Symone Garvett of the Builder talks to Richard Doublass of California based Trumark about their new design layout concept
#flooring #architects #design #construction
Through the trials and tribulations that 2020 has brought upon society, homeowners and home buyers have learned how to be flexible and quickly adapt to the current environment. From at-home working and learning to virtual hangouts and fitness classes, people are realizing homes are a top priority and “flex spaces” within them are more important than ever.
In response to the growing trend, California-based builder Trumark Cos. developed TruFlex, an innovative design layout concept that allows home buyers to customize their homes by choosing from various preset designs specific to each level of the home.
Available at Trumark’s West Village property in Brea, Calif.—which was awarded Best Multifamily Housing Community, 15-30 du/acre at PCBC’s 2020 Gold Nugget Awards—TruFlex enables homeowners to customize their townhome floor plan to include a home office, a home gym, a nursery, or whatever their individual lifestyles may require.
BUILDER spoke with Richard Douglass, Southern California division president at Trumark Cos., about TruFlex, including what inspired the concept, how the company had to adapt its practices to offer this option, and buyer reactions to the customizable floor plans.
BUILDER: What exactly is TruFlex?
Douglass: Truflex is our name for a flexible floor plan and building design and infrastructure program. “Tru” borrows from our company name, but the real essence of “TruFlex” comes from our cross-functional approach to design and construction.
BUILDER: When and where did Trumark start offering these customizable layouts?
Douglass: Our first offering was a duplex product in Chino Hills, Calif. The land-use regulations allowed little differentiation in square footage and lot coverage. We had to get creative with interior space so each plan would live differently or flex to different lifestyles. We could not rely on plan size and shape to dictate floor plan design. We focused on methods to combine adjoining rooms with flexibility in partition location and openings.
BUILDER: What inspired the concept?
Douglass: A number of factors, most notably the background among members of our senior management team. We are very collaborative. Some of us have backgrounds in modular design, panelized construction, and adaptable building methods. Others have worked in Europe and in Asia. In effect, our group sees the world a bit differently. We were also in the midst of learning some really hard lessons from previous high-density urban products that were challenging in terms of constructability, costs, and cycle time. Much of that product had been designed years before.
The labor shortage was a growing factor, and, honestly, the complexity of our designs at that point were overwhelming our trades’ ability to perform. We knew labor issues would only get worse as the market improved, so there was no turning back. We made it our mission to root out as much inefficiency as possible, and we dedicated tremendous time and focus on new methods. That gave way to more uniformity in size and shape, modularity in terms of dimensions of spaces. No uneven dimensions, for example. This was then coupled with a total breakdown of each construction step and sequence. Just relentlessness on the process, but not just for process sake. The real motivation was to take gained efficiencies and plow the savings back into more impactful featuresTruFlex Floor Plan Options View All 4 Photos Play slideshow
BUILDER: Did Trumark have to adapt its current building practices to offer this option? How?
Douglass: Yes, in a variety of ways. The emphasis on process was matched with an equal focus on lifestyle being translated into interior design. In simple terms, we challenged ourselves by building the simplest boxes side by side to gain enormous predictability and efficiency. But then, the bigger challenge was the need to differentiate these modules from an excitement and ability to thrive in the home. Once the lifestyle components were determined, we then focused on the building infrastructure (wires, pipes, technology) that we could apply uniformly. The idea was that even if this was initially complex, by making it repeatable we only had to deal with the complexity once. This has a lot of infrastructure planning implications. For example, placing water pipes in walls for a bathroom that may or may not be selected. If they don’t want the bathroom, the pipes stay buried. If they want it, we connect to it. That’s just one of many examples.
This all meant countless hours of interior design studies with all of our disciplines at the table. We felt confident we could create an efficient module that was simpler, more cost effective, and faster to construct. The idea was then to make it adaptable, and exciting for people to live in. Our interior designers and marketing people came up with a lot of “what-if’s” geared to a spectrum of potential buyers. It’s amazing to consider just how much that spectrum has broadened in recent years, and we challenged ourselves to think of as many as possible and yet still keep the variations at a reasonable level. There have to be limits, of course. From there it was then merging the “infrastructure” into the designs.
BUILDER: Roughly how much more does it cost to incorporate an idea like this?
Douglass: It costs no more. It actually costs less. When things become more predictable and repeatable you gain economies and eliminate waste. With modularity and panels, to a large extent, there should be very little cutting on the jobsite and very little waste. We don’t need to rely on sophisticated foremen to figure things out and then struggle to build it. There are not enough of those people around anymore. We build most of the product on paper. It sounds simple, but it takes focus and dedication. The ultimate would be a “kit house,” which is not exactly a new concept. But to pull that off you need a tremendous dedication to pre-plan and pre-construct. We think like athletes. We train and train and practice before we play. It means we go faster once we start. Then, we take saved time and money and put it into the more impactful design features like staircases, window systems, and designer features.
BUILDER: How have buyers reacted to the customization? In the millennial cohort? And in other popular demographics?
Douglass: In a variety of ways, and we are only just beginning. We can pre-plot certain plans in a given phase or sequence. The same module can have a killer master suite with luxury baths on the third floor or three bedrooms and two baths for a young family in the same space. The infrastructure is there, we just plug it in. It sounds simple, but it takes planning and practice. We plant the most advanced technology in the plans, with lots of wired outlets that can be connected to Wi-Fi and robust broadband. That means a lot our spaces are perfect for home offices. You can go with gyms or playrooms. It’s all about adaptable or adjacent spaces. When you think of it that way, modular gets more exciting. We can program ideal floor plans ourselves and put these into spec starts, or a customer can order what they want from our design options.
BUILDER: What patterns have emerged with the floor plans?
Douglass: In the Chino Hills project, the preferred flex option was to transform the room adjoining the master bedroom into a retreat, office, or gym with the possibility of making it a bedroom in the future or the opposite. For those who purchased the plan as a bedroom, we left a door opening under the drywall so it would be easy for the homeowner to create the opening at a later date.
In our latest community in Brea, buyers have been at different ends of the spectrum—some minimum bedroom count and some maximum bedroom count. Neither of which would have been pre-plotted in a standard community with typical floor plans.
BUILDER: What other trends might emerge in the post-pandemic housing market, and how does Trumark plan to cater to those trends?
Douglass: Although we created TruFlex before the pandemic, these flexible floor plans are more relevant now. Our lifestyles will still be different than pre-pandemic. These flexible plans will allow us to increase our focus on the true function of a home office with a quiet place for online meetings. We will see two people working from home—not just one—and see two people working from home and kids attending class online. We are also exploring greater use of materials that have antimicrobial surfaces—countertops and door hardware. And we will always be keen on adopting new energy-efficient products and construction methods.