Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Every year, The New American Home project proves to be a challenge. This year was no exception

February 3, 2019
TNAH 2019_rear elevation view of outdoor living_photo by Jeffrey A Davis

The New American Home 2019 sits perched above the Las Vegas Valley. (Photo: Jeffrey A. Davis)

The New American Home (TNAH) is no picnic. Since the annual show home’s inauguration in 1984, more than 30 builders have braved the experience (some more than once), and every year the project proves to be disruptive at best, harrowing at worst. 

Tackled by well-known production operations and custom shops alike over the years, the program takes each builder out of their comfort zone. There are different suppliers to accommodate, and with them unknown subs; new (and sometimes untested) products, systems, and building practices that challenge schedules and site supervision; and committee meetings, photo and video shoots, ad hoc site visits by relative strangers, and other time-sucking responsibilities that interrupt routines and challenge an already tight delivery date. 

So why take it on? Why upset your apple cart for a one-off, crazy journey to build and sell a multimillion-dollar custom luxury spec house?

For Sun West Custom Homes, the design/build firm responsible for this year’s iteration, the answer speaks to a company that wanted to improve and saw TNAH as its ticket to ride. “Sometimes you fall into a rut, even when you know you’re working with really good craftspeople and suppliers,” says Carl Martinez, the company’s president of construction. “This was a chance to force us out of the box and shake it up a little.”

That approach, of course, trickled down to Sun West’s subs. “We told them this was an opportunity to try new things and expand their skill set and knowledge, and they had to have that mindset to work on this project,” Martinez says. 

Several subs also were asked to provide detailed materials take-offs for Sun West to purchase directly (a different protocol for both), and to estimate labor only instead of their usual turnkey bids. That process—necessitated by program sponsors that donate, discount, or otherwise supply products and materials to the project—“Gave us a better understanding of how our trade partners work and how to work with them,” Martinez says.

True to its promise 18 months ago, Sun West completed the house on time—for a photo shoot in early November, more than three months before its debut at the International Builders’ Show—a testament to the company’s already integrated design/build culture and desire to be challenged. “We saw this as a platform to showcase what we can do as a team,” says Bridgette Slater, Sun West’s purchasing agent and designated point person for people like me. “The rewards far outweighed the risks.” 


Rich Binsacca is Professional Builder’s editor-in-chief. He has served as an editor and frequent contributor to several housing and building construction-related print and online publications, and has reported and written about all aspects of the industry since 1987.