Q&A Local Trends in Building and Architecture

It’s no secret that the Heber Valley is positioned for continued growth. Looking at the big picture, that growth may be in the hands of our planners and city and county officials, as well as zoning and influx. However, I wanted to learn from those on the ground — from the people who are literally building and designing our communities every day.

To explore where we are heading with design and building trends in the valley, and to learn the inspirations and advice from those on the forefront of building our community, I caught up with Paul Clark, Jake Jorgenson and Clayton Vance. Here is what they had to say.

Debra West: I’d love to know a little about your backgrounds and why you chose building or design as a career?

Paul Clark: I started building with my dad when I was very young and it’s in my blood. In addition to my dad, both my great-grandfather and his father were builders. They were the part of first settlers in Provo. They helped build Fort Utah and then many of the homes for their families and others.

Initially, as I built homes with my dad, I didn’t know what a subcontractor was because we did all the work ourselves.  Although it was difficult to learn all the trades, it was also valuable to my career. I have a great understanding of how each system works and ties in with the rest of the home. Since 1998 we have helped over 160 homeowners build or renovate their beautiful homes 

Jake Jorgenson: I grew up building custom homes working for my dad. I saw a need to learn how to be a better business person and not just a good builder. That led me to get a degree in Construction Management and Business Management at BYU. I worked for some really large builders to learn what they did well before going back on my own and starting Jorgenson Builders.

Clayton Vance: When someone asks you, “What do you think about when you don’t have to think about anything?” my answer is architecture and urban design. My mind just goes there and I can’t stop it, so I figure it’s best to use my talents this way.

DW: What keeps you inspired?

PC: I love to build, I love to create. It’s what gets me up in the morning and drives me. Sometimes when I’m solving a problem or have an idea it keeps me from sleeping. As a team, we love to do really cool stuff!  How can something that functions well be more aesthetically pleasing? How can something that is beautiful function better? How can we do something that hasn’t been done before? How can we take a really high-end feature and do it more cost effectively so we can incorporate into our homes?

JJ: I love working in the beautiful areas we get to build in. Views of Timp are amazing at some of our projects, with skiing and mountain biking right out the door. I also love the smile on a customer’s face when their project is done.

CV: Traveling inspires me.

DW: What’s your favorite room in a home and why?

PC: The entry and great room. Homebuyers typically make a decision as to whether they want a home within the first two minutes of being there. A big part of that is the entry and open great room. The entry should tell the story of the home. If the home is open it should be open too, if the home has great views you should see them from the start.  The great room is also where we live, it’s where life happens.  Most people like a beautiful master and bath but spend less time there.  They live in the kitchen, the family room, the dining room.  That’s where the memories are made.

JJ: I like the outdoor spaces the most. A nice patio fire pit with great views is probably my favorite space to spend time. I like the indoor/outdoor transitions we are creating now with a lot of open spaces. 

CV: I always love a conservatory or greenhouse.  I also love a good gallery or library which are a little more practical. 

DW: Design trends often cycle. Are you seeing a shift away from the contemporary aesthetic toward transitional or traditional mountain? How are clients’ expectations changing?

PC: Trends are a fun aspect of building. Things change over time and some buyers get concerned that they might get caught in a trend that is possibly on its way out. The truth is, everyone is different and many trends continue to appeal to certain types of people over long periods of time.

There do exist more timeless styles and design like craftsman style, but most homes go through several updates over the life of their owner. We encourage people to do what they like and what feels like home to them. Don’t just do a light hardwood because it’s in style. Do it because that’s the floor you remember from grandma’s home or you like it because it feels lighter. Trends will always shift back and forth. Our team can help you be as trendy or as timeless as you would like.

JJ: I think we are seeing a lot more of the mountain contemporary and mountain transitional styles now and a lot less of the traditional homes. The clean lines and large windows and large doors are very important to our customers right now. Customers seem to want them contemporary, but not so far that they are not comfortable. They still want the warmth of the wood siding, but mixed with some metal or something more contemporary. They want very simple paint with very few colors. 

CV: It also depends on the neighborhood. Since HOAs have so much stylistic control, people don’t always get to do exactly what they want. There is still an enormous variety in people’s stylistic tastes, and I think that will continue.

DW: How are elevated building costs affecting builds, tastes for specs and custom homes? Do you expect costs to decrease?

PC: The market is strong right now. There are more homes to be built than there are people to build them, which puts construction labor at a premium. National trade and market issues continue to push up material as well. Will prices come down? I see them tapering off and not increasing every year like they have been, but I don’t see a monumental adjustment like we saw a decade ago.

Two years ago, we were talking about the real estate upswing had to be at its peak yet here we are two years later paying significantly more than we would have then. I see the market maintaining steady growth for a couple more years and then plateauing for a time. There are too many good things happening here for it not to continue. A great state economy, our incredible mountains, scenery and outdoor activities.  People want to be here. That causes demand.

JJ: Costs are up from where they were a few years ago, but compared to builders I know in other areas, it could be a lot higher. I don’t really think costs will decrease either because of a shortage of qualified labor force. There just aren’t a lot of trained workers to do manual labor and perform it well. Schools need to add more programs for training younger people in these skills so we have a strong workforce in the future. Parents need to encourage their kids to look into jobs in building also because they’ll have a great future if they develop these skills and manage money.

CV: Once people find out how much the house costs, many are putting it on hold hoping costs will come down. Good spec homes built in the right locations are still strong and entry level houses are strong. It’s the mid-range custom homes that are hurting the most. 

DW: We’ve all noted that homeowners seem to prefer less-formal layouts. What other lifestyle-oriented building trends are you addressing and how are they allowing clients to live better or more efficiently in their homes?

PC: We have always encouraged our clients to incorporate single level living into their design. Even if they are in their prime, this allows them to age in place. Key elements I see with lifestyle-oriented design are: One — stairs: make them easy to use or eliminate them. Two — elevators: many clients have us design a future elevator into their plans. Three — small offices: people don’t need a big space anymore to work. They need a place to open up a laptop and go to work. Four — outdoor living: getting outdoors is a huge part of living here. Accordion doors, lift and slide panel doors and pocket doors are a great way to create those outdoor living spaces. Adding elements like firepits and water features can enhance the experience as well Five — health and wellness design is a big thing today and part of aging well. We just finished designing a home that has a golf simulator for him and a yoga area for her that includes an indoor/outdoor element that can reflect the seasons. 

JJ:We are seeing a lot more universal design, which gives clients the ability to live in their home as they age. A lot of the architects and designers don’t consider this enough and there really isn’t a reason not to design life stages in so that things can be adapted easily over time. We aren’t getting as many requests for home theater rooms but are getting more requests for larger open spaces. We are getting a lot more requests for indoor/outdoor spaces with large operable doors and windows. Almost every home we build has a home office and a mud room with lockers or storage space. We are also getting a lot more requests for some very large islands in kitchens and often double islands.

CV: I personally like the courtyard home the best. It creates intimate spaces and great two-way views. But in the end, the site and client needs determine the layout and size of the home. Each one is unique.

DW: How is environmental awareness and interest in renewable energy or green building affecting plans?
How prevalent is this in Wasatch County?

PC: Green build and energy efficiency are on the rise. I feel they slowed down during the last downturn when cost was the most important factor, but it is back and going strong.  Each year, new developments help us be better stewards of our communities and our planet. Energy efficiency and green building has been mostly done on a per home basis. Now we are seeing local utility companies and whole communities reaching for net zero (Net Zero is when a building produces more energy than it consumes). There are still a lot of ways we can improve, but as technology continues to improve and we become more aware of our impact, it will only get better.

JJ: Even though I am a Certified Green Professional builder with the National Association of Home Builders, we don’t do a lot of hyper energy-efficient homes. We have standards that we maintain and I think a lot of the good builders in our area do the same. Our homes are all tested for air changes per hour and things like that now. Homes are overall much more energy efficient than they used to be.  

Efficient heating, lighting, water heating, insulation and windows have all become much more common, and in our case the norm. We don’t get a lot of requests for the “net zero” homes in our area though, and find that most of our customers want their homes to be efficient and function well, but don’t want to spend the extra money required to make it net zero. I do think this will become more common over time though.

CV: People are interested in solar, but when the rubber meets the road, only a handful do since our system isn’t set up to truly incentivize solar use.

DW: How is SmartHome technology working its way into homes?  Once a luxury, how extensively are you seeing technology incorporated into homes and what are key rooms/features/conveniences? 

PC: There are two basic things that are essential when it comes to smart homes and I believe every home in our day and age should have.  One: environmental controls – shades, temperature and lighting. Two: media control – sound and video. I feel like the audio video side used to be the primary consideration in this, but in discussing this topic with our amazing “smart guy” (Kyle at Integrated Media Solutions), we find most people are more focused on environmental controls and media comes second.

JJ:SmartHome technology is becoming the norm for people. Things like Ring, Alexa and other similar devices have made this much more accessible to the general population and more familiar. Also, the younger crowd has grown up with a lot of these features. We are finding a lot more requests for lighting control systems now that people want the larger, more open spaces and don’t want a cluster of light switches when they could operate them from their phone or a single keypad or switch.

CV:It changes too fast to keep up. I just recommend not putting too many wires and gadgets in and on your walls that will be outdated in 10 years. Plan your home systems in a way that you can change them out with as little invasive work as possible.

DW: How is technology impacting your work? What changes in building and design methods improve efficiency and support lean building techniques?

PC: I see giant strides in technology in construction management. From our homeowner portal that our clients can access from anywhere in the world to see what is happing on their homes, to online critical path method scheduling that automatically updates subs and suppliers when we need them. Another great tool is the cloud. Storing all data on the cloud and being able to access plan details from multiple devices whether in the office, on the job or even on vacation is awesome. 

JJ: Our industry is notoriously slow at making changes and using technology. More and more, “off-site” construction methods are being used though. We’ve built homes that are pre-cut and laid out before framing, but with the complexity of a lot of the homes in our area, this isn’t always possible. I’d really like to see more builders incorporate this so it becomes more cost effective, as we found a huge reduction in waste when we’ve done this and a faster build time.

CV: I’m honestly envious of the builders and architects of the past where building technology was fairly static for millennia. In that environment, you have the time to perfect the beauty of your craft. Today with code changes, HOA design guidelines, technological “advancements” and learning new programs constantly, we’re too busy just trying to keep up on everything that the real meaning of what we’re doing can be lost. We’re always in pursuit of the new and the novel and forgot that the cities, neighborhood, and architecture we love to visit and tour were built long before any of this technology.   

DW: Are there design or building trends that you see as specific to the Heber Valley?

PC: Modern homes are definitely on the rise and mountain modern is a common theme in today’s design. Mountain traditional is still very popular for someone coming from outside of Utah who wants more of a mountain feel. A timeless style is Mountain transitional which incorporates both traditional and modern or even contemporary features.

A big trend right now is smaller, nicer, smarter and more efficient homes. However, there are still a lot of homeowners who want enough space for their entire family to gather. Flex spaces that allow rooms to have multiple functions is just one of the ways we can help people include everything they want while keeping the footprint smaller. Other trends we have already mentioned are creating indoor/outdoor space, single level living and age in place design, and orienting homes to maximize views.

JJ:I don’t see things that are specific to our area that I haven’t seen in other areas similar to the Heber Valley. I often see that we are behind some of the other areas in architectural styles and designs, but I can’t pinpoint that to any specific reason.

DW: What do you see as emerging influences on home design and building in the future?

PC: Affordable housing is an important part of our long-term growth. We need to do more to develop these opportunities. There are amazing individuals at all income levels that we need in our community. As our community grows and develops, we need to focus on how we can make a place for all of us to live. Self-Help Homes is a wonderful affordable building program in Utah that Timberidge has volunteered to participate in. 

JJ: I think the affordable housing issue is a huge problem in our area. With land costs and development costs high, hitting hard rock in many areas or the high water table in others, it makes it hard to create affordable developments. There is also a very high cost for fees and permits to even get some of these projects off the ground in the beginning. It is harder and harder for us to even find people to work on our projects that live here because they can’t afford it. We need to figure this out so more families can afford to continue to live here.

CV:  I’m writing a couple books about how to design timeless homes since that’s the word I hear the most. I hope those turn into major influences regionally and nationally.

DW: Can you offer suggestions to a couple embarking on a design and/or build project?  

PC: There are three steps to building a successful custom home. One: set a budget. Two: hire a builder you can trust. Three: have your builder take you through the design stage. The architect or home designer are an important part of your team and will add great features to your home, but your builder is the one who can help you understand the cost of different design options and help you make educated decisions during design. 

JJ:I would just say that no matter how good the builder is and how smooth the process is, it will always have some snags and tough times. I would suggest that you get a team of a great builder, designer, architect, landscape designer and engineer on board really early in the process. Form that team and then trust them to do their jobs well. Give input on the things you find important, but trust the team you helped create in the beginning to do their job and be the experts at what they do. I’ve found that the customers we work with that trust us and the team that was created early on, have very successful projects.

CV: Find the right partnership. Choose a designer you connect with that gets your vision. Then choose a builder that can execute it and you get along with. Just remember that you get what you pay for.

DW: What’s one piece of advice for young architects and builders?

PC: Pick something you are passionate about and work hard to become the best. Work is never work if you are doing what you love. Find people who are the very best at what they do. Draw on their experience and their passion. If you are doing something that doesn’t drive you, find a different angle or a different path that does. Be passionate, be creative and enjoy this life!

JJ: Do the best you possibly can and don’t try to take shortcuts. Always seek to better yourself and the people around you. Have a good attitude and enjoy working with the amazing customers we get to work with here in our area!

CV: Good Luck!