[Editor’s note: A version of this story was originally published in the May 2012 issue of enLIGHTenment. Reproduced with permission.]
Bruce Graf has had his share of unusual requests such as a bedroom that incorporates a wood porch and screen door; and an outdoor patio cover designed to look like a giant butterfly.
In fact, you might have even admired his work in the Dallas Market Center, where he has installed unique displays over the years. For example, he was hired to build a loveseat that resembled Marilyn Monroe’s lips for a themed showroom at market.
Residential renovation, however, is his passion.
“It’s my job, along with one of my talented designers, to help people realize their dreams within their own homes,” Graf explains. “I absolutely love a challenge; in fact, the bigger, the better. People often envision changes that they think are impossible, but over the years I have found that the word ‘impossible’ is not in my vocabulary. In fact, a dream of mine is to create a media room that resembles the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.”
A NARI Award-winning residential remodeler whose work has been featured on HGTV and in publications such as Smart Money and Consumer Reports, Graf is known for his passionate creativity. A third-generation remodeler from Dallas, Graf has grown from his family roots in construction into his own firm, Graf Developments, an exclusive renovation business located in nearby Grand Prairie that combines remodeling with artistry. He has created new spaces for hundreds of clients in Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin. At age 22, he gutted and remodeled the real Southfork Ranch, home of the famed Ewing family of the TV show Dallas.
“I think I am really just an artist who has found another way to express my creativity. I don’t sculpt and I don’t paint on a canvas, but I do create — and I can’t imagine doing anything else,” he muses. That wasn’t always the case. After helping his remodeler father and grandfather with the dirtiest and hardest chores they could find, Graf famously swore he’d never work in construction.
That all changed when he was employed at a feed company during his first year at Stephen F. Austin State University. The company needed to redesign access to its silos to make it more functional and Graf offered to give it a try. He quickly got to work, incorporating unusual aesthetic changes, odd architectural angles, and unique and functional features such as a hidden trap door providing access to an exterior catwalk around the silos. Suddenly, those industrial silos were transformed into something functional yet visually appealing. As a result, Graf became hooked on design.
REMODELING IS HOT
At Graf Developments, he heads a talented team of designers — along with trusted carpenters and professional sub-contractors — to provide complete service from design to finish. Graf has found renovation work expanding greatly. Many homeowners see no option but to stay put, even if their home no longer meets their needs. For others, it is simply a matter of choice. They love the location, they love their neighbors – they just no longer love something about their home and want to improve it.
“Situations change and family dynamics change,” Graf notes. “A house designed 20, 10, or even five years ago may no longer serve the purpose it once did. Kids grow up and move away, and owners begin to age. Sometimes people realize that the formal living room was a waste of good space and that they really should have made the kitchen larger.”
LIGHTING GAINS IMPORTANCE
Similarly, developments in building materials, energy efficiency, and techniques have caused many homeowners to want to keep pace. One area that has been improving rapidly is lighting.
“LEDs have come so far,” Graf notes. “We have used LED under-cabinet lighting and LED tape for a while now in toe kicks, undercounter and coves.” This remodeler is particularly thrilled by the growing availability of LED recessed housings. “I tell my clients about the heat that is generated in a room by using recessed halogen,” he states. “The LED models are a great improvement since they don’t give off nearly as much heat and will save on energy costs.” And when Graf tells homeowners how long the LEDs will last, he finds that they embrace the technology whole-heartedly despite the upfront costs. “Pretty soon, LEDs will become mainstream,” he adds.
When it comes to recessed lighting, Graf prefers four-inch housings over six. “Because they are smaller, they just look sleeker to me,” he states. “You don’t want people to notice the lights, so smaller is better. I always use white baffles for the same reason. I haven’t been fond of the clear Alzak baffles, ” he comments.
Regardless of the light source used, Graf has long been appreciative of lighting’s transformative powers.
“Lighting can change any room so much, it can literally make a bad room look great,” he says. One of Graf’s techniques in kitchen redesign is to use pendants over the island. “Not only does having pendants focused specifically over that area drive home the purpose of an island, but visually your brain thinks of it as a space divider,” he quips.
In bathroom remodels, Graf likes to employ sconces on the wall in addition to ambient lighting. “They become functional pieces of art,” he says. “The one thing I am especially careful of is matching the kelvin temperatures of all the lighting sources – including natural daylight.”
Control systems are another growing part of Graf’s business: “I can add a lot to a budget — and budgets have been smaller these days — but control systems can be expanded,” he says. “I think of lighting as another medium for art because it can change the whole mood of a room or wall, especially if you have a control system. With pinhole spots, you can change the shape of the beam and essentially highlight a piece of art that you’ve always walked by and not noticed into something you can’t help but notice.”
As much as Graf already knows about lighting, he finds himself periodically taking educational classes to stay up to date. Whether it is attending seminars hosted by Lutron or by manufacturers through Meletio Lighting in Dallas, this remodeler realizes that lighting technology is constantly evolving and can be an important tool in saving the homeowner energy.
Fortunately, he hasn’t had much resistance in convincing homeowners that updating the lighting is one of the smartest moves they could make.