Building a winner

LIHUE — Merging architectural design and construction makes for a one-stop shop to save time, money and headaches for clients.

That is the goal of CR design + construction, a residential and commercial architectural firm that is also a general contracting company. Entering its 10th year, the company is venturing into development, but the owners still limit their growth to that of a boutique designer.

“If a project is a good fit for us and it is a good fit for them, then it will equal out to a successful project,” said Caven Raco, architectural designer, licensed general contractor, and founder of CR design + construction in 2005. “We don’t try to get onto every project.”

Raco said bridging architecture and construction improves project coordination from design to construction. The fusion allows a “design, build, and delivery” to help cut costs.

“Together, we design the building, and from there, we flush out any costs up front, and with the finished costs at the end of the project,” Raco said.

Raco was raised on the Westside, where his parents ran Lee’s Furniture in Waimea for over three decades. He studied architecture at the University of Las Vegas and later earned his general contractor license.

Working with contractors on a daily basis, the architect is able to see firsthand how the design is being put together, he said.

“Architects were known as ‘master builders’ centuries ago,” Raco said. “Over time, there came a split.”

This symbiosis of the two professions is natural, said Abraham Akutagawa, architect.

“There are some things you might not learn in school, or behind the desk at a computer,” he added.

Akutagawa said his values were instilled from childhood and his grandfather’s appliance store in Kapaa. He studied design engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology and met Raco on winter break. He worked for a time in Chicago and was interning on Kauai when he decided to venture out on his own.

“Abe took the leap and joined the firm,” Raco said. “In our first year, we were like a chicken with no head; it was just work, work, work. This year we really exhaled and looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, we paid our dues, now where do we want to go?’”

Their goal is finding a balance between artistic vision and practicality in designing homes and commercial properties for local residents. With the Kauai culture, that may mean taking into account the importance of the garage and fitting it for social use as much as to park or for storage.

Buyers are certain of what they need and know their budget, Raco said.

“The designer consults with the owner who makes decisions, and the silent partner is the budget,” Caven said. “The budget is always the third party involved.”

The other advantage of hiring a local company is having less difficulty with navigating zoning and building laws, builder permits, contractors, materials, and subcontracting plumbers, electricians and painters, he said.

“Nothing we are doing here is rocket science,” Caven said. “We know the people and the process.”

The economy has improved with a steady rise over five years and especially this past year, Caven said. This means that more residents and developers are ready to build new homes and businesses.

“Last month, our project list doubled,” he said.

Abe said they want to make their mark on Kauai.

The key market is residential, but their commercial work includes warehouses, the new Kia dealership, the Harley Davidson remodel, and restoration work on the Wilcox family home. They also design and build for Unlimited Construction, with 40 semi-custom homes in a south side project.

Be humble, make people your priority, and end things on a good note, Raco said. Refer business to competitors when you can’t take it, and it usually ends up working both ways.

“Aloha means don’t burn your bridges, that is Kauai style,” he said. “We leave our egos at the door because we are here to provide a service.”

Their latest commercial project, in conjunction with Kauai Builders, is the new Servco Toyota, a nearly $4 million dealership that will be located near Costco, Home Depot and the new Safeway plaza.

The building is efficient with recycling incorporated into the design to capture oil with pumps and aerators, Akutagawa said. The mechanical area is on the southwest side, with deep overhangs that create shade and coolness to keep direct sunlight off the mechanics.

CR Design recently started developing on its own with two parcels of vacant land in Lihue and Kalaheo. They plan to build mid-range single-family homes.

“We are looking for young professionals to buy them,” Raco said.

They limit home construction to four projects a year. It sustains the office while they take on as much design work as they can handle.

Akutagawa is certified LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design), a green building label for clients who want to ensure their project makes the smallest footprint possible. He said buildings can be designed to be 40 percent more emissions efficient, and in the long run, those changes will change the island.

Orientating the home in the right direction for example, will allow natural light into the home where it’s needed. It doesn’t have to mean direct sunlight, but doing so allows sunlight to illuminate and reduce the need for lights.

Roof angles and arches act as sails to catch trade winds and bring them into the home as natural ventilation. The roof of the home is at the optimum angle for photovoltaic panels.

A cool wall design has windows facing the right locations, he added. It is about playing with space, light and depth to create an aesthetically pleasing, but very efficient and functional structure.

“The natural environment is an important part of design on Kauai,” Akutagawa said.

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