My first job after graduating from the US Merchant Marine Academy had me working as an engineer on a passenger ship making 7 day cruises around the Hawaiian islands. This was before cruises became so popular and the passengers were primarily newlyweds or “nearly-deads”. I had a bicycle on the ship and most afternoons when the ship was in port, I would take long rides to see as much as possible on each island we visited. I liked looking at the different types of architecture from simple metal roof plantation houses to ultra-modern homes around Oahu. I would dream of purchasing land and building a house on Kauai.
Before that could come to fruition, I got a job working on an oil tanker owned and operated by a Houston based oil company. This was a salaried position with a work schedule of 72 days on and 72 days off. To stay busy during vacation times, I bought a two bedroom Heights bungalow which had a large garage apartment in back. I spent my free time completely remodeling both units and rented them out. It was a real learning experience to do everything myself. This was before HGTV and the internet. Ideas came from magazines and skill from trial and error.
After I earned a chief engineer license, I was maxed as far as shipboard positions go and didn’t want to make a career of going to sea. I quit sailing and committed to two summers as a volunteer wilderness guide at Young Life’s Wilderness Ranch. During the other 9 months of the year, I went to University of Texas for their MBA program. During this time, I met my wife, Cathie who was my boss at Wilderness Ranch.
Upon graduation I took a job with the same Houston based oil company working in their marine department. Cathie was 8 months pregnant when we moved to Houston. We moved into the bungalow that I had previously remodeled and spent a year looking for a project house in the Heights and surrounding areas. We looked all over the Heights, Timbergrove, Garden Oaks and smaller neighborhoods in between. We found a house on Houston Ave. but were threatened with being disowned by parents worried about their grandchild being raised in such a dangerous area (this was 1991).
At the end of a year, we had found a relatively large house on one and a half lots on Harvard. The house had been in the same family since it was built in 1902. The last resident had died and his daughter was selling it from California. The house was in original condition with no sheetrock, no HVAC, no insulation and broken windows… it was perfect! The first winter was spent huddling around space heaters with a 1 year old baby. Many Heights residents understand this situation. The first big project was to build a garage and shop. I found a truck load of rough cut cypress boards that I planed to the proper thickness then ran them through a shaper to match the profile of the old cypress siding on the house. Inside the house, there were four different styles of door and window casing and two styles of baseboards. We picked one we liked best and had shaper knives made to run their own casing. The old casing was scraped and primed. The house had 32 old windows! The upstairs windows ran floor to ceiling. I rebuilt every window and attempted to insulate around them as well.
I hired a local architect to come up with plans to expand the house with a 2 story addition. We hired a framing crew to build the addition plus the licensed trades for HVAC, plumbing and electrical. The rest of the work was done, by me, after work and on weekends. Eventually the house was 95% completed. Three children were raised in the house.
In 2000, the oil company that I worked for was purchased by another energy company that was striving to be like Enron. It was great for a few years with a lot of opportunity for advancement and professional growth. However by 2004, it was clear that the party was coming to an end. I took a severance package and worked with a few other former employees with the intention of building an oil terminal and owning and operating tankers. Fortunately this never got off the ground since it would have been swept up in the 2008 economic downturn. To have something to do while figuring out the next steps, I purchased a small bungalow in the Norhill neighborhood. I found good trade partners to do all of the actual work. The house turned out well and was sold right away. I purchased two more houses and lost money on one and made a decent return on the other. Every project was a learning experience.
People started seeing the houses that were being remodeled by Bicycle Bungalows and wanted them to do their projects. I started out doing design-build project and also picked up projects where the clients provided plans.
During this time I joined the Greater Houston Builder’s Association to take advantage of the education available through the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). I didn’t know what I didn’t know. It was a great opportunity to get to know other builders. The NAHB has a program called 20 Clubs where approximately 20 similar sized builders from around the country are grouped together and meet twice a year to go over financials, best practices and have sounding boards for ideas. Bicycle Bungalows is a part of a club that was formed in 2016. This has been very beneficial.
For the past couple of years, I have focused more on large custom projects rather than spec projects.I did one job way outside of the Heights but found that too much time was spent in transit rather than being productive. There has been more than enough work within the Heights to avoid traveling too far. Our oldest son, Jacob, started working with me at the beginning of 2018 and that has been going well for everybody. Jacob went from modeling in NYC for 6 years to remodeling in Houston.
Looking ahead, we plan on continuing both new construction as well as large remodeling / addition projects in the Heights. Jacob even has dreams of a move to Colorado to start a Bicycle Bungalows in one of their fast growing areas.