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Model remodeler
This award-winning remodeler counts on meeting goals

By MARDEE GRUEN

 

Architect turned remodeler Bill Winters says being a remodeler is more satisfying than being an architect because "an architect only creates the plans while the remodeler does the design and builds the project."


Bill Winters wants to live to be 100, but only practice his trade until he’s 99 1/2. So, what’s he going to do for his final six months?

"I guess I’ll revisit my best accomplishments," he mused.

And, at the rate he’s going, he’ll have to be quite selective for the 58-year-old Winters was named the 2003 winner of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Builders Association Remodeler Sales Person of the Year.

Though he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, his interest in remodeling was roused by his own personal experience. "I remodeled my own Milwaukee bungalow that I bought in Wauwatosa because I couldn’t afford to pay someone to do it and I loved it - especially the woodworking and cabinetry."

He added, "It must be in my genes. My paternal great-grandfather was a residential carpenter and my maternal grandfather was a tile setter. The more I did on my house, the more I realized that I liked that work better than being a professional architect where I did large institutional and commercial projects. So I switched to remodeling and began The Winters Group 15 years ago with my partner, Bill Schultz."

He and his wife, Peg, his interior decorator, have five children and two grandchildren. When he’s not working, he loves reading and walking along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

He finds being a remodeler to be more satisfying than just an architect because, according to Winters, "an architect only creates the plans while the remodeler does the design and builds the project. Also, in remodeling, I feel I am able to incorporate all my interests into a project. It’s like problem-solving, which can be tricky."

He explained that in new construction the client dictates a wish list while in remodeling there are a lot of givens that can’t be changed. "For me, that is aesthetically and intellectually challenging."

In doing an addition, he said the client usually wants the exterior of the home to blend. "No one wants the project to scream ‘addition’ from the outside. But the interior lends itself to more options. Personally, I like to mix the old with a contemporary flair. Most projects are budget-driven, and that’s good because it helps me achieve their goals while meeting my financial responsibility."

Another advantage, according to Winters, is that in remodeling you never do the same project twice. "In commercial architecture and sometimes in new home construction, everything begins to like alike. For me, every project is different. My goal is not to have our work stereotyped and not have our jobs look the same."

One of his most challenging jobs was remodeling a kitchen in a Fox Point home. "It may not sound difficult, but the home was built in the late 1800s and the owner wanted the new work to match to the original moldings and trim. We had to custom everything," he recalled.

Winters acknowledges that there is a trend toward teardowns rather than remodeling. He believes in the end remodeling can be more expensive than new construction because it is more labor intensive. "Even though the plumbing, electricals and other mechanicals exist, there are pre-conditions in the home we have to start with.

"From a financial standpoint, if you buy a house to knock down, you lose your equity. It may be more resourceful to work with what you have. In either case, we’re seeing people staying put. They like their neighborhoods and don’t want to move. It seems this has become even more common since Sept. 11. The value of your home is your largest investment and they are becoming a refuge for families."

Quiet and casual in his manner, Winters said he is driven by seeing things being built. "I’ve been building things since I was a little kid. I’m blessed with three-dimensionality. I see things on paper and then see the tangible results. It’s very satisfying," he said.

The projects he most enjoys are when he assembles a team up front - from the design phase to the landscaping.

His work can be problematic because it is weather-related. "Naturally, it seems just when we open up the roof, it rains, But, that’s the nature of the business," he mused.

"Honestly," said Winters, "clients have to have a sense of humor or the process won’t work. When I have my initial consultation, if the client doesn’t laugh at least once, likely I won’t take the job. We can’t be too uptight about things that are out of our control."

He never denies that remodeling will be disruptive, messy and dirty. "It can’t be avoided, but we tell the client to focus on the end result."

He says he is a proponent of the book, ‘Not so Big House.’ "I tell my clients to build for their needs and put any extra money into details such a fine cabinetry or other details to make the home unique."