Designer-Builder Synergy

Cost, quality, safety, schedule… Marshall Erb Design and a trio of top builders share what it takes to complete a luxury home project that checks all of the boxes.

By Elise Hofer Shaw

1 Smart
Smart Builders, a frequent Marshall Erb Design collaborator, specializes in delivering custom homes with quality and attention to detail. Case in point: This Park Ridge, Ill., home’s stunning staircase.

It’s a question that interior designers get asked a lot: When is the right time to bring a builder into the fold for my design-and-build project?

If your soon-to-be dream abode is a large, high-value home, and you want the most efficient project possible, the answer is ‘from the beginning’ — or, at the very latest, the moment you get a schematic design. “I cannot stress enough the importance of having a builder on board from the beginning,” says Marshall Erb, the owner and lead designer at Marshall Erb Design in Chicago. “The builder is the person who will value-engineer your project — the feasibility as it relates to the budget and timeframe.”

When you consider that your builder is also the person who can present options for methods and manufacturers that are budget-friendly, and who is tasked with bidding out the best tradespeople for the job, the intro timing makes sense. “For large, luxury home projects with first-class fixtures and finishes, it’s imperative that the architect, interior designer and builder are communicating, cataloging and collaborating at the highest level,” says Brandon Rogalski, the Luxury Residence Group director of Chicago-based Power Construction. “From the windows in, we collaborate with the interior designer to provide detailed cost data based on early material and fixture specifications that is clear, accurate, and consistent with the design team’s intent. The result is a tool that allows clients to make informed and confident decisions, and a process that eliminates costly surprises and delays down the road.”

In addition to being meticulous project librarians and collaborative communicators, builders like working with interior designers who have the experience to approach their designs like a GC. “At Marshall Erb Design, we have 25 years of high-end building experience behind us,” says Erb. “We know what’s going on behind the walls and can anticipate construction site scenarios before they happen. This helps the general contractor price the job thoroughly and accurately without unexpected delays or mistakes. We go a step further and double check all orders that go through the GC to ensure that all of the model numbers are correct and that each and every item on order is as specified.”

2 Koru
Marshall Erb Design and Koru (a luxury home builder based in Carbondale, Colo.) collaborated to turn this two-bed, one-bath, postage stamp of a home from the 1880s in downtown Aspen into a four-bed, five-bath luxury vacation property that’s currently for sale for $21 million.

Drew Franzen, the project manager at Koru, a luxury home builder based in Carbondale, Colo., recently completed a single-family home in Aspen with Marshall Erb Design. “The original owners had bought this historic house in downtown Aspen and had already broken ground, but then sold it to new owners from Chicago who had previously worked with Marshall on multiple projects,” says Franzen. “It was impressive to see how Marshall and his team were able to seamlessly transition in with the existing architect and pick up the ball. In addition to cataloging and sharing specs and costs for every fixture and finish for the design-build budget, Marshall also navigated and communicated the requirements of the Historic Preservation Commission with care and efficiency.”

Turning a two-bed, one-bath, postage stamp of a home from the 1880s in downtown Aspen into a $21 million, four-bed, five-bath luxury vacation property presents a lot of design-build challenges. “We had to pick up the house and move it forward on the property and excavate out to the property lines, all the while preserving the context of the original home and the charm of the city itself,” says Erb. “Securing the permits in a timely manner was critical, but so was being quick with responsive design — and communicating any necessary adjustments in real time.”

3 Power
A rendering of a subterranean pool for the renovation of a historic Victorian home in Wicker Park by the dream team of Woodhouse Tinucci Architects, Power Construction and Marshall Erb Design (never completed). Because the house and garden were landmarked, the pool was planned to be constructed underground with operable skylights.

For Richard Bondarowicz, the principal at Smart Builders in Arlington Heights, Ill., high-functioning communications, including recurring team and client touch points, are more important now than ever. “A successful build boils down to the management of four factors: cost, quality, safety, and schedule,” says Bondarowicz. “In the world that we find ourselves in now, where brutal supply-and-demand chain delays are the new reality, if you’re not timely, staying on top of the schedule and being progressive, then you’re susceptible to losing a trades team to another job. And if that happens, your cost for that particular job or install goes up by 25 percent. On a luxury build, no one on the core design-build team can be weak and slow with decisions. Everyone needs to be on their game at all times.”

Marshall Erb is quick to put an added emphasis on quality. “When you do things the right way, there’s never a problem,” says Erb. “All of the builders we work with uphold the same standards for quality that we do — quality of work and quality of product — and that is how we are able to create such amazing synergy as a team. I regularly hear from clients of past projects how much they love their homes and appreciate the attention to detail we put into their houses. To me, that is the end goal — timeless, quality, beautiful homes that our clients will love for years to come.”