Mears brings designer and builder aspects to the table

“Who better to build your home than the man who designed it?”

Coastal Point • Monica Scott: Bruce Mears poses outside of a Sussex Shores home that he designed and built.Coastal Point • Monica Scott
Bruce Mears poses outside of a Sussex Shores home that he designed and built.

That’s the tagline Bruce Mears Designer Builder uses, and that’s what Mears says sets him apart, allowing him to recently celebrate 25 years in the business, despite recent volatility in the market. Through the economic downturn and the lull in the construction industry, Mears said he is as busy as ever.

“We have been busy through the slow market,” he explained. “We’ve been blessed.”

Mears attributes that demand to a fair cost for his product and the uniqueness of his actually being both the designer and the builder. He said many builders say that but employ people to do the work or contract design services out.

“When you get me, you get me,” he said. “That’s my niche.”

He also noted that he was “green” before it was cool and is one of only three builders in Delaware to be 100 percent Energy Star certified, which means he has made a commitment to the federal government to Energy Star standards and, many times, goes above and beyond. He said he is the only builder in Sussex County with that distinction.

“From top to bottom, we do as well as we can,” he explained of the “green” work, adding that they use 2-by-6 walls, high-efficiency windows, blown-in insulation and conditioned crawl spaces, as well as geothermal heating and air conditioning.

A graduate of Indian River High School, Mears said he considers himself an artist before anything else. He had an interest in computers but said his love of surfing, fishing and the beach caused him to take a year off after high school to figure out what he was going to do next.

“I took a year off and did construction and worked for a guy who threw a fit if I did anything extra,” he recalled.

At 21, he went to Del Tech to study architectural and mechanical drafting, but he said he quit after two evening classes because the classes couldn’t hold his attention.

“I dropped out and bought the software and taught myself how to do it,” he explained.

Mears changed his business’ name from including “home improvements” to Bruce Mears Designer Builder in 1985, and he has been steadily building his clientele ever since. The company, which employees 12 people, is approaching its 200th custom home, with a healthy word of mouth and referral business keeping them busy.

His number of employees, he admitted, is down about 35 percent from five years ago, as many of the clients who wanted to build second homes were waiting for a house to sell and had to put off any plans for retiring. Mears explained that such clients were about 50 percent of his business five years ago, but new home building for second-homeowners has kept them fairly busy, regardless.

Prospective customers can sit down in his office at his double-monitor system and actually watch as their ideas come to life. Mears said he once even designed two floors of a house with his clients sitting right across the table.

For customers who are not local, designs can be e-mailed in CAD format, and changes can be discussed via telecommunication.

That’s what made the difference for Kim Holland, who, along with her sister, just had a new house built in Sussex Shores. Small details, such as using the old siding from the house they had demolished to clear way for the project, were brought into the craftsmanship, to be sensitive to the history of the original house. Mears said that is something they like to do for homes with a rich history, for homeowners who want to hold onto a piece of the original structure.

The sisters are from Colorado, and Mears was recommended by their neighbor.

“We interviewed Bruce and [another builder], and it made the difference that he could make any changes right there,” explained Holland. “He’s the Great Oz behind the curtain,” she added with a laugh.

Perry Psaros and his wife, Holland’s neighbors, waited two years to start work on their house with Bruce Mears.

“It was an absolute joy for my wife,” said Psaros, of working with Mears and his crew. “My wife was a happy camper, and by the rules of attribution, I was a happy camper.”

Mears explains that much of his success is because of the quality of the workmanship that surrounds him. The company’s vice president and general manager is Bill Pritchett, and the job supervisor is Rob Hubscher. Ron Lloyd, who does punchwork and service work, is a third-generation construction supervisor and came to work for Mears years after using him as his own builder.

“Our team of craftsmen is outstanding,” said Mears. “We have corralled the area’s best talent.”

Mears joked that Lloyd has nicknamed him “Doctor Detail,” because of the level of precision he wants to see on his designs as they become tangible dream houses. “I live it and breathe it, because I drew it. It’s fun. It’s our passion.”

In addition to custom home designs and building, Mears was appointed to the Sussex County Board of Adjustments in 1996 and has been chairman of the board since 2003. He has also served on the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce board, and served on the building/design committees for Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church’s new sanctuary and for the Rehoboth Art League’s facility.

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