Business of Careful Construction
Brothers' building firm focuses on details to make 'a functional piece of art'
BY GREG EDWARDS
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Wayne Grebe, president of Handcraft Homes LLC (left), and brother Richard, vice president of the company; are joined by their father, Alfred H. Grebe, in the first home they built. It is located in Gum Spring.

ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/TIMES-DISPATCH

Brothers Wayne and Richard Grebe want their Goochland County-based home-building business to be known for its attention to detail.

They selected the company's name, Handcraft Homes LLC, to mirror that desire.

Although the brothers Grebe (pronounced Greebee) came late to the construction business, they long had been interested in home building and had some experience on family projects.

They recently completed their first commercial project, a two-story house near Gum Spring that Wayne Grebe designed. It sold for nearly half a million dollars after being on the market six days.

Wayne Grebe, 45, is Handcraft's president. He handles the administrative side of the business, the acquisition of building lots and the home design. He made a big leap from working in information technology for big companies to pursuing his dream of owning a construction business.

He worked for Owens & Minor Inc., a Richmond-based medical- and surgical-supply company, from 1985 to 1996, helping to establish an automated warehousing system for the company's divisions around the country.

Afterward, he started a consulting business, working with the telecommunications industry.

But the telecommunications bubble burst around 2001, and Wayne Grebe's last consulting contract ran out in 2002. The prospects for the future did not look good.

"It was time to get into house building, what I had been thinking about doing for a long time," he said.

Richard Grebe is vice president of the new company. He is the operations manger, handling the supervision of site work, estimating costs and buying materials.

The 41-year-old, who has a degree in water-resource management, worked as an environmental consultant before joining his brother to form Handcraft. They broke ground for their first house in June 2003.

Wayne Grebe had taken some computer-assisted drafting courses in college, and he used his computer skills and architectural software to design the house. It's a 3,400-square-foot structure with a first-floor master bedroom, and it sits by a pond on 8.6 acres in Goochland County.

The brothers, with help from their father, Alfred, a retired executive with General Medical (now McKesson Corp.) in Richmond, did the framing and carpentry work, including the deck construction. They hired subcontractors for some of the other tasks such as plumbing, electrical, roofing and siding.

"We felt that to really learn the trade, we wanted to get our hands dirty and learn every part of it," Wayne Grebe said. As the company grows, he and his brother don't intend to continue doing as much of the physical work themselves, he said.

Richard Grebe described another advantage to being involved directly with the building. They were able to tweak the plans on site to deal with any problems that came up, he said.

The brothers' first house-building experience came in 1978 when they helped their father build what was intended to be his retirement home in Southampton on New York's Long Island. Later, they put a second story on their grandmother's house, also on Long Island.

Richard Grebe recalled the shock of his grandmother when she walked out the door and saw that he and his brother had removed the roof from her home.

Wayne Grebe said he and Richard Grebe have no intention of their company building huge tracts of subdivision homes. They want to remain a custom builder, putting up about 20 homes a year tops.

They are interested, he said, in using the newest technology in their projects. The Goochland home, for example, uses an on-demand gas water heater that saves energy by not making hot water until it is needed. They have also configured the ducts for the heating and air-conditioning system to better even out temperatures between the home's top and bottom floors.

In another nod to the environment, the brothers have foregone injecting the ground in the home's crawlspace with a powerful insecticide and instead have used a metal barrier between the concrete foundation and the framing to keep out termites. The house is also power-outage ready with a gas stove, fireplaces and an electrical panel that can accommodate a generator.

The Grebes took the lay of the land into consideration in designing the house and situating it on the site. They lowered the deck so it would not obstruct a view of the pond. Also, Wayne Grebe said that before they broke ground he decided where the kitchen sink would be in order to make sure anyone standing at it could enjoy that view.

The brothers hope that kind of attention to detail will appeal to people seeking their services. They are trying to get the most out of the combination of house and lot so that what results is "a functional piece of art," Richard Grebe said.

"They're real particular about what they do," agreed David Pace, whose company did the electrical work on the new house. "These guys look like they go the extra mile to make sure everything is perfect."

Pace said he would not hesitate to work with the Grebes again. "I like working with people who are on top of their work," he said.

Competition in the building industry does not seem to worry the brothers. Handcraft (http://www.handcrafthomes.net/) is trying to fill a niche for those seeking a high-quality product, Wayne Grebe said.

"The fussy people" might be a good catchphrase or slogan for the company, he said.

Said Richard Grebe: "Our subcontractors would say that"


Any ideas? Staff writer Greg Edwards can be reached at (804) 649-6390 or gedwards@timesdispatch.com