Here's Whats Happening

FINDING THEIR NICHE: Women builders

Several local builders offer a different twist on the idea of a homemaker. A women's place, they believe, is building the home.
Women builders approach new-home construction differently than their male counterparts, who have long dominated their field. It's mostly about the details, said four Portland-area female builders. Where should a home have a hard surface vs. a soft one? Is their adequate storage? Do all the fixtures match? The list is endless.
"Overall a women's perspective in a house is how you feel," said Jamie Harris, co-owner of Elite Development Northwest. She and her business partner, Natalie Long, built two luxury homes off Northwest Skyline Boulevard near Forest Park.
"It comes down to the level of detail," said Margie Tucker, owner of Crown Construction of Oregon. One example in her Forest Grove home is a raised dishwasher that's easier to load. "You can tell a woman built this."
Builder Karey Cresap, owner of Hearth & Home Residential Construction, said much of her "female" perspective comes from the communication process -- first with the homebuyers and designers and then with the subcontractors.
"It's really caring about people's lifestyles," agreed Tucker. "Really listening and not having them be surprised."
Long and Harris tried to anticipate a family's needs when they built their two Northwest Portland homes, now listed with Anne Stewart of Keller Williams Realty. One is a five-bedroom, 4,719-square-foot home with European and Craftsman-style accents on more than two acres. It's listed for just less than $1.4 million. The other is a four-bedroom, 4,096-square-foot, lodge-style home on 1.43 acres listed for more than $1.1 million.
Both include high-end finishes, such as hand-scraped oak hardwood floors and Travertine tile flooring, and upscale kitchen appliances, but Long and Harris didn't stop there. They added lots of built-in storage, conveniences such as a second upstairs laundry facility, and functional gas fireplaces surrounded by tile that doubles as artwork. The closets include slanted shelving specially designed to hold shoes -- lots of shoes. One home even has a pot-filling faucet over the stove.
Longtime friends, Long and Harris began by remodeling their own homes. Long has a master's degree in education and Harris' background is in business management and marketing. Harris managed projects at IBM for nine years. The only difference with home building, said Harris, is she's focusing on houses rather than computers.
The Northwest Portland homes are the first new construction the pair has done, but they've done numerous extensive remodels over the past six years.
Both Tucker and Cresap have been remodeling and building for more than a decade. Cresap, formerly an occupational therapist and owner of adult foster-care homes, started building after doing her own home in 1990. She took on the task because she'd become uncomfortable interviewing general contractors who were more interested in talking to her husband than listening to her requests.
"Having a business and being a builder is largely a managerial position," Cresap said. With her strength in managing, scheduling, communication and financial prowess, said Cresap, "I felt that I had the skills to try to do it."
Tucker had been an information-services project manager for many years before renovating her own home -- a 1902 Old Portland-style home. She was so involved that her remodelers offered her a job. For the past eight years, she has been doing new construction. She credits her project-management capabilities for much of her success as a general contractor.
Women may be in a better position to understand the foot-traffic flow in a home because traditionally they have been the ones to handle food preparation, child care and decor, according to Cresap. Good coat closets and ample storage are usually important to women. Views, too.
"I think we pay attention to light, as far as windows go, and the location," Tucker said. She'll go on a second floor in progress to examine the views and make changes to the plan if necessary. To add light, she'll put mirrors on closet doors.
For a more comfortable home, Tucker also likes to put in heated-floor systems in the master bedroom and bath.
In her own home, Tucker went so far as to put in fake grass in her front yard, saving time and water. "Nobody knows it's fake," she said. "They walk around gingerly so they don't mess up the yard."
Both Tucker and Cresap are interested in building homes that will allow people to age in place. For example, the builders may include solid wood backing (rather than drywall) in areas where the homeowner might later want to install a grab bar, or they may leave space for an elevator to be added.
Tucker builds about five homes a year -- and never the same home twice. She has two homes under construction, including one that is still available at 1335 37th Avenue in Forest Grove.
Still in the framing stage, the five-bedroom home has 2,324 square feet and will be listed for about $416,000. Tucker describes the design as "soft Northwest contemporary" style, with bamboo floors, arched openings and a generous supply of windows. Part of her philosophy, she said, is staying true to home styles -- whether English cottage, farmhouse or Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Prairie.
In Cresap's 15 years of building she's completed about 80 homes, usually between three and eight a year. Cresap is mostly doing custom homes now, but she plans to begin two spec homes off Northwest Skyline Boulevard near Forest Heights. They will be smaller than what she's built in the past -- between 4,000 and 7,000 square feet -- and will cost between $900,000 and $1.1 million. She said prefers what she calls "transitional designs," something between a traditional and contemporary look with clean lines.
Cresap said she tries to balance materials used in a home so it's neither too wood-heavy or too "foo foo." She creates a solid feel in the home by using a lot of upscale mill work, such as corbels or tongue-in-groove soffits in the underside of a roof. An upstairs landing may cantilever out.
"This became a real passion for me, too," said Cresap. "It's so creative. I love home design. I'm just so excited. I've really enjoyed most all the people I've met."
All four women builders said they've been repeatedly tested in the largely male-dominated field by subcontractors and buyers. Yet despite bumps along the way, they remain passionate about building.
"We love it," added Harris. "It's something that fulfills us. It's a pretty great feeling when you're making your mark."
Kathy Brock is a Portland writer. She can be reached at kathybrock@comcast.net
RESOURCES:
Margie Tucker, Crown Construction of Oregon, 3529 Lavina Drive, Forest Grove; 503-421-2382; margie@crownconstructionoforegon.com; www.crownconstructionoforegon.com
Anne Stewart, Keller Williams Realty, 17700 S.W. Upper Boones Ferry Road, Suite 100; 503-804-1466; annestewart@kw.com; www.portlandoregonhometeam.com
Natalie Long and Jamie Harris, Elite Development Northwest; 503-250-4419 (Long); 503-860-3014 (Harris); natalie@ednorthwest.com; jamie@ednorthwest.com; www.ednorthwest.com
Karey Cresap, Hearth & Home Residential Construction, 3418 S.W. 14th Ave.; 503-690-8750; karey@kareyhouse.com; www.kareyhouse.com