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30 Years and Still Growing

By Helen Susan Edelman

Thirty years is a long time. For Witt Construction, Inc., it’s been a trek through hills and valleys, but today, President John Witt looks out toward a clear horizon. With his three-decade anniversary this month, Witt declares, “I enjoy my work more each day.”

As a U.S. Ski Team champion in his 20s, Witt traveled the world. He was fascinated by the architecture in distant countries, and when the ski career wound down, that fascination translated into a creative urge to design and build homes. A Saratogian since his family moved to the city from Syracuse, when he was a first-grader, Witt couldn’t think of anywhere he’d rather live, so he put down stakes in the area and got busy making people’s dreams come true.

The first house Witt built for a client was on Wagman’s Ridge Road in the Town of Saratoga. It was a saltbox, carefully sited so that trees would grow in to frame it. “Other than the house I had built for myself a year before, I had no track record and they trusted me,” he recalls.

Landscaping is always a consideration in Witt’s portfolio of hundreds of homes. “People like views, and I look for great properties to develop in Saratoga Springs, Schuylerville, Malta, Stillwater, Wilton, Greenfield and Clifton Park, and even beyond that,” he says. “You have to decide which trees to cut and which to keep so that the house overlooks something beautiful, but is also private, if that’s what the owners are looking for.”

Witt has had significant success with neighborhoods like Cherry Hills off Old Schuylerville Rd, Park Alley, near Skidmore College, Lakeside at Riley’s, in Saratoga Springs, and Excelsior Park, near Northway exit 15. He is also building seven single-family condominiums around a courtyard on Jumel Place, in Saratoga Springs’ east side, and has under construction right now 18 townhomes at Excelsior Park. He’s even built a 13,000-square-foot, off-the-grid home in Pennsylvania and a five-box modular in Killington, Vt., where he heads many winter weekends

“Our goal is: ‘You walk in, you feel good’,” Witt says. Every custom and classic Witt home is designed with specific clients in mind and Witt meets every one of them to talk about how they see themselves living there.

“This is going to be their personal space and we don’t want them to compromise,” he says. “We look at their needs and their lifestyles when we design a home, ranging from whether they’re downsizing to whether they need accessible bathrooms or wider staircases.”

Signature Witt homes are known for features such as meticulous built-ins, open floorplans, spacious master suites and state-of-the-art kitchens.

One reason Witt homes meet the highest standards of quality is that he’s no stranger to getting his hands dirty, knows every nuance of the design-build industry and doesn’t hold back on warrantying his work. “I designed and built my own first house on Monument Drive in Schuylerville and I am self-taught,” he says. “I’ve worn all the hats. I rented a bulldozer, did siding and roofing and built the stairs and I ended up with a really need property. It inspired me to build great homes and I read and studied everything I could to make it happen. I wasn’t even in business yet; I did it to learn.”

In the beginning, he took every job he could get “just to stay alive. We were in a recession,” he remembers. “But I found it rewarding to take a raw piece of property and design a home for it and see people super happy with the outcome. I see them years later, and they’re still happy.”

When Witt first founded his company he had one employee, “and he’s still with me,” Witt reports. It can be hard, though. At one point, he went from 48 employees to 12. “Thirty years ago, there wasn’t much of a market,” he explains, “but, I was determined.” (His favorite employee these days is his daughter, Aspen.) “I started with just me, then slowly hired trades. I had my own framing crew, mason and laborers, in the beginning.” Witt also emphasizes that there are good jobs in construction that pay well, and encourages people to consider them when they’re looking at post-high school options.

As the economy improved and demand for Saratoga Springs-area housing increased, so did Witt Construction’s list of clients, many of them influenced by positive word-of-mouth reports passed on by thrilled homeowners. One of his specialties now is in-fills, building new residences on city lots that have had structures on them knocked down.

“The approval process is brutal,” says Witt. “Just because you design a house, doesn’t mean you can build it.”

He says that zoning in the city core hasn’t changed much since he started his business and that makes it expensive to live downtown. That’s one of the reasons he is developing spaces like Excelsior Park, where prices can be more affordable, but maintain the superior quality and appearance he is known for.

His work is Witt’s main focus by day, but he loves Saratoga and has dedicated himself to enhancing it. He has committed hundreds of acres to green space, was president of the Saratoga Builders Association and founded the regional Showcase of Homes, which raises money for Habitat and Saratoga Rebuild, an organization that helps people in need of housing, while it spotlights local builders’ current projects.

“I like to keep money local,” he says. “People who tour Showcase properties aren’t necessarily looking for a home, they just like to see cool, new stuff.”

He also currently serves on the board of the National Museum of Dance , Double H Ranch and served on the Saratoga Preservation Foundation board.

“I am most proud of my work for Double H Hole in the Woods Ranch in Lake Luzerne, specialized programs and year-round support for children and their families dealing with life-threatening illness,” he says.

His formula for corporate and personal success is working. His team members have longevity, some 20 or 25 years, and, he declares, “We have a great future in the best place in the world to live. Saratoga has four seasons, great cultural opportunities, excellent schools, a high quality of life and we’re near Montreal, New York City and Boston. Under Mayor Meg Kelly, the momentum is positive, the momentum is forward, and I want to make it possible for people to live a great life at different price points in beautiful, creative housing. It’s all good.”

 

Exciting Happenings at Excelsior Park

Excelsior Park will be blossoming this spring – both in beautiful new buildings and the exciting natural environment surrounding them. Excelsior Park Apartments, designed for affordable luxury living in a convenient and private location, is renting units now. Apartments range from studios to three bedrooms, with lots of layouts to choose from, and there’s an option for heated garage space. Pets are welcome! President John Witt designed the apartments with architect Domick Ranieri, and Burns Management has run with the ball. Excelsior Park offers easy access to all of Saratoga Springs’ downtown amenities, is close to the North-way and Wilton Mall and is emerging as a premier address in our community. If you’re looking for a place to live, you’ll want to move in as soon as the paint dries. Read more about these cool new apartments at www.excelsiorparkapts.com!

But wait, there’s more on the drawing board! John conceptualized and is getting ready to build 18 signature townhouses, which will range from 1,300-2,600 sq. ft. on two floors, with drive-in garages underneath. Witt Construction is breaking ground this summer – this is something special to watch for, and worth waiting for, if you’re house-hunting.

More good news for Spring 2017: Excelsior Park’s trails are getting ready for you to hike, cross-country ski, go bird-watching, run and walk your dogs in a wild preserve that stretches from Eureka Avenue to the end of Excelsior Avenue. Witt Construction is laying the boardwalk across the wetlands to make the property safe and accessible for those who want to wander the 50 acres of gorgeous natural land John donated as public space to adjoin the Spring Run trail system – about half the Excelsior Park property.

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There’s so much going on now. Glad we could catch up today. Stay tuned for more soon. – John Witt

John Leaves IBS Enthusiastic About Technology for the Home

Witt Construction President John Witt and his daughter, Aspen, have been on the road on your behalf again. In December, John visited Texas to look at the “wireless world” at the TechHome Builder Show. Then, last month, on the way back from their spectacular ski trip to British Columbia, John and Aspen flew to the opposite climate: Orlando, Fla., to the National Association of Home Builders International Builders Show. The events showcase what’s new in the building world – from software to faucets.

John reports that the “smart house” with its innovative sensors is the headliner for now and the foreseeable future. He says the 21st-century sensors track “how you live in your home” and can anticipate your needs.

Kohler was showcasing many of the new products it has to offer, which Aspen really enjoyed.

“We saw a lot of plumbing fixtures, flooring, appliances and countertops, but what’s big is being able to control your lights, heat and home security; check to see if your doors are locked; and open and close your garage door from your cellphone or iPad. If the doorbell rings, you can check a camera at the door – from a distance, using an app. It’s all very exciting.”

1135Aspen IBS Kohler917

Witt Construction will be offering some of these high-tech features in homes now for clients interested in integrating the advances in their own home. In fact, some Witt homes already have had the wireless thermostat and light controls, or doorbell security cameras installed. John expects more and more of these requests and is enthusiastic about bringing the tech revolution to the region.

John says these builders’ events are great for continued learning on topics such as home plans, construction management, software and land use and brainstorming. Aspen agreed and learned that most people don’t know what they want until you show them, so it’s important to really get to know your clients.

Along with seeing what is new on the market for home building, the trip was very educational for John and Aspen. They attended seminars that were directed toward marketing and customer service.

“Maintaining conversation with people who may not even be clients is still extremely important,” said Aspen.

“We learned a lot,” John added. “Now we can’t wait to implement it in Witt homes.”

 

 

The Results Are In!

With the first weekend of the Saratoga Showcase of Homes a complete success, the builders, designers and architects gathered at Vapor Nightclub for an evening of celebration. The awards reception was held on Thursday, Sept. 17, featuring home professionals from across Saratoga County. This year, Witt Construction swept the Luxury Home category, winning all nine awards with the Carriage House Lane home in the city of Saratoga Springs. Additionally, the Witt team earned awards in the Executive category for its Brown Road home in Stillwater, overlooking Saratoga Lake.

The Saratoga Showcase of homes continues Sept. 26-27 and Oct. 3-4, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are still available at Adirondack Trust locations, Trust Co. locations, Curtis Lumber, at each Showcase home and online at http://bit.ly/1JQtGJD.

We look forward to seeing you at one of our award-winning homes!

  • 29 Carriage House Lane Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
  • 5 Brown Road Stillwater, NY 12170

  • Saratoga Showcase of Homes
  • Luxury Home Winner – Landscaping *with Mandy Spring Farm Nursery* (Carriage House Lane)
  • Luxury Home Winner – Workmanship (Carriage House Lane)
  • Luxury Home Winner – Best Master Bath (Carriage House Lane)
  • Luxury Home Winner – Exterior Design (Carriage House Lane)
  • Executive Home Runner-Up – Exterior Design (Brown Road)
  • Luxury Home Winner – Interior Design *with DeRocker Design Firm and West Associates* (Carriage House Lane)
  • Luxury Home Winner –Best Kitchen (Carriage House Lane)
  • Executive Home Winner – Best Kitchen (Brown Road)
  • Luxury Home Winner – Interior Floor Plan (Carriage House Lane)
  • Executive Home Runner-Up – Interior Floor Plan (Brown Road)
  • Luxury Home Winner – Smart Living (Carriage House Lane)
  • Executive Home Runner-Up – Smart Living (Brown Road)
  • Realtor’s Choice Award Luxury Home – Witt Construction (Carriage House Lane)

 

20 years and counting

Variety is the spice of life – just ask Philip Hudson, the construction estimator at Witt Construction for the past 20 years. Over the last 20 years, he has been involved with figuring out what it will cost to build about 1,000 Witt homes and one of the reasons he loves his job is because, “every one is different.”

A Schenectady native who went corporate for G.E. and lived for a while in Princeton, N.J., Hudson says he didn’t like not seeing a physical product for his efforts – he handled telecommunications — so he quit and for five years made his living as a carpenter. He relocated back to the area to be near family and found work as a sub-contractor, ultimately drawing the attention of Witt’s president, John Witt, who offered him a full-time job.

“Now, I create the budget, based on the specifics of a house, draw it and prepare it for the CAD (computer assisted design) phase. It’s a small office, so I wear lots of hats,” he explains. “What I can say is that Witt homes are getting bigger and better, with everything from insulation to trim. People have more choices and the quality keeps improving.”

Hudson thinks that TV programs like “This Old House,” which started broadcasting about 25 years ago, and today’s shows about extreme house makeovers “make people more aware of possibilities for their homes and changed the building industry forever.”

“And, people want Witt homes because of their character, such as open floor plans, charming details and mixed siding. Building a house is not a random process. People’s eyes have been opened,” he notes.

He cites Houzz.com, an online magazine, as having been instrumental in helping people decide what they want in their homes. Houzz is a resource that features thousands of home design ideas. “All the clients talk about it,” he says. Witt homes are often spotlighted, in photographs and write-ups, on the site in “best of” articles.

He says Witt has a real talent for designing homes that are both gracious and cozy. “It’s pretty cool,” he says. “They’re not McMansions, they’ve got style and character, and they’re comfortable. You know, it’s easy to build large, but when you build small, there’s no room for error, you have to make every detail work, and John can do that.”

He notes that flat-screen TVs have influenced design in an unexpected way. “People want that luxury,” he says. “Seventeen years ago, we built a center-hall house, where the right and left sides were mirror images of each other. Well, the owner wanted a big television mounted on the way, but in those days, they were very deep, so we actually had to make the room bigger, with a bump-out, to accommodate it. Believe it or not, that meant we had to make both sides of the house bigger and expands the upstairs bedrooms – all for the TV. Now, the TVs are skinny and wonderful.”

Though Hudson is always swamped, he really enjoys the creativity of his work and says that Witt gives him a lot of leeway to help solve design problems and fill in the details. John is the big picture person and we are the detail people.”

Hudson tries to put in a “normal work week with normal working hours,” be he finds himself at his desk some weekends, “especially as Saratoga grows and we get busier and busier.”

Hudson also works with interns who come to Witt to learn about engineering or design. “I try to sneak in information about estimating, but everyone wants to do design, and I will say, it’s more interesting to do estimates on something you’ve helped design.” He keeps track of the interns when they leave Witt and is happy for them when they land on their feet in interesting jobs.

Hudson laughs when he thinks about how Witt started his company in a basement, then moved to a job site in a trailer, then a small office on Franklin Square, then the Blackmer building on Clinton Street, and now occupies a North Broadway home-turned-office.

“Here,” he says, “Everyone really is part of a solution. I have to be realistic, though, and some things have a range. For example, you can spend $50 on a faucet, or $500. I have to work with what the client wants. They’re in control of that, so it can be hard to tell what the budget may be based on those preferences. It’s human nature to gravitate toward the higher-priced item. I am fascinated about what happens when people have many, many choices. You might think that makes it easier to choose, but it actually makes it harder. My goal is always for the client to be happy with the choice.”

 

“I guess I’ve been with John Witt on every house he’s built,” says Don Sanders Sr., “mainly on outside services, like excavating, installing septic systems or taking emergency calls and warranty work, even on weekends.”

It’s not surprising that Sanders has had his hand in the building of about 1,000 homes, considering he’s been working for Witt Construction for 28 years, first as a sub-contractor, then about 20 years full time.

“The first one was on Monument Drive in Schuylerville,” he recalls. It was John Witt’s own house.

“I like the construction business,” he says, underlining his commitment and pleasure in the job. “The homeowners are nice people, and John treats me really well.”

Too, Sanders is proud to be involved in building homes he thinks are beautiful. “When John designs something, it really stands out,” he notes. “He has vision about details. He knows what he wants and he wants it a certain way. Clients are happy. I come in down the line, I show up at the site and I probably see them after they move in, I take care of requests, even if all they want is to learn how to change the furnace filter or because a breaker tripped. I don’t know what else I could do that would be half as much fun, especially when I help put together a Showcase home.”

He also notes that Witt keeps up with all the “new and improved and latest products.”

Witt first asked Sanders to be part of his team “for 10 years. When the 10 years was up, he asked me to stay for 20,” says Sanders. “I said ‘yes’ because I am happy with my work.”

Adele Grasso retired from Stewart’s in 1999. “I was young,” she says. “I stayed home for six years, but I really enjoy working and I looked for something part time. I found this job in accounting for Witt Construction and it’s been a perfect 10 years since I got here. I started at eight hours per week, now work 30 in payables and billing and as a liaison to our accountants.”

Grasso likes coming to work because of the atmosphere, which, she says, “always has good morale. It’s a rare quality in a work environment. People tell the truth to each other and that starts at the top with John Witt.”

Besides, Grasso is enamored of the homes. “Stone archways between the living room and dining room – gorgeous. And fabulous kitchens, especially,” she says. “I love to cook and once, I got to cook in a Showcase home for 23 people. It was wonderful. I make dinner every Wednesday for my family and friends, but only for a few people, John made it possible for me to invite my whole family!” That house was purchased by a Witt staffer, who has since moved on.

Grasso continues that she wears a pedometer and usually has to take many steps in a kitchen to get things done, but the Witt kitchen is so well designed and the appliances are located so conveniently, that she could prove by her pedometer reading that she had taken fewer steps to get things done. “What a brilliant designer,” she says. “I have never seen a Witt home that I wouldn’t die to live in.”

She has seen many changes over the years, says Grasso. Top on her list is “environments get more and more comfortable, as people building homes share information. Materials have gotten stronger and things go in and out of style, like countertops, which have gone from laminate to granite. John keeps up with it all.”

She adds that the Witt Construction “family” of employees gets the job done because, “Here, all you have to do is ask. People are always very busy, but they get back to you, they’re approachable.”

It shows up, she believes, in the Witt product. “John is a serious talent and he’s got a following of clients, who always call on him for remodeling or new construction. They know whatever he build will be beautiful and efficient. If you give 100 percent, you’ll be treated fairly, the way it should be.”

Grasso isn’t thinking about retiring again any time soon. “My mother is 87 and she still works, plays golf, bowls and plays cards and my aunt worked until she was 90,” she says. “I don’t think about leaving.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Design Concept: Walk-In Pantry

“Whether it’s a walk-in pantry with an extra sink and a wine refrigerator or just a cleverly designed cabinet space, a well-organized pantry can be a cook’s best friend.” Houzz.com featured one of Witt Construction’s award winning homes from the 2011 Saratoga Showcase of Homes in “80 Pretty and Practical Pantries.” With cabinets made of soapstone and reclaimed barn wood, this custom-built Saratoga Lake home features a walk-in pantry boasting a wine cooler, dry good storage space, endless shelving space, and plenty of counter space for meal preparation. More recently, clients have been interested in walk-in pantries for their new homes. Client Coordinator, Erica Johnson, said that “the majority of clients are requesting panties in their new homes; they are looking for that extra storage space and preparation area. The pantries are wonderful for people who like to entertain at their homes. It allows for the home owner to have a space to prepare snacks and drinks while keeping the kitchen, dining and living areas clean and clutter free during a party.”

This 2011 Saratoga Showcase of homes award winner is a European-California-influenced custom home with sweeping sunset view of Saratoga Lake featuring reclaimed cypress, stucco and stone exterior; master bath spa; showcase kitchen, dining and living areas; office/library; yoga studio; gracious entertainment center; veranda.