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Two years ago, Boston’s leading newspaper ran a headline that asked, “Where have all the builders gone?” The article went on to explain how limited credit supplies and stricter environmental regulations are drying up the market for new single family construction. This has forced many of the state’s custom home builders out of business. To make matters worse, the shrinking number of contractors hasn’t spiked consumer demand for new homes. But it has convinced the remaining home builders in Massachusetts to up their customer service, rethink business models, and sell a better product.
Listed below are the best contractors among that group. Each of these Massachusetts custom contractors has no less than a decade of experience, and all have received glowing press coverage. What separates them are the number and prestige of awards and the depth of professional training. The number one spot went to a firm with a portfolio that surpasses all others. They also have a long list of clients who happen to be among the Bay State’s most discriminating architects.
15) Colonial Reproductions
| 140 Cooke Street, Edgartown, MA 02539
Norman Rankow is a native New Yorker who spent childhood summers in Martha’s Vineyard. After graduating from Long Island Builders Institute, Rankow headed straight for the Cape and founded Colonial Reproductions in 1978. Almost immediately, he became a prominent member of the local homebuilding industry. He joined the Chamber of Commerce and served as a member of its board for 18 years. He is a current member of the Martha’s Vineyard Builders Association (MVBA) and the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Cape Cod (HBRACC).
The homes built by Rankow’s team throughout Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven, West Chop, and West Tisbury are described as “storied” by the discriminating Martha’s Vineyard press. Rankow has also become known for complex historic restorations, such as his work to renovate an 1860s vintage captain’s house along the Edgartown harbor. For this and many other builds, Rankow and team have been profiled in Vineyard Style, New England’s Fine Living, Ocean Home, Elegant Homes, and Beautiful Homes. The firm’s accolades include a Gold Award from BRICC in the single family home category.
14) Cape Associates
345 Massasoit Road, Eastham, MA 02651
When World War II vet and self-described “lifelong builder” Lester F. Langhans Jr. opened this company in 1971, he had five employees, and the main office was in his home basement. Seven years later, Langhans had a real office downtown, a warehouse, and a 5,000-square-foot workshop in North Eastham. The same company today has over 120 employees spread throughout three offices. It is also one of the state’s top award winners in almost every building category imaginable. By 1986, the firm’s longtime project manager and vice president, Michael Cole, became president when Langhans retired. Cole runs the company with his three children.
In the late 1990s, Cape Associates expanded its services beyond new construction to include renovations and additions, painting, and property management. The company’s trendy builds are often profiled in Cape Cod Home, Home Remodeling Magazine, Design New England, and Southern New England Home. Its plentiful awards through the years include the 40 Under 40 honor given to President Cole by Professional Remodeler Magazine and five Building & Remodeling Industry of Cape Cod (BRICC) Awards in 2014 for excellence in building, design, and sales.
13) C.H. Newton Builders
549 West Falmouth Highway, West Falmouth, MA 02574
These flourishing custom home builders in Massachusetts have been in business since 1958. At that time, Founder C.H. Newton had purchased 30 acres in Falmouth, MA, so he could show local residents what high-quality construction is all about. Six decades later, the Newton family still owns the company, which has expanded across four New England offices. Many clients today are children of Newton’s original customers. David Newton is chairman and CEO while his son, Ryan, is vice president. The firm continues to work mostly throughout Greater Boston, Cape Cod and Newport, RI.
In 2016, Architectural Digest praised a C.H. Newton Builders home on Cape Cod, noting its exquisite ceilings and large windows that transformed a common residence with a pop of elegance. The company has also been the subject of many profiles in Veranda, Traditional Home, Boston Design, and New England Home. Among its most recent awards have been Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston Home and Best Contractor on the Cape & Islands, as well as Gold and Silver PRISM Awards.
12) Kistler & Knapp Builders
916 Main Street, Acton, MA 01720
Over 35 years ago, Dennis Kistler and David Knapp combined their construction experience to create this Massachusetts firm based in Greater Boston. Both men have since retired. Kistler & Knapp Builders is now run by Douglas Stevenson, a graduate of Boston College, who had been the company’s vice president for over a decade. When Stevenson took over the company, he was joined by his partner, Principal Renee West, who herself had two decades’ worth of home building experience. The two are assisted by a team that includes three senior project managers and 13 project supervisors.
The firm builds throughout Cambridge, Newton, Harvard, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and the Cape. Prices range between $500k and $10M. In 2016, the firm was profiled by New England Home Magazine. Its work has also been featured in Boston Globe Magazine, US Builders Review, Builder + Architect, and Architectural Digest. Among industry affiliations, Kistler & Knapp are members of the Boston Society of Architects (BSA), National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Boston (BRAGB), and the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
11) J.W. Construction
12 Garfield Circle, Burlington, MA 01803
Jon Wardell’s career started at a Boston realty that he had founded. A graduate of Maine Central Institute, Wardell switched to residential construction and spent the 1980s learning the trade with various builders. By 1993, he was ready to own again, this time with J.W. Construction. The company has become so widely known for superb home builds that in one 10-year period, J.W. Construction more than tripled in size. Another growth spurt — from 8 to 30 employees between 2004 and 2009 — Wardell attributes to his preference for in-house professionals over subcontractors. Much of that success also comes from his solid reputation, as 95 percent of the business comes from referrals.
Press coverage from Design New England, Builder + Architect, Boston Design, and New England Home has been complimentary. For industry recognition, Wardell has received four Gold Contractor of the Year (CotY) Awards from the Eastern Massachusetts chapter of National Association of Remodeling Industry (NARI), as well as a Bechtel Award in 2014 from the Lexington Historical National Association of the Remodeling Industry. J.W. Construction serves the areas of Boston, Cambridge, Medford, Weston, and Lexington.
10) McPhee Associates of Cape Cod
1382 Route 134, East Dennis, MA 02641
Known throughout the Bay State for classic cottage-style homes in both traditional and modern designs, McPhee Associates of Cape Cod is sought after by many residents on the Cape. The firm has been around since 1972, when founder Bob McPhee moved to Cape Cod after receiving a bachelor’s degree from Nichols College. Once he opened the business, McPhee became board certified in building regulations and earned a Construction Supervisor License. He is a past member of the Cape Cod planning board.
Son Rob joined the firm in 2000, after receiving a bachelor’s in business management from Bryant University and working as a builder for several years. Rob also received state certification in building regulations and a Construction Supervisor License. Rob is past president of both HBRACC and NAHB. McPhee Associates builds its signature Cape Cod getaways throughout Hyannis Port, West Hyannis Port, Brewster, Osterville, Chatham. It’s often featured in Home Remodeling, Home Builder and Remodelers Association Magazine, Southern New England Home, Builder + Architect, and Cape Cod Home.
9) E.W. Tarca Construction
1 Avenue C, Hopkinton, MA 01748
Ed Tarca founded this company in 1989 and has never stopped looking for ways to improve the business. Tarca received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Wentworth Institute of Technology. He then opened E.W. Tarca Construction with the desire to build one-of-a-kind custom homes throughout Boston metro. As his signature designs gained a local following, Tarca added a 1500-square-foot design center, where clients can sample countertops, flooring, lighting, cabinets, and molding. A few years later, he opened an adjacent millwork shop for contractors to build the architectural components that go into the homes.
The extra effort has paid off. Publications such as Builder + Architect, for example, have featured a custom build in Milton for a California-styled contemporary residence with a low-pitched roof and stucco exterior topped off by exquisite trim. Another of Tarca’s homes was praised for a custom designed glass-contained wine cellar separating the kitchen and dining rooms. Publications such as Boston Magazine, Greater Boston Builder, and Beautiful Kitchens & Baths have also profiled Tarca’s team. The company is affiliated with BRAGB and NAHB.
8) The LaGasse Group
77 Main Street, Hopkinton, MA 01748
In less than 10 years this residential contractor has become one of the Bay State’s preferred builders for luxury homes. It was founded in 2010. President Nancy LaGasse is a construction law attorney. Executive Vice President Kevin LaGasse, who studied Engineering at both Swarthmore College and Northeastern University and has over 30 years’ experience in home building in nine states. Kevin is a former executive of Payton Construction, Maverick Construction, and Suffolk Construction.
In its short lifetime, the firm has been honored with many awards, such as a PRISM Silver Award in 2016 for a modernist custom home in Weston. They also received a PRISM Gold Award in 2015 for a rustic estate in Wellesley. The project featured an indoor pool under a dramatic wood high-arched ceiling, and 10,000 square feet of glass-to-floor interiors encasing an open floor plan with views of a landscaped terrace. The LaGasse Group, which serves Hopkinton, Boston, Wellesley, Marstons Mills, and Brookline, has two locations in Massachusetts.
7) Sanford Custom Builders
310 Washington Street, Wellesley Hills, MA 02481
President Marc Kaplan credits his parents for instilling in him the skills that have made him a top contractor among Massachusetts custom home builders. He learned the trade while working at his father’s contracting firm, Sanford Construction Company, where he put up a 500k-square-foot condominium development. His mother helped him overcome the challenge of learning how to graph his construction ideas onto paper. Armed with that experience and a degree in civil engineering, Kaplan decided it was time to go solo.
The homes built by his own firm have price tags running up to $8M. Many have been featured in Southern New England Home Magazine, Boston Home Magazine, New England Home, and Build + Architect. In 2017, the Boston Design Guide did a cover story on the firm for its anniversary issue. National architecture magazines consistently praise Kaplan’s home designs for traditional and classical styles that display modern overtones and marks of glamour. Proof of Kaplan’s building skill is that many clients are prominent New England architects.
6) Polhemus Savery DaSilva
157 Route 137, East Harwich, MA 02645
The founder of this East Harwich custom home contractor is a Harvard-educated architect with a Master of Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Peter Polhemus, a native of Pennsylvania, started the company in 1996 after a 10-year stint as lead architect with a Cape Cod construction company. Soon after, Partner John DaSilva, American Institute of Architects (AIA), came on board. The firm is now headed by Polhemus’s son, Aaron, a Licensed Construction Supervisor with a business degree from the University of Vermont. Polhemus, Savery, and DaSilva’s main office is located on Cape Cod and then a satellite office in Hingham.
The industry recognition and press coverage this firm has received underscores its prominence in the coastal Southern New England luxury home market. In 2017 alone, Polhemus and crew received three PRISM Awards, were named to Ocean Magazine’s Top 50 coastal architects, and were chosen as Massachusetts Family Business of the Year. The year before, the firm won a Gold Award from BRICC and a Best Business Award from Boston Magazine. Also in 2016, Partner John DaSilva was inducted into the New England Design Hall of Fame.
5) Cataldo Custom Builders
172 East Falmouth Highway, East Falmouth, MA 02536
This residential contractor has been a preferred home builder among ritzy Cape Cod clients for over 25 years. Before Owner and President Ralph Cataldo opened the East Falmouth firm, he learned the trade through side jobs and pursued a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering and graduate studies in business management. Today, Cataldo holds licenses as a Massachusetts Construction Supervisor and Home Improvement contractor. His team is no less qualified: all three of Cataldo Custom Builders’ construction supervisors — Peter Sarkinen, Kevin Piesco, and Jason Rebello — hold the same licenses and have decades of on-the-job experience.
Most of the team’s builds are along the shoreline through Popponesset Island, Sandwich, Chatham, Osterville, and Falmouth. Home prices start at $500k and go up into the double-digit millions. A recent build on Cuttyhunk Island, featured in Cape Cod Life, boasted a transitional exterior strong enough to handle Cape Cod winters while also providing a 360-degree view of Martha’s Vineyard. In 2012, Builder Magazine recognized the firm as America’s Best Builder. Other honors include awards from BRICC and membership in the NAHB 20 Club.
4) Fallon Custom Homes & Renovations
171 Reservoir Street, Needham, MA 02494
New construction by Fallon Custom Homes often makes the cover of local publications, such as Wellesley Weston Magazine, or even a national one like Builder + Architect. The firm was founded in 1976 by Peter Fallon, who still owns and manages it today. During those four decades, Fallon worked closely with Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA) and Back Bay Architect Associates (BBAA). He is also a member of the Builders Association of Greater Boston (BAGB) and is licensed as a builder and Home Improvement Contractor (HIC). Fallon employs professionals who handle all of the millwork that goes into the building components.
A typical Fallon Custom Home features a stone facade, wood-paneled foyer, open floor plan, gourmet kitchen, and marble fireplace in the great room. The team is also known for expansive arched doorways and custom ironwork stairways. More extravagant amenities include an elevator and automated radiant heating system that were added to a home in Weston. The company serves Cambridge, Boston, Brookline, Newton, and Wellesley. It was featured on an episode of the New England cable news show Dream Homes.
3) Merz Construction
168 Bingham Road, Carlisle, MA 01741
Before establishing Merz Construction, Jonathan Merz learned the boatbuilding trade and took side jobs in carpentry and architectural millwork. With no other experience, he started this firm in 1986 to serve the Greater Boston area. Thirty years later, his firm is among the leading high-end custom home contractors in the Bay State. Merz works throughout Belmont, Cambridge, Concord, Newton, and Nutting Lake to erect elegant structures. These homes are amply covered by local publications, such as Boston Magazine, Boston Globe Magazine, New England Home, and Boston Design. The homes typically cost between $250k and $5M.
A Merz home in the $2M range would offer 7,000 square feet of living space, “public” areas for entertaining crowds, and private quarters for the owner. Bridges might connect different floors, and winding passageways could open up to enclosed courtyards. For clients with art collections, skylights are built into cathedral ceilings. In 2010, a home by Merz Construction in Lincoln beat 63 other entries to win both a PRISM Award and a Boston Society of Architects (BSA) Honor Award for Design Excellence.
2) S&H Construction
26 New Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
In its 40-plus year history, S&H Construction has gone through two sets of owners. Alex Slive and Doug Hanna founded the company in 1978. In 2016, they sold their shares to present owner Sarah Lawson, who had served as their project manager and ran her own construction company. Though it’s changed hands, S&H Construction has maintained the same high-quality craftsmanship that earned the company 34 awards between 2005 and 2017. Those accolades have been for Best General Contractor, Best Classic Contractor, Best Transitional Contractor, Best Builder, and, in 2017, Best Contractor for New Construction — all from Boston Home Magazine.
S&H Construction is a favorite of regional design magazines, which have featured builds like a recent one in Belmont Hill where the team installed a geothermal heating and cooling system. For another Belmont Hill project, S&H designed a home around a courtyard that transitions seamlessly between interior and exterior structures. The crew even built an in-home elevator and corridor to connect different sections of the home. The company serves Greater Boston and Eastern Massachusetts.
1) Sea-Dar Construction
| 580 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA 02118
President and Founder Jean Abouhamad was already enjoying a lucrative career as a structural engineer and real estate developer when he founded Sea-Dar Construction in 1991. He had received a bachelor’s in civil engineering from Columbia University and a master’s in engineering from Cornell University. After graduation, he eased into a career with a prominent engineering firm in Boston. But his passion for the residential construction market led him to open this firm. Since then, Sea-Dar Construction has enjoyed a level of success that few contractors experience.
Press coverage has been lavish, with spreads in Veranda and Architectural Record. In 2014, the Boston Preservation Alliance honored Abouhamad with its esteemed Preservation Achievement Award for erecting a four-story modern townhouse in an empty lot in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. In 2015, the company received the New England AIA Honor Award for an environmentally efficient home with an exterior of zinc panels and dense hardwood rainscreen. Among the firm’s clients are dozens of Boston’s most prominent architects, such as CBT Architects and Anmahian Winton Architects. Sea-Dar has two offices in Massachusetts and one in New York.
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