What started out as a personal affinity for wines parlayed into a creative partnership that gives John Laing Homes an opportunity to distinguish itself in the wine-obsessed Northern California market.

As president of John Laing Homes' San Francisco Bay Area region, Roger Menard is no stranger to the joys of a wine cellar. In fact, it's been nearly 25 years since Menard first hired Peter Marks, then-director of wine at a high-end gourmet shop in the area, to create and stock a cellar in his own home. Over the years, Menard became a connoisseur, occasionally benefiting from the suggestions and guidance of Marks.

CHEERS TO YOU: From left to right, Peter Marks, COPIA; Roger Menard, John Laing Homes; Linda Carucci, COPIA; and Colby Eierman, COPIA, celebrate John Laing and COPIA's partnership. Photo: Courtesy John Laing Homes Early in 2006, Menard was flipping through an in-flight magazine during a trip, when an article about Marks caught his attention. Immediately after reading about his friend's career evolution, Menard says, an idea was born.

The successful Laing Luxury line in at the Crystal Cove community in Newport Beach, Calif., featured popular wine rooms, and Menard had been trying to determine a way to bring the concept into the planning for his high-end executive home community of Roubion in San Ramon, Calif.

"It'd been a while since we'd been in touch," Menard recalls. "I learned he was at COPIA as the director of their wine program." By reputation, Menard knew that COPIA, The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts in Napa, Calif., was renowned for its authoritative educational programs. "One thing led to another after I contacted him. [Marks] introduced us to all the players at COPIA, and a partnership just evolved from there."

Initially, the partnership was just going to involve Marks and the creation of the wine rooms. But quickly, the synergies snowballed. The thinking: People buying these wine country homes will want the educational opportunity to learn about the wine country lifestyle.

Today, buyers in Roubion will benefit in a variety of ways. COPIA program directors will host a series of specialized seminars at Roubion, such as wine tasting and collecting, culinary skills development, and herb garden planting.

Roubion homeowners also receive a membership to use at COPIA, which is located at the mouth of the Napa River. At the center, owners can take advantage of additional wine, food and gardening-related presentations, and other benefits.

In addition, Linda Carucci, COPIA's Julia Child director of culinary programs, is lending her expertise to the community by designing elements of the "COPIA Chef's Kitchen" displayed in Roubion model homes, which is an option package.

And of course, there is tutelage for any buyer interested in a wine room. "For those who choose to add a wine room in their Roubion home, we can provide COPIA recommendations about developing or adding to their wine collections," Marks says.

The partners also recognized an opportunity to expand their mutually beneficial relationship into other Laing communities through the creation of "culinary centers" as a replacement to the more traditional community centers. "To appeal to our ethnic buyers that are strongly focused on gatherings, we're developing culinary centers in about 60 percent of our new communities," says Menard. The centers are being specially designed to accommodate cooking demonstrations and interactive sessions where residents will learn about wine and learn about gardening. "COPIA will be working with us as each of these new communities comes on line."

According to Menard, the amenity is slated to be included in Laing's high-density, urban infill communities that are targeting high-tech buyers. The first to come on line will be the Fremont community of Villa D'Este, where models are set to open this month. "The culinary center will be right on the heels of that," Menard adds.

–Lisa Marquis Jackson

Plug It In: Simonini Builders

Keeping up with today's technology must-haves is a feat for any builder. What was a luxury item 18 months ago, is now very likely to be considered a necessity. In order to meet the cutting-edge electronic lifestyle demands of home buyers in its local market, Charlotte, N.C.–based Simonini Builders has teamed up with partners to offer home theater and entertainment packages in 240 homes across the metropolitan area.

FEAR FACTOR: "Most builders are scared to death of technology," says Keith Davis. Photo: Courtesy Avad Working with integration solutions provider AVAD, Simonini is benefiting from the AVAD's Dealer 2 Builder program, which links builders with integrators and members of more than 9,000 AVAD dealers through 37 distribution centers. Other builders taking advantage of the program include including D.R. Horton, Lennar Corp., and Centex Corp.

"Most builders are scared to death of technology," says Keith Davis, vice president of the Dealer 2 Builder program. To help alleviate the fears, AVAD has created value for builders.

At Simonini, the relationship "provides an opportunity that we had not been able to address internally," says Gary Young, purchasing manager. "Packaged systems provide a level of reliability that we count on and have not enjoyed in the past." According to Young, the AVAD program makes it easier for builders to access better pricing, too.

Through local partner Digital Homes Systems, Simonini has the necessary support to design and implement complete home electronics systems. AVAD provides a variety of products–not just for home theater, but also lighting controls, indoor and outdoor audio/video systems, and central vacuuming systems. Through their relationship with AVAD, Digital Home Systems is able to offer Simonini access to nearly all of the nationally-known brands.

WOW FACTOR: Through AVAD's Dealer 2 Builder program, Simonini Builders is able to offer home-theater option packages to buyers in the Charlotte, N.C. market. Photo: Courtesy Avad Equally as important, the Dealer 2 Builder program also provides certified workers who can customize packages with mix-and-match functions. The certification program provides the optimum benefit to builders because installers have the capability to bring the brands together, says Joe Piccirilli, AVAD's executive vice president. "We need people who can integrate it all. Today's 30-year-old home buyer has had technology for everything."

At Simonini, the sales staff is supported with marketing materials and sales training to ensure they can fully communicate the lifestyle benefits of these home electronics. And to punch up the "wow" factor, home theater packages will be set up in a model home of each subdivision, allowing sales people to demonstrate the systems.

–Judi Hasson

Public Private Partners: KB Home

First it was Martha Stewart. Now, it's the U.S. Navy. KB Home announced another non-traditional partnership in which it will build 1,287 homes for the Navy in, what is expected to become, one of the military branch's biggest public-private ventures.

Historically, contracts for new military housing involved smaller regional builders or commercial contractors, but according to KB, the Navy recognized the value and product opportunities that a large national builder partner could provide for these projects.

"The opportunity we have been given with this program allows us to expand to the military what we have been doing for years," says Mark Kinsley, president of KB Home's Mid-Atlantic division. Construction began in April 2006, and late last year, KB opened the door to the first in a series of 12 communities throughout Virginia and Maryland–The Village of Whitehurst Farms in Hampton Roads, Va.

To add diversity to the neighborhoods, KB Home is planning to build 11 different home styles with multiple elevations. And special care was made to the interiors as well: Open floor plans are offered to freshen the feel of traditional, military-style housing.

–Judi Hasson

Other KB communities underway for the Navy in the Hampton Roads area and southern Maryland will include:

  • Midway Manor, 46 homes in Virginia
  • Columbia Commons at First Colony, 92 homes in Maryland
  • Challenger Commons at Wildwood, 125 homes in Maryland
  • Riverview Village I, 88 homes in Maryland
  • Chesapeake Northwest, 80 homes in Virginia
  • Wellings Court, 43 homes in Virginia
  • New Gosport, 170 homes in Virginia
  • Port Lyautey, 127 homes in Virginia
  • Bradford Point & Bradford Cove, 87 homes in Virginia
  • Riverview Village II, 48 homes in Maryland
  • Conrad Heights I & II, 169 homes in Maryland

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Francisco, CA.