From Capital Region Building - by Craig Stevens & Photos by Randall Perry Photography
Think about it. It is really quite amazing: unless one has had a prior, positive experience with a homebuilder, purchasing a new home involves an enormous leap of faith and a great deal of hope. It happens with great frequency. Buyers put their faith — along with many, many thousands of dollars — into the hands of strangers in the hope they will receive what is expected.
Consequently, when early on in a first conversation a homebuilder firmly asserts: “I am honest and fair. I was brought up by my mother to do the right thing and I know no other way.” It is a compelling statement. It can get one’s attention. Then when design, process, construction and all the other details of homebuilding come into discussion one is listening.
David DePaulo is that homebuilder. He is the founder and principal of Bella Home Builders, a company that has been quietly establishing roots over the past few years and now is bursting forth in the Capital Region.
SMALLER BUSINESSES TENC to reflect the personalities and character of their leaders, so insight into a business follows insight into its leader. David DePaulo’s traits were shaped by humble beginnings. It is not necessary to go into detail. It is sufficient to say that his mother, Kathleen, worked hard to raise him and his two sisters on her own. In doing so she instilled in them the values that Dave says have shaped his life: the honesty mentioned above, a strong work ethic, and a respect for others. During my first conversations with him he regaled me with stories about how he and his family have dealt with life’s challenge to these values and how he has applied them to his professional life. Some were amusing, some were almost brutally serious, but he told me nonetheless. David is an amiable conversationalist who wants those around him to feel comfortable and appreciated; if he likes them he tends to call them friends after only a few encounters.
While his mother was raising David to become a responsible adult, sports, especially football, shaped a competitive nature that today is expressed both in business and his auto racing avocation. While attending college he worked in the building trades: framing, electrical, plumbing and mechanical drawing. His grandfather’s achievements as a contractor, passed through his father, made him think he had the talents useful to a career in construction. But once armed with a degree in business administration from The College of St. Rose he wanted to enter the business world. His first significant opportunity came in the field of insurance and he found he was good at it. Within a few years he was able to establish his own agency that now has two thriving locations. Then, knowing he could run a business and having some capital to invest, he returned to his desire to build. He started with a few modest homes in Scotia, a bit of remodeling, and a touch of commercial work. Now he is building homes ranging from the $200s to highly detailed custom homes well in excess of a million dollars.
Thus far Bella Home Builders’ greatest achievement is a $1.8 million gem in the prestigious crown of homes known as Shaker Bay. (It is in Shaker Bay, a heavily wooded enclave that overlooks the Mohawk River, where David lives with his wife Margaret, daughters Angelina and Sophia and son Dante.) The accompanying photos speak volumes about the look of the house — in virtually every room there is a display of craftsmanship or something of special architectural or decorative interest. They cannot show, however, how meticulously the house is finished throughout its 5,000 square feet of primary living space and its 2,200 square feet of finished basement. And then there is the “outer basement.” Located below a 45-foot long porch, it is fully excavated and insulated with six inches of sprayed foam. Unique is the operative word for it.
DAVID KNOWS THAT no builder can succeed on his own. Consequently, he has assiduously put together a core team, whose virtues he easily extols, and a support group of capable, responsible subcontractors and suppliers that follows his lead and echoes his values. The core team consists of an architect, an interior designer and a project supervisor.
The architect is Michael Roth, a partner in Stracher-Roth-Gilmore (SRG) Architects, a fixture in the region for over 30 years. He provides Bella Home Builders’ custom designs. The SRG company portfolio includes work at Albany International Airport, Proctor’s Theater, an Amtrak Station, Schaffer Heights, and numerous other highly visible structures.
The interior designer/decorative artist is Karan Hankinson (Hankinson Homes). David became acquainted with Karan indirectly through her work in Saratoga Showcase of Homes entries. David first employed her as a decorative artist in his own home and now she is available to guide Bella Home Builders’ clients from initial design layout through furnishing and decorating.
Then there is Tanner Duguid, a third-generation builder. As I said, Dave can be so effusive in his praise of others that when he spoke in superlatives about his zero-tolerance project manager (“Our clients love Tanner!”) my belief in his words was threatened. Sure, a $1.8 million house should be close to perfect, but what about something more widely affordable, say in the company’s new Angelina Estates (named for the DePaulo’s older daughter) where homes will average about 3,000 square feet with prices starting in the $400s?
ANGELINA ESTATES is a community of about 50 acres with ten building sites on one- to ten-acre lots. It is within walking distance of Saratoga Lake. It is the company’s first full-fledged development and Dave, recognizing the importance of location, says he chose the site very carefully. His intention is “to have a lot of high-end detailed design along with the same quality of finish work that we have” in a Shaker Bay home.
I have no hands-on expertise, but I have learned to look at a house, listen to it, and feel it with the knowledge that I have acquired over the past 16 years visiting new houses and listening to builders and crafts people talk about how to build correctly. Once in a while I get to apply my senses without the distractions of a builder, workers or real estate representatives. On a bright, quiet Sunday afternoon I got to do this at Angelina Estates by driving down Sophia-Marie Lane (named for David and Margaret’s younger daughter) and entering its not-quite-finished model home, a 2,800 sq. ft. Colonial with an open floor plan.
There were virtually no aberrant sounds so I was able to listen for cracking and creaking in the floors, the stairs and around the solid doors. I heard none. I was able to examine mitered molding and window trim: no caulk, and the very few separations were whisker thin. They would disappear behind the final coat of paint. I was able to run my hands over finished edges and the floors. They were smooth. Yes, there will be some settling and separation over time, but these elements were getting a good start in life. Not expecting to be alone in the house, I had no marbles with me. (Using one in the presence of others is tacky and potentially embarrassing.) I wished I did have one because I was pretty certain that if I started it in motion on a countertop or along a floor it would roll true.
Sometimes you can look at an empty room and conclude it is spacious, bright, airy, pretty or any number of other things, both good and bad. But the questions I have learned to ask myself are “Will the room work? Did adding an extra bedroom take too much space away from the others or from a bathroom? Plenty of windows, closets and other wall interruptions can seem great, but where does the furniture go? The kitchen can look magnificent, but is it functional?” I didn’t examine every room of the Angelina model in this way, but I readily concluded that the home is eminently livable. I cannot attest to the foundation, framing or numerous other things that went into building this house, but I can say that if they measure up to the design and finish work Caveat Emptor will not apply.
To conclude our discussions, I asked David to summarize what he would most want a prospective client to know. Initially he responded, “We are not a volume company. Even when we have more than one project going we think in terms of building one house at a time as perfect as it can be at a competitive price.” Then, after a pause he came back to the point we made at the outset: “Building with us is stress free. You will get what we promise.”