Architects, engineers, designers, drafters and 3D modelers are cooking up trendy and affordable designs in a Home Innovation Lab on the Maryville campus of Clayton Home Building Group.
Talk of building a collaborative workspace began about a decade ago, and in October 2019 more than 15 team members finally moved into the more than 5,000-square-foot space.
Interior Design Manager Megan Foster said the lab provides a feeling of inspiration when you walk in the door.
“Before COVID hit it was very loud and lively in here. It’s a very open space,” she said during an online interview last month. “There’s not a lot of privacy, but we really kind of wanted it that way, because we’ve grown so close as we’ve built this team out.”
Several team members now work from home because of the pandemic, but the lab still provides a hub for collaboration not only among those centered at the main office but also with 40 building facilities across the country, as well as suppliers.
Clayton designers work with those who provide materials for its homes to bring in colors and patterns that are on trend and timeless. “We get to help develop and design flooring and cabinet colors. We have customized countertops and wall patterns,” Foster said.
Interior design team members in particular still rely on the lab, where they have access to samples of materials used in Clayton’s different home lines, which all have their own identity, from shingles to flooring.
Previously Clayton would build a prototype at one of its facilities. Now virtual reality allows people to “walk through” a design and tweak it faster.
“We can virtually walk a prototype before we have the expense of material and labor that it takes to build a prototype physically, and it really achieves the same thing,” Foster said.
A two-dimensional drawing “doesn’t read the same,” she said. With a virtual walk-through they can notice if the color of an appliance is too stark of a contrast or a bathroom layout feels too tight, for example.
Clayton brings together everything from surveys of home buyers to the input of people who actually build the homes.
“We work with the production team as we develop new designs to make sure how we design a space or a cabinet or just an overall layout is not going to be something overly complicated,” Foster said. “We want to be sure we are a production-friendly design team.”
On Clayton’s recent Epic Adventure line of 12 models for entry-level home buyers, for example, the design team worked with the production team on details such as cabinet size to create “plug and play” options for kitchen designs.
With the available technology, Foster said, “It has been a very seamless transition to be still able to communicate with the facilities on a daily basis, still have their lab visits.”
Clayton team members have used Zoom and other platforms to stay connected, but Foster said, “Having everybody back in the space will feel better.”-