home sweet home

9 Houston Home Builders You Should Know

Local custom builders and renovators to help you perfect—or create—the home you’ve been dreaming about.

By Catherine Wendlandt, Laura Furr Mericas, Denise Cathey, and Timothy Malcolm March 24, 2021 Published in the Spring 2021 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Sims Luxury Builders  


Despite the ASMR-akin comfort we get from HGTV, home building is flat-out stressful. “Clients often feel an internal pressure,” says Michael Sims, president of Sims Builders, “almost like this is their one shot to get things just right.” Sims says his team, which has been building luxury 4,000–30,000-square-foot custom homes in Houston since his father, Chris, started the company in 1988, begins building relationships with its clients early in the process, something commercial real estate developer Dan Zimmerman appreciates.

“It’s been wonderful. It’s extremely hands-on,” he says of working with Sims on the historic La Colombe d’Or Mansion in Montrose and his own home. “They have an incredible attention to detail and an understanding of client expectations.”

Over the 12- to 24-month building process, Sims’s team works closely with clients to help with all the hundreds of design decisions, catch what’s not working, and provide resources for frazzled homeowners. He says Sims’s homes typically cost $1 million to $5 million, and while architectural style changes from project to project, “we’re able to guide the home design as it relates to constructibility, cost, as well as desired home performance and energy efficiency.”

Sims works to build environmentally friendly and energy-efficient homes, noting that one of his favorite projects was building Fort Bend County’s first-ever LEED Platinum (an internationally recognized green building rating system) home in 2019.—Catherine Wendlandt

Mirador Builders


In the 15 years since she started her custom home company, Mirador Builders, Jennifer Hamelet has built more than 100 homes. But even as her visions made into real-life structures have become a more common sight, she still enjoys spotting them on her way to other projects. “I can drive down Kirby Drive and one, two, three, four houses right there—fantastic homes that I’ve built,” she says.

Clients must wait a long time to get one of her homes. There’s a three-year waitlist, and afterwards it can take up to three years, depending on the size and the neighborhood, to design, permit, and build a home.

Some are what she calls speculative houses. These are residences she builds with her own needs in mind, aiming to construct a unique home that will suit someone on the market—almost a callback to her days of flipping houses—then sells the finished property. Others are custom homes for her clientele, mainly in West University and River Oaks.

Those custom homes can cost a pretty penny—build-out prices range from $1 million to $2 million or more—but folks can rest assured that their new house will be a beauty. While a European look is Hamelet’s personal style, she loves building contemporary homes with clean, sleek looks as well.

The interiors all have a certain nostalgic quality, though. “I still want them to have a bit of that Old World feel,” she says, whether that be in the wallpaper, the high-quality cabinetry, or the antique fixtures. If she can salvage pieces from a tear-down home, like lighting, shutters, or, once, even gargoyles, and use them in the new house or another project, she will. It’s this attention to detail, she says, that makes her homes stand out.—CW

Greymark Construction Company


With craftsmanship and mastery, Greymark Construction Company has brought many a historic Houston home into the modern era. The woman-led design-build company, which focuses on renovations, remodels, and additions, takes the house from concept to construction and through to a warranty period, and has carved out a niche for itself among homeowners looking to work with professionals who understand the art of preservation.

The company takes on projects as small as bathroom revamps and as big as entire gut jobs that take anywhere from six weeks to six months, with much of its work taking place in the Heights, South Gate, South Hampton, and West U. “Typically, we like to do a combination of restoration and renovation,” Kelly Kirk, Greymark’s president, says. “In a renovation, you’re updating it for the first time. So things like LED lights are going to be a better option for the environment and your electric bill. But you also want to make sure that it doesn’t look so out of place.”

Ginger Gates and Gail Cheramie worked with Greymark for a recent bathroom overhaul on Heights Boulevard. Gates says Greymark exceeded expectations “at every phase of the project, from conceptualization, design, and implementation to ongoing follow-up.” They were especially impressed with the quality of communication even after the project wrapped, she says, adding, “We have found our forever construction company.”—Laura Furr Mericas

Brett Zamore Design


Brett Zamore Design brings repeatable solutions to the market with prefab homes in a variety of smart and sustainable models, and brings the same sense of ingenuity to its entirely customized builds. The resulting abodes balance use of space with such striking style that you’d never imagine that some of the company’s best-known products are actually constructed from kits. The tiny home kits, known as ZFab homes, start at about 500 square feet, with the goal of minimizing cost and waste. These structures, which take between six months and a year to complete, are only a sliver of what the company builds, though, founder Brett Zamore, AIA, says.

BZD also takes on large-scale new builds—like a clean-lined two-story home that works around floodplain issues in Linkwood or a creative addition to a historic bungalow in the Heights—and even commercial projects. The common thread in his work really has nothing to do with square footage, he explains. The true focus is on a refined, minimalistic quality he brings to each project with touches of Southern charm and an underlying focus on sustainability. “All the projects really tie in, in a sense,” Zamore says. “There’s kind of a clarity of style of character. We try for our work to be as timeless as possible—also being thoughtful and respectful of the kind of historical quality of existing homes and the scale of neighborhoods.”—LFM

Collaborative Designworks


If sleek is what you seek, Collaborative Designworks provides. Led by award-winning AIAs James Evans and Adriana Camacho, Collaborative Designworks prioritizes form and function in its contemporary designs and is obsessed with smart use of space. “For us, the biggest recommendation is really thinking about what you need, how you live, and trying to be a little critical,” Evans says. “We’ve run into a lot of times where people are so fixated on the question of being a certain size for a certain price, when in reality, what their concern should be is how do you design a space that works well?”

The firm offers full-service architectural designs for residential and commercial builds, as well as construction management to see a project through, a process that takes about 12 to 14 months after ground is broken. Evans says most people are coming to the firm to create a modern dream home, and are less concerned with resale.

“Most of our clients are not trying to squeeze those numbers too much,” he says. “Most of them are looking for something more. They really want a unique project. They want it to be what they want it to be.” Theo Mallinson has received just that, working with Collaborative Designworks time and time again. He praises the firm for its “considered design process and creative solutions.”—LFM

McHugh Homes 


Paul McHugh founded his company  in 2011, aiming to provide a full-service experience for clients, intent on offering Houstonians the perfect balance of traditional craftsmanship and modern style in their domiciles. From discussing your dream home to making it a reality, McHugh Homes is dedicated to providing homes that stand out and stay ahead of the trends while working within your needs. “My goal is to find the market balance of what everybody is doing and go one level above that,” says Paul McHugh.

When it came time to choose a new home for Dr. Sam Cress, DDS, and his wife, Kim, a chance encounter while they were visiting friends with one of McHugh’s properties in Pine Chase sold them on entrusting him with their new home. Cress had lengthy experience in buying, remodeling, and building his residences over the years, and now wanted to personally design his next home. For him, seeing McHugh’s work and his directness, integrity, and attention to detail solidified Cress’s resolve that he was the man for the job.

“It’s been what we wanted, above and beyond,” says Cress. “He says what he is going to do and what he says he is going to do, he does it. No other builder has ever done that.”

The timeline was also a huge part of the appeal, according to Cress. Once you’ve started building, McHugh Homes offers a timely and streamlined process to get you from pouring your foundation to stepping through the front door of your new house (prices range from $850,000 to $2 million) in around nine months. The Cresses’ $1.39 million, four-bedroom modern contemporary in Spring Branch is set to be completed by the end of March and the couple are eagerly anticipating their new home.—Denise Cathey

Backcountry Containers


Struck by the plethora of shipping containers going to waste in the Port of Houston, in 2016 Jon Meier drew upon his background in construction and aeronautical engineering to create a company that builds truly custom homes using 20- and 40-foot shipping containers.

Whether you want a solar-powered home in the wilds of West Texas, a rooftop driving range, or the kitchen of your dreams, no amount of customization is out of reach with this Needville-based company. “Instead of offering basically a menu item ‘here you order this’ and you’re done, that’s not how we work. It’s a design process that I work through with every single person that we build with, all the way down to the fixtures. Everything that you can imagine,” says Meier.

For Memorial-area couple Bryan and Marguerite Fleener, the customization and novelty were part of why they went with Meier’s company for a three-bedroom country home on their South Texas vacation property. “What appealed to us is that we could configure it however we wanted,” Bryan Fleener says. “It’s out of the ordinary, but it works really well because it’s low maintenance. You can literally just lock it up and walk away and you don’t have to worry about anything.”

As with any custom home, the price varies depending on complexity. Single 20-foot and 40-foot container homes start at $30,000 and $50,000 respectively and take around two to three months to complete. For multiple container combinations, prices start at $100,000 and take about six months or longer to finish.—DC

Frankel Building Group


This family-run business, established in 1988 by Jim Frankel, knows a lot about building an environmentally safe and sustainable home.

Specifically, since 2010, a couple of years after Jim’s sons Scott and Kevin joined the team, Frankel has ensured all of its custom homes are LEED certified, meaning each one meets criteria established by an independent, national nonprofit determining they’re environmentally sound and sustainable.

“It’s a list of hundreds of things, from the direction your house is facing to how much heat is coming in your windows,” says co-president Scott Frankel. “We do it every time, and it’s hard. But an investor will end up with a higher return on investment with a LEED project. Reselling a LEED home is a big stamp of approval.”

Frankel considers itself an all-in-one builder. No need to visit a separate designer and architect, because it has them in house. “We’re a true design build firm,” says Scott Frankel. “We say, ‘Tell us how much money you’re comfortable spending,’ then ‘Let’s take the pen out.’”

Frankel builds all over the Houston area but often concentrates in neighborhoods such as Memorial and Bellaire. Build durations depend on the size of each home, as Frankel designs homes of anywhere between 5,000 and 30,000 square feet. But no matter how big it is and how long it takes, a Frankel home is sure to be sustainable and fully realized with the client’s desires in mind.

“We never worried about whether they would actually do what they said, or whether they had our best interest at heart, or whether things might not turn out the way we’d hoped,” says Dena Miller of Houston, whose home was built by Frankel after Hurricane Harvey. “The peace of mind Frankel provided was something you can’t put a price tag on.”—Timothy Malcolm

Dooley Custom Homes


Sean Dooley, who started his business in 2015 out of Conroe, works so closely with his clients throughout the process that often he’ll become friends with them.

“I like to be involved in every aspect of it, which is really the only way to do custom homes,” says Dooley. “I like the design work, making everything function like the customer wants it, figuring out how they live their life and what they want to do.”

Dooley’s process starts when clients begin discussing what they want out of their homes. They may share Instagram and Pinterest images or even have binders of ideas. After coming up with a plan, Dooley hooks his clients up with an architect who can get the best out of the design. Then comes the buildout; through it all, Dooley is there to ensure any issues are resolved quickly.

“Sean knows every nook and cranny of our home, better than we do,” says Shelly Scanlin, who, with husband Jason, chose Dooley to build their Spring house. “If he saw something on paper that wasn’t going to work, he was quick to offer solutions and guide us toward making the best decision. His quality speaks for itself.”

In all, the process can take anywhere from six to 12 months though durations always change. And because Dooley runs his business predicated on being heavily involved throughout each stage of his projects, he tends to stay closer to Conroe, though he’ll travel into Houston for larger builds.—TM

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