43 years of building in St. Francis
It was pretty rough going at first. Marcelle was often roped in to mix concrete and push a wheelbarrow. We started with one bricklayer and one labourer. Eventually, persistence paid off and we began to make progress. Slowly, we started building our own house. At first, we could only afford to build the double garage and the maid’s room. The garages served as lounge, dining area and kitchen and we lived in the staff room.
The style of architecture was Moorish and it was Greg’s first real attempt at designing. This became an all consuming passion and he admits to having thoroughly enjoyed the creative process of design ever since.
From a very early stage, we made the decision to pursue quality as the number one objective. This was reinforced in our minds by one of our very early clients, Mr. Robert Nettl. We built a house for him in Shore Road, St. Francis Bay, way back around 1975. He was a prominent optometrist from PE and was a most particular client. Being Austrian, the style of his home reflected this and there was a vast amount of interior timber work. He was an accomplished woodworker and we had to raise our game to satisfy him!
Steadily, over the years, the Custom Construction team has grown to around 100 permanently employed staff. This has allowed us the flexibility to take on several challenging projects. Around 1992, we were approached by Ovland, the Cape Town based property development company, to become involved with the development of a strip of land near Cape St. Francis point. This development became known as Otters Landing.
We undertook the design and subsequent building of the entire development. It is a fantastic example of how an integrated development should be built. Right from the design, to the strict architectural guidelines, it has remained a spectacular success.
A year or two later, Custom Construction was approached to design and build the first supermarket in St. Francis. Up to then, the original “trading store” started by Leighton Hulett, was the only source of supplies. This was, at the time, quite a big structure but it has subsequently been engulfed by development around it.
Perhaps the highlight of our career in St. Francis Bay, has been meeting and working with many interesting and influential people. People like Sir Michael Edwardes, whose drive and determination left a lasting impression. He, in turn, introduced us to Keith Butler-Wheelhouse, then CEO of Delta Motors (now GM). We worked with both of these clients and their strength of character and modus operandi taught us a lot. Clients like Barry and Hazel Swart (ex CEO of FNB) have been extremely loyal and supportive over many years. Buddy and Marge Hawton have also been wonderful to work with and we built their ‘retirement’ home, right on the rocks, at Santareme. And we could certainly not forget Andrew Gay: British captain of industry! Why he was never knighted is still a mystery to us!
“We have always said, it has been the people we deal with that have made this business so much fun.”
According to Greg, it is not only the bigger projects that receive Custom Construction’s best attention.
“We have undertaken many alterations, additions and refurbishments. It has been an eye opener to see how many of our original clients have come back to us when a change was required to their home. The relationship that we have developed with all but one of the many hundreds of clients that we have had the pleasure to work with, leaves us with very special memories.”
It is often said that we are expensive, according to Greg. “However, what is more important than the actual cost of a project is to make sure that we give outstanding value for money. This entails producing the best design for the given brief, using the best quality materials, the most well qualified artisans and putting it all together in a manner that will ensure that the client ends up with exactly what they wanted. It is true that we have been involved in many of the major projects in the village. In some cases, the clients have demanded the best and we have been able to deliver.”
Greg points out that good back up service is also hugely important.
“We are proud to say that we have always been prepared to go back and rectify any snags that may arise. The fact that ‘Custom’ built homes command an extremely good resale value bears out our theory that value is all important.”
Greg emphasizes that none of this would have been achieved without the huge amount of support from Custom Construction’s staff. Many have been with Custom Construction for 20 years and more.
“The administrative staff, under Marcelle’s guidance, is amazing. Supervision is so important and I am ably assisted by Henry Botha, who sees to it that the client’s wishes are translated into reality on the ground. He has fitted into his role well and is well liked by the clients.”
Greg informs that many of the artisans have become part of the family. . Henry Domingo, Raymond Thorne, and Les Felix have all made such an impact on the way it all comes together.
“After 43 years, I can honestly say that Marcelle and I both feel passionately about Custom Construction. We have never tired of the challenge and, at times, it has been quite challenging. In 1976, after the Soweto riots, holiday homes were not exactly in demand. A similar slump followed when the oil embargo forced petrol rationing. “However, we were always able to secure enough work to keep the momentum going and we have always believed that the pursuit of quality has stood us in good stead in this regard.”