The home at 445 Louise Ave. in Charlotte looked like just another rundown rental property in the Queen City back in 2014.
But Ryan Meeuwsen has his own point of view when it comes to old houses.
“I love these old Craftsman-style homes,” Meeuwsen said while standing on the porch of the Louise Avenue home. “In fact, I had wanted to buy this home and renovate it for many years before I finally got to do it.”
Meeuwsen saw the home as the perfect opportunity to showcase his passion for building Craftsman-style houses with modern techniques and demonstrate the kind of attention to detail he puts into his work with his own company, Carolina Craftsman Builders.
Meeuwsen and his wife, Maria, moved to the Charlotte area in 2011. And it was the housing market that lured them away from their native Michigan. The couple lived in Matthews for a bit but then bought a home on Louise Avenue – right next door to the house that would become Ryan’s passion project.
“You know, the exterior of the house was in worse shape than the interior when we bought it in 2015,” he said. “But we were able to do a lot of work on the inside and it has just turned out wonderful. And it’s a way to show people what my business of homebuilding is all about – keeping with the character of the neighborhood where I’m building and making sure to reuse old materials and designs as much as possible when renovating.”
Meeuwsen’s business, started in 2014, and his work on the Louise Avenue house have become a model for his handiwork, showcased in before and after photos on his company’s website.
During the renovations of the 1920’s-era home, Meeuwsen said he reused parts and pieces as often as he could. The cabinets in the laundry room were formerly the home’s kitchen cabinets.
A new sink in the bathroom reuses materials from the old home, and the main fireplace was kept but adorned with new tile.
Respect for that kind of old-style craftsmanship is a calling card for CCB, Meeuwsen said.
“What I see in Charlotte a lot is the neighborhoods that are the most desirable and have the most character are the areas built in the early 1900s and 1920s,” Meeuwsen said. “That is the big time for Craftsman houses.”
Meeuwsen and his partner, Clifton Reasor, do projects in the $600,000-$1 million range. He said the company builds about 16 homes a year. And while he likes to build in Craftsman-style neighborhoods like Cotswold, he said the company also does a lot of work in neighborhoods like Chantilly, where many of the homes are post-Depression structures.
“Houses built around then, in the 1940s or so, they’re usually a lot smaller and don’t have the decorative touches like the Craftsmen-style homes of the 1920s,” he said. “So, we try to make sure that when we do new construction in a place like that, we do tear down the old home but we put up something that fits with the surroundings. In the design I create a two-story, but we make it look like a story and a half by bringing the roof line down.”
Reasor and Meeuwsen subcontract out almost all of the work after the duo nails down a design and project plan. Meeuwsen said their previous experiences at larger, cookie-cutter style homebuilders help them look for efficiencies and areas to save money during each project.
But he says working with subcontractors in the current labor market can be a challenge.
“There have been some challenges in trade subcontractors finding the labor,” Meeuwsen said. “I’ve been in the area so long I have good relationships with subs. But I’m feeling it right now in this market as guys are taking longer to build.”
And in addition to a shortage of subcontractors, Meeuwsen said he’s seeing a big hit on the cost of dirt.
“The land supply and costs of lots continue to go up,” he said. “Finding the land to be able to build is my biggest challenge right now, even more than labor.”
One thing there’s been no shortage of is a desire from customers to mix the old with the new on CCB projects.
“We definitely try to keep a consistent and desirable aesthetic to our designs,” Reasor said. “This is what consumers want. It is nice to stand out a little in the community, but important to keep the charm that exists before we get there to build.”
Meeuwsen said people often tell him they do not want new construction at first – but after they see the designs they come around to new buildings.
“They want the little touches from the Craftsman-style homes of the past,” he said. “They want those custom moldings and character and feel of something that is unique and not prefabricated like many of the larger homebuilding operations.”
Making sure they don’t fall into the massive homebuilder corporation trap is what helps keep CCB flexible enough to take advantage of some unique opportunities, Meeuwsen said.
“We have more infill opportunities that you don’t get in that more prefab kind of world,” he said.