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What I learned at Design and Construction Week in Las Vegas

Design and Construction Week 2019 is the name for two trade shows combined: The Kitchen Bath Industry Show and The International Builder’s Show. This year’s event was back in Las Vegas after three years in Orlando. The location and the economy helped to boost attendance and exhibitor participation to record levels, a reported 100,000 visitors. According to the National Association of Home Builders, “it was the biggest show in a decade.”

The convention hall was vibrant, with 2,000 exhibits and over 150 education programs. Adding to the hoopla was a 75 anniversary celebration of IBS and special features like: The High-Performance Building Zone; The Outdoor Living Pavilion and nextBuild, a showcase for new home technologies. Virtually every housing industry trend you’ve heard about, was on display.

The NAHB International Builders Show 2019 was held in Las Vegas

The NAHB International Builders Show 2019 was held in Las Vegas

Having read and reviewed his book for TRADITIONAL BUILDING, “Retooling the U.S. Housing Industry,” I was drawn to author and Chief Architect for the Office of Building Technology and Energy Efficiency Sam Rashkin’s seminar titled “Disruption is Coming to Housing: Are You Prepared?” Rashkin makes the case for how every industry but housing has been disrupted and forced to change. This is about to change, according to Rashkin who predicts an increasingly automated manufacturing process for housing, including the production of smaller more energy efficient homes. The affordable housing market is under served. Rashkin is out to change this by changing the home buyer’s customer experience.

My friend and former BUILDER magazine editor Frank Anton describes the housing market as a “dumb bell” with customers who want small affordable housing on one end of the market, and big, expensive custom housing on the other end. The middle, like the flat skinny bar in a dumb bell, is inactive, a void in housing’s middle market. We have first time buyers (millennials) and last time buyers (baby-boomers) but relatively few “move up” buyers in the middle of the market. This thesis was in evidence with seminars about the “55 plus market” or “aging in place” as well as “what millennials want” education sessions.

“Using Modern Materials to Create the Traditional Exteriors Buyers Want” was presented by Steve Mouzon, AIA, CNU, LEED AP of Mouzon Design and Fernando Pages, MA, Construction Management and Artisan LTD. This dynamic duo declared, “classically-inspired design is one of today’s most powerful trends in home building.” Mouzon showed classical home building details rooted in functionality, like shedding water, details which often elude today’s carpenter. Mouzon’s seminar takes lessons from his book titled, “Traditional Construction Details.”

Across town from the Design and Construction Week convention center was the NAHB New American Remodel 2019, a show house, reachable by a chartered bus. I braved a snow storm (yes, unusual in Vegas) to get there, as did several thousand other attendees. This idea house was far from the period-inspired houses we cover in our magazines.

Front view of the New American Remodel show house.

Front view of the New American Remodel show house.

As is so often the case with show houses, the best ideas are in the details, not the total package. This 10,000 square foot mansion felt more like an entertainment venue than a cozy private residence but remember, this is Las Vegas. The details, like barn doors on rollers, railroad ties for fencing and steel beams repurposed as bookshelves gave this modern design it’s industrial chic. The architect, Michael Gardner, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, principal of Luxus Design Build LLC/Studio g Architecture, dubbed his design “modern organic.”

View of the main outdoor living area in the New American Remodel show house. 

View of the main outdoor living area in the New American Remodel show house. 

There were product innovations throughout the house, a big- box display of what Steve Mouzon calls “gizmo green,” like: A Photovoltaic system which generates an estimated 26,977 kWh of energy yearly. I was drawn to the outdoor kitchen cabinets by Premier Custom Built, Inc., which fit perfectly in multiple outdoor entertaining spaces around an impressive interior courtyard and resort-like swimming pool. The master suite was over-the-top, with a bathroom big enough for the football team, all beautifully fitted-out with Kohler fixtures, including a toilet that sings. Pro Remodeler magazine, the media partner for this remodel project, helped curate these products.

Modern design was on full display in the exhibition hall, whether trade show booth designs or the products and technology that went into them. It was enough to make this traditionalist feel paranoid, out of vogue and irrelevant. I feel a little better knowing that mid century modern is not only hip but historic and that we cover it in our magazines. I’m struck by the intersection of minimalist-modern mass production and technology with natural materials and craftsmanship. I’ve never seen the word “craft” used so many times in so many places as I did at Design and Construction Week. But rustic, brown, natural looking building materials, albeit “crafted” by machinery, look really good against white.

Covering this trade show wasn’t all work and no play. My friends at FINE HOMEBUILDING magazine treated me to craft beers and brat at their “#KeepCraftAlive” party. The party was packed with craftsmen wearing traditional flannel shirts. We closed the bar together. 

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