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Brickworks North America and Glen-Gery introduce new supply center.

Legend. Icon. Artifact. Landmark. When you’ve been around for a century, you get called a lot of things. With the introduction of its new masonry supply center, Glen-Gery has earned even more monikers: Innovator. Leader. One-of-a-Kind.

Nick Busch, Glen-Gery’s Supply Center Manager, says, “I’m excited about this because of the opportunities it presents. We can bring in architects, masons, homeowners, builders to collaborate on projects. We have an almost 19,000-square-foot warehouse here with samples of every brick we manufacture and the space to educate the trade audience on how to use them.”

The stunning facility, located in Urbandale near the Highway 141 exit off Interstate 80/35, includes a 7,000-square-foot showroom, a consultation area, a trade sales area, a fully equipped training and education center, and a high-end event space.

“We have a commercial kitchen, too, so we can make the events hosted here really special. If you have a premium product and a premium space, like Glen-Gery does, you have to offer premium events,” says Brickworks North America president Mark Ellenor.

The supply center’s May 26 grand opening was just such an occasion. Kicking off with a preopening press event and tour, the evening also included cocktails, dinner, and entertainment.

In the light-filled main showroom, dining tables were surrounded by artfully designed product displays that served as backdrop to the activities. That comfortable yet innovative setting reflects what the company envisions for the supply center as well.

“Coming here is supposed to be an enjoyable experience,” Busch says. “We don’t want people to be overwhelmed, even though we do have samples of every product we manufacture. Some are on the changeable displays, but many are in hidden drawers below the display wall. We want customers to come enjoy the space, walk around, move around the space. And when they’re ready, we have a great staff to help them make the best decisions for their home.”

Ellenor, a native of Australia, where Brickworks Limited is based, adds, “We have facilities like this in Australia, but this one is certainly a step up from anything we’ve done before.”

Glen-Gery, a Des Moines institution for more than a century, was purchased by Brickworks as its first expansion outside Australia. “We liked Glen-Gery because it was a premium brick maker,” Ellenor says. “We make an array of brick products in Australia, and we’re very good at making and marketing bricks. We scoured the world to find the best fit for our first international investment and ultimately settled on Glen-Gery because they had premium products but old facilities in need of upgrading, and we’re very good at that.”

Just one year after purchasing Glen-Gery, Brickworks purchased Sioux City Brick, which further established the company as the premier supplier in the Midwest. The brick products offered ranged from entry-level to top-of-the-line options, but Ellenor says the branding didn’t match the existing showrooms.

“You can’t sell Tiffany earrings at the dollar shop,” he jokes. “We wanted to design a facility that equaled the premium quality of the products and services we have to offer, which is unique in the United States”.

Busch agrees. “We have the facility to train all levels of the industry here. We can bring in 10×10 wall units and have hands-on training so contractors know how to install our products and builders and architects aren’t afraid to specify them. We even have a retail area where we have anything and everything a contractor could need to install our bricks, from trowels and levels to gloves and everything else.”

“We wanted to create a facility where a tradesperson would be as comfortable coming in with dirty boots as an architect would be to bring clients for product selection,” Ellenor says.

With covered storage on one side of the building, the facility offers protected loading and contractor access no matter what the weather. The light-filled front showroom boasts state-of-the art interchangeable displays to serve retail customers and design personnel.

“We actually provided the brick for this building when it was first being constructed,” says Busch. “So it’s fitting that we ended up selecting this space for our new supply center.”

With its easy access to all parts of the metro and beyond, the Glen-Gery team anticipates serving clients from across the state. And with two manufacturing plants just a short drive away, Glen-Gery is able to offer almost nonexistent lead times while some competitors are facing up to six-month delays.

Like the old, dated Glen-Gery offices on Ashworth Road, the brick industry in the U.S. has been in need of an upgrade. The investment Brickworks has made in Glen-Gery reflects its commitment to transforming that image.

“Bricks last forever,” says Ellenor. “They’re not a commodity product despite the old perception. They meet every demand homeowners could ask for. They’re durable, they’re cool in the summer and warm in the winter, they have very low maintenance requirements, and the design possibilities are endless.”

He says most homeowners aren’t even aware of the options available, and that’s one of the exciting pathways Glen-Gery has mapped out. “Home buyers spend more time selecting the tap (what you call the faucet) and spend more on that upgrade than on the brick,” says Ellenor. “But the exterior of your home is the biggest fashion purchase you’ll ever make.”

He adds that the price difference from entry-level to premium brick is only 10 to 50 cents per brick, which amounts to an average of a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars on the typical home.

“At this new supply center, we can help homeowners make those exterior selections with confidence,” he says. “We have designers and color consultants who will sit down with you and look at your plans, talk about the styles and colors you like, find a brick that you love, then advise you on the colors to choose when you go to select the roof, the trim, and everything else.”

As property values continue to climb, making that investment wisely becomes even more important. “At the end of the day, you’ll spend just a little bit more on a better-quality brick, but you’ll be much happier with the finished look. When one builder or one homeowner in a neighborhood does that, it sets the standard,” Ellenor says.

To Busch, that attitude is what makes the future for Glen-Gery as exciting as the past has been. “Glen-Gery is an iconic company, and that Ashworth building helped establish that,” he says. “But I don’t regret leaving. It’s time for us to have our moment here in this new space. We’ve got a parent company that’s willing to invest in what we do and make an even better product. This new space reflects that.”

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Houzz research shows that current project inquiries are increasing and industry professionals’ confidence in the future remains incredibly strong.

Home renovation projects and interior updates were a priority investment for U.S. households during the latter half of 2020 amid the work-from-home policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the trend looks set to continue. As homeowners seek to redefine their spaces for improvement and functionality, there is a growing shortage of design and construction professionals to keep up with the increased demand.

Despite headwinds causing the prices of materials such as quartz and lumber to increase, Houzz research shows that demand will continue to outstrip supply through at least the end of the year.

The Houzz Renovation Barometer is based on a quarterly online survey sent to a group of U.S. businesses with an online profile on Houzz. The Barometer takes the pulse of home renovation market conditions via three distinct indices that track expected, current and recent business activity in two related industry sectors: the construction sector and the architectural and design services sector. Since we began reporting these metrics, the project inquiry index—showing whether new project inquiries are increasing or decreasing—was the second-highest ever for construction professionals and the highest ever for architectural and design professionals.

Note: The Houzz Renovation Barometer’s score of higher than 50 indicates that more firms reported increases than decreases in their business expectations.

This robust demand for services indicates that wait times for projects to begin will get longer and that project timelines will shift and grow, resulting in sustained demand for these professionals. Wait times are already a month longer than a year ago at 9.3 weeks for construction professionals and 8.4 weeks for architecture and design professionals. Pent-up demand for services is one of the main reasons that 2021 looks like a standout year for the industry.

Houzz research also shows that not only are current project inquiries increasing, but industry professionals’ confidence in the future is incredibly strong. Some 65% of interior designers believe that business will improve in 2021, compared with only 7% who believe business will worsen. This sentiment is broadly similar across both the construction and design industries, with professionals who believe business will improve ranging from 58% to 68% and those who believe business will worsen ranging from 5% to 10%.

“Following a strong end of the year, where confidence among residential and the design businesses recovered to pre-pandemic levels, in Q1 2021 businesses are faced with soaring homeowner demand,” said Marine Sargsyan, Senior Economist, Houzz. “Despite headwinds related to lengthy permitting timelines, supply chain constraints, increased raw material costs and long standing labor shortages, businesses are confident in their performance in the year ahead.”

While our lives may return to “normal” in 2021, the corporate world broadly agrees that working from home is here to stay in some form. Given that we’re likely to be spending more time at home for the foreseeable future, home renovations, home upgrades and improvement of outdoor spaces are likely to continue to bolster the industry’s performance in the coming year.

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Hubbell’s UTour program meets the changing needs of today’s market.

Virtual tours are not a new concept in the real estate market, and their use has grown over the past pandemic year. For many buyers, however, nothing can replace the live walk-through. Meeting the needs of those home buyers has been especially challenging in light of social distancing and safety expectations.

“We really wanted to find a way to respond to customers that would make them more comfortable,” says Hubbell Vice President Rachel Flint. “But we also needed to make sure it was a safe, secure option for us and for the customer.”

As part of the National Association of Home Builders’ Builder 20 group, Hubbell was aware of how other large-scale builders were facing and addressing similar situations in their own markets. “One company had talked about the program they were using—UTour—and the positive response it had gotten,” Flint says. “We were able to work through the evaluation and testing and fully implement it in six of our communities in May.”

UTour is accessible on a variety of Hubbell properties across the metro, focused especially on communities that appeal to more-tech-savvy buyers. “Our urban properties are especially popular with Gen X and Y buyers,” says Flint, “and they are the most frequent users of the UTour app so far.”

The app allows customers a window of time to view a property via a self-guided tour, which means masks and exposure to others are not factors. This also enables potential buyers to tour available properties at a time that fits their schedules without having to coordinate with a REALTOR® for the initial visit.

“This is in no way intended to exclude agents,” Flint says. “Our goal with this program is to meet our younger buyers where they are.” She adds that the UTour option ultimately saves time for both agents and buyers. “The truth is, a customer might want to make that initial walk-through on their own. But if they like the property, the first thing they’ll do is contact an agent. And at that point, the agent already knows they have an interested buyer.”

In April, Hubbell implemented a similar program with its rental properties. The app Rently allows potential renters to view a model rental property on a self-guided tour before contacting the management for an in-person meeting. “It’s a great way for customers to get a look at rental units and communities on their own time so they can decide if it’s a good fit,” says Flint.

The success of that app gave Hubbell Homes even more confidence that the UTour program would be well-received.

To set up a self-guided tour, customers simply visit the website Hubbell set up exclusively for the program, TourHubbell.com, and complete the registration process. “We require either a driver’s license number or a credit card so we can verify the customer’s identity,” Flint explains. “There’s no charge to use the program.”

Once the registration process is complete, customers select the community and property they wish to tour and the time that suits their schedule. They then receive an access code that is active for 1 hour, beginning at the scheduled appointment time. “They have that 1-hour window to enter and tour the property,” explains Flint. “If they don’t enter the home within that 1-hour window, the code won’t work.”

This system not only offers Hubbell security for its properties, but it protects customers as well because only the scheduled customer will have access to the home during that 1-hour window.

“Feedback has been great so far,” says Flint. “The program is active in 10 homes right now. Over the next few months, we’ll be testing the response from customers and agents and monitoring its use.”

The goal going forward is the same as the goal in initiating the program. “We just want to be responsive to our customers, whether that’s buyers or agents,” Flint says. “Even as things open up more after the pandemic, that goal is still the same.”

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11 Ways the Pandemic Changed Our Lives at Home Forever.

Home, sweet home became home, still home over the past year-plus of the COVID-19 pandemic. Home is where we hunkered down, and faced massive upheavals to our routines and lives.

Maybe the biggest change is what home came to mean to many people—office, gym, school, restaurant, bar, movie theater, and farm stand, all in one.

And the home adjusted to accommodate all these new demands on its spaces. Here’s a roundup of all the pandemic-related changes we’ve seen over the past year that are here to stay.

  1. Real home offices. “When we first went into lockdown, it was a big transition for most of our team,” says Courtney Stables at Custom Neon.

    For many, working from home initially simply meant finding a surface for a laptop. For Stables, the spare bedroom became a makeshift home office space.

    “It was cramped and cluttered,” she says. But the space transformed over the year.

    The dining chair that wasn’t designed for eight hours of daily sitting was replaced with an ergonomic office chair, and Stables purchased a real desk to replace a camping table.

    “Now it just seems crazy not to have an office space in the home,” says Stables. “It’s a place in my home that’s there to stay, and an office will be something I’ll keep in mind when looking at other properties.”

  2. The rise of the ‘cloffice’. But not everyone has the room for a dedicated home office. The “cloffice” (aka a closet transformed into an office) was the perfect solution.

    “It’s small and compact enough to hold a work area that can be really efficient,” says Mark Cutler of Los Angeles’ Mark Cutler Design.

    And now that we’ve discovered the cloffice, many people may be loath to give it up.

    “Even if you’re not working from home in the traditional sense, it’s great to have a centralized space to check email, pay bills, and do some light filing, all with the added benefit of being able to close a door and walk away,” says Cutler.

  3. Victory gardens. Last year, panic buying hit toilet paper, disinfectant—and seeds. Homebound people desperate to get outdoors, on the safety of their own property, began digging and planting. Soon victory gardens sprouted from sea to shining sea.

    “Before the pandemic, I traveled on a nearly weekly basis for work and didn’t have the capacity for something as time-consuming as tending to a garden,” says Toni Okamoto, cookbook author and founder and content director of Plant-Based on a Budget. “Now, I can’t imagine not having an intimate connection to our yard and the food that’s grown in it.”

  4. The indoor plant craze. Those gardens did not simply stay outside. Instead, indoor plants overtook many a home across the county.

    “I feel the houseplant craze was under way before the pandemic hit, and then with the stay-home orders, collections of plants were expanded,” says Lisa Steinkopf, author of “Houseplant Party: Fun Projects and Growing Tips for Epic Indoor Plants.”

    If you were lonely during the past year, plants gave us something living to talk to, fuss over, and love.

    “Plants are here to stay, because during the pandemic the people who became plant parents now love their plants,” says Steinkopf. “Plants have become their babies.”

  5. Closing off open floor plans. Having your family around is wonderful. But the pandemic showed us that having your family around all. the. time—well, let’s just say that was an interesting social experiment. So it was little wonder that people began putting up walls in their previously open-concept homes, creating more traditional—and private—spaces.

    “I’ve always felt that the large, open-plan homes ignore basic ideas of how a family really lives,” says Cutler. “Each family member has different agendas, whether it’s cooking, studying, relaxing, or watching television.”

    And these activities are best served in their own space.

    “Now that people have experienced how a home can function with broken-up spaces that don’t feel isolating, I think we’ll see it stay that way,” says Cutler.

  6. Supersized outdoor spaces. All that time indoors made many of us want to spend more time outdoors gardening, relaxing, and entertaining.

    “People built outdoor spaces that included kitchens, dining rooms, and living rooms with fireplaces,” says Sunny Wroten, head of homebuilding at Atmos.

    More space outside allowed homeowners to easily entertain family and friends safely.

    “We’ve seen a sharp increase of home buyers with front porches on their wish lists,” adds Susan Moguel, marketing director at Arden, a residential agrihood community in Palm Beach County. “I believe that this trend will be sure to last. After all, once we see the added benefits these spaces bring to our lifestyles, it will be difficult to go back.”

  7. Hard-working kitchens. The pandemic saw kitchens everywhere getting the workout of a lifetime. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktail hour, and snacks. Repeat for a year.

    And that constant use of the kitchen inspired many people to improve their cooking skills and make some upgrades to the space.

    “Homes were renovated with better countertops, kitchen appliances, and other cooking devices,” says Thomas Vibe, co-founder and managing partner at Stone Wizards.

    “My wife and I were once uber-busy executives who went out for meals and socialized almost seven days a week,” adds Baron Christopher Hanson, lead consultant and owner of RedBaronUSA.com.

    But eating solely at home during the pandemic saw them rethink their appliance and home design priorities in a different way.

    “It meant the need for more room for refrigerator-freezers, more pantry space, and even a second oven and stovetop,” Hanson says.

  8. Dedicated sweat areas. “I’ve noticed this past year many people converting garages into gyms,” says Genesis Gutierrez, a licensed real estate agent and certified personal trainer based in California.

    Other people decked out a basement or a spare room. But the result is the same: Many homes now have dedicated space as well as equipment for cardio and strength workouts.

    “There will be people who will continue to go to the gym once they open back,” says Gutierrez. “Yet a large number have realized you can stay active without ever leaving home or paying for a gym membership.”

  9. Hands-free everything. Hands-free technology and appliances were around well before the pandemic, the fear of touching basically anything these past months kicked the tech into overdrive.

    “After a year of prioritizing hygiene, today’s homeowners are looking for products that aid in the health and well-being of their families and lifestyles,” says Mary L. Cifuentes, Ferguson Bath, Kitchen and Lighting Gallery Northeast director in Lakewood, NJ.

    As we move further into 2021, Cifuentes says we’ll see more smart lighting solutions, smart keyless locks, touchless faucets, touchless toilets, and knock-open dishwashers.

    “Homeowners can choose from a variety of hands-free fixtures and voice-activated solutions to limit their potential exposure to viruses and bacteria throughout their home,” says Cifuentes.

  10. Choosing the DIY route over in-person professional help. Yep, the pandemic forced homeowners to spend all their time at home—looking at their four walls and maybe thinking, “How can I improve this home’s space?”

    “Issues that people may have otherwise ignored while spending less time at home became glaring and unavoidable during the pandemic,” says Cara Newhart, an interior designer and host of the podcast “Make Space.”

    With the mandate to stay away from people, including contractors, many folks chose the DIY route to upgrade their homes. Along the way, we learned that DIY projects are an easy way to transform our spaces affordably—and allowed us a creative outlet as well.

    “A lot of people have seen the benefit of simple and effective DIY projects, and they’re willing to stick to them,” adds Newhart.

  11. Mudroom makeovers. A trend that evolved as a result of the pandemic involved an often-overlooked space: the mudroom.

    “It’s typically thought of only as the place where we remove and store coats and shoes,” says Cifuentes.

    Over the past year, though, many homeowners elevated the mudroom by making it ultrafunctional. To avoid germs coming into the home, some homeowners added a washer/dryer and utility sink to make the mudroom a space to safely transition from the outside world into the privacy of their homes.

    “With hygiene being top of mind, this may be a trend that stays long term as people strive to keep their homes as germ-free as possible,” says Cifuentes.

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Young design firm wins national recognition.

A designer can do impressive things when money is no object. A really talented one can do amazing things within a budget.

Zenith Design + Build proved it’s in the latter category by earning a Gold award in the National Association of Home Builders’ Best in American Living Awards (BALA) recently. The award program is founded on the principle that “all great homes start with great design, no matter cost or size.”

Presented in a virtual ceremony in February, the awards honor outstanding achievement by builders and designers in a variety of residential project levels.

“Our project won first place in the Whole Home Remodel under $250,000,” says Zenith’s founder, Nicholas Donlin. “We were thrilled. The project has been a great showpiece for us.”

The small southside Des Moines home built in 1958 was in need of major updates, but Donlin says the potential was obvious, and many of the needed repairs provided opportunities for creativity. “One of the obvious issues was the roof,” he says. “It was in really bad shape. Since we were going to have to replace it anyway, it gave us the opportunity to add a front porch.”

The connection between outdoors and in became an underlying theme in the design and is a principle Donlin emphasizes in most of his work.

“Our daily lives keep us inside so much, and that connection to outside is important,” he says. “This home’s backyard feels so secluded even though it’s in the middle of the city, and we wanted to take advantage of that.”

To do so, Zenith replaced the aging deck, added a pergola overhead, and installed a multislide door that allows greater access to the space. There’s also a projector screen for outdoor movies. “A projector screen is relatively inexpensive option, but it makes movie nights more of an event,” says Donlin.

Changes like that completely transformed the 1,700-square-foot home while maintaining its midcentury vibe. Finishes throughout the space are midcentury modern, and the redesigned layout opens up the living area, making the home feel larger than it is. Donlin says, “The original staircase broke up the house. Moving it allowed us to bring in more light and even restore the original interior brick.”

Zenith also added a second bath as part of the remodel. Donlin says its design is testament to what can be done in a tight space. “We added a micro master bath in what used to be a closet,” he explains. “I’m proud of the amount of storage and the efficient design we were able to create in a space that size.”

Donlin says his training in construction engineering and his prior experience on the technology side of the business taught him that constraints like a small square footage footprint and a tight budget are actually good problems for a designer. “Those constraints are what bring out your creative side. It’s a problem to be solved. This project allowed us to show what a good design can accomplish and what we do on every project. We start by asking what the constraints are, what the client wants to accomplish with the design, and how we can maximize the budget.”

The award-winning home showcases all those concepts. Zenith retained and reused many of the original architectural features and materials, from the brick wall to the tongue-and-groove wood ceiling and redwood siding. The firm incorporated the secluded backyard as part of the design and accomplished the remodel within a budget that suited the market.

“I actually own the home,” Donlin says. “It’s given us the added resource of not just demonstrating what we can do as a team, but it allows us to offer our clients a place to stay while their home is in the midst of a remodel.”

Only in its third year in business, Zenith is busier than ever. The firm offers a full team of designers, project managers, construction crews, and more. The BALA-winning home was designed by Donlin with the help of Aurora Design Group.

Although it’s a young company, the wisdom with which Zenith Design + Build approached this project is reflected in the recognition it’s received. “It’s exciting to bring the incredible design and remodeling projects happening in Des Moines to the national stage,” Donlin says. “We have an incredible team.”