Recent Stories

March 5, 2018

What High End Builders Do (and Don’t) Put in Their Homes

In a Wall Street Journal article, What Luxury Home Builders Consider Worth the Splurge, the subheadline reads, “In their own homes, construction-company bosses will spend money on the best materials and perks like seven ovens and a dog-grooming room. But some eschew complex home-automation systems.”

The Journal article goes on to say “What builders consider worthy of including—or excluding—from their personal homes can be revealing.”

Let’s take a closer look at what high end home builders put into their own homes and what they view as an unnecessary expense.

YES: High quality design, materials, finishes.

Luxury home builders profiled in the Wall Street Journal article invest in the best materials and craftsmanship for their homes. Sebastian Construction Group President John Sebastian agrees with those priorities, believing that quality trumps size or trendy amenities that don’t fit your lifestyle.

As he told DHome magazine in the January/February 2017 issue, “If budget is a concern, build smaller to maintain a high level of quality. You will never miss the space, but you will enjoy the craftsmanship for decades.”

NO: Additional square footage, especially bedrooms you’ll never use.

Rather than square footage, John Sebastian advises clients to invest in design. “Great construction quality and great architecture are smart investments. These qualities will increase the value of the house – not the square footage.”

There’s one more benefit to trading footage for higher quality – when it comes time to sell the house, it often commands a higher price.

A February 2017 article in the Wall Street Journal’s Mansion section noted that some luxury homeowners are following John’s edict to choose quality over footage by reducing the number of bedrooms in their luxury homes. (“Some Luxury Homeowners Scale Back on Extra Bedrooms.“)

Another area where builders of high end homes buck the conventional wisdom? “Green” features and the latest “smart” home systems.

YES: Features that reduce the overall maintenance and operating burden.

John Sebastian notes that while his clients value home features that reduce maintenance and save operating expenses over the years of ownership, most do not prioritize being “green” for the sake of achieving a certification or award.

NO: The latest all-in-one technology.

Sometimes a client’s negative experience serves as a deterrent for the builder who’s crafting his own high end home: “They are also able to use clients’ experiences to inform their choices. Mr. Karp knew to stay away from a complicated, multi-device, iPad-controlled “smart home” technology system because he has fielded so many complaints about them from customers.”

Jerry Nogalski, Sebastian Construction Group’s Client Care Manager echoes Karp’s experience. Nogalski’s department handles Sebastian’s clients’ post-move-in needs. His loyal following of clients rely on his department to schedule all of their warranty work, minor projects after move-in, maintenance work, or any other needs that may arise.

“People need to remember technology changes every day and their system can be out of date within a year of it being installed.”

Nogalski relates a few of the most common problems of all-in-one smart home systems:

“The biggest issue is when the home loses power.  A generator or battery backup may turn on, but some of these systems are so sensitive that it may cause other parts of the system to go down…which causes client frustrations.  The other is modules failing. These are the brains of the lighting system.”

Recent Stories

February 12, 2018

3 home features to plan BEFORE you start building

Building a new residence is an exciting project, filled with decisions about rooms, exterior elevations, and amenities. But while there are some features that may be less thrilling than the pool, porte cochere or show garage, these elements have a big impact on the enjoyment of your home.

Lighting is something we take for granted and underestimate its potential to transform a space. Without good lighting, the impact of all the other well-thought out details – flooring, sumptuous furnishings, beautiful wallcoverings – is lost.

The solution? Plan your lighting as part of the architectural design.

“The more detail you can confirm before embarking on a lighting scheme, the better the lighting will be, ” says an article on

Why not wait until construction is complete? One big reason – you must have the compatible wiring available for your lighting fixtures. Tearing up a ceiling to add wiring later is an expensive and disruptive proposition. You also want to be sure that the builders include the right support and boxing for heavy fixtures, like chandeliers.

By integrating the lighting plan into the architectural design, the contractor can build the necessary infrastructure to make it a reality.

Interior designer Elle Cole, Founder and Creative Director of Elle Cole Interiors, explains the best approach, “Speaking for window treatments, it’s best to walk the project during framing/electrical phase with the General Contractor in the event you’re using hard-wired motorized shades or need additional blocking to support treatments.”

Acoustical issues are rarely a top of mind issue for those in the planning stages of a new residence, but they should be. In Sebastian Construction Group’s survey, 2018 State of High End Residential Architecture, acoustical consultants were part of the typical project team less than 13% of the time.

Noise in a home is an issue that is commonly overlooked, until post-construction conditions are so unpleasant that the owner is driven to find a solution – often at a cost ten to a hundred times what it would have been to address it in the design phase.

A New York Times article on soundproofing New York apartments agains city noise notes, “The solution is seldom as simple as adding insulation. Noise is insidious. No two room hums are exactly alike, and what silences one might make another worse.”

The article goes on to say, “Part of the difficulty in damping sound is that it moves in two ways. Both high- and low-pitched noises can be airborne, like a child’s incessant piano practice that comes through a wall. Low-pitched noise, like the grating sound of a chair scraping the floor above, tends to move as vibration through a structure’s framing. Sometimes it’s a combination of the two, like from a TV mounted on a common wall.”

Bottom line: calling in an acoustical expert to consult on the design of your residence before it’s built may add a few thousand dollars to the price tag, but it can potentially save tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in fixing noise issues post-construction (not to mention the loss of sleep, recreation and enjoyment of your home!)

Recent Stories

December 19, 2017

SURVEY: 2018 State of High End Architecture

As one of the most established contractors of residential estates, we often are asked what trends we see in our market segment: project costs, size, health of the market, and more. So this year, we developed a short survey to ask architects those exact questions. The survey should take 6-8 minutes to complete.

Click on the graphic below to participate (or click here).

After we have collected and analyzed the responses, we will send you the results in a report.

Your response is very much appreciated and we believe that the report will be valuable and insightful to you as you make decisions in 2018.

One more thing – please share this invitation with your colleagues and network. Every response will strengthen the report that we compile.

Thank you for your participation!

Recent Stories

June 5, 2017

3 keys to successful luxury estate projects

Sebastian team members have been on a speaking tour recently, presenting our 40 Misconceptions in the Planning of High End Residences to audiences of architects, designers and subconsultants.

The presentation breaks down 40 of the most common misconceptions in the luxury residential building industry. Sebastian’s been in the business of building luxury homes for nearly 70 years. During that time, John Sebastian and his team of professionals have honed the process of building premier estates. Along the way, they’ve noticed some assumptions and common practices that slow projects and negatively impact the results.

Here’s a sneak peek at one of the misconceptions, how it impacts the construction process and what to do instead.

Client/Owner Relations


“You just can’t manage the client. They are simply going to do what they are going to do.”

Our 70 years experience begs to differ. Clients actually want and need firm direction from their architect. The best architects are not just design geniuses, they also know how to develop trust with the client.

In 2015, the Royal Institute of British Architects published a report, “Client and Architect, developing the essential relationship.” Based on the findings of a two-year analysis of the relationship between clients and their architects, the report contains insights gleaned from interviews with 500 clients.

A couple of the key findings:

“Good communication skills breed trust, reduce perceived risk and boost repeat business.”

“Good communication involves keeping the client ahead of the game.”

We definitely agree. From our decades of experience, here are three practices that make projects successful:

1. Keep the client focused on what is critical, not what is fun.

Gazing at renderings and discussing innovative design touches feeds your creative drive and excites the client, but certain decisions are critical path items.

No decision, no progress.

A client wants and needs firm direction from their architect.  They expect the architect to “keep the wheels on the track”.

2.  Tell the truth and bring up issues, even when it’s uncomfortable.

Be honest in setting expectations, saying “no” when necessary and pushing for decisions. While it may feel awkward at first, the client will appreciate directness and straight talk.

3. Practice good meetings and project management with the client, too. 

A  clear agenda with high priority/scheduling-sensitive items should guide every meeting, whether it’s with contractors, subs or the client. While it can be tempting to spend client meetings brainstorming fun design details, it’s important to review the decisions made, and determine action items and responsible persons.

At Sebastian, we use a very structured meeting agenda and process, called Level 10 meetings. The meeting process is part of a larger management system we use called Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS).

Using the structured process keeps the meetings short and productive and the project running smoothly. Project team members spend most of their time discussing potential issues and resolving them.