Living Showroom

In the town of Dexter, near Ann Arbor, Mich., the crew at Dexter Builders has been running a successful remodeling business since 2000. Previously, the full-service construction firm leased office space in the village of Dexter, but found itself outgrowing it. When the time came to find a new office, Dexter Builders could have shopped around for a new office to lease, but they decided to go an entirely different way.

“We were looking for the ugliest house we could find that we could remodel to show off our talents and show the potential,” recalls Vince Peters, vice president of Dexter Builders. The plan was to transform a run-down old home into a light commercial headquarters for Dexter Builders. This remade space would serve as the company’s office and home base, as well as a living showroom. “We do a lot of residential work and wanted to show people what we can do.”

Exterior work

“We were renting before and had been looking for a couple of years for a place we could buy ourselves and kind of take our own medicine by remodeling it,” says Jeff Brown, president of Dexter Builders. “The building we found is located outside of the village on a main road with good traffic and was all but abandoned. A guy was living there with a chicken running around outside.”

Although the run-down home may have been fit for a chicken, it was far from ready to be the home of a modern business. “We’ve learned that the house was built originally in the 1850s and then burned down in 1929,” Brown says. “The owner then built a block house on top of the existing fieldstone foundation, so that’s what we had to work with: a flat roofed, block building with 8-in.-thick concrete block walls. On the exterior, we started with the block walls and put 2 by 4 sleepers on it and foamboard between them, and then installed siding and trim, as well as new windows.”

A pretty major face-lift was given to the building, both inside and out. “The fieldstone foundation was in decent shape, but one room that had been added onto the back was in really rough shape, so that came down completely,” Peters explains. “We rebuilt the addition and added a second floor above that, which tripled the size of that room by overhanging it in a couple of different directions.”

The roof also needed an upgrade. “We eliminated the flat roof by putting a hip truss roof on the house, and we also rebuilt the wrap-around porch,” Brown continues. “That also originally had a flat roof and now it has a nice pitched roof on it.”

Other touches were completed on the outside, as well. “Our sister company is Dexter Block, and they provide full masonry services,” Brown says. “They went through and put new lentils in over a lot of the windows, tuck-pointed the fieldstone wall around the porch and installed a nice stamped concrete patio andsidewalk. We also installed new porch caps with concrete to give a nice finished look to the porch.”

To bring the former residence up to commercial standards, a few additional changes were needed. “The house needed to be handicap accessible, so we had to eliminate an 8-in. step coming into the building,” Brown says. “Dexter Block installed a paver patio over the existing porch floor, so it is a zero threshold.

We also had to upgrade the electrical, plumbing and HVAC to commercial standards. The original house ran on four or five fuses; we installed a whole new electrical service and rewired the whole building.” All the upgrades to the building have substantially increased its energy efficiency. “Our heating has gone from about $600 per month to under $200,” Brown says.

Elbow room

The exterior clearly needed a lot of work, and the interior was no different. “I’d like to say we took the main floor ‘down to studs,’ but there were no studs. We took it down to the block wall and pretty much started over with new drywall, flooring and all the finishes,” Brown says. “The second floor was in decent shape. By the time we bought it, it had been converted into a duplex so one of the rooms was a kitchen that we removed and turned into an office.”

The end result is a space that has allowed Dexter Builders to accommodate its growth. “When we moved in, we had five people here at the office, and now we have 17 workspaces and conference rooms that go with them,” Peters says. “Right now we have 16 people working in the office at one time and they are very comfortable.”

Best of all, the stunning transformation of the old home provides an example to show potential clients. “It’s convenient the way we can take people through the house,” Peters says. “We’ve done each floor differently. In some cases, we’ve finished one office different from the adjacent office so we can show potential customers various trim styles, lighting options, floors and other products. Instead of trying to explain things, you can just point to it. It’s much more understandable. It’s a living showroom.” QR


Allen Barry writes about remodeling and construction from Chicago.