Dustin Brown, who recently turned 30, has been building his legacy for years. He wants to make his mark in creative construction for homes and businesses in a thriving Michiana.
“I’m a person that wants this area to succeed,” says Brown, whose Legacy Homes gives him a window onto an upscale upside to the area that not everyone sees. “This area has a lot of money.”
He should know. He builds houses for $700,000 and up, including a 6,000-square-foot home in Northbrook Shores where he lives with his wife, Alison, and shows potential customers the special touches he can provide for them.
The extra-large bedrooms with walk-in closets. The glass-ceilinged basement wine cellar with its wrought-iron vines and ball-bearing bunch of grapes. The single accent wall of wallpaper.
The back wall of a pantry that pivots for access to secret stairs leading to a hidden room. The extra-wide door on the third garage bay for easy boat access. The three-sided dining room with plenty of windows for viewing the lake and woods beyond.
The LED lights in the wood floor. The ceramic bathroom floor that looks like wood. The special low faucet in the laundry room to fill the dog bowl. The three putting cups sunk into the cement floor in the basement game room.
“We’re truly a custom builder,” Brown says, pointing out the contemporary touches that blend with the craftsman theme in his home. “This is the market that is staying afloat. There’s not too much competition in this high-end market.”
Meanwhile, Legacy Homes diversified into commercial work just on the cusp of the real estate recession and enjoyed boom years in 2009 and 2010, a rare feat in the construction business, with 90 percent of the business those years on the commercial side.
“We kind of saw it coming just because of what the news was talking about,” Brown recalls. “We had three houses. Two were specs and the other was our personal house. We ended up selling everything two weeks before the giant fallout in the stock market.”
About that time, Anytime Fitness asked him to bring his creative approach to building a business.
“I hadn’t done commercial before, but construction is construction,” he says. “I said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ We kept selling one after another commercial,” including The Mark, Uptown Kitchen, Jamba Juice and Penn Station.
That business has expanded as far as Logansport and Merrillville in Indiana, with a deli, a salon and a Verizon wireless store in process.
“It’s becoming kind of a regional company,” Brown says, adding that extensive remodeling and condo interior finishing jobs have boosted business this year when the mix of residential and commercial has been about 50-50.
“This year it hit big-time for remodels,” he says. “We were doing a kitchen remodel every month.” In addition to Brown, Legacy has three employees and uses a team of subcontractors.
Brown has been in the construction business from the ground up since he was a teenager, contracting with builders to handle yardwork at spec homes and neighborhood entrances with the lawn company he started at 16.
“I was guaranteed to have instant clients right away and a lot of them,” he explains. At 17, he was offered a truck, a gas card and a cell phone to work for a construction company.
“I started at the bottom, making sure jobsites were clean and doing whatever the construction managers and supervisors wanted me to do,” Brown says.
The next year he was head of the maintenance department, checking off punch lists for homebuyers. The next year, at 19, he was a supervisor in the Valparaiso, Ind., market building 120 homes with five people.
Brown decided he’d rather have a smaller company, focused on service for no more than 10 customers per year to leave plenty of time for creative design and fun.
Tribune Business Weekly