How I got started.
Why did you start Bellevarde?
I was a bricklayer who always loved architecture—and I got to see first hand what happened to houses when architects didn’t do them. I decided that I wanted to understand how beautiful houses were designed—and to learn how to build them.
So I found an architect and we went into a design-and-build competition and won that…
I started Bellevarde in 1980 to build high quality architect-designed houses.
How big is Bellevarde?
We employ about 35 people on a permanent basis, from management to apprentices, and the rest are trusted contractors.
How do you maintain standards?
It is two things.
First it is the people. We set out to do things as well as they can be done. That is totally dependent on finding good people who like doing things really well. It’s an attitude that can’t be driven by money or by me. That’s what Bellevarde is—a team of us who just want to build extraordinary houses—it’s not just me.
The second thing is our 200-page Specifications Book. Everything we have learned in building some of this country’s most complex and challenging houses has been formalized into step-by-step instructions on how every task is to be performed.
Our guys will be on site and you’ll hear them say to someone ‘Well listen, we don’t do it that way, this is how we do it at Bellevarde’. It’s a good thing to hear. A lot of our people are interested in architecture as well. They buy books, they buy all the magazines. I usually find out that one of our houses is in a magazine from someone on site.
Where’s the money in building?
There’s not a lot.
If there isn’t money in it, why are you doing it?
Look, it has never been about money. If it was I’d certainly never build architect-designed houses. But that is what we choose to do—build interesting, challenging houses.
They can cost a bit so we like to deal with the money issue up front. We first establish with the client that we’re making the profit margin they would think fair in business. Then we establish a budget. We run the budget with tight management systems. With the money thing out of the way we can just get on with building.
We then actively encourage everyone to join in and become part of the team, so that together—the client, the architect and us—we’re going to deliver an extraordinary house of good value.
I always say there are three variables in building a house: Quality, Time and Money. We are happy to negotiate items two and three but never the first.
What’s the best thing about building?
The best is, when a client acknowledges their satisfaction with the finished product, our people and our delivery method. When a client moves in, often they write a note to the architect, or do some little thing that acknowledges everyone who worked on it—just showing that they’re pleased with the product and the experience of building the house. That means a lot to all of us.
How many awards have you won?
A lot. But I usually avoid the awards nights. I keep my phone on, though.