Powerhouse creativesWe love creative challenges. We love livable plans. We love bringing a fresh face to Des Moines-area residential building design. We love what we do. And we’ve been doing it since Aller Design Group was launched in 1998.
Design maestrosWe grew up in the business and we can do it all. Residential. Commercial. Contemporary. Traditional. We can draw on CAD or on a napkin. But every plan will have one thing in common. It will be inspired.
Laid-back listenersWe’re a flexible group. We work with either builders or homeowners. We discover what you really want, then create classy, clever homes—and positive client relationships—that stand the test of time.
The classy, classic sense of flow in owner Jim Aller’s home designs might partly stem from his love of rhythm and jazz. He plays drums and collects them. He listens to standards (Sinatra, Miles Davis, Diana Krall) and drummers like Buddy Rich or Benny Greb. He confesses he’s “spent stupid money” on vintage drums, stereos and his audiophile hobby, but points out he still has his first stereo system (a Christmas gift at age 10) and is getting his five children hooked on the joys of retro music. But the sense of rhythm and movement in his designs might also come from his passion for light and livability in a house, and long-time experience making it happen. He grew up in a Des Moines family construction firm. He draws by hand or computer. He attended Iowa State University and spent years with a Leading National Architectural Firm before launching his own design firm. And, whether it’s a client or a vinyl record, he really knows how to listen.
Ted Karnes, senior designer, started drawing blueprints before he could drive. His dad owns a construction company and “I started when I was probably 15. I didn’t even have a driver’s license but I was already drawing plans.” Des Moines-born and raised, Ted started studying architecture in high school. He put in a decade of time with Regency Homes and a Leading National Architectural Firm before he and Jim—his cousin—started working together in 1998. As much as he loves designing interiors, he also loves the great outdoors. He’s an avid camper—as long as there is a fan and a fridge. He has golfed since age nine and still hopes that his game will improve. And then there’s baseball. The avid Cardinals fan now mainly watches some of his five kids play, though he gets too nervous to sit. On his bucket list: a tour of national ballparks with his sons. And maybe then he’ll sit down.
Shea Holmer, job captain, came to the firm in 2003 loaded with hands-on construction experience, including remodeling, landscaping and building with his uncles. He turned his attention to design and architectural drafting at DMACC, but never forgets the nuts-and-bolts building aspects when sketching a creative design. He enjoys cultivating vegetables and once reared a giant 13-foot tomato plant that bore two-pound fruits. He knows a thing or two about catching bass. But an even bigger passion? Norse mythology. A fan and student of it since childhood, he wears a Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer), wants to visit Iceland someday, and has read both the The Poetic Edda and The Prose Edda—a challenging early 13th-century Old Norse work of literature, including the 50,000-word Skáldskaparmál. Makes developing legendary home blueprints less of a mythic challenge.
Mindy Aller may have only one title, office manager, but her tasks are many: bookkeeper, bill juggler, customer service, errand runner… The Des Moines native studied Communications at Iowa State, and in addition to being mom and Chauffeur in Chief for five kids, worked several years as a private investigator specializing in insurance fraud. In 1998, she and husband Jim launched Aller Design Group. But while the firm crafts lofts and living spaces, she might be creating something else. “My mom taught me to knit when I was ten” during one boring, rainy vacation day. She was hooked. It’s her escape, it keeps her hands busy, and bonus: an unspooling stream of socks, afghans, scarves, hats… If you have a question for Aller Design Group, especially with her detective background, she will likely find the answer. And also, if you wish, a cool craft idea to go with it.
Is that heavy metal I hear?
Jim Aller: Yeah, it’s Shea’s turn with the Spotify.
OK, so what is the Aller Design Group?
Jim: Well, we’re not a plan service. I mean, we have tons of plans, and we have people come in all the time for that, but we want to be creative in drawing homes. We want to do something cool, something special each time out, and do it for lots of different people and price ranges. We’re mainly residential but we do commercial too. We work with builders to develop their styles and we work with clients who don’t have a builder yet.
Do you have a signature style?
Ted Karnes: We’re so all over the board. At first people liked traditional stuff but now we’re really getting into a lot of contemporary. Mid-century is really happening here now, like low-pitched roof ideas. It’s really not about the style. It’s more that we’re really at the top of the game when it comes to fresh new designs in Des Moines. With every home you design, no matter the style, it’s like you’re not even doing the same job. It’s unique. Every project is different. We like that.
What makes you different?
Jim: Part of it is our experience. We’ve all had experience on the construction side as well as the design. We are diverse. I worked for a national firm and traveled all over the country. It’s exposure and insights some competitors don’t have.
Ted: We know how homes go together, so our designs work. We even know which product is best to use. Overall, we’re trying to put a fresh look and a fresh face to the design in this town. I think we do this at least as good as anyone.
Jim: Also it’s important to have the right team. We can run the software like everyone else, but we also know how to draw with markers and lay it out right in front of you. And we’re all kind of goofballs. We like to be loose. We’re flexible. But we also really like a challenge. We like being ahead of the curve. And maybe we just do a better job of listening to people. Some of our projects take a long, long time, and that’s OK. We’re comfortable just sitting down with the client and just letting it go from there.
So how do you work with a client?
Jim: We’ll sit down and we might hand-draw right in front of them. Because we can do it. I’m old enough that we weren’t on computers when we started. I was pen and mylar, you know. We do things in phases. Phase 1 we start with simple bubble diagrams just to lay out the flow. It’s very loose, very conceptual. Phase 2 is design development. You start squaring it up, get it a little more rigid, bring in the details. Phase 3 is the construction documents. We make the client part of the process all the way through and never go to the next phase until the client is happy.
Ted: We really want to listen to you. Who you are. How you live. That’s our whole philosophy of design. How do you get up in the morning. What’s your routine. It’s not just the style of home. It’s how a person lives and what activities they’re into and what their kids do. Even the way you clean or organize things. People will go out and look at plans or existing houses and say “OK, I’ll take that one.” They don’t understand how great it can feel to live in a home designed just for the way you live. It feels nice. It helps you function. It makes your life easier. It makes you feel good. It really does. That’s what a house should be.
What else do you try to achieve in your designs?
Jim: One thing we’re known for is an open plan, a lot of flow. One of the things is to bring a lot of light in so I really do load up with windows. When you walk into a house I want the plan to feel bigger than it is.
Ted: We also don’t have extra rooms you don’t need. The rooms you do want, they’re the size you want them. Even the basement flows the same way as the upstairs. It’s not all choppy because of beams and posts and ductwork in the wrong spot.
Jim: We also keep it simple. The home I design for you is a simple palette and I’m going to let you finish it and furnish it. Why gaudy it all up and add cost to the budget? Why not just give you a nice clean home that lives well and has nice flow, nice materials, and let you decorate it the way you want. And no matter the style, I want it to be timeless. If we can do that, then we’ve succeeded.
Aller Design Group has been doing this since 1998. What do you enjoy about it?
Jim: I enjoy meeting people, having things go well and making friends along the way. I have friends that go way back to elementary school. That’s just the way I am. And I like coming up with ideas to make the project special. Also it’s always rewarding to watch the house go up. It’s like everyone won the game and that is the trophy. The house is the trophy.
Ted: And when we send a plan to a client and all they say is “Wow.” That’s enough. Just that one word. That’s everything.
What’s next for ADG?
Jim: Things are going fast right now, and we’re really cranking it. We may expand. But we don’t need to be the biggest. I love what I do. I’m not really driven by money. I mean, I do appreciate money, but I believe all these things in life were given to me. It’s more about I want to be the best I can be with the skills I’ve been given.
Ted: We’d love to be able to do it on a national level at some point, but we want to be a family-owned community business and earn respect. We want to be known for treating people well. It’s not just about growing. It’s also about doing what you love to do. I can work 60 hours a week and not be tired of coming in to work. You feel like you are part of something.
And you don’t mind coming in to work even if heavy metal is on Spotify?
Ted: Music is a big part of what we do. We’re a close-knit group and we’re laid-back. The whole philosophy is having fun and being loose. That’s where creativity comes from. I will listen to anything but I’m more southern rock: Lynyrd Skynyrd. Stevie Ray Vaughan. Old bluesy rock. Some of the stuff Jim puts on though, oh my gosh, it can be bizarre. But he’s an extreme audiophile.
Shea Holmer: If I had to choose between losing sight or hearing, I’d choose sight, because I couldn’t live without music. I like a little of everything but 95 percent is metal of one kind or another. Mostly stuff that people can’t stand. Cannibal Corpse, Blood Duster. But then I also like Frank Zappa, Herbie Hancock…
Jim: I design with music in the background all the time. A few days ago it was screaming metal in here and Ted walks in like, ‘Really? It’s 7:30 in the morning!’ And then last week we had classical loud. Shea put headphones on. He wanted no part of it.
So your musical tastes may be different, but when it comes to creative home design, you all follow the same drummer…
Jim: Yeah, I guess you could say that.
ADDRESS1840 NW 118th Street, Suite 220
Clive, Iowa 50325