Click on any picture below for a larger picture view.
Photography by E. Anthony Valainis

MAN WITH A PLAN
SHOW HOME BUILDER BILL TAIT FOUND SUCCESS BY FOLLOWING HIS PASSION AND INTUITION
By Lynnell Nixon-Knight

Bill Tait is not a man given to self-promotion. Yet despite his slightly self-deprecating manner, it's quite easy to discern Tait's passion for building.

The passion first manifested itself as an "accidental" second career. Originally a professional in the computer industry, Tait teamed up with his brother-in-law to build a spec home in Fishers. The two thought the project would be a good investment, but "good" proved to be a questionable characterization of the venture. "We lost $60,000 on that house," Tait says ruefully. "But I fell in love with building."

What his bank account lost, the building world gained. Despite the initial financial hit, Tait quit his day job, to pursue his passion and create W.G. Tait, Inc., his own home-building company. His wife, pregnant with their second child, was, according to Tait, understandably less enthusiastic.

But she has little reason for concern these days, because W.G. Tait, Inc. has since matured into a tour-de-force in the high-end home-building, remodeling and small-parcel land-development industry, a major name in the Indianapolis area. To date, Tait's company has accrued an impressive list of building and remodeling credits, including serving as builder for the 1998 and 1999 Indianapolis Monthly Dream Homes.

Tait insists he's merely a businessman who happens to be a home builder. And indeed, he seems to share the same uncanny ability many successful businessmen possess to recognize a good thing when he sees it. (A "good-sport" wife, notwithstanding.)


THE LAND PLAN

Tait has a gift for spotting the diamond in the rough. "I rarely buy something and know exactly what I'm going to do with it," he says, noting that he often holds a parcel of land for some time before deciding how to develop it. "I have a sense of responsibility to the land-I don't want to screw it up, but rather, give it the justice it deserves." In the end, he adds, that sort of care will give the owner the most value for the money.

Such is the case with the parcel of land chosen by the Indiana Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) for the construction of the Builder/Designer Show Home. Tait purchased the Carmel property several years ago, and after mulling over how to develop the plot, he decided to split it into two estate-sized lots. "In this specific case, I looked at it, and the piece of ground itself definitely said ‘two,'" Tait says. "I tried for a little while to put three, but it didn't work-It was a little too crowded."

The home sits on the 4.5-acre northern half of the split, on a hill overlooking a heavily wooded valley. The grounds are replete with deer and other wildlife and creased by scenic Williams Creek.
"It's a very beautiful Brown County type setting, which is very hard to replicate, especially given the home's convenient location," says Tait.

He built the project around the gorgeous views, developing the land plan to maximize access to the beauty of the lots. He started the project by uprooting and relocating some of the lot's trees.
"If there's a big gorgeous tree that's been there forever, we'll try to work around it-I really don't have an issue with that," he says. "But that doesn't mean you have to save every single tree, either. If it's too close to the building, it's better to pull it out. The house has a right to be there, too."

In order to keep Mother Nature happy, though, Tait says he occasionally balances the need for thinning out existing trees by replacing them in more house-friendly places on the lot. "That way I can sleep at night," he says with a chuckle.

Fortunately, the building pad on the homesite formerly supported a barn, so Tait did not have any significantly large trees to remove. It is generally important to earmark a significant amount of money in the budget for landscaping, he says, because the grounds are such and essential piece of the house and its value.

Tait hired Sundown Gardens to relieve smaller trees of the life-choking vines that signaled their neglect. The company also cleared the lot and installed additional landscaping. Tait likes what Sundown has done to complement the house. "Landscaping is very important to the structure," he says. "It softens your work and makes it much more pleasing to the eye as you come up to it."

Landscaping, specifically in this project, creates a tableau-not only as a scenic element of the house, but also by helping the home blend with the land and its characteristics. "What's nice about this project is that it's typical of what we do as a firm," Tait says. "We buy small parcels of land in great spots in the city. They all have unique landscape architectural aspects."


A HOUSE BEFITTING ITS SURROUNDINGS

Tait is convinced that people are getting away from quality, instead buying into the philosophy that bigger is better. "You go buy some property and build something huge, but then find your house isn't as unique as you thought it was," he says. "All your neighbors are your competitors in the housing market."

As a custom builder, Tait shies away from claiming any kind of mission statement or building philosophy. The closest he will come to a modus operandi is his belief that the house's design should do justice to the land. Sometimes that means blending into an established neighborhood, and sometimes that means building a new home that looks like a classic from day one (though Tait says he will always try to improve on a typical old home's scarce number of bathrooms, narrow halls and diminutive closets, of course).

"Matching the house to the land is an easy thing to name as a goal, but one of the hardest things to accomplish when you're building," he says. Yet he abides by this tenet even when his love for older architecture simply does not fit into a brand-new Carmel neighborhood, for example.

"An old-style house would stand out like a sore thumb," he says. "You have to blend in where you are. You need to work with what's around you, and go with it, not just stick something on a site just for the sake of sticking it there."

Indeed, Tait has lived by the philosophy that paying attention to a piece of property can provide inspiration for creating the perfect home. Last spring, while chasing his dog, he found himself in the backyard of a house that had languished, unsold, on the real-estate market for more than a year. Standing on the property, he saw something that he (and apparently others) had never noticed about the home: a backyard with a gorgeous view.

"I bought it the next day," he says. "I tore down the old home and built a new one that did justice to that beautiful piece of property."

Some might argue that Tait simply stumbles through the lucky lane in life-but others recognize a good streak of intuition when they see it.

"We're all born with a knack for something, and maybe this is mine," says Tait. "My father was not a builder, architect or engineer. Neither am I. If you see a hammer in my hand, ask for your money back! Or run. I may accidentally hit you. I hire people to do that. But I'm careful about my trade team-the specific companies I work with have been with me for a long time. I consider them family."

Although he has commercial buildings on his resume, Tait does not market himself as a commercial builder, instead focusing on his talents in homebuilding-and remodeling, which was another unplanned turn in his career.

"I never thought I would get into remodeling," he says. But with his successful track record and penchant for turning existing property into something special, remodeling was an unsurprising extension of his business.

"The beauty of remodeling is that you have such established architecture in these older homes," Tait says. "To match that architecture and match those materials is a real blast."


LOVING THE WORK

The job for Tait entails creativity-and, at times, persistence. "Everyone says, ‘No, you can't do that,' until you wear them down, and then they do it," he says with a laugh. "And our homebuilding style has evolved as a result of our remodeling-as a product of the joy, love and respect we've developed for that older architecture."

He's also gaining an appreciation for the synergy involved in coming up with creative ways to make a square peg fit into a round hole. Group-work seems to be part of the Tait culture. Often crew members will say, "I've got the next greatest idea." Knowing when to listen to other people's ideas has been part and parcel of the knack Tait seems to have for the job.

One client approached Tait to build a log cabin. It was new frontier for the builder, but one that resulted in an end product so successful that it was filmed for a program on Home and Garden Television.

A favorite feature of the home ended up being the spiral staircase which had initially not been part of the plan. But for months, one of the cabin's workmen (and originator of the spiral-staircase idea) lobbied hard for the feature, until Tait relented and agreed.

"If I don't like it, we'll tear it down and install what's on the blueprint," he recalls saying at the time. But he was more than pleased upon the projects completion. "It's the most incredible piece of architecture I've ever seen," Tait says. "I said no for two straight months, and then when I finally gave in, the guy made me look like a genius."

A dogged pursuit of perfection-another trait of successful entrepreneurs-is a characteristic Tait clearly demonstrates in his work. He calls himself his own worst enemy because of his habit of making continuous changes in spec homes to create exactly the right feel.

Of the Builder/Designer Show Home, he says: "In a couple of areas where we had dead space, we carved bookcases. They're beautiful and look planned-but no, they were added. It all works out. Where there's a will there's a way."

Creating a home with several members of ASID appealed to Bill Tait. "It introduces ASID to the Indianapolis community and introduces a reason for hiring a professionally trained and licensed designer," he says. The community outreach aspect of the project is another bonus for Tait: Funds raised from the event will go to Washington Township schools.

Tait contends that a house should be an investment in quality, and the best way to accomplish that is to create something that settles comfortably into its terrain. "The personality of the house has to come from your location and ground".

Return to the top ^^