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July 2013

The

Best

30+ stylish home products

Five that Survived the Crash

House

Home builders and designers who produce the best and weathered the worst.

Home &

Three gorgeous, characteristically Southern homes


HALLIE MCKAY

CLICK | editor’s letter

at home The House and Home issue celebrates our distinct Southern style of living. From our wrap around porches to our sprawling gardens, a Southerner’s house is truly unmistakable. Probably more than any other region, we tend to hold onto our past, displaying it proudly in our homes, whether it be great grandmother’s china pattern, an antique clock or even holding onto doors of an older family home and refurbishing them for a newer one, like homeowner Sara Swindle did on page 62, “Something Old, Something New.” I’ve moved a total of eight times since leaving for college, each time always dreaming of having a fabulously decorated space all my own. This past August, I moved into such a place, albeit minus the chic factor. It turns out, filling a home, much less decorating one, is more tasking than imagined. Now that the decorating frenzy has subsided, I’ve realized that the beautiful spreads in House Beautiful I had hoped to imitate, are a far cry from reality. For present, I’m happy with my wish lists and ear-marked magazines of rooms I hope to have one day. Throughout the process, I’ve learned creating a home doesn’t happen overnight, it occurs gradually. It’s kind of like a layering process — you purchase a few staples to keep you from sitting off the floor and build from there. Along the way adding art, a family antique, or even a few unexpected flea market finds in the process. I love what interior designer Rachel Gray says in our home feature on page 74 “When I come into my house, I want to see my favorite things.” At home, for me, those favorite things are those which can’t be ordered from Overstock.com. It’s the bed frame I’ve had since second grade, a piece of art that someone so lovingly selected for me one Christmas, and even something as simple as a framed photo of me with best friends. Our July issue is filled with a multitude of reasons to fall back in love with your home. View three, beautiful Southern homes (p.62-77) , shop stylish decor products from local retailers (p. 79) and even get some helpful decorating tips from our friends at Chestnut Hall (p. 84) . One of my favorite stories in this month’s issue “5That Survived the Crash” (p. 88) is one which has been two years in the making. Finally, and only with the help of Click’s managing editor Casey Hilder, I’m proud to say it was well worth the wait. After the housing market crash of 2008 many were forced to downsize, find new occupations, or worse, file bankruptcy. On page 89 you’ll find profiles of five industry professionals who experienced the recession of 08 and succeeded in weathering the storm. There’s so much to love in this issue it would be impossible to list all the must-reads here. Flip through the pages of this issue and and you’ll find even more ideas to inspire you throughout the month of July. PS--Be sure to check out the winners from our Cutest Dog Contest (p.7) and be prepared to have your heart melt. Keep Reading,

Editor in Chief

Write To Us: Email editor@myclickmag.com or send us a letter and at Click Magazine P.O. Box 100, Hernando, MS 38632. 6 JULY 2013 | myclickmag.com


feature

Five that SURVIVED the

crash

The hardy MidSouth homebuilders and designers who produce the best and weathered the worst. Story by CASEY HILDER |

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Photos by MICHAEL HENSLEY

The onset of the Great Recession in late 2008 shook the global economy to its foundation, causing the largest domestic decline in goods and services since World War II. However, few industries felt the sting of the recession like the country’s battered housing market. During the five-year long real estate crash ushered in alongside the recession, home values in the United States dropped by a combined $9 trillion, an amount equal to the annual GDP of the entire country of China. This striking loss cast the industry to the forefront of national news and led to a massive loss of jobs and foreclosure of businesses and homes across the country. The downturn of the residential housing market in particular affected thousands of designers, architects, contractors and builders and changed the business models of many for years to come, ushering in a new era of wearing many hats, mobilizing and doing more with less. Now, the market is finally showing signs of life following the massive dip in 2008. While many are still hesitant to acknowledge that the worst is over, the numbers speak for themselves. Construction rates have risen more than 38 percent in the past year and housing starts are now 85 percent higher than the dire lows hit at during the peak of the recession in 2009. While many operations perished during these tumultuous times, a willingness to break conventional stereotypes and think outside the box contributed to many local businesses not thriving, but surviving the tough times through grit and determination.

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feature Careful financial planning and industry savvy carried Jody “Joe” Dunning through the recession. The Byhalia native and former director of the small business startup center at Northwest Mississippi Community College heads Classic Homes, LLC, a contracting firm based out of Olive Branch. “It’s a lot easier to give up in this business when you’re weighted down with debt,” he says. Since 1992, Dunning has built a variety of houses from the ground up across North Mississippi. “We originally tried to stay around DeSoto County. However, when the downturn hit, we would basically do whatever it took and go where we needed to go,” Dunning says. “We were able to turn to other arenas outside of residential building including a few restaurants and other commercial projects.” Dunning earned his general construction license in 2006, which opened up a slew of new opportunities outside the realm of residential construction. “We didn’t really focus on brick-andmortar groundwork on commercial jobs,” he says. “There was a little bit of a learning curve compared to working residentially, but many of the differences boil down to the materials we use — metalwork for commercial versus traditional lumber for residential.” Commercial work allowed Dunning to hone his craft during evidence of the recession was not always found in the downtime of the 2008-2011 unsold homes, but rather a heavy and stubborn lot housing dip. The seasoned inventory hastily purchased by other prospective contractor momentarily turned contractors. “A lot of the time, you’ll see nothing his focus away from residential but a concrete foundation with pipes sticking and homes and toward smaller-scale overgrown weeds for months on end,” he says. renovations and interior design. While Dunning acknowledges the importance of saving money, This focus on smaller jobs and slow growth wasn’t in the purview he isn’t beyond passing some of the savings down to his clientele. of many other area contractors, many of whom planned big and Many of his recent projects boast Energy Star certification in light ended up being forced to give up the ghost when times got tough. of recent “green” trends. To homeowners, this means a reduction “A lot of guys were building 20 or so market homes with 200 lots of hundreds of dollars a year in utility payments in inventory,” he says. “That’s one of the things we didn’t do. You always want to grow your business “Times were good. and a minimal carbon footprint. In 2012, the 11 Energy Star-certified homes built by Classic Homes but we thought that mindset could catch us off We were doing $100cut down on carbon emissions in the state, saving guard if a downturn did occur.” $125 a square foot and up to 19,833 pounds of burnt coal.And despite a A former banker, Dunning was well versed in the few grim years as of late, Dunning looks toward area of supply and demand. He saw the symptoms 2006 was our best the future. He emphasizes a need for revaluation of a dwindling market and planned accordingly year. We probably of appraisal procedures to match the current to keep his business afloat. He speaks of the days built about 20 homes market, championing a cost-approach method before the housing bubble burst with a degree of that year,” instead of traditional comparable appraisal.“That hindsight gained from 20 years of immersion in way, builders receive credit for what they’re putting the industry. “Times were good. We were doing into a house in terms of material and cost,” he says. “If you built $100-$125 a square foot and 2006 was our best year. We probably a house six months ago, it’s likely that your framing materials built about 20 homes that year,” he says. “But suddenly, we were would cost $5,000 more than they do today. Right now, we’re seeing building much less. The banks wouldn’t let most contractors build an increase in the cost in building materials and lots and we’re more than two or three at a time.” still stuck in the old appraisal process of comparing the price to In addition to commercial work, Dunning found himself taking established homes.” on smaller and lower-cost residential projects during the recession. Now that his company has weathered the worst, Dunning hopes “It’s a whole lot easier to move a $100,000 home than a $400,000 to resume business as usual in the coming years. “Last year was home,” Dunning says. “We gave up our profit a few years but we profitable for us and it’s looking like 2013 will be even better,” never actually had to take money out of the company.” Dunning says. “I definitely feel like it’s on the upturn. Things are While the signs were everywhere in the form of the high cost looking good—the DOW is up and trucks are on the road.” of roofing materials, drywall and carpeting, Dunning saw that

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feature units each. His signature style includes mixed-used housing units Dan Camp cites a unique, rental-based that pack student dwellings above local boutiques and restaurants business model and ripe, workable for a true taste of downtown living in rural Mississippi. “Anything neighborhood as the two primary that looks good over here, we did it,” Camp says. reasons that the recession never visited Camp’s easily recognizable work is a far cry from the ranchhis stomping grounds of Starkville, style architecture that once dominated the surrounding area. His Mississippi. “We don’t play with the same architecture consists of classical, French-style housing that blends set of drums as everybody else in the the best of design from New Orleans, Vicksburg and whatever else business,” Camp says. has caught his eye in foreign locales over his years of traveling. Camp, the visionary behind the Many of his buildings, he says, are geared toward implementing sprawling student entertainment district known as the Cotton his own slice of Belgium’s renowned capital of District, created what has become known to Bruges in the heart of the Magnolia State. locals as a walkable sensation in the small And Camp does it all with no formal training. college town. “For students, it means you won’t While he doesn’t pack the professional get put in the pokey after you’ve had a few,” he architectural expertise of his contemporaries, says, in acknowledgement of the area’s thriving his skills are sought after from as far as nightlife. Harvard University and Belgium, where he Camp says he doesn’t understand the “gotta has delivered lectures on his unique, NOLAsell” mentality that most developers operate meets-Vicksburg style of architecture. Casual, within. According to Camp, houses are often candid and cavalier, Camp’s attitude is highly poor investments and difficult to obtain an atypical of the consummate salesman and he shows no signs of efficient return on investment for months of work. stopping. “I figured out 40-something years ago that there are much “We’re working on some things around here that’ll blow your better ways to do it,” Camp says. “And the major difference with mind, including a hotel going up that my sons have recently us being that this operation has always had positive cash flow — designed. In fact, I’ve requested that we import some hot Latin cash is always the answer.” females from Puerto Rico to work as maids,” he says with a wry The Cotton District employs an own-to-rent strategy in lieu of grin. traditional methods to maintain a steady cash flow. This method Among his most recognizable works is the Rue Du Grand of passive income has carried Camp throughout the years and has Fromage, the District’s “Big Cheese” — a towering classical-style served as a safeguard of sorts against the swelling housing bubble structure that welcomes in the time leading up visitors to the many to the recession. To shops and restaurants Camp, the advantages of of the area. From the owning the properties he overall appearance of works on far outweigh the buildings to the the extra hours he puts foundation below, in maintaining the Camp’s work is highly buildings. In fact, he recognizable and revels in it. “This is the uniquely his own. He only venue of its kind,” uses wood foundations he says. “And I couldn’t instead of traditional imagine any other place concrete and has I’d rather live than right established a way to in the middle of it all.” work faster and more As former mayor of efficiently on the Starkville and owner of less-stable soil of the 90 percent of buildings land. “Of course, they in the Cotton District, thought I was nuts at the 71-year-old developer first. Eventually, they has seen the best and Dan Camp's historic Cotton District neighborhood in Starkville. quit saying I was crazy worst of the industry in and began to copy my work,” he says. “If it’s good enough for the his years in the business. A self-made man in every sense of the beach, it’s good enough for us.” word, Camp’s success in the field of urban renewal comes as the However, Camp acknowledges that his model may not be suited result of 50 years of trial and perseverance. “The area I originally for fast-growing metropolitan communities like Olive Branch. worked with was so terrible, you would be shocked that it wasn’t His work fills a niche for a very specialized market, something included in any city government plan,” he says. “I guess, in some that developers have tried to emulate in burgeoning college ways, I did the community a little favor.” towns across the country. While much of Camp’s success can Deep in the heart of Bulldog territory, MSU students clamor for a be attributed to his architectural style and business model, he spot in the Cotton District, with nearly a 99 percent occupancy rate maintains that every dime he’s earned has come through following year round. Camp’s successful model can partially be attributed to the sage advice of his mother: “Never sell anything, never have a the fact that the Southern U.S. tends to have more renters than partner and always include a washer and dryer,” he says. “Mother other regions, especially in college locales. Each of Camp’s 90 was right.” buildings in the Cotton District packs anywhere from one to 18

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Stephen Skinner of UrbanArch Associates says a willingness to adapt to the changing climate while staying true to the core principles established by himself and coowner Brian Bullard were the deciding factors that kept his company afloat during the recession. “People appreciate those in the industry that haven’t compromised their principles,” he says. “We have a broad range of experience along with a very diverse client base and have still been able to maintain a smaller, more boutique-style design environment.” According to Skinner, those who survived were the ones who knew how to adapt and didn’t wait for jobs to fall into their laps. He also credits the surge of “weekend warrior” homebuilders, developers and commercial contractors as a contributing factor to the oversaturation of the market that led to the 2008 downturn. “Before 92 JULY 2013 | myclickmag.com

the recession, everyone jumped in trying to make their fortune,” he says. "People were out here making money hand over fist without trying very hard or even being good at what they did. The demand was that great. When things slowed down, they didn’t know how to react or adjust because most had never seen a downturn before.” Skinner’s by-any-means style of business management has also helped the company grow from a modest start out of his house in Olive Branch in 2002 to his stylish new office on South Main Street in Memphis. “With Memphis in particular, the residential and commercial markets had completely dried up,” he says. “But we found that the best way to find new work during slow times was to not wait for it to come to you. Sometimes you have to be proactive and go out and make a project happen.” The new office, with its graffiticoated interior and Spartan design style, fits right in alongside the small niche of artists’ studios in downtown Memphis. In addition to commercial work, UrbanArch has designed many estate homes throughout DeSoto County geared toward the more affluent citizens of the fastest growing county in the state. This diversity in operations brought a steady stream of work that would carry the firm through tough times and beyond. “I have found that most small firms focus on a specific specialty in either residential or commercial design – we don’t. We currently have thriving commercial and residential departments,” he says. “When the economy tanks in one area, the other is there to pick up the slack.” While UrbanArch held out longer than most during the crash, the lingering effects were definitely felt. “Prior to the recession, the industry was going like gangbusters — we had quite a backlog and it took us a while to get to the end of that because our projects can take up to a year or more,” he says. “Unfortunately, some in the industry didn’t have a backload and felt the effects much sooner than that. We found that we had to be willing to do what the competition wasn’t. “ In addition to maintaining a healthy backlog of work, UrbanArch adopted a policy early on to take on projects that many other local firms avoided. “From the very beginning, we have made it a point to treat all of our clients with the same level respect and care regardless of the project size or type,” he says. “It also turns out

Stephen SKINNER


that many of these same clients have businesses that seem to thrive during recessions and this has produced a significant amount of work for us.” Skinner credits this commitment to seeking out underdog projects and an ability to work on a tight budget as the deciding factors that kept the company going. “Our business model is very frugal. We try to stay lean and mean. As owners, we still answer our own phones and work alongside our staff in the design and development of construction drawings every day,” he says. “Most businesses also open up a large line of credit when they get started and we didn’t do that. This business model has allowed us to be very flexible and secure regardless of the financial climate.” Skinner has had a hand in many architectural endeavors in DeSoto County. The prolific commercial and

“With Memphis in particular, the residential and commercial markets had completely dried up,” residential designer has undertaken projects such as the Olive Branch City Hall and Police Station, Fillin Station Grille, Snowden Grove Amphitheatre and the upcoming Southaven Senior Citizens’ Center. In addition to a healthy portfolio of commercial work, Skinner cites his role as a designer for many residential projects in DeSoto County as an important part of the company’s diverse portfolio. He looks at each project on a case-by-case basis and employs his own standards and guidelines to maximize customer satisfaction and project success. He says that “politician-style” designers don’t ordinarily go over well in DeSoto County’s five major cities, which gives smaller, more focused local firms like UrbanArch the edge over fierce competition. “There’s no guidebook to buy that tells you specifically how to addresses the growth dynamics of one of the fastest growing counties in the country,” he says. “I have found that even during a financial downturn, there are those clients who will continue to insist on something better and refuse to settle. If you do good work and guard your integrity, clients will seek you out.” myclickmag.com | JULY 2013 93


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With 20 years of homebuilding experience under his belt, Bob Higginbotham’s highly recognizable style of expansive custom homes have made his work stand out from the crowd in DeSoto County. However, even one of the region’s most reputable builders wasn’t immune to the struggles brought on by the economic downturn. “When things were good, they were really good,” he says. “And we’ve had slow times before but when this crunch hit, it was 94 JULY 2013 | myclickmag.com

different — it hit everybody.” In addition to numerous accolades from the Home Builders Association of Mississippi, one of Higginbotham’s crowning achievements as a local builder are his homes in Spring Place Estates, a picturesque, high-dollar neighborhood located just off Pleasant Hill and Church Road in Olive Branch. There, each house is built site-specific to maximize the location and provide a unique aesthetic flair. Known countywide for his “can-do” reputation, Higginbotham frequently takes on challenging projects that include expansive estates featuring curved floors,


high ceilings and other trying tasks for homebuilders. “I’m not the only builder who can build stuff like this,” he says of his work. “But I may be one of the few in the area who is crazy enough to take something like that on. I enjoy my work.” While he’s spent much of his time in the business engaged in the local environment becoming aware of the highly specialized needs of his clientele, the looming effects of the economic downturn became glaringly apparent to Higginbotham shortly after wrapping up work on a major project in 2009. “I had just finished a good-sized house from ’08 that carried us into the next year. Usually, I’ve got something else coming out of the ground but this time I didn’t,” he says. “I finished on Friday and by Monday, I didn’t have anywhere to go for the first time in

out work that included insurance repairs and other minor services. He cut down on building speculative housing, relegating the construction of lavish trappings like Spring Place to “only an occasional thing.” “I was just homebuilding before the crash,” he says. “It soon became clear that we needed to diversify.” Projects that he wouldn’t have had time for five years ago soon became the bread and butter of Higginbotham’s day-to-day operations. From repairing flood damage to remodeling and adding expansions to existing homes, Higginbotham’s team conceded a bit of the glamour in order to stay afloat during the recession. “We eventually started to take anything that anyone would call about,” he says. “It took a while — I was sort of typecast as the guy who would only work on big houses.”

Bob HIGGINBOTHAM

30 years.” To avoid fading into obscurity like so many of his peers, Higginbotham began researching new ways to find work, cut costs and minimize the impact of the nation’s greatest economic struggle in recent history. “At the time, I was thinking about how it wasn’t just me — there are a lot of people who were dependant on me to make a living,” he says. Eventually, he decided that concessions would have to be made. He closed his workshop in Hernando off of McCracken Road, where he produced many of the components for his Spring Place homes. His office in Olive Branch also closed its doors soon after and Higginbotham was forced to conduct operations from his own home. “The office was mainly just a place to meet people and shake hands, but we made a lot of good stuff in the shop that we applied to the houses,” Higginbotham reminisces. While primarily a homebuilder by trade, the recession led Higginbotham to seek

In addition to scarcer opportunities for work, combating the high prices of building supplies and raw material became a secondary battle for Higginbotham and his associates. “Right now, lumber is at an all-time high. Everything has gone up in terms of prices for materials but not labor — the people are still there; everybody wants to work,” he says. “The bottom line is that everybody is working for less now.” Now, with the market on the upswing, Higginbotham hopes to restore his operations to their former pre-crash glory. He’s currently back in Spring Place working on new properties and back to the basics of the profession he loves: building homes from the ground up. “I know a lot of people who were good builders and businessmen who didn’t do anything wrong but got caught in the crunch,” he says. “Subcontractors were scarce for a while but now things are coming back together. Since January, I’ve done more work than I have in the past four years.”

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Oscar Andrade credits a strong reputation and willingness to take operations on the road as the deciding factors that reduced the impact of the economic crunch on his business. As owner of At Home Builders, LLC, Andrade and his crew employ a hands-on approach to building and become familiar faces to prospective homeowners in the process. “The relationships that we’ve built with our clients carry us from one project to the next,” he says.“Everything is hands-on. We’re not site managers, we’re designers and builders. We are at the site the entire time throughout the building process.” This emphasis on contractor-client relations means that Andrade doesn’t operate within the realm of speculative housing, ensuring that every project he takes on will go somewhere and he won’t waste time resting on his laurels waiting for properties to sell.

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Oscar ANDRADE “You can do well with spec homes, but you’re also risking going under if they don’t sell,” he says. “We make sure 100 percent of the business we do is presold.” A small and manageable in-house team has allowed Andrade to commute quickly and take on multiple projects at a time across the country, many of which carried At Home Builders through the tough times of the recession and beyond. His crew is more than willing to travel the U.S. for established clientele, even if it means commuting from the MidSouth to the east coast several times a week. Andrade says his team has a willingness to tackle large projects anywhere in the South, from the outlying cities of Arlington and Eads to the far-flung reaches of the Florida panhandle. “Luckily, when the recession hit we had a number of projects lined up to carry us through that time. We were willing to go pretty much anywhere. Wherever the client takes us, we go.” he says. “And for those few years during the downturn, we were actually busier than we were before.” Like other successful MidSouth homebuilders, Andrade believes that a thorough set of building guidelines are key to successful 96 JULY 2013 | myclickmag.com


operations. These guidelines, which include various design criteria and directions for energyand resource-efficient design, benefit customers in the long run by increasing property value and ensuring sustainable homes. “To a lot of clients, it can be a little annoying but if you don’t inform your customers about guidelines you can be out of budget really easily,” he says. “But by following the rules, it ensures you get top-dollar resell value for your home. It’s something most people may not understand right away, but when someone signs the check, you will.” This emphasis on adhering to guidelines and covenants led to Andrade’s company producing more new homes in DeSoto County throughout the recession than any other in the area. Among Andrade’s most notable projects are his homes in Olive Branch’s Robinson Crossing, an area that Andrade’s strict compliance with guidelines ensured that smaller, modest properties could peacefully coexist alongside luxurious half-million dollar homes. “We were one of the only ones building there and it’s all been by referral,” he says. With 12 years of experience in the field, 36-yearold Andrade has spent most of the past decade immersed in the business of architecture. As the son of a construction worker who came to the U.S. from Mexico and worked his way up the ranks to supervisor, Andrade knows the value of hard work and takes pleasure in a little friendly collaboration with his contemporaries. “We really have no rivals. As far as I know, we’re the only ones in DeSoto County who can design

“We were one of the only ones building there and it’s all been by referral,” he says and build with a hands-on approach,” he says. “If there’s another architect working in the area, I can give them pointers.” Andrade says he spends much of his time “coaching” customers through the process by explaining and instructing on what needs to be done, a method that has built his reputation as the most conversational contractor in DeSoto County. “We do not do advertising, we have no signs – everything we do is word of mouth,” he says. “A lot of the time, contractors only see how to get the most profit. They don’t care about the client because they are only one – but if you think about it, that one can turn into several. Many times, satisfied clients do the marketing for us.” myclickmag.com | JULY 2013 97


Five that Survived the Crash