The president of Streeter & Associates on the how and the why of building architect-designed homes

Interview by Christopher Hudson

How do you describe Streeter & Associates and its Elevation Homes division to prospective clients?

We’re a highly design-focused team of builders. We prefer to work with architects, landscape architects, and interior designers, because that collaboration makes the whole much greater than the sum of its parts.

You’ve worked with more than a dozen architecture firms over the years. How is an architect chosen for one of your projects?

We’re fortunate to have great relationships with a number of architects and firms. At the client’s request, we can help with introductions and early conversations so that the choices are a good fit from the start. Ultimately, the clients make the decision.

Have you ever thought about bringing architecture and landscape architecture services in-house, or have you always been set on using outside partners?

For a short time we experimented with in-house designers for our renovation projects, but generally speaking we just feel like the work can become stagnant that way—the same style, selections, or approach over and over. We find it much more interesting to team with different architects and build homes in a variety of styles.

What’s the builder’s role during the design process?

The clients have their own relationship with the architect, but we’re there in the background—and even in some of the meetings—as the preliminary design is developed so we understand what direction they’re going to take. At that stage, we’re advisors.

Our involvement really ramps up through design development. We bring in the right subcontractors and the right people behind the scenes to get all of the critical components of the home worked out. These complex houses require a lot of planning—you don’t want to be figuring things out in the field. If you do careful planning up front, you’re going to have a successful building phase and a great product at the end.

There are always a few tweaks to be made during construction, but when we hit the ground we have at least 90 percent of the really critical decisions and solutions figured out.

When needed tweaks have an impact on the design, do you consult with the architects?

We want the architects to be involved all the way through construction. If we run into any issues, we can talk through workable solutions and refinements that maintain the overall design intent.

Architect Tim Alt, who’s collaborated with you in the past, describes that approach as “editing” the design rather than compromising it.

That’s really the difference. One thing that I think sets our firm apart is our passion for design and carrying it all the way through to the detailing. We’re not a production-style builder. We don’t want that type of mentality among our team. That’s why we’re very careful about the number of projects we take on: If we overextend ourselves, attention to detail can easily suffer.

You’ve been a big supporter of the AIA Minnesota Homes by Architects Tour from its inception. How is it different from other tours you participate in?

It’s condensed into one lively weekend, and the 2,000 people who’ve purchased tickets are all really interested in architectural homes. They’re looking for more than just the latest wallpaper trend—they’ve come to experience a variety of quality residential architecture. We have two very different but equally exciting houses on this year’s tour. We’re proud to be supporting AIA Minnesota and the architecture firms.

Speaking of trends, what new ideas are you seeing in residential design? Are your clients’ priorities changing in any significant way?

There are a few notable things happening, I think. We’re still building some big houses, but we’re definitely seeing increased interest in high-quality materials and craftsmanship in more modestly sized homes. And with people building smaller houses, swing rooms—spaces that can accommodate multiple functions—are really big right now.

Open-plan living continues to be popular, and there’s growing interest in the butler kitchen, which can help homeowners isolate some of the usual kitchen clutter. When clients see one, they really latch onto it.

But perhaps the biggest trends are design for aging in place and for multigenerational living. We have clients thinking ahead to their later years when they may need the flexibility to live more on one level. Clients are also adding living spaces on lower levels and above garages for aging parents. I think we’re going to see more and more of that, especially with the rising costs of care.

What changes do you see on the horizon for custom home building? How might Streeter look a little different in 10 years?

For us, success stems from having people with a common goal and a common passion. There will always be a need for high-end custom homes. The challenge for our firm is that some of our field-operations folks have been with us for 15 to 25 years, so we’ll need to continue to find really good young staff and make sure they’re learning from those nearing retirement. It’s a bigger challenge than you might think, because not enough young people are being encouraged to pursue the trades.

But we’ve been here for 32 years, and I hope we survive for another 32. We have an amazing team at Streeter and Elevation, with leaders like Nate Wissink, Bob Near, and others who’ll help grow our business and carry the name forward. My 14-year-old son is thinking only about playing hockey right now, but if he wants to do this work someday, he will have many mentors and craftsmen to inspire him.

After all these years, do you still find it a rewarding profession?

Oh, absolutely. People want to live in well-designed homes; many just don’t know how to get started. There’s no better feeling than when, at the end of the journey you’ve taken them on, you see the family in their house and they think it’s better than they ever dreamed it could be.