design build - team profile
Building Back a Community
Christopherson Builders and Potter Audio Video help Northern California homeowners rebuild after devastating wildfires.
By Douglas Weinstein
THE WILDFIRES THAT RACED ACROSS NORTHERN CALIFORNIA IN 2017 caused historic levels of death and destruction. More than a dozen wildfires ripped across the area — the Nuns, Tubbs, Atlas and Redwood Valley fires stand out as among the most damaging to ever hit the state.
They started within a day of each other in early October and continued burning for nearly three weeks. Collectively, the four fires burned more than 181,000 acres of forests, vineyards and farmland into barren lands. Despite burning half the land the Thomas Fire consumed, the blazes destroyed nearly eight times as many structures. In that frightening fire season nearly 9,000 wildfires tore through the state, burning 1.2 million acres of land (an area the size of Delaware), destroying more than 10,800 structures and killing at least 46 people.
Just 55 miles North of San Francisco, in the urban heart of the wine country, you’ll find Santa Rosa, a city with a cool vibe and vibrant culture ready and waiting to be explored. The fire destruction was equally devastating in this part of Northern California and while the pain of homeowners’ losses are still evident, many are returning to rebuild and reclaim their former residences in a resilient and sustainable fashion.
Assisting in the process are two businesses that have teamed up to provide the latest in performance home technologies and building strategies, Christopherson Builders and Potter Audio Video. Christopherson Builders have been building successful communities in Northern California for 40 years. With more than 6,500 new homes and 63 communities to date, they have a proven track record of award winning development and residential building.
Potter Audio Video has over 15 years of experience in residential technology and strive to bring this experience to the home in a way that improves and enriches lives. They bring a multi-faceted approach to each project and are guided by the principle that the client is always right.
I recently sat down with Kelly Gray-Jones, Studio Manager for Christopherson Builders Design, and George Potter IV, Owner of Potter Audio Video, to talk about resiliency, sustainability and what it means to be helping those who have lost so many priceless treasures rebuild their homes.
“Everyone in our communities is interested in net zero energy and sustainable materials. Clean air, clean water. LED lighting is really big.”Kelly Gray-Jones
Studio Manager , Christopherson Builders Design
“At a minimum, a home should have security, surveillance, a smart door bell and thermostat, a nice network both wired and wireless and at least one area that is pre-wired for surround sound.”George Potter IV
Owner, Potter Audio Video
DOUG: What has it meant to you to be involved in undertaking these rebuilding projects?
KELLY: We’ve been around a long time. Our Founders, Keith and Brenda Christopherson, as well as many on our team have been around since the '80s. I’m a native of this area as well, so there is a lot of shared history that glues us together. I was doing design work prior to joining the firm, so I’ve had my
own history as far as working with homeowners in the area.
This area is a community that is hyper-focused on environmental issues and is paying attention when it comes to sustainability and resiliency. I don’t know if you realize this, but we actually have fire seasons now!
So it has meant a great deal to us to be able to help rebuild our communities and we’ve taken responsibility as far as resiliency design, including using tempered interior panes in all windows and doors for fire protection, specifying composition roofs that are 50-year CertainTeed Landmark Pro Class A fire-resistant, concrete tile roofs with galvanized metal in valleys with a 72-pound mineral cap sheet, James Hardie fiber cement lap siding, under floor vents on raised floors that are ember resistant, fire sprinkler systems engineered and approved by the City of Santa Rosa Fire Department and connected smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors at every level and in every bedroom with battery back-up.
GEORGE: To have grown up in the area and to have seen the aftermath of the fires firsthand, it was surreal for me. When rebuilding work began it was an honor to be working on projects in my childhood neighborhood and even for some of my old family friends. This all made it very personal to me and fueled me through that time. December 2018 was crazy, the first wave of homes in Coffey Park were going up super-fast and some people were trying to move in by Christmas. The diversity of activity in those neighborhoods was nuts with the construction and all the different builders.
It has been rewarding working with the builders in the area as we are able to help most of them have a better understanding of what we do as low voltage integrators and how we want to integrate with the architecture, not just install electronics. Christopherson Builders especially understands the importance of technology in assisting in and enhancing sustainable and resilient homes.
We haven’t had to change much in the way that we specify for the new homes. There are more metal roofs and framing being used then before and codes are more strict regarding fire-breaks and plenum spaces. We have fire-rated backboxes for our architectural speakers and that is one of the main things we are doing more now.
DOUG: Kelly, talk about your showroom and discovery process and where Potter Audio Video fits in.
KELLY: So I manage our Design Studio and we have a lot of working partnerships where we can show clients tile and stone, flooring materials, cabinets, plumbing and technology. I have a process where I can have clients in for three or four appointments in order to outfit their home.
Resiliency is a big part of what is on the clients’ minds. We have a lot of new home buyers in their 30s and 40s and they are pretty savvy as far as what they are interested in. So we create the framework through our discovery process to answer questions and show options.
Most of our clients, as George mentioned, are interested in some technology from the get-go, so George is often brought in early to consult on our pre-packaged technology solutions. We have a full wall of technology that is anchored by the ELAN touchscreen and control system, a complete wired and wireless network and other features that are our base package of technology.
"When people touch the doorbell, it pings on the touch panel and there they are, live and in-person! They get to experience not only the convenience of smart doorbells but also the security behind the tech."
GEORGE: So we have been working with Christopherson Builders for a few years, after they approached me about putting together some smart tech for their spec homes. After weeks of meetings we mutually decided that at a minimum, a home should have security, surveillance, a smart door bell and thermostat, a nice network both wired and wireless and at least one area that is pre-wired for surround sound. We use one 40-inch panel in a wall for the gear and locate that space somewhere where down the road if the client wants to expand an integrated whole-house music or distributed video system, we can install a rack with the appropriate gear in front of that 40-inch panel.
We don’t ask Kelly and her team to sell technology. She and the CB team are able to expose them to the idea and bring it into the early conversations. Through the Design Studio experience wall they can give clients a real “look and feel” opportunity to realize the potential of what they can do for their home. After that she hands them over to me for a personal consultation; every home and every client is different and we reflect that in every design we do.
KELLY: In the Studio Design Center people seem to always fall in love with the ELAN touch panel don’t they?
GEORGE: Yes, they do! On one of the walls there is an active touch panel and doorbell. So when people touch the doorbell, it pings on the touch panel and there they are, live and in-person! They get to experience not only the convenience of smart doorbells but also the security behind the tech.
The other thing about the ELAN touch panel is that you can use it for all of the technology in the home. Whether it is the Lutron lighting control, the Honeywell or 2GIG security or ELAN remote surveillance cameras and video capture, all of it functions through the touch panel, eliminating wall switches and keypads to give the interior design a clean aesthetic.
DOUG: What else in performance home strategies are people asking for?
KELLY: I guess I’d start with green design in general. The whole idea is popping and everyone in our communities are interested in net zero energy and sustainable materials. Clean air, clean water. LED lighting is really big, and we have begun working with a lighting designer who can tie their designs into George’s ELAN and Lutron control systems.
And of course, since we are talking about wine country living, people are interested in indoor/outdoor living spaces where they can entertain in their back logia. We have a lot of home plans where we work with an architecture partner that are very creative when it comes to common areas and the flow between spaces.
As I start to work with a client I recommend that they begin by creating a Pinterest page and just adding images that they relate to and envision in their new space. Whether that’s a bird in a tree or various color palettes, whatever makes you happy should be informing your design decisions.
My philosophy when it comes to design is that as long as nobody gets injured, it is not worth stressing about. It should be a fun experience. And, if everything you have to decide on is special, then nothing is special. So pick the particulars that are going to make the most difference in your space. And let’s talk through the options and make it a pleasurable experience.
And that’s the same as our partnership with George. I really like working with George and we communicate well together. At the end of the day, it is about how we service our mutual client, right?
GEORGE: As Kelly mentioned, green building and zero carbon footprint are on more people’s minds and a Smart Home System is a great way to do that. Lighting and shade control keep the environment comfortable while maximizing efficiency without the homeowner needing to lift a finger.
Clients also want to be more in touch and connected with their home now for safety and security. This is why surveillance and smart video doorbells have grown to be a popular offering. The base package we do with Christopherson is actually very little “A/V”. It is focused on safety and comfort and I think an even larger percentage of potential clients spend the money on these benefits.
The fires have also destroyed a lot of CD, Blu-Ray and Vinyl collections, pushing people even more to a streaming ecosystem. We leverage this with Apple TV or Roku and ELAN control to provide a fun experience that is simple. We always love it when a client does have a music collection and we can help provide equipment for that to enrich every day.
No matter the size of the company, it comes down to the team and I appreciate working with Kelly and her team, as they’ve come to understand that we have their best interests in mind as well. We are both trying to be successful and I like that the most — the improved team effort and understanding how we can help each other, and of course the benefit to the client.