Constructing an Architectural Legacy

by buford davis

Southern Nevada is not popularly known for having a strong residential architectural heritage. Expansive tract housing is likely the first image conjured by many, despite scattered neighborhoods featuring midcentury gems and downtown Henderson’s distinctive Townsite houses that remain in various states of preservation.

But a number of buyers with sufficient means are foregoing these “cookie cutter” homes — which are undeniably efficient and relatively affordable, but generally lacking in architectural soul — in favor of custom houses that are driving a new, lasting aesthetic in the region.

“There is a distinct style for Las Vegas, because we are different than other areas,” said Daniel Coletti, president and lead designer of Las Vegas-based Sun West Custom Homes. “You find that customers gravitate (toward) not necessarily ultramodern, but (they) are warming to contemporary trends.”

He said Sun West collaborates with clients to create a style that is “everlasting” and immune to trends that quickly can fall out of fashion, leaving a significant investment suddenly dated and less desirable with time.

“Something that never gets old is glass, natural stones and architectural themes that are not too far out on the cutting edge,” he noted. “That is the artfulness of what we are doing here. We use a lot of natural stones, a lot of glass areas. When you use that combination, it is a good recipe for long-term success for our customers.”

The 39-year-old Sun West is a full-service firm that has been building residential properties in the region since 1989. Many are characterized by an elegance of form that provides an integration with the environment through the use of natural materials.

“We do contemporary styling mostly at the moment because most customers like a contemporary-themed house,” said Coletti. “But we are very good at doing Old World or Tuscan style because communities like Southern Highlands are doing those styles. We do all the different styles.”

Coletti said his firm differs from many builders in that Sun West strives to let the clients’ imaginings shape the design and ultimate structure.

“It is a neat collaboration between the client and myself,” Coletti said. “We are not the type of architectural firm that thinks we should push our ideas onto the client. We actually reverse it. We say, ‘Give us some of your ideas, and we are going to improve on them.’ So they really feel like the home is a part of them, not a part of somebody else. And I think that is an important issue.”

The first step is to have clients create a wish list of all the elements they would like to have in their conceived home.

“I call it a wish list because they may wish for more than we can really supply to them, depending on the lot and what not, but it is a great place to start,” Coletti explained.

“I have become very skillful at articulating words into a drawing; because there is a transformation between somebody’s thoughts and words into a physical drawing that represents their words accurately. Having done that so many times now — I have built over 500 residences — I feel like I am getting really good at listening to what they want, turning it into a plan that resembles their words, and then we are off to just manipulating that design slightly.”

Computer drafting allows for animated 3-D models, affording architects and clients an in-depth look at the architecture before the first nail is struck. After permits are granted — the process typically takes about a month — construction is set to begin.

“It generally (takes) about a month to build 1,000 square feet, but as they get bigger, it takes a little bit longer. So we will build a 7,000-square-foot home in about nine months.

“Because we are building usually no more than six homes a year — that is our sweet spot — we have the ability to give every customer lots of attention, unlike the other builders I am aware of. That is creating speed: The faster you can move through the construction phases and make your home watertight, it is a better-quality construction.”

Coletti said the customer base for high-end custom homes is growing, in large part due to individuals from out of state who are in the market for a second home and a favorable income tax rate.

“A lot of (customers) in the luxury end are coming because of taxation,” he said. “They are paying higher taxes in other states, especially California. So we are seeing people who want to consider buying a home here in advance of them ultimately moving here later.”

Green and sustainable features in residential design are increasingly important to homeowners in all price ranges, but custom homes offer special opportunities to incorporate features that benefit the environment as well as the pocketbook.

“We are very much into energy efficiency, (and) there has been a progression of education out there to everybody,” noted Coletti. “A lot of customers bring it up. We will discuss it, and then I try to gauge each customer separately. Some people are more into it and will embrace it. We really have to tailor to the owners’ requests, but when given an opportunity, we are pushing for it. I think it is a smart thing to do in new residences.”

He said when drawing plans, the designers and architects always consider energy efficiency, including the direction of the overhangs, the possibility of photovoltaic cells on the roof, solar heating features in pools, tankless water heaters, good insulation and construction with high-performance glass.

Coletti said he is passionate about architecture but finds some of the most meaningful moments are the human interactions with the space and watching new residents move into the structure that began with their own dreams.

“I believe it is a forever memory (that) families have when they come into a home that was custom designed for them, that truly started from scratch,” he said. “There are a lot of custom homebuilders that simply take a plan and manipulate it a little, and a little more. That’s not really a custom home, in my opinion. It wasn’t a new thought, and the ideas the owner might have brought to the table are not really being brought to the forefront.”

“These (homes were never a) model, and I think this is important,” Coletti said.

The resulting homes created today, the builder hopes, will be valued by Southern Nevada families for generations to come.