Sixteen years ago, a young lumber and building supply manager named Jeff Garrison co-authored a new chapter in his family history along with his father Charles. Both choosing second careers driven by a desire to carry on a proud legacy that began with Charles’s father Gamaliel Garrison in the 1940’s. The eldest Garrison was a first generation carpenter that built a strong foundation for both generations to follow.
“My grandfather was a specialty cabinet and trim carpenter. He did very high end and beautiful customized work. He built houses in the 40’s and 50’s by himself with a hand saw and my father Charles learned the craft directly from him.”
Many things have changed since then, but pride in workmanship and attention to detail preached by Gamaliel Garrison has remained the driving force and main ingredient for the success the Garrison’s enjoy today.
“My father was old school and preached to us all how important a fair day’s work and pride in the finished product mattered. He reminded us that what we built would be around for a long time,” says Charles.
In 2000, Charles and Jeff opened the doors of Garrison Homes in Downtown Dover, Delaware. Along with Jeff and Charles, their team consisted of a handful of trusted and experienced subcontractors Charles had known through his many years of building houses as a project manager for a large regional building company. Jeff’s expertise in costing and sourcing of materials paired with Charles years of construction experience created a perfect path to their success. Together, they found they had a deep network of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and even Amish cabinet makers and framers.
Jeff recalls the business started with his desire to ‘dabble’ in custom home construction but their great reputation and subsequent sales grew quickly during the housing boom of the early 2000s.
“We built a few homes the first year then it literally exploded as Kent County became a great place to live and raise a family. From ten to thirty to sixty homes or more per year in Kent County alone. It was exciting and it was fun, but a little scary growing that quickly,” says Jeff.
Construction at Garrison Homes peaked in 2005, with the company completing over 80 homes that year as well as co-ownership in multiple residential developments throughout Kent County. As the housing market began to decline, Garrison Homes managed to adjust, rethink and migrate its core product from residential development and construction of neighborhoods, becoming one of the most respected custom home builders in Coastal Delaware.
“We are proud to be known as a custom high end builder,” he says. “But sometimes people have the misconception that that’s all we do. The fact is we do just about everything and everything in between. As we say, $200,000 to $2,000,000, [it’s] that same quality and the same value.”
More than 15 years after Garrison Homes was born, Jeff and Charles have a seasoned team of project managers, estimators, and subcontractors that have been operating out of their Sales & Dream Center in the Sandbar Village Shopping Center in Lewes. They continue to operate projects in all three of Delaware’s counties with a main focus on Coastal Delaware. From high-end custom home design and construction to historical renovation to commercial construction and fit-out services, the next generation of Garrisons will have a well-paved road to follow.
“This really is a simple business,” says Charles. “The fact is, if you make it fun for the client and deliver a quality product at a great value, the rest takes care of itself. Our suppliers and subcontracted craftsmen are never considered vendors, but an extension of our team all working toward the same goal: excellence.”
Great work comes with some accolades, for sure. Garrison has had several award-winning homes featured regional publications such as Luxe Interiors + Design Magazine, Beach Life, The Washington Post, The News Journal and even the Cape Gazette. In fact, Garrison Homes was awarded Best of Houzz 2016 and 2017, as well as two first place homes in the coveted Regal Awards in 2016.
“The awards and publicity is always great, but what really makes me happy is our long list of previous clients that have become close friends allowing me and my family to enjoy the home we painstakingly built in a very special way. The fact that dozens of our clients allow us to have their keys and show their homes at any time with virtually no notice, is the biggest compliment we can get.”
Garrison Homes clientele comes from both near and far. What used to be a business solely-based on entry level homes in Dover, Delaware catering to first time homeowners, Air Force Base Airmen and retirees alike has given way to high-end coastal renovations and second homes for weekend visitors from Northern Virginia, Washington DC, New Jersey and Northern Delaware.
“Many of our clients live away from the area. Like all great builders technology and great communication is vital to a great experience. The fact that Dad and I are on the ground on the job sites every day ensures that it is right and right the first time,” says Jeff.
Being a true custom builder means having the ability to take a client’s vision, place it on paper and actually build it. Working with as many as twelve different architects, draftsmen, and an in house design support team allows Garrison Homes to uniquely position themselves as the “everything expert” with a vast range of styles and designs.
“When we first arrived in Coastal Delaware we were mostly recognized for our Nantucket cedar shake cottage style. We do it and we do it well and probably still our trademark, but the fact that one of our most prestigious awards was based on an ultra-modern contemporary home really shows how far we have come in the design process and custom experience,” says Eric Brough, Vice President.
So what does the next 60 years look like? Jeff and Charles plan to continue to build upon the great advice and reputation started by Gamaliel Garrison many years ago and hopefully welcome the next generation into the family business.
“This year in addition to core projects in Coast Delaware, our team will expand our footprint again in Kent County, build a 10,000 square foot commercial building and strip center in Lewes and at the same time continue to deliver the best quality and experience possible to our custom home clientele,” says Charles. “Thank the good Lord I have a fairly young son to keep on pushing”.