’s made on a superaccelerated schedule, with no chance of moving the finish date, and everything has to be absolutely perfect when the doors open to thousands of guests.

For Timberlake and Blue Heron, that meant planning, designing, manufacturing, delivering, and installing 16 rooms of custom-look cabinetry. What did it take to pull it all together? Ingenuity, planning, teamwork, focus, flexibility, organization, and hustle. For this job, the faint of heart need not apply. Let’s take a look back at the process and meet the people who made it happen.

The starting point is the Blue Heron vision. Architecture, building and interior design are all handled by the in-house team, working as one. With a reputation for extraordinary homes, they set the bar high. Blue Heron principal, Tyler Jones, says “Working with Blue Heron can be hard. We have a precise vision we’re trying to achieve.” Fortunately, he already had a high level of confidence in Timberlake from the 2009 New American Home. “Timberlake is one of our star partners.”

The Power of Collaboration

As the design process began, Blue Heron’s architect Michael Gardner took the lead and reiterates the demanding standards they’re working to attain. “We think about what would be better every single time. It’s not about being different for the sake of being different, but for extending the industry.”

Blue Heron relied on the design and collaborative skills of Tracey Burrell-Combs to achieve their goals. Burrell-Combs, certified as an Associate Kitchen and Bath Designer, brings an extra level of expertise to the show home from her year-round experience as the lead on projects with homebuilders and homebuyers. “Typically, we get blueprints and I do preliminary drawings before meeting with builder, designer, or architect,” she says. “I want to bring something to the process.”

She also shares the Blue Heron philosophy of creating a totally unified theme in a home by taking a comprehensive view of all the elements. “I study the architecture of the home. I like to include the exterior architecture with the interior design in the way I use our cabinets… I like there to be a connection.”

The ultimate design objective for The New American Home is always breakthrough ideas. The expectations are high to create fresh custom looks with standard cabinetry that any builder could adapt and use. “It’s almost product development,” recalls Michael Gardner, Blue Heron architect. “We took the traditional kit of parts and used them in innovative and unique ways to showcase the possibilities.”

A Meeting of Minds

That kind of creativity can start with a spark, but takes time and drive to bring to life. “We must have had 20 meetings to achieve the end result we were looking for,” Gardner admits. Burrell-Combs concurs. “We probably had four or five face-to-face meetings and 15 conference calls.” Blue Heron’s interior designer, Lyndsay Janssen, appreciates the commitment Timberlake brings to the process. “They get more involved than other New American Home vendors. They go above and beyond.”

Gardner points to the wine room as an example of the kind of exceptional thinking the Timberlake-Blue Heron partnership unleashes. “When we sat down to look at that room, we looked at traditional wine rooms. They’re just racks of cabinetry. How do we change it? Make it more unique?”

Burrell-Combs picks up the story. “I got the inspiration when I was on a trip to California. I was in a wine store where they had used wine cases to create a dimensional effect.” “We had our vision for redefining a wine room,” declares Gardner. “These cubular elements, made with cabinetry, are a whole different approach.”

Dream to Dream Home

With concepts in place, transforming them into reality began. Running the show for Blue Heron was Kris Oesterling. The Project Manager is a construction veteran who joined the company for the 2009 New American Home build. With that background, he knew exactly what to expect. “The challenge is to build a two-and-a-half-year build in two months,” he says. “It’s a one-of-a-kind home with things we’ve never done before—that no builder has ever done before.”

Ron Jolly, a Timberlake Lead Field Supervisor, is Oesterling’s counterpart in every way. He’s spent a lifetime in construction, ten years with Timberlake and has two New American Homes to his credit. His biggest concern? Scheduling. “There were a hundred guys in that house on any given day. You just have to be flexible, adjust.”

Oesterling counted on that Timberlake attitude. “They’re absolutely excellent. I didn’t have to hold their hands. We had 15 or 20 trades at one time that might normally be months apart. Plus there were the logistics of 110 guys working. Timberlake was professional and understanding of that dynamic.”

“Communication is important,” adds Jolly, and Oesterling concurs. “We had to keep the information highway moving, so we could keep going fast, doing things correctly.”

Instant access to information made all the difference, according to Jolly. “Our service is very detailed and in depth. I’ve got a notebook computer with a pen. That’s all I need to measure a house, pull up the layout, look up orders. I can see what we ordered, what day. You may find a half-dozen notes from discussions with the builder in the file.”

Thanks to a year of work, late nights, long weekends, big ideas, enduring vision and untold hours of commitment, the dream has become a dream home. As The New American Home opens to glowing reviews, it’s good to know the Timberlake team gets raves, too. “It was just an A+ experience,” says Tyler Jones. “A pleasure.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 13, Issue 1 (January 2013) of Portfolio Magazine.
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