By Walt Burns
Sunrise Village Remodel
Another great luxury custom remodel from DH Builders in Bend.
Looking west, you see the storms roll in from the Pacific. Leaden skies envelope the peaks. Snow piles up—measured in feet instead of inches. In most places, this is not viewed as a positive event. But if you’ve grown up playing in the mountains of Central Oregon, you have a different perspective. For newcomers, it can either be something that brought you here or a foreign mindset you are slowly learning to understand.
When someone like David Hall says, “Powder days are a key reason I started my own business,” you get a little insight into how Bend is different from other towns.
These days, you hear a lot about “Old Bend” versus “New Bend.” David Hall and Sean McKinney of DH Builders are just plain Bend. They’ve spent their entire lives here and those are years straddling some of the greatest change Central Oregon has ever witnessed.
These days, you hear a lot about “Old Bend” versus “New Bend.” David Hall and Sean McKinney of DH Builders are just plain Bend. They’ve spent their entire lives here and those are years straddling some of the greatest change Central Oregon has ever witnessed. Through those seismic changes, they’ve remained flexible and resilient enough to not only survive, but also to build a premier custom home building business in the process.
“We are both lifetime locals. Our team is pretty much all lifetime locals. We started in 1993, so we have an in-depth knowledge of building in Central Oregon. We know who to talk to. Where to go. Our resources are super deep,” David points out.
“When I was in high school, Bend was about 15,000 people. By the time I started my first business I think we were at 110,000. And that was in just 10 years.”
Suffice it to say, Bend has not necessarily slowed down since then and the effects have stretched beyond just seeing a few more tracks on Phil’s Trail when you head out for an evening ride. “We saw it in the building industry. It was so explosive and there was so much coming in, we got a lot of really good tradesmen coming into the area and we got a lot of really bad tradesmen as well. It was a real grab bag of people. One thing we were able to do was go through and figure out which ones were actually experts. There were enough here that we were able to cherry-pick and build our company.”
A big remodel on the north side of Awbrey Butte.
Talking with David and Sean, you are struck by their devotion to craft. Whereas some recall the Recession as a turbulent time, they came out with an unexpectedly positive outlook. “The recession weeded out most of the people who were just chasing work and concreted all the people who enjoyed what they did and were trying to perfect their craft. The Recession definitely weeded out the weak roots,” explains Sean.
Craft alone is not their only devotion. The balance between doing what is right and building sustainably even in the toughest times is every bit as important to them. “My first new build ever under my own company was during the Great Recession and it was certified LEED Platinum. I basically built with some subs and my own blood, sweat, and tears. It was a Tour of Homes house, a major learning experience, and something I am very proud of. Back then I was a certified Sustainable Building Advisor,” says Sean.
“My first new build ever under my own company was during the Great Recession and it was certified LEED Platinum. I basically built with some subs and my own blood, sweat, and tears. It was a Tour of Homes house, a major learning experience, and something I am very proud of.”
David Hall, DH Builders
This devotion to craft and sustainability is what initially brought David and Sean together. They found themselves often working on the same projects and discovered that they not only shared a respect and love for the technical side of the business and the craft but also had complementary skill sets. “Sean is a great technician and carpenter. I am great with clients and systems. Eventually we just couldn’t stay apart.”
And so they didn’t. Forging a formidable alliance and gathering the best tradesmen talent in Central Oregon, they dove into the growing high-end custom market as it developed and quickly found they had a taste for something that others didn’t. To hear Dave tell it, it goes something like this: “We love those pain-in-the-ass projects. Those situations where you have no idea if it will work but deep down you know it will because you’ve done it so many times before. We really get a lot of energy from overcoming those challenges.”
The list of challenging projects that DH Builders has turned into successful outcomes is long and varied. “We had a client who wanted a new hot tub pad. Bring in some lighting. A heated walkway. He wanted to make it pretty custom. It turned into a very elaborate hot tub pad. We carved it out of a rock hill and we couldn’t get any machinery in there,” says David. “We had the depth of knowledge and experience and confidence to say, ‘Yeah, we can do this,’ and we figured it out.”
Westside Bend Remodel
A full interior remodel and master bedroom addition over a garage in Bend, Oregon.
Sean jumps in to say, “A hot tub pad may sound generic, but imagine, it was on the side of a butte—all lava rock and basalt. We had guys with jackhammers up on this thing. These were all our guys doing the work. We designed it. We have a designer in-house and we designed as we went.”
When Sean says, “our guys,” he means just that. DH Builders has an in-house crew that in every way meets David and Sean’s own high standards. “Our in-house team is about five guys who can do it all. The other day one of our guys was inside doing some intricate finish carpentry work in a multi-million-dollar home and then the next day he was out driving a backhoe pushing around some dirt for excavating a high-end hot tub pad. They’re very well-rounded individuals. If they don’t know how to do it, they’re intelligent people and will figure out how to do it.”
“We have our own finish carpenters, we have our own cabinet shop and woodworking shop, so we’re able to control costs by controlling our own cost in house. It makes us super light on our feet. Clients like to throw crazy projects on us and we like to jump on them.”
–Sean McKinney, DH Builders
“We have our own finish carpenters, we have our own cabinet shop and woodworking shop, so we’re able to control costs by controlling our own cost in house,” adds David. “It makes us super light on our feet. Clients like to throw crazy projects on us and we like to jump on them.”
It seems that a key component in the DH Builders equation is how they approach virtually everyone with the same genuine respect. “One of our driving forces is our company culture. The way we treat our clients. The way we treat our subcontractors. The way we treat each other. We want everyone to come to work, have a good time, and enjoy what they do. Consequently, we attract some pretty smart, amazing people.”
Smart people tend to relate well to each other. Which may just be one more component of DH Builders’ success. “We’ve seen a flow of entrepreneurs enter into the Bend community. You come here and you carve your path out. This is a very self-sufficient area. An entrepreneur’s mindset is where they want to blaze their own trail. They want to remodel heavily something they’ve already moved into because they want to put their own stamp on it.”
It’s the ability to relate to people, both clients and workers, newcomers to Bend and lifelong residents, that may just be the defining story of DH Builders. “Our clients always become our friends,” says David. “Although these days I’m getting a little more tight-lipped about my powder stashes.”
New Bend. Old Bend. And then there’s just true Bend.