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Going Outside the Box

Posted On April 2, 2019

Stewart Construction creates a unique family home in McLendon Hills 

By CHRISTINE HENNESSEY  »  Photos by NICOLA SQUIRES

When a pair of sisters from Pittsburgh, PA began thinking about retirement, their first goal was to move somewhere warm. Their second was to find an equine community, preferably in a small, quaint town, where their unbridled love of horses would feel right at home. “I did some exploring on the Internet and McLendon Hills popped up,” one of the sisters says. “When you enter the neighborhood, you see the magnificent barn and the horses. We fell in love with it immediately.” 

Once they had a location and purchased a lot, the next logical step was to find a builder who could help them design their dream home. As sisters who would be living together, the layout they wanted was unique. They envisioned a large home with a shared great room and kitchen, but separate wings for each of them. They also wanted a home that felt more like a Montana lodge than the southern style common in the Carolinas. This was another reason they were initially drawn to McLendon Hills. “Everybody’s home in this neighborhood is different. It allowed us to go outside the box.” 

A Commitment to the Client 

Mark Stewart, owner of Stewart Construction, is perfectly comfortable going outside the box. He’s been building and designing homes in North Carolina for over 25 years, and his work can be found mostly in Moore County, though he’s built as far as Ocean Isle Beach. Not only does he build homes in McLendon Hills, but he also lives in the community. “It’s been a good neighborhood for us to raise our kids and be a part of,” he says. “I love living in a neighborhood where we see the people we’ve worked with on a daily basis.”  

For Stewart, the process of designing and building homes isn’t about how fast he can get a job done or how much money he can make. It’s about the relationships he forms with his clients and his colleagues. “I want to sit on the same side of the table as the client, working together to get the finished product to be what they want.” One of the reasons he’s able to do this is because of the close relationships he’s formed within the industry. “After 25 years, I have the same tile guy I started with, along with a lot of the same subcontractors.” 

This level of trust is key to Stewart Construction’s ability to craft truly custom homes. “We build what the customer wants or dreams about,” Stewart says. “I’ve done everything from traditional, to craftsman, to contemporary. I like to start by interviewing the clients, figuring out what their dream is, and then turning that dream into reality.” 

Communication and Collaboration 

One of the first challenges new clients often run into is the difference between their dream and their budget—the two rarely add up. The sisters faced this challenge head on. Through conversations, it was clear they wanted a home with a western, log-cabin look inspired by their love of horses. When they first met with Stewart, they had a binder of dreams and a budget that didn’t quite match. However, Stewart was able to work with them to find a design that made everyone happy—including their bank account. “The sisters’ first concept was probably well over a million,” Stewart says. “After a lot of collaboration with design adjustments and alternative selections, I was still able to create what they wanted within a satisfied budget.”

 “When we were talking to Mark initially, we wanted one of those timber frame homes, which it turns out was way out of our budget,” one of the sisters says. “Mark was able to design something that encapsulated our vision, while staying within our budget.” 

The sisters appreciated Stewart’s attention to the numbers as well as the vision. “Mark excels at that. He keeps you updated every step of the way, lets you know when you’re going over, how to compromise. The important thing for us was that he worked with us, alongside us. We felt like we were part of the process all the time. There was a lot of communication. It took a lot of blueprints to get what we wanted and what we could afford.”  

“The ideal client is the one who is flexible and willing to work with me,” Stewart says. “If they come in and they’re not realistic, I realize that. But if we go through the process, form a relationship, a bond and an understanding, that will continue through the building process.” 

In this case, the process worked. The final design looked amazing, satisfied the sisters’ dreams, and came in under budget. Now they just had to build it. 

Weaving in the “Wow” Factor 

When the sisters first met with Stewart, they told him they wanted the house to feel like a log cabin, inside and out. They asked if he’d ever done a log siding look inside a home, and Stewart was honest. “He said he hadn’t, but he would see what he could do.” They started with an accent wall, and then kept extending it. “It was a team effort between all of us to get what we wanted. It’s certainly a custom home to the nth degree. That’s unusual for a builder, to go to that degree. We wanted to be involved and he allowed us to be involved.” 

In the end, Stewart loved the Western cabin feeling they were able to evoke throughout the home. “The log walls in the great room and the family room, with the wood ceilings and wood beams, wood trim, hardwood floors and the fireplace—it really came together,” he says. 

The layout also satisfied the sisters, offering them both a shared area as well as their own private sanctuaries. “We needed our own space,” one of the sisters says. “So now we have two masters in two wings of the house. She sees the sun rise, and I see the sun set. That’s how our house works.” 

In addition to the house, Stewart designed and built a large barn on the property for the sisters’ two Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horses, which is actually larger in square footage then the whole house. “You have to understand horse people,” one of the sisters says with a laugh. “Most have a barn that’s larger than their house, and we followed suit. That’s just the way it is with horse people.” 

The house is also modern and green, a perk that is an integral part of Stewart’s process. “We embraced the green building phenomenon before it became en vogue,” Stewart says. “There’s lots of green washing that goes on in the building industry, but we built solar passive homes before the word ‘green’ was ever out there. That’s a conscious effort of ours. We try to incorporate and utilize those smart design elements in what we’re doing.” 

The sisters appreciated this effort, and not just for environmental reasons. While many of their neighbors complain about high electric bills, the sisters are always pleased to see their report from Duke Energy. “Our bill always says we’re one of the most efficient homes in our area,” one of the sisters says. “We’re paying a third of what most people are paying, and that speaks volumes. And it’s all because of Mark’s expertise and construction. He built an airtight home. One of the biggest things he saved us a lot of money on were window treatments—we don’t need them, because he knew how to position our home to keep the sun from beating into it.” 

“It was a fun job,” Stewart says. “They purchased an actual used whiskey barrel sink before I designed the house and had it sent to me, so I had to figure out where I was going to put it. This was before I even designed the house.” He ended up putting it in the powder room. “When we crawled inside to do the plumbing, I knew it was a real whisky barrel. It was straight out of Kentucky.” 

The sisters were grateful not only for the creativity and customization that they got from Stewart Construction, but the way the whole team contributed to the final vision. “We can’t say enough about Nita Hrabosky, the office manager. She was wonderful in assisting us with interior decisions. When we struggled with things, she took us out and helped us with choices. The whole team concept with Mark is like one big family.”  

Another person that helped with the finishing touches was Michele Molek of Fashionable Finishes, who was integral in helping them pick out colors and creating custom wall finishes to complement the design. “She’s also from Pittsburgh, and she was terrific in bringing warmth into the home and doing the various techniques on the walls and in the bathrooms, as well as our front door. Everybody that comes in thinks it’s a wood door and it’s not—it’s just amazing work.” 

The sisters (and their horses) have been living in their dream home for two years, and they couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out or the life and community they’ve settled into. “We love where we live, we love this area, and we love our home. Whenever we see Mark in the neighborhood, we have big smiles on our faces.” 

“The one word that comes out of the mouth of everyone who comes to our home is ‘Wow.’ Our dream became reality.”

Resources
Builder: Stewart Construction, 910-673-1929, stewartconstructiondevelopment.com
Interior Design: Fashionable Finishes, 910-639-7303, fashionablefinishes.com