BSF Properties relies on longtime subcontractors to provide support as it mixes Georgian exteriors with contemporary interiors on its newest home project. By Tim O’Connor
Most home developers have teams upon teams of employees who scout the market, develop designs and then execute the project. At BSF Properties, all those responsibilities fall on the shoulders of owners Rick and Susan Rowland, the company’s sole employees. Instead, they prefer building lasting relationships with other experts in the homebuilding and real estate industry, and then bringing them into their team as they develop each new project. They visit many historical homes around the United States and abroad for inspiration and ideas. Rick is the overall project manager.
BSF also benefits by focusing on a single market – luxury single-family homes in Greenwich, Conn. The Greenwich area has been a haven for former New Yorkers who could no longer afford the state and city’s high tax rates. Connecticut has significantly lower property taxes, making it appealing to homebuyers who want to live within driving distance of the city but can’t afford the high cost of living. By sticking to one area, Rowland has become close with all of the designers, suppliers and subcontractors in the local market.
Those relationships breed loyalty and success. The support team Rowland put together includes Lou Contandino of Contandino Architects; Manny Sopasis, on-site construction manager; Lindy Weaver Design Associations, kitchen designer; Carolyn Sarsen, their exclusive real estate agent with David Ogilvy & Associates; and Shelly Kahan, president and CEO of Interstate + Lakeland Lumber, a major lumber supplier in the Northeast.
Many of those people have worked with Rowland for more than 20 years and have learned his style and preferences, allowing for a smooth development process for every project. They also provide services that go beyond the transactional relationship some builders have with their contractors and suppliers.
Interstate Lumber, for instance, helps BSF put the personal touches on a house. When making decisions like how the fireplace mantels should look, Rowland relies on input from Mike Tedesco, a trim expert with Interstate Lumber. “Literally while we’re standing there he’ll pull out his pencil and start sketching various design options,” Rowland says.
Rowland has a good feel for trim, but says Tedesco is a real craftsman who helps him consider different ideas and combinations. Once they have an idea in place, Tedesco produces a shop drawing and sends it to Rowland to finalize. From there, the custom mill shop at Interstate Lumber cuts the trim to specification and delivers it to the site with a coat of primer already applied. “That’s the way we work together for all of our custom trim,” Rowland adds.
As one job finishes, the team-based process Rowland has developed carries over to the next project. Although many of the people working on the home are the same, each job has different features. BSF’s latest project is an example of how its design continues to evolve. The Doverton Drive home is a blend of classical and contemporary sensibilities. The outside is built in the style of classic Georgian architecture, but the inside features large open spaces with a modern design and abundant natural light.
“[Rowland] is more than just a cookie-cutter builder,” says Shelly Kahan, president of Interstate Lumber. “Each house takes on its own personality. Rick and Manny [Sopasis] put the time in to make sure each one is unique and distinct.”
The property is located in the Sabine Farm Association, a former 600-acre estate that was divided into 17 parcels in the 1960s. The subdivision is accessed via a private road that connects to Round Hill Road, one of the major roads in Greenwich. “It’s considered to be a very prestigious location within Greenwich,” Rowland says.
BSF purchased the two-acre Doverton Drive property for $2.65 million in May of 2015. An existing 3,000-square-foot home was demolished to make room for Rowland and architect Lou Contandino’s vision for a three-story 10,800-square-foot home with a basement and 2,000-bottle wine cellar.
“With Georgian-style architecture, the most critical design factor is the right proportions,” Rowland says. “You can see historical precedence for this house in 18th-century-style architecture. We like building homes that have a historical context.”
Many of BSF’s previous 20 homes follow the Georgian style, but with Doverton Drive Rowland decided it was time to do something a little different. The contemporary interior of the home features a large two-story open family room – a first for a BSF project. Like many of his ideas, the inspiration for the large family room came from visiting other properties – in this case a home in the Hamptons, an affluent area on the east end of Long Island.
“Sometimes when you look at other homes you get some great ideas,” Rowland says of his design process. “You add something to it that makes it even better.” In Doverton Drive’s case, Rowland decided to enhance the appeal of the two-story family room by focusing its view on the outdoor pool.
Other modern elements can be found throughout the home. The trim work, color finishes, baseboards, crowns and casing around the doors and windows also all follow modern trends. Contemporary light grays can be found on the kitchen cabinets and other areas, and the library fireplace mantel and cabinetry utilizes a driftwood finish. The home also has category 6, category 5 and RG6 wiring, making it suitable for heavy internet usage and cable connections.
Contandino describes the house as finding the middle ground between ultra colonial and ultra modern. “People are looking for a very traditional-looking home, but the space within they want more transitional,” he explains.
Unlike developers who build custom homes tuned perfectly to what the client wants, Rowland doesn’t know who his client is until the house is sold. BSF focuses on spec homes, which need to appeal to a wider range of people. As a result, the company must keep ahead of emerging trends and anticipate how tastes may change. “Since we’re doing spec homes we need to be very conscious of who we’re selling to, and what are the boxes we need to check off,” Rowland explains.
For heating and cooling, the home uses four Infinity 98 series gas-fired furnaces from Carrier, which have an annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) of up to 98.5 percent, according to the company. Heat is not lost through hot water pipes during delivery as with a water-based hydro-system. The home also uses a pervious gravel surface for the parking court to help manage stormwater runoff.
The merging of the Georgian and modern styles and the incorporation of the latest technology in the Doverton Drive home is an example of how the company stays ahead of design trends. “Many of the people who move up from the city love contemporary-style interiors,” Rowland says. “Our market of prospective buyers is the same kind of people that would be looking in Manhattan and in the Hamptons,” he adds.
Keeping up on market trends is truly a team effort. While Rowland scouts other homes in the region, his contractors are also keeping an eye on shifts in the industry. Interstate Lumber might work on other projects and create a trim design that can be tweaked for a BSF home, for example. “To understand what’s going on in the new school you have to understand the old school relationship building,” Kahan says.
Doverton Drive will be the 21st home Rowland has completed since he formed BSF in 1995, after a 15-year stint at Goldman Sachs’ real estate investment banking department. The home is listed at $9.95 million, a staggering amount, but more reasonable when considering that some homes in the Greenwich area list for as much as $20-$25 million.
The Connecticut Homebuilders Association recently selected BSF to receive an award for Doverton Drive as the best spec home in the $8- to $10-million range in the entire state of Connecticut for 2016. This award honored the project’s outstanding quality of the competitive properties. According to Rowland, the homebuilders association took into account architectural plans, building quality and materials, the craftsmanship of the interior and exterior trim and cabinetry and the overall site planning and landscaping.
The company’s next project will be on a smaller scale than Doverton Drive. Although the two-story family room is a defining feature, it added significant costs to construction. Rowland says the next home will forgo some of the big-ticket features of Doverton Drive and will target the $6 million to $7 million range.