Sometimes, the middle name is best

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  • | 12:00 p.m. August 12, 2003
  • Realty Builder
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by Michele Newbern Gillis

Staff Writer

Donna VanPuymbrouck, president of Donna Lynne Custom Homes, grew up in the building industry, literally.

“I really grew into each new position,” she said. “Every time there was something else available for me to do, I was able to do it.”

She started working in the building industry right out of high school and now owns a very successful custom home building business in Nassau County.

Obviously, with a name like VanPuymbrouck, she needed to find a name for her company that was easier to spell and remember, so she took her middle name.

Thus, Donna Lynne Custom Homes was born.

“Everyone knew me as Donna in the business, so when I opened my own company, I wanted that name recognition and no one knew my last name,” she said.

VanPuymbrouck, who opened her company seven years ago, is involved in every aspect of the custom home building process from the bottom up. She is the salesperson, superintendent and visits each job site every day.

The company builds about 10-12 homes a year in the Nassau County area.

“I stay small so that I can be everything,” said VanPuymbrouck. “I have an assistant out in the field, but I am on the job every day. “

Her presence on the job site allows her to see every process of the home construction to make sure the designs and color schemes are working before the job is complete.

VanPuymbrouck’s history started when she joined a builder in Gainesville who only built one or two homes a year. When she moved to Jacksonville, she joined Howard White at North Florida Builders.

“When I started with him, he had a one girl office,” she said. “I came in as the second person and started doing all of his permitting.”

VanPuymbrouck then handled lot closings, paying the bills and working with the designers.

“The job just kept growing,” she said. “The more I could take on, the more I took on.”

She worked for North Florida Builders for five years before moving over to Trevett Homes where she stayed for almost 13 years.

“That’s what brought me to Fernandina,” she said. “We started doing work in Fernandina, so I moved here.”

When she left, she was vice president of the company.

“When I started there, I did everything again,” said VanPuymbrouck. “I just kept adding on and adding on. We grew and at one point I think we had five superintendents.”

By managing the superintendents, sales department and meeting with customers, VanPuymbrouck learned a lot about the building industry from the inside out.

“That is how I learned the whole business, which is a wonderful way to learn it,” she said.

During her time at Trevett Homes, she got her Residential license and eventually decided to open her own company.

“I had learned it all and it was time for me to get out on my own,” said VanPuymbrouck.

Her company builds custom homes and most clients come to her company after they have purchased a lot. But, if they don’t have a lot, she will help them find one since she also has a real estate license.

“Everything is custom,” said VanPuymbrouck. “We design them to fit their lot and their needs. After meeting with them once, I pretty much know which designer I am going to put them with. It depends on how detailed they are, how much money they have to spend in their budget and what style they prefer.”

In addition to her many years of experience, VanPuymbrouck says she brings a sense of style to her homes.

“I think there is more attention to detail,” she said. “I think I bring something to the customers and clients as far as incorporating the decorating and design with building the house.”

VanPuymbrouck likes to be involved in every aspect of the house from the financing to the interior design.

“I will help them coordinate their design with an architect or with a designer,” said VanPuymbrouck. “I make sure the house is designed in keeping with what their budget is and then I take it all the way through.”

Even if people want to do the interior design on their own, she stays very involved with the process.

There is a interior design company, Julia’s Interiors, next to VanPuymbrouck’s office which her customers can use. There they can get their furnishings including, lamps, furniture, wall coverings and window coverings.

“I do it with them because I want to know what their colors are and why they are picking them,” she said. “A lot of times things don’t end up like they wanted it to. If the paint is looking more gray then green, we are able to catch that. If tile comes in from a different lot and it really looks a lot different, I know what they were looking for because I’ve been involved with it all the way through.”

About 50 percent of her clients are from out-of-town.

“Since I am so hands-on and involved in everything, that makes it a real desirable situation for clients,” she said.

She subcontracts all of the work out to a close-knit group of subcontractors that she has worked with for many years.

“It’s more of a family concept,” she said. “It really makes it nice, because they know what I expect of them. They know to keep the job site clean and if I schedule them two weeks in advance, that they better be there. All of that makes a big difference.”

The prices for Donna Lynne Custom Homes are from $300,000 to over $1 million.

The size of her homes range from 2,500-8,000 square feet.

Most of her business comes from personal referrals. She said her customers are usually either people moving here from other areas to retire or move-up buyers who want to have a custom home.

Custom homes tend to be a little more expensive because they are customized to fit the customer’s needs, not a cookie-cutter plan.

“This area is growing and growing,” she said. “We are seeing the trend where it is going further and further off the island. And we are seeing a trend with development on the northside of Jacksonville. There is plenty of room right now for spreading and this area hasn’t been affected by the slow-down [in the economy] at all. The property values have skyrocketed, too.”

Even though development is moving, VanPuymbrouck said she probably won’t be.

“There is plenty of business here,” she said. “If I have to start driving further, then I will do fewer houses to make sure that I am there and giving it the attention that it needs.

“We are also seeing a new trend of more remodeling. People are taking oceanfront property and either tearing it down or completely remodeling it. We also do some remodels on referral basis.”

VanPuymbrouck only has two employees, secretary Michelle Nuttall and assistant superintendent Michael Roy.

She has been married to Bob who has owned Bob’s Irrigation & Landscape and Bridgeview Nursey, for 24 years. (Yes, his services are often utilized by her customers, but no, she doesn’t get first priority.)

They live with their three daughters in the High Point subdivision in Fernandina Beach.

When she is not working, she enjoys swimming, lying in the sun, boating and spending time with her family.

VanPuymbrouck is on the board of the First Coast Community Bank and the Nassau Builders Council.

Her company is working on the new Nassau County shelter for battered women, Micah’s Place. The 3,400-square foot shelter will provide 16 beds.

“Right now, we don’t have any place for them to go here,” said VanPuymbrouck. “If a battered women needs shelter, she has to go to Jacksonville or some of the other shelters. The County donated the land for us, we have raised all of our money and we are under construction now.”