Charlotte Business Journal September 2006
Veteran Gaston Builder Doug McSpadden crosses the Catawba to make a splash at HomeArama
By Laura Williams-Tracy
It’s fitting that Doug McSpadden’s entry in the 2006 HomeArama house tour is a Frank Lloyd Wright-style home that’s all about balance.
While many business owners struggle in the search for equilibrium between life and work, McSpadden says the stability in his life is the thing that makes him successful.
“I’ve always been able to cut it off at 5 p.m. on Friday afternoons,” says McSpadden, president of McSpadden Development Group. After that, his time belongs to his two sons, ages 16 and 13, and wife, Laurie. While he doesn’t spend weekends wrapped up in work, you can bet McSpadden is back on the job at 4 a.m. Monday.
But what do you expect from a guy who quotes motivational speaker Zig Ziglar or McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc when describing his business’ mission?
“Doug is one of those people who try to squeeze everything out of life,” says Alan Simonini, chief executive of Simonini Builders. He gave McSpadden his start in the luxury-home business. “He’s done well because his attitude is incredible.”
HomeArama showcases multimillion-dollar homes from luxury builders that push the envelope of design and amenities. At this year’s show, held at The Sanctuary, a community by Crescent Resources on Lake Wylie, McSpadden demonstrated a flair for dramatic construction. His Prairie-style, Wright-inspired home attracted attention for its tree house-like conservatory and a ceiling-to-floor waterfall. The home is unlike any other entry and dominated the awards, including best overall home.
But McSpadden seems to have always been willing to put his own spin on traditional practices.
He grew up in Gastonia and graduated from Ashbrook High School. His father was a cotton broker who sold to mills throughout the Southeast, while his mother cared for four children. McSpadden attended the University of Tennessee to earn a degree in architecture. While there, he began to plan how he might one day own a company that could strike a balance between designing, building and selling custom homes.
“As a college kid, that was a forward-thinking thought,” he says.
After college, McSpadden earned his real estate license and had the credentials ready for the design and sales portion of his business. But interest rates were at 16%, and the business climate was poor.
McSpadden recognized the market might be stronger in Charlotte, so he returned to the area and in 1987 went to work for Simonini Builders as a general supervisor. Building in developments such as River Point and River Hills on Lake Wylie, McSpadden gained an understanding of the luxury home market.
“I learned so much from Alan and have huge respect for that family,” says McSpadden. “I worked hard for them.”
In 1989, the market seemed right, and McSpadden left Simonini and started his first speculative home in River Point with the help of an investor. That spawned another custom home, and another, and soon McSpadden was building four to six custom homes a year in Gaston County neighborhoods, including Cramer Mountain and Gaston Country Club, as well as around Lake Wylie.
While other luxury builders have made their march into Ballantyne, Weddington and Lake Norman, McSpadden fortified his position on Lake Wylie. Three years ago, he began to add systems and infrastructure to increase his output, and went from three employees to seven.
“We prepared for what we thought would be a new wave of activity around Lake Wylie,” says McSpadden. “We elected to develop the vehicle before we had the work in order to not short change the customer as projects started coming through the door.”
This year, McSpadden will build nine custom homes, twice the volume of three years ago. He builds a few ranging from $2 million to $3 million, but most are about $700,000. Beyond The Sanctuary, he’s building in such luxury Gaston neighborhoods as Misty Waters, Reflection Point and Forest Bay.
The next possible target is The Palisades, a 1,500-acre, master-planned community by Rhein/Medall Communities in southwestern Mecklenburg County.
McSpadden says he could chase work throughout Mecklenburg County but is content to hone his skills along Lake Wylie. With his company’s recent doubling of size, he’s getting used to the bigger production before considering any more moves up. Future growth will have to wait until his sons have left for college.
While contemplating the future, he’s building a new home for his family, which will be its last, he says.
“We don’t like to build and sell. We like roots.”
While McSpadden has built at least one home priced higher that the $2.5 million entry in this year’s HomeArama, he considers the house his company’s coming-out party.
“This was our debut, our Cinderella entrance into the Charlotte market,” he says. “We could either have a beautiful gown or be one of the others.” With his architectural training, McSpadden jumped into the design, studying Wright and finding ways to introduce the style of the master designer to Charlotte’s luxury market.
While many luxury homes incorporate the Old World style with soaring ceilings and heavy timbers, McSpadden created a more horizontal, Prairie-style house with an emphasis on intimate rooms. He brought a handful of design concepts to veteran home designer Christopher Phelps and Associates to help bring it to life.
The house includes many long, horizontal lines and plenty of surprises around each corner. The most notable is a downstairs terrace where the homeowner can soak in a hot tub under a waterfall with a fireplace nearby.
An upstairs conservatory features glass on three sides and the ceiling, taking advantage of the lot’s canopy of mature trees.
“It was conceived as the ultimate screened porch,” he says.
The master bath includes a curved stone wall in the shower that extends outside; a glass wall minimizes the distinction between the interior and the outdoors.
“You see that in Florida architecture,” says McSpadden. “I wanted to exploit it to a degree never done before. You feel like you’re outside taking a shower.”
McSpadden Development took six of 10 gold awards in HomeArama, including the top honors for best overall home, outdoor living, interior design, floor plan, masters suite and media room.
“The home is very much of the earth,” he says. “The design is more sensitive to the setting than a castle. It’s a quiet, tasteful statement.”
Says Simonini of his former project supervisor’s entry. “His house was certainly the coolest. Doug McSpadden is not afraid to be bold. It was a fantasy house that you don’t see around here.”