Former educators honored as home builders
 "We've always kind of said our form of art is a new home," said Mr. Storrs, who, with his wife, Jane, owns and operates the Bridgewater-based custom and spec home building company Phoenix Custom Builders. They engage in painstaking planning and design processes, take great care with every detail and never stamp a project "finished" until the buyer is satisfied, even if that means periodically returning to "touch up" things well after the close of a deal.

It is no wonder, then, that the quality and fine craftsmanship of their finished products, and their longstanding reputation as respected members of the homebuilding industry, helped Mr. Storrs and Phoenix Custom Builders win the prestigious honor of being named the 2007 Northwestern Connecticut Home Builder of the Year by the Home Builders Association of Connecticut. The trade organization with more than 1,300 member firms across the state annually selects one builder from each of five regions in the state as an award recipient.

Before joining the home building industry, Mr. Storrs was a physical education teacher in the Brookfield school system. It was there that he met his future wife, who was a fourth grade teacher at the elementary school. But after 10 years of working as an educator, Mr. Storrs began to get restless. "As a profession, I enjoyed teaching and I felt I had a significant impact on the kids, but I just wanted to do more with my life," he recalled.

Exploring his career options, Mr. Storrs decided to take an aptitude test to determine which field he might be best suited for. The test indicated Mr. Storrs would be skilled in the real estate field. "That was something I had never thought of before," he said.

Interested in the area of new construction, Mr. Storrs went into real estate, specializing in new homes. "Some real estate agents excel in lake properties, some condos. Well, I chose new construction as my schtick," he said. The experience taught him a lot about home building, which was advantageous when he eventually started his own building company. "I learned what to do, what not to do, what people wanted, what they liked. It has helped us a lot."

After focusing exclusively on a real estate career for a number of years, Mr. Storrs decided to give professional home building a try. It was a natural progression. Not only did he work his way through college with a construction job, but he and Mrs. Storrs had built their own home in Bridgewater. In fact, the couple and their home was featured in the April 7, 1974 edition of The Hartford Courant under a special section on Connecticut homes.

Mr. Storrs started his home building endeavors slowly, deciding to build just one home a year while still working as a real estate agent on the side. When he and Mrs. Storrs, who had also left teaching to join the emerging company, had just a few new homes under their belt, their product was impressive and the demand for their services grew. One thing led to another, and eventually their company, Phoenix Custom Builders, took off.

The firm's homes are built on a foundation of quality, ingenuity and style. Using their newly built spec home on Bridgewater's Blueberry Hill Road as a backdrop, the couple described their approach to home building.
They work with a select group of well-respected suppliers and subcontractors, many of whom have worked with the couple for decades. "It's all about relationships," said Mrs. Storrs. "Our relationship with our subcontractors, our subcontractors' relationships with our clients and, in turn, our relationship with our clients."

Because of the multitude of contractors who work on a home, and the innumerable components that go into it, the couple notes, no matter who a homeowner buys from, there will naturally be a finishing touch needed here and there. Mr. and Mrs. Storrs will follow up with their homes as long as it takes, until the buyer is 100 percent satisfied.

The quality of materials is also a top priority for the builders. They also focus on long-term homeowner convenience, aiming to make each of their homes as maintenance-free as possible. For example, they use vinyl siding, synthetic decking, windows that never need painting and so on. "Think about it," Mrs. Storrs said. "Nowadays, two people are working, they have children to take to Girl Scouts, dance lessons, Little League-people don't have the time to invest [in home maintenance], nor do they want to."

Along the same line, the couple also builds their homes with functional convenience in mind. For example, the two-car garage at the Blueberry Hill Road property doesn't utilize lolly columns, or as Mrs. Storrs puts in laymen's terms, "You know those annoying things in the middle of the garage you always bang your door against." It's the attention and care to the small details like that, the things "you might not notice unless you live here," which help set the builders apart. Of course, style is also at the top of the list. The couple isn't interested in building cookie-cutter homes and say they have never built the same design twice. "It's our art form, that's probably why we never build the same thing over and over again," Mrs. Storrs said. Their unique homes blend modern convenience with old New England charm, and they strive to ensure that each home they build fits in appropriately with the rural character of the neighborhoods they build within.

Although they are a well-known firm in Northwestern Connecticut, the couple still maintains their original goal of being a small, family-centered business. In fact, they only build around four homes a year. "First of all, we like to keep our thumb on everything," Mr. Storrs explained, noting their small-scale approach means every project and every client gets the utmost attention. His wife pointed out, "The bottom line, which becomes more and more true [is] the only person you can really rely on is yourself. You can have great subcontractors, great suppliers, reasonable customers, but the bottom line is the buck stops with Dan and myself."

Mr. Storrs added, "And second, we like to do things as a couple. For example, when the kids were in school, we were always highly involved with that. We never wanted to get to the point where [the company] was so big our lives revolved around it."

Their small-company status also allows them to develop good relationships with their clients, which, they say, is their favorite aspect of the building industry. "I think one of the most rewarding parts of this business is our relationships with our customers, both during and after," Mrs. Storrs said. "We value those relationships long after a house closes."
For more information on Phoenix Custom Builders, call 860-355-8029, 203-770-0711, or visit the Web site