Schenkar Construction’s attention to detail and quality are pleasing clients in the hot Seattle housing market.
By Mark Lawton
Imagine soaking in a standalone bath in a master bedroom while gazing out a window at Puget Sound. So you won’t be distracted from the view, you pick up your smartphone and decrease the inside lighting and lower the music playing on your stereo. Friends are coming over so you drag yourself from the bath, walk across a radiant heated floor and into a closet where ambient lighting turns on as you enter the room.
You open a custom-built cabinet for your clothes, turn the music volume up with your smartphone and get ready. This is a small part of what a custom house built by Schenkar Construction of Seattle offers. Completed in 2019, this house is 3,845-square-feet, three-and-half stories and has five bedrooms and four-and-a-half baths. It is constructed of two buildings connected by a foyer and has two different rooflines – one jutting east/west and one jutting north/south. Schenkar Construction designed the house in the NW Modern style.
NW Modern is a mixed genre that uses glass and steel elements but also integrates the “warmer” element of wood with exposed wood beams, stained windows and tongue and groove cedar. The 10,724-square-foot lot was partially chosen for both the view of the Puget Sound and the fact that the view will never be interrupted by future construction.
“During the design phase, we took elevation studies of the surrounding houses and the topography,” President Alex Schenkar says. “We designed the home specific to those elevations, what [neighbors] can do versus what we are allowed to do. We determine how to build it most efficiently on the lot so it has the least amount of obstructed views. We do that by going room to room and using 3-D autoCAD drawings and a virtual reality tour. We can ensure you are maximizing western exposure and complete views of water and sky.”
In addition to the great views, the amenities for this house are extraordinary. There is an emphasis on capturing passive solar energy, for instance, with 72 percent of the wall area on the house’s west side being either windows or doors. The front door is five feet wide by eight feet tall, weighs 675 pounds and is made of solid mahogany and pivots on a single spindle.
“It’s a very uniquely engineered pivot door,” Schenkar says. “With a small piece of hardware, you can push it open with your finger.” Smart home technology is integrated throughout the home. A Control4 platform allows occupants to remotely operate security cameras, audio, appliances, heating, air conditioning, water temperature, radiant floor heating, televisions and oven from any remote access point in the world. The infrastructure in the walls makes it unlikely to become obsolete. “It is easily upgradable,” Schenkar says.
There is a rooftop deck with power, water and speakers. Narrow-body indoor AC units that are flush with the ceiling allow occupants to customize the airflow rate and direction. The appliances are by Wolf or Sub Zero. And the house will never get stuffy – an energy recovery ventilation unit exhausts the air and replaces it with fresh air every 90 seconds.
These state-of-art components create an incredible energy efficient home with the highest air quality. Although the large amenities might be the ones that draw comment, Schenkar Construction pays attention to the details. All the doors, stairs and hallway windows are wider than average at 7 by 3 feet. The maple hardwood floors have custom 2-inch stair nosing and treads. Solar connections are installed. All light fixtures are LED low wattage and there is both undercabinet lighting and mood stair lighting.
The security cameras are high-definition with motion-activated night vision. The bar sink has water filtration and the foyer powder room features a hand-carved mahogany sink. Retaining walls and the driveway are composed of color and stamped concrete.
Alex Schenkar founded Schenkar Construction in 2006. Before that, he earned a degree in environmental design at the University of Colorado and worked as a project manager for a company building single-family homes and as a consultant. Schenkar Construction designs and builds high-end custom homes in the $1.2 to $6.5 million range in the greater Seattle area and throughout the state as the company is licensed throughout Washington.
To a lesser degree, the company also does light commercial construction and residential remodeling including second-story additions or bathroom and kitchen remodeling. Schenkar Construction also offers house lifting, foundation stabilization and steep slope construction. “These are very common projects throughout the city,” Schenkar says. “Seattle’s market is dynamic and the topography is steep. It is a very challenging place to build. We excel at the more complicated projects.”
The company strives to offer a high-quality home, customized to the client’s desires and at a very competitive price. Schenkar Construction could best be described as a smaller boutique firm, a fact that appeals to its exclusive clientele. “If a client has an issue, problem, wants an update or wants to know the financial status, they can reach me directly,” Schenkar says. “If you are a customer and are buying a product, you want to communicate with the principal. That is confidence inspiring.”
Business is good. Schenkar Construction has grown 40 to 50 percent over the past eight years. Tech companies continue to expand and move into the Seattle area and the median income is rising exponentially. It is, Schenkar says, probably the best construction and housing market in the country.
“The competition is strong but we have a unique customer-experience driven product,” he notes. “There aren’t too many people doing custom as specialized as we do it.”
Schenkar Construction uses the design/build approach to construction. Schenkar explains that his clients want to establish a certain confidence level with their homebuilder. “The way you perform your duties are as important as the finished product,” Schenkar says. “[Clients] are watching the way you operate. We want to perform in a manner that our client knows they are getting a great product.”
Design/build requires communicating clearly and regularly with the client. “Tuesday you can expect two men at 2 p.m.,” Schenkar says. “They will perform this task, this is what you can expect to see and it will take this long. You make [the client] part of the process. It reduces anxiety.”
While clear and regular communication with clients might seem obvious, Schenkar suggests it is not always a priority for homebuilders. “Communication is one characteristic of this industry that commonly falls by the wayside,” Schenkar says. “Using simple and transparent forms of communication is critical.”
Like any homebuilder, Schenkar Construction has challenges. One is soil composition. “The most common challenge we find in Seattle is establishing the bearing capacity of the foundation for any house to sit on top of,” Schenkar says. “Seattle is prone to unique geotechnical conditions.”
Schenkar Construction frequently has to augment the foundation with methods such as pipe piling, where pipes are driven deep into the earth below the house. The foundation is then poured on top of the pipes. “The pipe piles are a very common solution to achieve seismic bearing requirements,” Schenkar explains. “In this house, the piles went very deep.”
More generally, finding talented labor in a busy construction market can be challenging. Schenkar focuses on getting the highest-skilled labor and likes to find such labor by referrals either from inside the company or builders or tradespeople the company has worked with before. Retention can also be difficult.
“Someone is always going to think the grass is greener somewhere else,” Schenkar says. Schenkar construction uses incentives such as benefits, bonuses and courses at trade schools to retain people. Meanwhile, the cost of construction materials has been rising for the last 10 quarters. Some of that is the result of tariffs on materials like steel from China.
For the future, Schenkar says he will continue to prioritize quality over quantity. “People always think bigger is better,” Schenkar says. “I don’t want to be 100 percent fiscally driven. I want to make sure we are maintaining our brand integrity and product quality and focus on our customers.” To do that, Schenkar Construction plans to continue to offer frequent communication and a superior product at a competitive price.