Pro-File Build: Post + Beam Builders

When the recession hit the homebuilding industry in the Atlanta area, it hit hard. The region is, in large part, driven by speculative building geared toward the C-suite corporate relocation market. Unfortunately, builders involved in speculative housing were most vulnerable to the housing bust, corporate hiring freezes, tightening bank credit, and subs’ imploding businesses. Younger builders were most at risk, without projects already under construction, significant cash reserves, or a deep bench of former customers who might toss them a remodeling or repair job. Quite a few of these builders went under and, even when the economy rebounded, many never made it back. 

These are some of the reasons why the custom builders you see thriving during this latest housing boom are in their 50s—and even older. They are the survivors. They had been through recessions before, and they knew how to hunker down and keep going. They may have used up their retirement funds or mortgaged their houses, but they’re still in business. Now, they’re poised to seize the day, and they have the expertise and relationships to make it happen. Indeed, they’re currently doing some of the best work of their lives. 

In Atlanta’s latest boom, the experienced survivors are certainly represented, but they’ve been joined by a host of carpetbaggers with dubious credentials who are flipping older houses in good neighborhoods and building speculative homes from internet plans. Lots of expensive, mediocre houses are cropping up everywhere. Tight inventory means these houses are selling well, despite their shortcomings. 

This is the market Wyatt Anderson and Ryan Howard are facing with their custom building company, called Post + Beam Builders. While everyone else is rushing for the high-end traditional custom job or the easy money quick-build spec, they’re cultivating a more rarified niche: They’re specializing in architect-designed modern houses. The other unusual aspect of their company is they’re young builders, both under 40, with solid, relevant credentials in the building industry — and they are also survivors, who’ve made it through the last recession stronger and more entrepreneurial than when they started. 

Inside the Box

At this summer’s Atlanta modern homes tour, an annual event that reaches from the city’s intown and close-in suburbs all the way to Asheville, N.C., Post + Beam’s Split Box House for architect David Goldschmidt, AIA, was a showstopper. It has a number of elements rarely seen in the largely traditional town—chief among them a flat, green roof and cementitious rainscreen siding. The house itself is two separate bars—one long and one short—with another box placed atop them like a bridge, all the better to span a steeply sloped site with a constant stream of runoff water from the street above. The house is striking and architecturally rigorous, unlike the typical modern houses Atlanta favors at the moment.

Split Box House is David’s own family home. He’s a senior associate at Lord Aeck Sargent, and has worked at Perkins + Will, KPF, and Dattner in the past. He’s also principal of his own firm, DiG Architects, specializing in commercial and residential design. It says quite a lot that he chose Post + Beam to build his house. Despite the vote of confidence, it was still a bit intimidating for the young company. 

“David and his wife are very nice, but I was definitely nervous about the project,” says Wyatt. “But I’ve been fortunate to work with some prominent architects, and I just get along with them. It must be my personality.” The cherubic 39-year-old jokes, but he does have an affable, easygoing attitude that inspires comfort. He also has the experience to back it up. He comes from a family of builders, and he has a master’s degree in building construction from Georgia Tech. 

Wyatt pursued the degree during the housing downturn in Atlanta in 2008, after already working for several years in leadership for production builder John Wieland Homes. When the market began to rebound, he signed on with local high-end design/builder Cablik Enterprises as vice president of construction. 

He met business partner Ryan Howard at Georgia Tech and later worked with him at Cablik. Ryan has a degree in architecture from Lehigh University and the same master’s in construction that Wyatt has. He was a project development manager at Cablik, which builds speculative houses in addition to its custom commissions. 

At present, the company builds only one or two houses at a time, Wyatt working full time and Ryan part time, while he keeps his day job for a construction materials supplier. “We are certainly not the biggest builders,” says Wyatt. “We only take on what we can handle, because—especially with modern houses—you have to be there and be completely focused on the job.” 

CA Equals QA

“Most of Atlanta’s new modern houses are very weak. I’d say 7 out of 10 are not successful,” Ryan comments. Wyatt has a theory about why: “I feel strongly that for a modern house to come out well, it needs a healthy budget, a committed client, and access to the architect through the entire construction process. The majority of these houses have none of those elements.” David’s accessibility and willingness to improvise on site were key to the success of Split Box House. “He was always willing to meet with me when I had a question,” says Wyatt. 

For example, Wyatt had never installed a full rainscreen system before, and he certainly hadn’t done one with the precise reveals and detailing that David asked for. “The rainscreen was what most impressed people on the tour,” says Wyatt. “I had done a smaller one previously, but nothing like this one. It was a learning experience to figure out which materials to use and then how to apply them. Those panels were the toughest part. Every reveal lines up with a window or door. But the panels are all prefabricated and you can’t cut them.”

Still, nothing was as challenging as the site itself. Atlanta is in the high Piedmont of the Blue Ridge Mountains, so there are few level lots. The footprint for David’s house was some 15 feet down from the street, and continued to drop even farther toward the back of the nearly acre-sized lot. “David’s house is basically sitting in a hole. And we had a ton of rain during construction,” Wyatt recalls. “We built a temporary driveway at one point, but it didn’t last. And then there was the traffic on the street. It was jammed in the morning and jammed in the evening. We had to hire police to hold traffic for truck deliveries. It is the most difficult site  I’ve had to deal with.” 

You’d never know it by looking at the result. And, when you’re running a young company, every difficult project is a lesson that can be applied to the next job. 

 

Ryan recently learned his own major lessons about executing demanding details—ones he designed himself. He’s just completed a new house for his own family. It’s in a hot, close-in area full of speculative teardown projects and whole-house renovations. His is a new build behind a teardown, which his family lived in during the construction.  

Ryan not only designed the new traditional-style house himself, he also installed most of the trim work on the 4,800-square-foot house. “It nearly killed me,” he says. “We’ve gotten a lot of compliments from experienced subs. But it was the scariest thing I’ve done in my life.”

Says Wyatt, “Ryan is an excellent carpenter, but we’ve worked on so many modern houses lately, you forget how much effort goes into millwork on a traditional home.” Whew. What doesn’t kill you makes you a better, smarter builder. Right? 

Now, it’s time for a breather. Ryan gets to kick back and enjoy his new house with his family, and Wyatt is taking his wife on a long vacation abroad. “We’ve been working so hard for so long, it’s time to take a little break,” says Wyatt. “Things are so busy now, we’re confident the work will still be there when we get back. There’s another wave coming.”


More projects built by Post + Beam:

West Architecture Studio

Pyrite House

 All West Architecture Studio photos: Galina Coada


West Architecture Studio

Randolph Residence


West Architecture Studio

Tesseract House

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.