“I could tell so many horror stories,” says Tim Ernst, partner in Ernst Brothers Designers and Builders. “For example, this job we were working on, their addition was designed beyond the setback [into an area of the property they were not allowed to build on].” Oversights like this are not uncommon in a process that doesn’t incorporate collaboration between the designers and contractors who have practical experience. “Now they are losing two weeks to redesign,” Ernst says. Such miscommunications not only waste time but money, as these redesigns require the contractor or architect to re-draw, resubmit and reapprove the changes. “All this could have been avoided through collaboration,” he says. “It’s frustrating because we know there is a better way.”
Brothers Tim and Joe Ernst, along with partner Jake Taylor, own Ernst Brothers Designers and Builders, an award-winning luxury custom home and commercial building contractor serving Bucks and Montgomery counties. The “better way” Ernst refers to is the design-build service they offer. Under this model Ernst Brothers Designers and Builders is the only company a client needs to hire. It will then select and manage the architects, engineers, specialty contractors, interior designers and landscapers, as needed, from the professionals with whom it has established relationships. The customer does not have to manage multiple entities or oversee their work. Ernst Brothers provides one point of accountability and communication for all parties involved in the project. This collaborative process eliminates surprises for the owner, including costly redesigns, add-ons and change orders.
The process begins with an informal meeting in the client’s home or the Ernsts’ showroom. “We recognize that it is not just another transaction,” Taylor says. “It is emotional, like a marriage. A contractor may spend many months in your home so you need to determine if it is a good fit.” If Ernst Brothers and the homeowner agree on the goals and budget they begin the process almost immediately, bringing in other professionals to assist with each aspect of the project, develop a schematic plan, detail the design as needed and, finally, submit a construction price for the project. Ernst says, “We guide [the homeowner] through the process. They are an important part of the team approach.”
A collaborative process offers the design team the ability to share information and ideas with other professionals. “An experienced architect appreciates what a builder brings to the table; they understand budgets and scheduling better.” The brothers are also experienced in managing this process, having been in the industry for almost 30 years. “What sets us apart from general contractors is our real estate development experience,” Ernst says. “We know the township officials and their requirements. … We know the red flags.”
Taylor explains that the design-build formula can help the homeowner meet their budget. “Architects are more likely to price efficiently knowing they have an experienced builder to work with,” he says. “The collaboration process provides greater value for less money.” Taylor, who is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accredited professional with 15 years’ experience, also works with Bluebell Kitchens, one of Ernst Brothers Designers and Builders’ preferred contractors. “Bluebell Kitchens and Ernst Brothers have worked together for 18 years,” he says. “They love working with us because we collaborate. Bluebell Kitchens sees the value. Not all contractors like to work with collaboration because some like to make extra money on the change orders.”
Peter Cardamone, owner and principal designer for Bluebell Kitchens, says that he enjoys working with Ernst Brothers Designers and Builders because they are a professional company that yields beautiful results. “They push us to excel. They are great team players and elevate the whole team,” he says. “Ernst Brothers Designers and Builders is the executer of great ideas.”
Bluebell Kitchens collaborated with Ernst Brothers Designers and Builders on a recent Chestnut Hill project for homeowners who travel the world collecting unique home accessories. It incorporated many of these objects including a vintage icebox from a French butcher shop that they restored to a functioning fridge. “It was a great collaboration with a design-forward client,” says Cardamone. “We worked closely with them to recreate the hotel kitchen they envisioned from one of their favorite places to stay.”
Since 1983 Bluebell Kitchens has been providing comprehensive kitchens and bathroom design service. “It is very detail oriented from start to finish; from material selection to the function and fit out of each door and drawer, we strive to create as pleasant a customer experience as possible,” says Cardamone. Its beautiful showroom in Spring House features artisanal tile and custom cabinetry from several local and Pennsylvania- based craftsmen including their own shop located in Ambler. It is also a representative for Thermador, Sub-Zero, Wolf and other highend appliance lines.
Though it often serves a high-end clientele, Bluebell Kitchens offers products that can be used by most homeowners and advises them on which products are most practical for their use. “It’s the quality and detail that makes the difference,” he says.
To aid its clients’ understanding of the variety of material, products and hardware available, Bluebell Kitchens and Ernst Brothers Designers and Builders have just introduced a service that Taylor says the firms are very excited about. “We can actually create a photo-realistic depiction of the design. [As designers] we can look at architectural plans and envision them, but many clients cannot. This program allows them to compare treatments, finishes and even lighting.”
With a team of professionals working together under the direction of Ernst Brothers Designers and Builders to bring all these details together, every homeowner who works with them can be assured their construction story will have a fairy-tale ending.
Story by Sharon A. Shaw, House & Home Magazine