By Cindy Atoji Keene
During the boom era not so long ago, housing developer Bill Wennerberg of Plymouth was one of the many builders who rushed to construct supersized homes, often known as McMansions. He expanded his own South Shore home eight years ago into a 5,000 square foot goliath with 122 windows. Building it was no big deal, said Wennerberg, but living in it was the learning process. “When it was done, I laid in my bedroom and said to my wife, ‘holy cow, who needs a house this big?’”
As the average size of new single-family homes continues to fall – by 2015, the average home size is expected to shrink to 2,152 square feet, a downsizing that ends an expansion that spanned nearly three decades – Wennerberg felt the market was actually “right-sizing,” with homeowners giving up unused space and looking for homes that better fit their needs. His newest project at The Pinehills in Plymouth consists of 16 Nantucket-style cottages, ranging in size from 1,100 - 1,600 square feet and up, in a “real borrow-an-egg neighborhood.”
Q: What exactly is Nantucket style, which has become a trendy housing style, even in developments in Missouri and Washington?
A: I consider it a clean, casual, simple, down-to-earth approach. I came up with my plans by touring Nantucket and taking tons of pictures, then working with two architects on a series of sketches, literally doodling concepts of houses on some napkins. We came up with four different interchangeable floor plans of houses that look like little Nantucket cottages. They have charm and detail, like beat-up old floors, white picket fences, and neighborly quaint yards so closely nestled together, I had to work with the building inspector’s office to figure out how to separate the homes based on local codes.
Q: What’s your favorite part of building a house?
A: It starts with a hole in the ground, digging the foundation, then putting up the framing. It’s fun when the frame goes up and you can see the actual shape of the house. This is followed by installing the mechanical stuff, the wiring, plumbing and heating systems. But once the plaster is in, you can see the kitchen, dining room and bedroom walls. That’s when the finish work begins, the part I like, putting in the moulding, tiles, appliances, paint, which reflect house’s character and tell the story of how it will live and feel.
Q: What’s your secret to working with all the sub-contractors?
A: Through the years, I’ve developed a good stable crew of subcontractors who know and understand each other. Some general contractors are yellers or screamers; others are motivators. I’m the one with the vision, and my guys know how to get it done. If not, I have no choice but to get someone else.
Q: You’ve been dabbling with this trade, as well as landscaping, for over a decade. How has it changed throughout the years?
A: Construction is a cost-driven business, so crews have gotten more specialized and multi-skilled so they can take on a bigger pool of work. The framer might also do the roofing these days, or the finish carpenter might also be a kitchen installer.
Q: Say I’m going to buy a house. What’s the first thing I should think of?
A: First is budget and what you hope to spend. That number can grow very quickly. Secondly, think of your quality of life. You don’t just build a box, but something you can live in, so consider the design, the style, the value, and think that through pretty good.
Q: How do you cope with bad weather?
A: Last winter was a tough one. It snowed every two days while we were framing. We’d start every day by shoveling, then end the day by putting a tarp over everything. One time snow leaked into a house, everything froze up, and we weren’t able to work for a couple of weeks. There were some days that we spent more time shoveling than building, but that’s life as a New England builder.
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Meet the Jobs Docs
Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.