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Whittle & Johnson Custom Homes, Heath TX


If you think we’re proud of our new house, you should talk to our builders, Whittle and Johnson Custom Homes (W&J).  They just put us on their website.

Finding Our Lot

The first Whittle we got to know was Rob Whittle of Whittle Development.  He found us wandering around a parcel of land in his Buffalo Creek development.  Sure, he wanted to sell us some land, but he was also a very nice guy.  He’s so in love with Rockwall County that he wants to share it with everyone.  He showed us several lots before we happened on to the one we bought and the one we picked was one for which he’d already had plans drawn.  Still , he was almost as excited about our plans for the lot as we were.

Now that we’re in the house, he’s just as excited about us as he was the first day he found us.  We had some tough days during the build, but Rob was a straight-shooter every step of the way and took the hit a few times when others might have stuck it to us.  Not everybody in town is as fond of Rob as I am, but I appreciate the vision he had and still has for the area and the determination and perseverance he’s applied to making his vision a reality.

The Other Whittles

Once we were the proud owners of our pond-side lot, Rob handed us over to a couple more Whittles, Mike and Aaron, a.k.a Whittle and Johnson Custom Homes.  Mike is Rob’s brother and Aaron is married to Rob’s daughter.  If you go over to their office you’ll find more of the Whittle clan.

There are very few lots left to build on here in Buffalo Creek, so Rob’s primary concern these days is a huge development called The Heath Golf and Yacht Club.  What was nothing but some empty land this time last year now has roads, sewage, utilities and more.  Were you to attend a meeting of the Heath Planning Department, I’ve heard you’d have to listen to a lot of chatter about the new development.   The Whittles also have projects in Royce City and other Rockwall County locations.

The Good News

We absolutely adore our house, but you guys know I am very honest here in this space.  I tell you what I love, but I also tell you what I don’t love and why.  I love Rob Whittle’s vision.  I also appreciate that when the results of a routine inspection came in after we’d purchased the lot said our lot might benefit from water injections for the foundation, he didn’t sweep it under the rug (which he could have done), but revealed the findings to us and split the cost of it with us.  I love his enthusiasm for our area and the way he keeps plugging away at developing it, even in the face of a lot of conflict.  If you Google him or Whittle Development, you’re going to read a lot of ugly things, most of which are based on mis-information.  You have to have a tough skin to be a developer, that and the heart of a salesman.

I’m also fond of Mike and Aaron.  How could you not like Aaron?  No matter what we threw at him, and we threw a lot, he always had a smile for us – and still does.  If his name were on our deed, he couldn’t be prouder of the finished product.  Mike, too, is a nice guy.  He works hard and his heart is definitely in the right place.

The Less Than Good News

Even though I happen to be a personal fan of Rob, Mike and Aaron, I haven’t come away from our building experience with complete satisfaction.  It’s not that they don’t know how to build a house.  It’s that they are first and foremost a builder of spec homes and “custom” isn’t their usual gig.  I’d have no problem going out and buying a house built by Whittle and Johnson, but I’d never have them custom-build for me again.  We know that we couldn’t have built this house so economically with any other builder, but the headaches and heartaches sure made up the difference in sweat equity.

Basics to the custom home building process like, “tell-us-before-you-spend-our-money“, seemed impossible for them grasp. We’d ask what the standard was for a Whittle home, go out and research other options, and then we’d ask, “What would it cost to do it this way?”  Either they’d go ahead with it before telling us any price or they’d start the upgrade while we were still negotiating a price.

This would happen, in part, because they use the same subs for their custom builds as they do for their specs.  The subs are used to doing things the “Whittle Way” and that didn’t always line up with our way.  For instance, the brick layers showed up one Saturday in December and started putting down brick.  Our build was the next project on their schedule, but we were still discussing ornamental treatments with Aaron.  A neighbor called us and alerted us to the fact that the walls weren’t going up as we’d told him we’d planned.  What a nightmare!

Another challenge was making changes.  This wasn’t our first build, so we knew the difficulty of change orders, but this project took the frustrations to a whole new level.  Because W&J have been using their subs for so long, the subs, like the brick layer, make assumptions about the way things are going to happen.  Compound this with a lag time between when we’d tell Aaron what we wanted and when Aaron would tell the subs.  Pure frustration.

Far too many times we walked into the house and what we saw going up was not what we wanted.  We’d stop the sub and try to contact the Whittles.  Everything would then come to a screeching halt and the sub would move on to their next project.  It could take months to get a sub back to finish something.  Sometimes the other subs would just have to work around a project on hold, but sometimes everything would have to stop. During one of our many complaint sessions, I was told one of the reasons we were having so much trouble was because we were interfering with the sub-contractors’ rhythms.  That explained a lot, but it does not recommend W&J as “custom” builders.

Another issue was their spec sub-contractors aren’t familiar with custom features.  The builder’s tile guy is one of the sweetest, hardest working subs we had working on our house.  We have a lot of tile in the house so we really got to know him and like him a lot, but Carrera marble on the shower wall with black grout and a glass tile feature, slate laid in a Versailles pattern on the patio and other custom features were either just at the edge of his capabilities or in the case of the Versaille pattern, beyond them.

Bill actually had to sit down and figure out a pattern which would properly utilize the tiles which had already been purchased and then supervise the installation.  Bill is not in the tile business, but even after we googled Versaille pattern and gave it to the tile guy, the tile guy couldn’t figure it out.   Our wooden stairwell with slate trim and rod iron balustrades?  I don’t even want to go into the challenges we had trying to get three subs and various suppliers to cooperate with our design.

There was more – like locking up at night.  It’s one thing for a builder to decide they can live with the risk of leaving a spec house open overnight.  They do have insurance after all.  But when clients have installed one-of-a-kind or hard-to-find features, the risk of theft and vandalism escalates. We were lucky to have befriended a guy that plays golf on most afternoons.  After seeing the house wide open late in the day, as he played the hole next to the house, he gave us a call and offered to lock up for us.  Then, the situation repeated itself so often that he just got in the habit of locking up our house each night.

Never Build
Bill’s Promise to Never Build Again

After Everything, We Still Love Our House 

I think you get the idea.  All this and more is why, even though I love the finished product, I hated the nightmare of the build.  We’ve been here for three months and W&J are still working their way through our first punch list.  It’s been tough; a real love-hate relationship.

Building a house is always a challenge.  We can tell you nightmares about the house we built in California too, but those have more to do with tree-huggers, slow-growth proponents and restrictive CC&R’s.

Don’t build a house unless you are really ready for a lot of headaches.  Were the headaches we had with W&J out of the norm?  You’ll have to be the judge of that.  I’m never, ever going to build a house again.  Next time Bill suggests it, I’m going to show him this blog post and this napkin.

Come back next week and I’ll tell you about that nice guy that kept locking up our house each night and some other wonderful people we’ve met here in Buffalo Creek.

Architecture, ART, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Gardens, TRAVEL

Our First Night in Heath


On our move-in day, my peaceful respite on the patio was cut short by two texts, but I was happy to receive both. One was Bill letting me know the second load was on its way. The other was my bestie, telling me she was leaving work and coming to help out.  She also wanted to find out if we needed food.

Ah food – no need for that.  We’d grabbed snacks out of our survival kit all day long, but we hadn’t gotten around to giving it our full attention and there was a lot there to pay attention to.  Knowing the delicious gift was waiting for us,  I encouraged Bill and Debbie to hurry up.  Then I set about making sure we were ready for the second load – pets safe, pathways clear, that sort of thing.

The Second Load

The second load was both easier and more difficult than the first.  We’d sorted out all the boxes with the first load, but now we had all the big stuff.  Nightfall had come and the rain continued.

The final piece to come in was our refrigerator.  Of course, it wouldn’t fit through any of the doors accessible from the driveway.  They had to move the truck to the front of the house and carry it up the front walk which has three sets of steps on its way up to the house.  These guys had to be hating on us about right now and that’s when the bottom fell out of the sky – as if it had not been draining all day long.

Bill was tired, the movers were tired, I was tired – and the refrigerator didn’t fit into the space which had been custom built for it.  We left the refrigerator in the middle of the floor and ushered the movers out into the wet night.

The First Meal

Deb and I had been setting the table and unloading the gift box.  What a feast!  Along with a delicious bottle of wine were different kinds of crackers, a plethora of cheese and even a roll of hard salami.  By then it was after nine o’clock, but we went ahead and texted our neighbors to tell them what lifesavers they’d been to deliver that box.

With our strength renewed, Deb and I cleaned off the table.  Then it was time for her to head home.  She foolishly offered up her services over the weekend.  I warned her that the next job was cleaning the rent house, but she didn’t renig on the offer.

We were in!  Thankfully I’d made up the bed earlier in the day.  We figured out a way to plug in the refrigerator and unloaded the ice chests full frozen food and other perishables.  There were a million other things we needed to do – but tomorrow was another day.

The First Frog Serenade

That’s when we heard the frogs – one great big bullfrog and a chorus of tenors.  We hadn’t quite counted on a serenade, but I was so tired that nothing could have stood between me and slumber.  I think the Vienna Boys Choir would have had a hard time keeping me awake – even if they’d been standing at the foot of my bed.  A few frogs quickly faded into nirvana.

What happened over the weekend – more excitement!  Come back and I’ll tell you about it.

Architecture, ART, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

Taking Granite for Granted – Lesson Six

Here’s your bullnose menu!


Or…Is Your Bullnose Full of Granite Dust?

Long story short, MaryCarmen and the guys at Texas Granite got our kitchen and laundry room counter tops installed and it looks great.  Not that there weren’t a few hiccups along the way.  Take our kitchen sink for instance.  They assumed we were installing a stainless steel sink.  They just about had a cow when they discovered it was a porcelain sink instead.

But What About the Other Counter Tops?

Yes, all this granite hysteria has been focused on the granite in the kitchen and laundry room, because that’s where the current state of granite selection got us into trouble.  What about that Carrera marble in the master bath and the counter tops in the Jack and Jill bathrooms?  Well, our builder’s granite guy, Jaimie, is supposed to be working on that.  Only Jaimie has been so busy he hasn’t been losing any sleep over us at all.  The only reason Texas Granite installed our kitchen was because we couldn’t get in touch with Jaimie while we were trying to re-select our kitchen tile.  When we finally found a slab we could love, we had to book it and Jaimie was incommunicado.

Still we needed him to get the other counter tops in, so we started nagging him and the builder for an install date.  That turned into a very cold visit to the fabricators workshop to look at his Carrera.  According to him, one Carrera looks pretty much like the other – right?  Not right!!  We stuck with the Carrera we’d already picked out (even if it did mean we’d have to wait for him to go pick it up), chose a remnant for the Jack and Jill bath and reminded him that he had the green marble top to one of our vanities.  He wasn’t happy with our decision, but we weren’t happy with his Carrera either.

Is that Bullnose, Full Bullnose or Half Bullnose?

We left Jaimie’s workshop discussing what we could attempt to get done without the granite in place, because we were beginning to doubt we’d see an installation date anytime soon.  The weather was still awful and we were also fighting the tile installers to do their job.  Would we ever move to Heath?

Then a few days later, on a Saturday morning, Jaimie calls to ask us a question, “Do you want a flat edge or bullnose?”  For us that seemed like an easy answer – bullnose, of course!  A few minutes later he calls to complain that he couldn’t install the Carrera because the finish carpenter had failed to install the proper supports for the marble.  It’s always something.

So, Bill and I made a trip to Heath.  Bill wanted to finish what the carpenter failed to do, so the marble could be installed.  He was also going to work on the faux Wedgewood fireplace mantel we dreamed up on our own.  It is a project far outside anything Whittle and Johnson Custom Homes ever attempted, so that left it up to us.  My job was to dust off our cabinets and granite, and then cover them with plastic drop cloths.  I know all this sounds like things our builder should have been doing, but explaining why would take more time than I have right now.

Dusting and sweeping has never been so much fun.  Bill dug into his tasks and I went about mine.  If either of us discovered something new had been completed, we’d announce it with great joy.  I confess, it was great to spend time in our new home, even if the floor is concrete, the paint is only about half done and the yard is a quagmire.

Eventually, Bill came upstairs to see the items I’d been crowing about.  He wasn’t as excited as I’d been.  In placing the granite in the Jack and Jill bath, Jaimie had taken a chunk out of one of the walls.  He’d also finished the edges with half bullnose – not full bullnose as we’d anticipated.  We marked it up to Murphy’s law, because everything that could go wrong certainly was.

Come Again?

So here’s today’s lesson.  A bullnose is a bullnose is a bullnose, unless you are talking about granite and then a bullnose is a half bullnose.  Got that.  At least that’s the message we got from our builder.  Looking at the illustration above, I’m thinking a bullnose must be more like a demi-bullnose, because that’s sort of what our bullnose looks like.  If you’re confused, imagine how we feel.  And for some reason, the builder is going to call us back to tell us how much more it will cost to get what we thought we were asking for in the first place.

We’re never going to build a house again!  Ever!!  We promise.  I’m not sure whether there will be any more granite lessons or not.  It depends on whether we ever get our marble installed in the master bath.  Who knows what we’ll learn if it does?  But do come back next week, I’m sure I’ll have some more adventures in building to share.

Architecture, ART, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Shopping, TRAVEL

Taking Granite for Granted – Lesson Five


Almost Paradise

The granite situation had been so dire, I’d postponed my hair appointment.  Now I don’t get my hair done every week like my mom used to.  For her it was a  Friday morning thing she did come hell or high water.  I’m not kidding about the high water part, but hell might have at least made her reschedule for later in the day. I go about once every six weeks and the last three days of that six weeks are painful, but for once I moved the appointment.

It was only a one day postponement.  I decided the appointment would become the first thing on a long list of things I’d been putting off.  Not hard things, not frivolous things, just things like taking the dry cleaning and using a good coupon or two.  Bill added an item or two to the list, like checking on the house.

Not Quite Paradise

I soon figured out that while I was getting the hair on my head sorted out, the granite picture had skewed once more.  I started getting calls from Bill that were quite unpleasant.  After the granite people measured the cabinets, Bill went to their office to approve the overlay for cutting the granite.  Unfortunately, MaryCarmen had been wrong.  After they measured everything was not OK.  The price had changed.  There was a little bit for this and a little bit for that and all of a sudden the granite was out of our budget AGAIN!

To the Slab Yards Again!

The next day we were back at the slab yards.  This time we didn’t even go to IMC.  We just parked at Levantina.  We’d seen a few slabs there we could afford, even if we didn’t love them.  Bill liked one called Black Magma better than I did, but we were pretty desperate.

Here’s the thing with Bill.  It’s not enough for him to observe that something is wrong.  He has an insatiable desire to fix it.  Since we’d been earnestly shopping for granite for months with no success, there was obviously something seriously wrong with the system.  He’d been trying to fix it ever since MSI wouldn’t give him even a hint of what he might be able to afford. At Levantina he finally found someone who was willing to talk to him about it – John Mitchell the GM.  John completely agreed with Bill about everything that’s wrong with the system.  Along the way, we got an education in the slab business, most of which we’d already earned on our on, but we didn’t find any granite.

After our re-education, we got serious about the Black Magma, but wouldn’t you know it, it was on reserve!  Completely frantic, we started visiting everything that even looked like it had granite.  It was late on a Friday but we were desperate.  We’re talking a converted car repair shop on Harry Hines where they had a few slabs.  A floor shop on I-35 with a few slabs out back.  Some places we just scoped out for a closer look on Saturday.  Others we went in just to cross them off our list.

Come Saturday Morning

We woke up determined to find a slab no matter what!  We went back to the Levantina area and visited some of the smaller players in the area.  Louisiana Stone: Lots of slabs displayed willy nilly in the library style, nothing to give a hint of the price.  We marked it off the list.  Lackstone:  smaller collection, but displayed beautifully.  We found a contender called San Luiz, but our fabricator couldn’t give us a price.  EXPO Stones:  Lots of selection, but nothing anywhere as pretty as other things we’d loved.

We went to Lackstone to give the San Luiz another look.  Then we sat in the car trying to decide whether we should reserve it or not.  That’s when the phone rang.  An ecstatic MaryCarmen called to let us know “for this moment only”they were willing to mark down the granite to meet our budget.  Bill wouldn’t give her an answer.  He hung up and we pow-wowed.  Verona – nothing.  IMC – nothing.  MSI – never again.  Levantina – reserved and I wasn’t crazy about it.  Lousiana Stone – nothing.  EXPO – nothing.

Who were we kidding?  We went back to MaryCarmen and took her up on her offer.  Were we through?  Look into my eyes!  I am honest and Lesson Six is coming!

Architecture, ART, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

Taking Granite for Granted – Lesson Four


How Much Did You Say?

You’ve only been waiting for a week, but we waited several weeks before hearing exactly how much our granite would cost.  When we did we couldn’t believe it.  At first, our contractor assumed someone had measured wrong.  But no, the ridiculous number the fabricator quoted was actually what he expected for us to pay.

Now the kitchen wasn’t the only slab we were dealing with.  When we picked out the Blue Fire, we’d picked out Carrera marble for the master bath.  We’d gone through several surfaces in the Jack and Jill baths, but pretty much landed on some remnants of something we saw at our fabricators.  Thankfully, in the other places with counters, we were using furniture with the top already attached.When we discovered that Blue Fire was completely out of our reach it was back to the granite slab yards.

Back to the Yards

I’ve got to tell you that inventory or no inventory, Verona has been the nicest most cooperative slab dealer we’ve dealt with.  Unfortunately, another visit didn’t turn up anything we hadn’t already seen and rejected.  They had something they were calling Lapidus in the Value aisle, but it didn’t approach the Lapidus Juniperious we’d seen the first time we were there.  We almost settled for Golden Crystal, but it was all reserved.

IMC didn’t take long.  Now that we knew H meant TOO HIGH for us, all it took was one walk-through to figure out that L meant LOATHSOME and M stood for MEDIOCRE.  So we went back to Levantina.

After not finding exactly what we wanted there, we decided to visit a granite fabricator we’d talked to during a remodel we were working on.  The skies opened and a light shown on a gorgeous piece of Lapidus Granite.  They quoted us a price we could live with and we thought our troubles were over.  There was the little problem of language, however.

I’m slow, but I’ve learned to stay out of the way when Bill is negotiating.  I sat on a sofa playing with my phone while Bill tried to massage the price he’d been quoted on the granite.  However it was pretty humorous.  Bill used all his best negotiating points and MaryCarmen of Texas Granite was having none of it.  That failing, he started nailing down the details of the bid.  Trying to pin down MaryCarmen was like herding cats.  Whatever he asked, MaryCarmen ‘splained, “Do not worry.  This is only the bid.  Tomorrow we measure and everything will be OK. You will see.”

When Bill posed a different sort of question, he offended MaryCarmen who snapped back, “Look into my eyes! I am honest!”  At that point I nearly fell off the couch laughing, but I maintained my composure somehow.  In the end, Bill scheduled a time for them to measure the kitchen and we went to celebrate…a little prematurely I’m afraid.  Lesson Five is next week.  “Look into my eyes!”

Architecture, ART, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Shopping, TRAVEL

Taking Granite for Granted – Lesson Three


Lots of Lessons to Learn When Building

I need to let you know something.  I may be the one who is telling you all about this build, but I’m not the driving force behind it.  I’d like to hear a round of applause for my husband.

When it came to finding the lot in Heath, I think I can honestly say I was the one making things happen.  Once Bill said we were going to move, I devoted all my time to finding the right property and then to getting our house on Squaw Valley sold.  Then I handed the baton to Bill.

He’s been the one who has made the design come together, negotiated the contract for the build and then he’s really been the one managing the build.  Whittle & Johnson has been building homes for a long time, but custom building homes for individuals has not been something they’ve done a lot of.  They specialize in building spec homes for the Whittle Development Co.  Of course, after going through our build, they may be ready for anything.  Then again, they may just go back to building spec homes.  It’s been rough.

Back to the Granite Grind

So, once the cabinets were scheduled for installation, we had to find some countertops or the whole build was going to get behind schedule.  Bill had been watching for slabs online, he’d been calling around and he’d been talking about getting out there to look around again.

The day came for looking, albeit a chilly one.  Verona didn’t have anything new, so we started at a place called IMC.  The good news was that their marble was inside.  The bad news was that they kept the doors open, so it was just as cold inside as it was out.

Their version of the price game was L,M,H,H+ and E.  The E was for exotic – or don’t EVEN think about it.  As I mentioned before, Bill is magnetically attracted to exotic marble.  He gave up on so many loves that morning that you had to feel sorry for him.  Every other slab he loved was E, the rest were H+, as in HIGH PLUS!!

Next door was Levantina.  They played another version of the price game.  You go pick stuff out and then they will tell you if it is low, medium or high.  That was marginally better than MSI, but not by much.

Can We Move Something for You?

Here’s something else you hear a lot of at slab yards.  Slabs are displayed in one of two ways.  One way lets you see an entire slab of granite or marble.  The other way is more like books on a shelf with some strategically placed spaces for you to peer down the length of the slab.  Needless to say, seeing the whole slab is much to be preferred.  So the slab employees are constantly asking, “Can we move something for you?”

Our friends at Verona used a mixture of the two methods.  To MSI’s credit, they show the full slabs, with a plaque which shows the name of the type of stone and the country of origin.  IMC goes one better – showing slab and type as well as the price game designation.  Levantina uses the library book method.

No matter what method is used, most people need more than one slab and they like to see all the slabs they are going to get.  That’s why, even when you can see whole slabs, you might need some slabs moved.  When slabs are displayed with the library book method, that’s the only way you’re going to get an idea of what you’re looking at.  Don’t worry though.  They have really cool machines to move the slabs with and I think they actually enjoy doing it.  Beats having a real job, I guess.

In Love With Blue Fire 

We spent the day going back and forth between IMC and Levantina.  There were dramas and frustrations, but we found what we thought we wanted.  Blue Fire Granite is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life.  It was categorized as an H, which concerned us, but the salesperson told us it was reasonable.  In fact, it was at the lowest level of the H category.  That couldn’t be too bad could it?  Find out next week.

Architecture, ART, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

Granite Interruptted

The Masons Begin
The Masons Begin


Nothing on a building site happens in a vacuum.  While we were shopping for the elusive granite slab of our dreams, we were also picking out brick and trying to find a vendor for the pre-finished cabinets we’d chosen for the kitchen.  (Cabinets – another long story I won’t go into right now.)

Holiday Interruptted

On a Saturday in late December, after our disappointing return visit to the granite slab yard, we were on our way to a holiday event with the family in Flower Mound.  Our fabricator had given us the names and addresses of some other slab yards to check out and one of them was sort of on the way to Flower Mound.

Now, what works for one person might not work for someone else and visa versa.  So, if you’re looking for granite or marble, don’t let me stop you from going to MSI over on Valley Branch Lane, but we won’t be going back.  Remember the price game I mentioned when I started talking about slabs.  Well, MSI ain’t playing.  Yes, the price game is irritating, but it’s better than a poke in the eye and that’s about all we got.

See, MSI won’t even tell you a price range, much less a price.  No ABC.  No 123.  No Low, Medium, High.  You just go in there, write down which slabs you like and they turn the list over to your fabricator.  One thing we’ve learned is that Bill naturally gravitates to the most expensive slabs in any slab yard.  Having him write down what he likes and then waiting to hear from a fabricator would just be an exercise in futility.  You have to say, “Bill, you can only look at X.”  Without that, we were wasting our time.

It Hit Us Like a Brick Wall

After wasting time at MSI, we continued the trek to Flower Mound.  We were discussing the cabinets, which we planned to look into after our family event.  The phone rang and it was the guy who is building next door to us in Heath.  “Uh Bill, I thought you said you were having some sort of pattern in your brick.”

Come to find out the masons had finished up with the job they were working and started bricking our house.  The only problem was that they’d never given us pricing for the work we wanted done.  Standard brick-laying was included, but we had some special treatments we wanted done – if we could afford it.  The whole issue of our cast stone was up in the air also.  The masons were laying on straight brick as if no cast stone or brick patterns were involved.  Our options were being walled-up you might say.

The next hour or so was filled with flurries of phone calls and text messages.  We wanted to enjoy our family get-together, especially since this was one of the only times we’d see some of them in a year, but it was hard with all the building issues we were handling.  Just about the time we were wrapping up the blind gift exchange a frantic Bill let me know we had to go – RIGHT THAT MINUTE.


By the time we got to the car, Bill was nearly hysterical.  Basically, we had a choice of paying either $750 or $2200 and either way we went about it, we wouldn’t get exactly what we’d wanted in the first place.  We also needed to get from Flower Mound to Grand Prairie for the cabinet appointment and we needed to get there fast.  Of course, as we madly drove south, communicating unsatisfactorily with our builder, that’s when we discovered that all that new road construction out by the airport isn’t on our latest GPS update.

Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty and it didn’t get any prettier.  To give our builder’s rep his due, he kept trying to convince us that everything was going to be OK.  The high point make that low point of the conversation was when he told me in order to make it right, if he had to, then he’d have them tear down every brick and start all over.

That was the wrong thing to say to me at that moment.The last thing I wanted was another delay and I was certain, whatever happened, I’d end up with another added expense.  Their favorite increment of add-on was about $300.  We were sitting at the desk of the cabinet vendor when I unloaded my angst on the builder’s rep.  It was not my finest moment of the build.

By necessity, granite fell several slots on the priority table that day.  A couple of weeks passed before we returned to the search for granite, but Lesson Three in Taking Granite for Granted will be next week.


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Nebraska Furniture Mart, Texas

Welcome to Nebraska1
Welcome to Nebraska!


It’s Big!
I’d heard that the big furniture store over in The Colony was finally open.  Since we were on the Northwest side of Dallas for another house-related errand, we decided to drop into the brand-spanking new Nebraska Furniture Mart.  The old saw about everything being bigger in Texas may finally be true, now that we have Nebraska Furniture Mart here in the Metroplex.

My husband is an investor by trade and a decorator by desire, so a furniture store by Warren Buffet was a temptation he could not resist.  I’d already been online to check out their selection, but nothing could have prepared me for the real thing.

Getting There

We’d just merged onto the George from I-35 when we made the decision to visit the behemoth furniture store.  So, we took Josey north, because we remembered it being built somewhere in that vicinity.  Unsure of which way to turn when we got to 121, I checked the GPS on my phone.  It let me know that I needed to go right.  Soon I could see the store, but the GPS wanted to take me past it and then wrap back around.  We turned off the GPS and followed our noses.

If You Build It They Will Come

Though the furniture store itself is actually complete, everything around it is still under construction, so drive with extreme caution.  The place is so huge that it’s hard to figure out exactly where you should park.  On the weekday afternoon we visited there was plenty of parking, but who knows what it will be like on weekends.

The Eloi going to dinner, in a scene from the 1960’s movie version of H.G. Wells Time Machine, is deeply ingrained on my mind.  Anytime I find myself in a casual crowd that grows as it enters an edifice, I’m right there with the Eloi.  The poor things were just following their appetite into the communal dining room with no understanding they were fattening themselves up to be someone else’s dinner.  A little later they are harvested as they strolled into yet another cavern at the direction of their hosts.

That should give you an idea of the Nebraska Furniture Mart.  You wander towards it with your mouth open, trying to imagine the delights held behind the massive walls of the building.  As we entered, we were handed a map, but it took us awhile to open it, because the scene is so overwhelming.  What looks unbelievably large from the outside seems to grow once you get inside.

Sticker Shock

Right inside the door we entered was an “accessory bazaar”, think Z Gallarie/Pier One/Kirkland/Crate& Barrel/etc.  We veered to the right, distracted by the siren call of patio furniture.  I mean we are building a patio that overlooks a pond and a golf course.  After seeing a $1300 chair, we walked out of the patio furniture department and through more accessory type stuff to the Home Entertainment Furniture Department.  Can you say $7K isn’t in our budget for home entertainment furniture?

At the back of the store was a fan and lighting gallery.  This is where our amazement became true sticker shock.  I have two words for you:  Lamps Plus.  The selection puts Nebraska to shame, the brands are the same and once you buy your lighting fixtures you can actually afford light bulbs.

We test drove a few chairs in the office furniture department and went over to check out the “Hard Surface Flooring and Countertops.”  Do not buy granite from these people.  It was all level one granite with level three pricing.  What scares me is that they didn’t say whether the $45/sq ft price included installation or not.  I was afraid to ask.  More advice:  Do not pay $45 for Brown Baltic and Santa Cecelia – with or without installation.  You really can get it a lot cheaper than that.

Carpets were next.  We were interested in those.  With so much wood flooring going in, we’re going to need some area rugs.  I’ve got to tell you they have some gorgeous stuff, their selection is humongous and there seems to be a wide variety of pricing.  Surprisingly, some of the prices actually looked like something we might pay.  However, there were also prices that sent us howling.  I am sure there are people in Dallas who buy $20K area rugs, but that wouldn’t be us.

Come On Up

Another sci-fi scene that looms large in my memory bank is the elevator scene from The Twilight Zone’s “To Serve Man” Episode.  I was certainly feeling like the fatted calf of consumerism as I stepped off the Nebraska Furniture Store elevator into the dining department.  Since barstools are another thing on our shopping list, we lingered in that section for a while.  They did have one of the larger collections of barstools that we’ve run into anywhere else and some reasonable pricing, but we didn’t fall in love.  The perfect barstools are still mere figments of our imagination.

As we made our way across the upper level of the store, Bill stopped to admire a dining room table.  He commented that the price seemed reasonable.  Then I pointed out that the chairs were separate.  Bill changed his mind about affordability and we decided we were very happy with our consignment store find.

If you are actually looking for furniture (as opposed to accessories, lighting, granite and rugs) allow plenty of time to browse this store.  When they say they have an unequaled selection, they are not kidding. All we did was stroll across the front half of the upper level and even that did take some time.

As we wandered west to east in the front aisle we noticed that while most of the furniture was spread out in glorious array to our right, on the left side were glassed-in storefronts.  Gazing across the facades I saw names like Thomasville, Drexel Heritage and Herendon.  This is the real stuff folks.  The kind of furniture your mom and your aunts used to buy before we became addicted to disposable fashion.  There’s wood in them there tabletops!!  In my next life, the one where I can afford my champagne taste, I’m going to walk right in there and pick out my stuff.  Since I’m not quite there yet, we kept walking and made a circuit of the rest of the upper level.

Time for Lunch

All that sticker shock created an appetite.  The map told us a Subway was somewhere in the building, so we headed back down one of the many escalators and found ourselves in the pool table and fitness areas.  Next was electronics.  And then (hit the spotlight) Subway.

During lunch we discussed the huge number of salespeople they’d hired to staff the sales floor.  We tripped over them constantly.  I’ll give them creds though.  They would politely offer to help and then fade away when we smiled and said, “Just looking.”  We hate being shadowed by a hungry salespeople, especially those that want to chat us up.  Though it would be great for the local economy if this place keeps all these people, we think it’s a grand opening ploy and that staff reductions are inevitable – probably a lot will disappear through attrition, but they would have to sell a lot of furnishings to support all the people they have hired.

Bill’s Favorite Part

Unwittingly, we saved the best for last.  Wandering out of Subway, we headed to the left, because that was the only part of the place we hadn’t seen.  Voila!  The appliance department!

Bill loved it.  They had an entire appliance department very much like what you’d see at the local Lowe’s or Home Depot, but then they had little individual sections carved out along the wall for Viking, Sub Zero, Miele and the like.  FYI, GE Monogram had it’s own little cubbyhole which impressed us.

Then we landed in TV’s and we were worn out.  Time to head to the hacienda.  Have you heard the the DMA has a new exhibit?  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about Michael Borremans.

Architecture, ART, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

Taking Granite for Granted – Lesson Two

Carrara Shamara - show me the Granite!
Carrara Shamara – show me the Granite!


The Cold Bitter Truth

A slab yard in deep winter is a sad place.  All the good stuff is gone.  The folks at the slab yard were very nice and quite willing to stomp around the chilly yard with us as long as we wanted to, but the truth of the matter was, the yard was full of dogs – and I’m not talking the cute cuddly kind.  Oh, they still had some pretty slabs, but every thing good was either reserved (something I’ll tell you more about) or lone orphans too small on their own to do us much good.

There’s Inventory and Then Again, There’s Inventory

Slab yards have a phrase I hate:  “Keep an eye on our website.”  Trying to fall in love with a piece of granite online is like trying to kiss through a screen.  It just doesn’t do a thing for me.  Bill, bless his heart, can spend hours comparing slabs online.  I last about 90 seconds on a good day.  I just can’t extrapolate a tiny rectangle on the screen into a kitchen counter.  Let’s say that somehow you do manage to find a piece of granite you think you want.  Try calling the granite yard and see what happens.

That’s on Reserve

What you’ll usually hear when you ask about a piece of granite, in person or online, is, “That’s on reserve.”  Reserve is the magic thing you do between falling in love with a piece of granite and discovering you can’t afford it.  The slab yard puts it on reserve so they can tell your fabricator how much it costs and he can, in turn, work up his quote and give you sticker shock.  Before I was through with our granite procurement, I grew to hate “That’s on reserve.”

Reserve can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks.  Take our second visit to the slab yard, for instance.  We wandered around and found nothing that would work.  Oh, we saw orphans we loved, pieces we couldn’t afford and a lot of reserved pieces, but nothing that we could have in our kitchen.  In order to make us feel better they put some slabs on reserve for us.  Not that we understood what they were doing, because weeks later we discovered the four slabs, none of which we wanted, were still reserved for us.

That’s in Tulsa

On our second trip to the slab yard we discovered some of the slabs we were looking at online weren’t even in that slab yard.  Some of the slabs were actually pieces which had been purchased by the slab yard and were in transit.  When were they supposed to arrive?  Sometime in March?  That wasn’t helping us.  We needed our slabs in weeks, not months.

Big vendors, like Verona Marble, also put slabs out on consignment to other yards and those yards can be all over the place.  Sometimes that’s at a place across town.  Sometimes it’s far away.  Slabs in Tulsa weren’t doing me much good since I’m extrapolation-challenged, but that didn’t stop them from showing me a picture of them.

Just Walk Away Renee

So, at the end of the day, we sadly left the slab yard.  We were told to keep checking online. (Yeah, sure, I’ll get right on that.)  They put slabs on reserve for us.  Then we called the fabricator and got a list of other places to visit.  Come back next week and you can visit these other yards with us.

Architecture, ART, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

Taking Granite for Granted – Lesson One

Eeeny Meany Miney Moe
Eeeny Meany Miney Moe


Next time you walk into someone’s kitchen and see a slab of granite on their countertop, don’t just walk past it.  Stop and admire it.  Your host and hostess will most likely puff up like you’ve complimented them on a grandchild.

Just in case you’re ever foolish enough to want to build your own house (something we’ll NEVER do again) then let me give you a primer on selecting granite.

First Loves in the Slab Yard

Back in the early days of our build when we were still blissfully unaware of all the headaches ahead, our builder told us to go on over to the granite place and pick out a slab.  They were a little premature.  Since we had no place to store the pair of slabs we’d need, the trip was pretty much in vain.  In fact, it left us with a misconceived assumption that later brought only heartache.

See, we went to the granite yard in September and they had what seemed like zillions of beautiful slabs.  We ASSUMED they always had that many slabs – not like we asked or anything.  It just seemed reasonable.  They were in the marble and granite slab business, so why wouldn’t they always have lots of marble and granite slabs.  We wrote “lapidus juniperious” and ‘carrera marble” in our notebooks and walked away.

The Price Game

We did learn one important thing on this first visit.  For the most part, granite yards are not going to tell you a price.  Their customer is your fabricator and the fabricator doesn’t want you to know what his mark-up is.  There are exceptions to that rule, of course, but none of the places our fabricator recommended were among the exceptions – and we inherited our fabricator from our contractor.

Instead of knowing actual prices, you play the price game.  At Verona Marble Company they had price levels 1,2,3 and on up, but we were told level three or the Verona Value slabs were our best bet in our price range.  Verona Value is truly a good deal if you can find what you want.

You know how show dogs have certain traits that make them winners.  The traits don’t necessarily make them a better dog pet-wise, but they do make a big difference in the arena.  Granite and marble are a lot like that.  When a professional buyer is looking for, let’s say, lapidarius, there are certain traits they expect to see when they go to the mining areas.

Now, just like the show dogs, there might be a perfectly beautiful, perfectly desirable piece of granite available that isn’t quite up to lapidarius standards, but when a buyer from a major slab yard asks for lapidarius, no granite miner in his right mind is going to pull out the second rate stuff.  I’m sure there are slab yards all over the place that make their living selling substandard slabs, but that’s why you want to be careful about who you buy from.  There’s nothing wrong with choosing a mutt, but no one should sell you a mutt when the price tag belongs on a purebred.

Verona takes the middle ground.  Much of what they have is the best of the best.  They truly have beautiful slabs, but some of those beautiful slabs are mutts and if they are mutts, then you get a bargain.  Other slab yards choose abc or some other scheme besides numerical grading, but the effects are the same.  You wander around the slab yard guess-timating whether or not you are going to be able to afford what you are falling in love with.

A Chilly Second Visit

By late December it seemed as if we were getting close enough to countertop time that we’d better revisit the slab yard – only it was a virtually empty slab yard.  No juniperious anything.  The lapidus wasn’t exactly right, either.  It was also very, very cold.  See, Verona Marble starts getting their shipments in early spring and when we visited them in September their inventory was at a peak.  The bad news is that they don’t get any shipments after that, so by December we were pretty much looking at leftovers.  If we did happen to like a slab, it was an orphan – the only one of its kind and not big enough to cover our footage.

That’s when our education really began.  Come back next week for Lesson Two in Taking Granite for Granted.