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Building Melahana: An Interview with the Friedmans

September 1, 2022

 

The projects we take on are typically large and extremely meaningful. For us to build with purpose and deliver on dreams, we must truly get to know what’s most important to our clients. The glimpses we get into people’s lives become intimate in a way, and we feel really honored to be trusted by the clients we serve.

Handing over the keys to a homeowner is a feel-good moment all around. Getting to catch up with them years later to see how happy they are in their homes is just as special. Recently, we visited Jill and Chuck Friedman. You’ve likely drooled over their gorgeous lake house, known to their friends and family as Melahana. Read the full interview below to gain a better understanding of what it feels like to build with Highline.

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Tera: What made you decide to take on this build?

Jill: We had lived on this property. It’s our vacation property. We had bought a double-wide mobile home and lived in it for 12 years with our kids every summer and on the weekends. We knew that someday it wasn’t going to last, so we’d think about what would be next. That was actually to our advantage, because we knew exactly how we lived on the property and we knew what we wanted to capitalize on. We knew someday this was going to be a different home, and we had all this insight from being here on the property – knowing our favorite views, knowing our needs. That was what was the impetus for building this exact home, and it is definitely the upgrade from the double-wide that was here before.

Chuck: I would say this was a dream project. I mean, when we first bought land here, it had a double wide on it, but it was always the dream to go build a house that was the house we wanted to, you know, spend a ton of time in – spend time with our children here, hopefully someday have our children come back with their children. So, it was always that kind of a dream where we saw, from the moment we bought the property, a multi-generational dream. When we finally got to the point that we could afford to go build the house that we really wanted and we found the team that we wanted to build with, we sort of took one step closer to fulfilling that dream and it has been awesome ever since.

Tera: You mentioned finding the right team to do that with. How did you tackle finding the right contractor and what ultimately led you to choosing Highline?

Chuck: We knew we wanted to do a pre-fab home, so we started working with a pre-fab company in Seattle. We asked them, “What are the characteristics of a builder that we should be looking for? What is the level of trust that we need to have?” Particularly because it was a second home for us, we knew we weren’t going to be on site, so having the right relationship really mattered. We had an opportunity to meet with [Highline Founder and President] Trevor and felt immediately super comfortable with him. We actually just shared with him a story of how impactful he was at that particular moment. It was really a good feeling of confidence that, you know, he was going to do things the right way. And again, this idea that, if you are going to build a house that is going to be the dream, you want to make sure that you feel good about that process from start to finish. Obviously, we did our due diligence on it too, but once the pre-fab company sort of facilitated the relationship, the relationship sort of grew from there and felt very natural. It became an obvious choice.

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It’s kind of like they say when you bake with love, you can tell.

It’s the same thing. When you build a house with people

who care about what they’re doing, that’s a better outcome.

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Jill: I would say that, yeah it was pretty instantaneous when we met Trevor that we knew he was our guy. He had a sense of integrity, honesty, a sense of value. This was his name on this company and it mattered to him. He was going to be making this the best that he could possibly make it with the right people to do that. We got that all out of the first meeting, and it wasn’t these grand statements that he was making or over promising. It was just “I want to do the job right,” and that’s really what we wanted to hear. We have had a great relationship with him ever since – and his team.

Chuck: He started by demonstrating excitement about the project as well. It’s really nice when you are working with somebody and you feel a level of enthusiasm and passion and a sense of quality [from them] that’s reflecting your own values. And it was genuine. It was clear that it was genuine from him.

Jill: He was very authentic. Quiet, authentic, and he just oozed integrity. That really was surprising to us. We didn’t know what to expect in this process.

Chuck: Especially in the construction industry.

Jill: In the construction industry! But we were pleasantly surprised at that meeting, and we just said, “Yeah, we are going to go. This is it.”

Tera: I love hearing you talk about that, because I think that’s what makes Highline a really special place to work too. In my interview with Trevor, I had some of those same impressions.

Chuck: Trevor likes to talk about that. I mean, again, he didn’t lead with “Here’s all the ways we are great at building houses.” He led with, “Here’s the kind of integrity that we bring to the table. Here’s the way that we will behave throughout this process.” That was a very different sell than, “Nope. We have the best people to do this. Here’s exactly what your price is going to be.” It was, “No, we are going to stand behind our work. It’s going to be high quality, and we are going to work together on this. Here are our values as a company. We will honor these as we go.”

Jill: That matters.

Chuck: It’s super cool.

Tera: Yeah.  Highline is very values driven. So, you talked about this a little bit in what we just discussed, but describe your experience with Highline. Was there anything that surprised you during the process?

Chuck: The piece that I was sort of blown away with that was surprising was how high tech they were. Having communication on a regular basis through technology – I’m in the technology business, so I thought it was really cool. You get your daily updates. Everything is on a really thoughtful app, and we knew what was going on. We saw pictures. Even all of the billing – it was just so well organized.  That was surprising to me.

Jill: I would say what was surprising to me was when I would show up on site during the building process. It wasn’t just “Oh, the owner is here”; it was everybody is really happy to be here. Everybody was working hard and enjoying their day. And, I would say, “Hey, how is your day going?” and they’d be like, “How bad could it be?” like looking out at the water and being on the property through a year and seeing the seasons. They were really genuinely happy to be doing their job. We have since done a project [elsewhere with a different builder] and it’s not like that. That’s unique, and I was surprised by just how welcome everybody was and happy to be here doing the thing that they cared about. It makes for a good environment. It’s kind of like they say when you bake with love, you can tell. It’s the same thing. When you build a house with people who care about what they’re doing, that’s a better outcome.

Chuck: They actually treated our property like they owned the property. Just to give you an example – so, we have a creek that runs through the property. At the time that [our house] was being built, there was a pretty heavy rain and there was a small bridge that used to go across it, and actually the bridge got compromised. Instead of calling and telling us, they actually jumped into the creek, took care of the bridge, moved it around, and made sure that everything was taken care of. There was no, like, “Hey, Jill, you’ve got a problem. You’ve got to deal with this,” or, “Chuck, who should we call?” It was, “No, we’ve got it.” That was really cool.

Tera: That’s great. How did it feel when the work was complete and you were finally able to enjoy your home?

Jill: Magical.

Chuck: It still feels magical!

Jill: It still does. The week we moved in was a little chaotic and my daughter came with me to move it all in. The movers dropped off a bunch of stuff from the old house that we were really happy to see again. My daughter and I spent a couple days during the week in the summer when we moved in, and first the mattresses came so we had a place to sleep that night. We had the mattress sitting right here and we were just so giddy. We were like, “Oh, my goodness. We are sleeping for the first night in this house. It’s like the dream has come full circle. It’s real. It’s 3D where we can touch it and we get to inhabit this right now.” We spent the next couple days making the house and then they came up. My husband and our two boys came up, and it was like we all went, “Yeah, this is really the dream realized. We have been talking about this so long, and we’ve finally moved in.” As I said before, we knew how we wanted to live and we designed it with the intent that we were doing all the things [with purpose] – the siding, the windows, the deck, the material. We knew what we wanted it to be, and now it was here, and that was really magical.‚Äč

 

Chuck: It was very cool, too, because so much of the design and the way that we built the house, there was intention behind it. Whether it was the lower level having the firepit built up a certain way, or the storage under the house, the fireplace, the heating that goes above on the outside where I grill for the winter – the first time we would use something the way that it was intended when we hadn’t done that before, that was a really cool moment. It was like starting the first day here all over again.

Jill: Or the new fireplace we were building that was tossing so much heat and heating up this whole room in the winter in a way that was just glowy and warm and magical. That’s something we still get to enjoy that we had in the other house, but didn’t know if it was going to work in the new house, and it really did. We were like, “Yay, we still have this warm cozy hearth to sit by.” So, lots of things like that. It didn’t just end when we moved in. It was the discovery of the new way of living in this house and being like, “Hey, that worked!”

Tera: Magic is a renewable resource.

Chuck: Totally! And, especially when you put intention behind what you’re doing and then you see that through. The realization of the intent is a super cool moment.

Jill: So … the first time we had many people [at this table] was weeks ago and it’s three years in, because COVID came. We had all the space for the large parties and gatherings that we had envisioned, but never happened yet. And so, the magic happened again this summer, three summers later, when we were able to invite over other families and all these other friends and sit here and barbecue and have a great meal for the first time.

Chuck: 19 people around the table. It was awesome.

Jill: It was phenomenal.

Tera: Now that you have been living here, you’re discovering new things all the time it sounds like, but what are some of the things that make it most special?

Jill: The windows. The [retractable] screen [doors] that you can open and let in all the natural air and the smell of the lake and the sound. That really makes it super special to us – having the indoor-outdoor lifestyle here, feeling like we are not enclosed in a box and you have to go outside; inside feels good too.

Chuck: The overhangs are just big enough so you can sit outside in the morning, even if it’s raining a little bit.  You can sit outside with a cup of coffee, and you’re living really in the outdoors, but with this house that’s fantastic in so many ways. It’s fun – the little decisions you make. The music is wired throughout the house. Whatever you want whenever you want it is just a touch of a button on your phone and you’re going. The stone that we chose for the fireplace – we got a whole education on what it meant to have stone in your house – manufactured versus real quarried stone, and laying it out the right way with a fireplace that actually throws heat. It’s great in the winter when you are sitting next to it after coming back from skiing. There’s this real sense this was put here with intention and works the way it’s supposed to and feels really good and warm as you drink your cup of coffee or your hot cocoa. There’s a lot of little delight moments like that.

 

Tera: I think so many of us live in the Pacific Northwest because we like nature and the natural surroundings that we get in this area. It is so nice to come here and see this home that really fits the environment and doesn’t feel like some sort of juxtaposition or intrusion.

Jill: Thanks. We love that. And the other thing about it is that it’s not a huge home, so there is no wasted space, and that’s really awesome too. It has just enough and just the right amount. The high ceilings make things feel spacious, but from a square footage perspective, it’s really a modest home that is well used. We use all the bedrooms, all of the bathrooms, all of the living spaces. The kitchen is a congregating space, and the open plan really allows for that. That’s the interior part [of the house], and then the exterior part, that’s like another room out there for us. It’s so easy and accessible that it is the indoor-outdoor living. We have this whole great sofa area here with the fire pit and the eating area out there. It’s just a really natural part. Yes, the interior is modest, but the exterior is still a part of the house, so nothing is wasted. It’s really great.

Chuck: And I will also say that, working with Highline, we intentionally chose finishes that were as bullet-proof as they can be. No one is worrying about what is happening to this floor. If you happen to walk in and there’s a little bit of mud on your shoes, oh well. It’s okay.

Jill: Hose it down.

Chuck: Right. A part of indoor-outdoor living is you don’t want anything to feel like it’s precious. The quality is there for everything that got built out, but you don’t feel like you have to be too delicate with anything. Everything just lives really, really well.

Tera: Yeah, I noticed this flooring myself and thought this is perfect for coming in wet after being in the lake.

Jill: Or with ski boots, or from a hike that we’re on and we’re covered in gravel or grit.  It’s not going to ruin it. The dog running around, and it isn’t scratching my floors. It’s really impervious, and that is the stress-free living that we were looking for. I don’t want to worry that somebody is putting their wine glass down on my table. This table happens to be a beautiful wood table that accommodates a ton of people, but it’s now, three years later, dinged up and scratched. We call that “patina of life” and we love that. We don’t want placemats all the time, and I don’t want to worry that the kids are taping things to the table for playing Catan or whatever. It’s just going to happen, and that’s what this house is for. It’s not precious. It’s really about building memories and not yelling that somebody is sitting there with a wet bathing suit. It’s great. It’s bullet proof. So high end, but really…

Chuck: Durable

Jill: Durable. That was the first filter, and Highline was great at helping us make those choices.

Tera: If you could do it all over again, is there anything you’d do differently?

Chuck: We have very few regrets about this. They’re little things. I don’t know, [Jill] you should go on this one. You pay attention to details this way.

Jill: Well, it was my mistake: our master closet. There’s no other furniture besides the bed in our bedroom, so we didn’t realize how utilitarian the closet needed to be and we just didn’t design it right. It’s okay. It functions and it’s an easy thing to fix if it really bothered us, but we probably would have thought about that a little differently. No, everything else is really [great]. We were just talking about how the finishes are so durable, and I don’t regret any of them. We are lucky to have done this at a time when LED lights were a thing. Even though it’s really high ceilings, we’re not going to have to change the bulbs. So, no, we really don’t have a lot of regrets about this house at all. That would be one of them: the master closet. It’s a pretty easy fix.

Tera: Yeah, you’re doing okay if that’s the top of the list.

Jill: Yeah, and as we said, if it starts with “At the lake house…” you’re really not allowed to complain. Yeah, a sentence that starts that way is just “Nope! Zip the lips.”

Tera: We’ll be sharing your story with other individuals interested in building or remodeling. What advice would you give them?

Chuck: A couple of things stand out. First, know what you want. A lot of why this project worked so well was because we knew what we wanted. We were intentional about choices so we could be clear with [Highline Production Manager] Brent and Trevor and the Highline team. Like, “Yes, this. No, that. Yes, this. No, that. Okay, give us two days. We’ll get back to you.” I think that level of clarity put all of us on a team together in terms of actually trying to get the project done, and it ended up working really well. I think it would have been much tougher if we weren’t clear or hadn’t spent the time discussing it ahead of time. The team wouldn’t have been in such a strong position to go out and execute. It felt like we were always in this mode of we are going to go make a good decision. We’d have the conversation we needed and just get it clear and go.

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The more communicative we were with Highline,

I felt like they had clarity of what our final vision was

and then they had the skill to pull it all together....

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Jill: And I would say, advice for somebody doing this, yes, being decisive matters and clear communication for sure, but the builder matters. Because, at the end of the day, they’re taking what is on the paper and what is in your mind and your vision for what it is that you want the outcome to be, and they’re creating that. And, if that relationship isn’t there, and you’re not clear, and you’re not enjoying that process, then, again, like baking, you know, things made with love taste better. A house built with good intentions and a good relationship is gonna have a better outcome. For us, people warned us of doing it and how difficult these processes could be and how much more money you’re going to spend [building] than you think and all these kinds of pitfalls. But, for us, we were very clear on what we wanted, and we were very clear about what we wanted to spend, and we were very clear on how we wanted to live, and Highline was really good about understanding what that dream was gonna look like and wanting it to become that. So, I would say the relationship that you have ultimately with the builder – less so with the design and more so with how it is getting done – is the thing to look for when you are doing a build, because, at the end of the day, they are accountable for making that dream into the reality.

Chuck: That’s such a good point. And then the thing that comes to mind – there’s a thousand little decisions that need to get made almost every day in order for the house to get done, and we’re not going to be there for every decision. The more communicative we were with Highline, I felt like they had clarity of what our final vision was and then they had the skill to pull it all together, which was really cool. If we had not communicated what we wanted, they still would have made great choices because they are phenomenal at what they do, but I don’t know that it would have been as close of a fit to exactly what we wanted.

Tera: Taking the time to get on the same page eliminated all of the back-and-forth there would have had to be to check in about every one of those thousand decisions a day or correct when they made the wrong choice.

Chuck: Exactly.

Jill: Right. And thinking of it as a team. You’re all on the same team. Even though the relationships are very defined, if you all work together and have a lot of respect for the daily work that’s happening here and the decisions we are making financially or in terms of materials and stuff as a couple, if all of those things are communicated, you work as a team better and you get a better outcome. It just is. We were thrilled with the people. At the end of the day, that really mattered to us. Like I said, the thing that surprised me most was how happy people were to be here, and it showed. It just shows. When you come here and you find happy people, it makes you happy that you are doing this job. This is really, again, as we’ve said this word a million times – this is the dream. This was a dream house for us and didn’t become the nightmare; it stayed the dream! A lot of people have said, “Oh, building is such a nightmare.” It was not. It was not a nightmare; it was a dream for us. Every step of the way, it was exciting to come and see the progress, to talk to the people building it and ask them questions and know that they really cared about the things they were doing when they were here. The tile guys, to this day, blew me away. That bathroom, the downstairs bathroom – every time I’m in there, I see the care they had in setting the tiles to match in such a way that it is flawless. The way that they set the stone, the real stone in the fireplace, where we sit here year-round looking at that and we’re like, “Wow, look how great that is.” You don’t often do that in your home; you’re always like, “Oh, I only see the flaws.” But, we don’t. We come here and we’re like, “Yes, that’s a great decision.” I just love the dream coming to fruition and the people that made it happen. We always say to Trevor and to Brent, this doesn’t exist without the two of you. It just didn’t.

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This was a dream house for us and

didn't become the nightmare; it stayed the dream.

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Chuck: The one other piece of advice. You just triggered this thought. Bring food.

Jill: Yeah! Treat them well. They appreciate food.

Chuck: They loved when we would bring food.

Jill: I baked a lot for them. I brought in Costco pizzas a lot when I would show up. Food is definitely appreciated. They do like that. It was my pleasure to do that, because, to me, feeding people is like showing them love. It was my way of saying. “Hey, guys. Thanks for working so hard on the project.”

Tera: Food is love indeed. And, I think you’re right that it is a team effort. I wasn’t here at Highline when we worked with you on this project, but I think it’s memorable for everyone who was here at that time. When I said, “I’m going to the Friedmans to do this video,” people lit up and got excited, because I think that that joy is experienced on both sides, so thank you for being part of that process.

Chuck: That makes us happy. I love hearing that.

Jill: Yeah.

Back to the Recently at Highline

“Highline exceeded our expectations.”

“Communication was constant, honest and clear. Trevor and his crew were all friendly and professional.  They listened to our requests and delivered.

”We are thrilled with the quality of work! The project was on time and on budget. We will definitely be recommending Highline to our friends and family.”

– Matt Whitten, Bellingham, WA

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