Custom isn’t custom anymore

I have often considered removing the word “custom” from the company name. It has become a standard slogan to be “custom” in the construction industry. If you are a builder who builds in a plated sub-division and offer variations to your standard floor plan, are you a custom builder? If you are a builder who specializes in tapered columns that are in the “craftsman style” are you a custom builder? if you provide an energy star insulation package in your homes are you a custom builder? What if you build large homes for the affluent, but adorn your projects with standard products and services that you find at the local lumber yard, but add one more piece of molding to your crowns. Does this mean you are a custom builder?

It is sad to know that we have lost our way. The art of crafting residential housing is a dead art form. contemporary builders use slogans as “custom” in their marketing to define their product. The word rings hallow to me

So what would I consider custom? Well with any art form we look to our past as we build upon the lessons from the true masters of their field. In music, literature, political science (yes this is an art form) and architecture we can all name individuals that defined their craft.

In architecture we have Frank Lloyd Wright, Andrea Palladio, Robert Stern and the brothers Greene. They designed, and in the case of Robert Stern, are designing for the rich and powerful. Does this mean that only the wealthy can enjoy artistry in their homes? Are the rest of us confined to the offerings at Home Depot?

For the majority of us this is true. Since the 1940’s there has been a slow erosion of the trades that offer services in the building industry. Stone masons have been replaced with synthetic stone. Plasterers have been replaced with drywall. Finished in place hardwood floors have been replaced with laminate flooring. Stucco and wood siding contractors have been replaced with vinyl and aluminum. As these new product and services become mainstream, a new generation of builders and consumers do not have access to the old trades. They have been lost to mass production. More for less. Now more usually means larger, not well crafted.

We are victims of our success. Manufacturing and technology allow us to have more for less but at a cost. We have slowly killed the skilled trades in the process. Demands for their services have declined as we find new and cheaper ways to imitate. There are no longer professional guilds of craftsman that teach the trade to a new generation. Our schools do not offer instruction in the time honored and respected traditions of the trades. Most entry level workers fall into the industry by happenstance as they struggle to start a career and life for themselves. With little instruction or guidance they are soon installing stick on stone as the manufacturer has made the process easy.

So here we are and what do I consider custom? Well I believe that a middle class family can have a finely crafted home. A custom home that is designed and built as an artistic expression of one’s favorite architectural style. Whether you like Prairie, Shingle or Arts and Crafts the information age allows us to research and rediscover these styles. If you like Queen Anne Victorians but do not posses a high society budget, then build a “Folk” Victorian. Hire a professional and start on the quest to build or renovate your home. Be your own advocate, and realize that less is more. Detail and craftsmanship are more important than size. build The Not So Big House as advocated by Sarah Susanka. Do not follow trends as this is a marketing trap we all fall into to buy the latest and greatest mass produced products. Honor the traditions of the trades.

Steven Eyke, Owner
LaFollette Custom Homes, Ltd.