Photos by Stephanie Butchin
When Michael Pagnotta began his namesake design and building firm in 1990, he knew that he was on to something. Offering both the services of architecture and construction for homeowners looking to build was a relatively new concept melding two distinctly separate trades—yet combining them was the most effective way to carry out the main goal of all of his clients: maximizing resources while creating the best home possible.
“We believe that every client, no matter who they are, have some kind of limited resources with which to complete their home,” points out Pagnotta. And he is right. The three main constraints that are top priority for his clients are time, space and money. “Everyone wants to enjoy the summer and each site is limited by its size, zoning regulations, and natural attributes. Each project has a budget of some sort, and most have tightly defined limits. Even clients who claim to have no limits still would like to leverage their resources and not waste money,” he adds.
So precisely how does this business owner propose he makes the best use of his clientele’s time? By bridging the gap between the ingenuity of architect and pragmatism of builder, Pagnotta has discovered smarter home design by thinking like a builder, and perfected first-rate construction by thinking like an architect. “The total time period for a new home project begins with site selection, architectural design, bidding, and then construction. When clients are seeking ways in which to get their projects done sooner, too much emphasis is put on the actual construction sequence, where real-world issues like weather, deliveries and inspections can bog down a schedule. We can reduce the time required prior to construction more easily through our design/build process where the architect and builder are one,” he notes.
Mr. Pagnotta emphasizes that by discussing budgets early on and designing towards that budget, his firm can value engineer a home through the entire design process—eliminating the time required to bid the job (and too often, the time required to redesign the home to meet certain financial criteria). As architects with real-world construction experience, designers at firms like his that are well-versed in building are therefore able to discuss construction costs accurately and with confidence in order to examine the function, practicality and cost effectiveness of the design as they go.
Maximizing a site’s potential is not as clear cut as the determination of zoning limits. It takes years of experience and familiarity working with local land use to establish the maximum envelop in which to design a home. Michael Pagnotta’s firm, for example, conducts a thorough site analysis to determine things like solar orientation, view corridors, and vegetation. “We look at each site as a unique property—determining where the best possible views will be, and whether the views will be protected after surrounding homes are developed to their maximum size as well,” he says. They look at solar orientation and design with the harsh coastal climate in mind. “Simple things make the difference, we want the outdoor shower to be on the sunny side of the house and away from the north whenever possible.” His firm strives to design with the utility areas to the north while opening the house up to the south and east to best control solar gain. In his case, he has years of experience working with CAFRA surveyors, engineers and application expeditors, and his team can confidently project what they believe CAFRA will allow in terms of the expansion of a home’s footprint.
As one would imagine, the top space concerns of homeowners on the island besides footprint are views and height. “For most homes on LBI we try to gain height by adding fill to the property to a degree and raising our floor levels when ocean views are possible,” Pagnotta says. He adds that design directives are to build homes on higher ground while maximizing ceiling heights in each floor, particularly the living level. He notes that reverse-living solutions are best for this design concept, as homeowners can enjoy soaring ceilings and a large expanse of unobstructed space— free space which can either lend itself as a sizeable palette for imaginative interior design, or be occupied by an endless sea of windows.
Even when budgets are unlimited, it is nice to be able to cut back on expenses in any construction project. This is where the unified mind of architect and builder truly comes into play. In Pagnotta’s case, since he understands construction costs as the builder, during the architectural design phase he is also able to offer realistic cost estimates—giving clients the confidence to move forward or the ability to pull back and value-reengineer as necessary. “A client may describe to us what is most important to them and we create a design hierarchy to make sure we satisfy these [what we call] ‘hot buttons’ first. To some, the interior finishes and deluxe kitchen will be paramount and a smaller home will suffice, to others it may be the total number of bedrooms at the expense of higher finishes,” he describes of this synonymous home design and home building proficiency.
So how exactly does this all ultimately save the client money? When homeowners enter into a design/build contract, Pagnotta states that architectural fees are reduced and clients are never charged for any of the architectural time spent throughout the course of construction—which is considerable, especially in a custom home. “During construction we do not seek to make up change orders or extras as we believe we’ve already provided the best solution for the client,” states Pagnotta, whose method essentially saves homeowners in fees they would have otherwise encountered while dealing with a separate architect from builder.
Michael Pagnotta AIA established his architect-led design/build firm on Long Beach Island in 1990. For almost 30 years his firm has been responsible for the design and construction of over 500 homes on LBI. Pagnotta graduated from the University of Texas and is a licensed architect, licensed planner and registered builder. For more information on Mike and his firm, visit www.pagnotta.com or follow them on Houzz via Michael Pagnotta Architects pc, Instagram @michaelpagnottaarchitects and Pinterest.com/pagnottaarch.