Paul Mooney: The Custom Element

Text: R.J. Weick

“You always hear that your home is your biggest investment; it is where you live, where you may raise a family, and, in recent times especially, homes have become the place where so many work or attend school remotely. People take pride in their homes and their personal style, so it works for each unique individual or family’s lifestyle. So, I personally take a lot of pride in what we do and I am proud of the work each and every one of us puts forth in each project,” said Paul Mooney, owner, manager, and founder of PRM Custom Builders in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

“While we have had a lot of clients who are building a home for the first time, many of our clients are building their second or even third home. One of the things that has always resonated with me is that more often than not, they have had a past experience either building or remodeling where they have been very unhappy with the project—whether it was the quality, cost, or time frame—and it’s unfortunate to hear. We strive to do things the right way, in every aspect, and a lot of that starts with communication and just listening to your clients and taking their lifestyles into consideration in every aspect of the home,” Mooney added.

Paul MooneyPRM Custom Builders is a full-service residential building company specializing in new home construction, renovation, and addition work. Founded in 2009, the company embraces a mission to develop and construct high-quality homes through new build and remodel work that will enhance the lives of its clients through both process and final product. It is a company dedicated to the details, leveraging a communication-driven approach to foster strong, working relationships with homeowners, trade professionals, architects, and designers to bring envisioned residential spaces to life.

The company not only provides custom home building from detailed site analysis, design and planning, and cost analysis to material selection and construction management; but also offers residential addition, renovation, and historical restoration services throughout southeastern Michigan communities, such as: Beverly Hills, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Franklin, Grosse Pointe, Royal Oak, Detroit, and Orchard Lake, among others.

“When I am building clients’ homes, whether it is a $500,000 home or $3 million home, I pride myself on being able to have open communication with them about things. It is my job to make sure that they are well-informed throughout the process of the decisions they make, when they need to make them, and how those decisions impact timing and cost—and it’s important to do that in a manner that doesn’t add additional stress to an already stressful process,” Mooney said.

“Construction is a lot of fun, but it can also be very difficult at times. You are juggling a lot of variables that are oftentimes not in your control and throughout the day, curveballs are being thrown at you every hour. You need to maintain a level head and be very organized. It’s important to maintain that level of calmness and organization with clients,” Mooney added.

Mooney, though now a licensed builder and realtor with nearly two decades of experience in the luxury, custom home industry, originally began his academic career at Michigan State University in Lansing, Michigan with a thought to pursue hospitality and the restaurant industry. Recognizing his ability to thrive on the challenge of new projects and working with different people, as well as his interest in implementing creative ideas and having a good mix of office and field work, Mooney soon looked to construction management instead despite noting it was like learning a new language. Upon graduation in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Building Construction Management—and an interest in custom residential—Mooney dove into the field serving as Chief Estimator and Project Manager with John Hummel & Associates Custom Builders in East Hampton, New York.

“I wanted to get into custom residential building, so for me this was an amazing opportunity to be right out of school and to be able to work for a company that was, at the time, expanding. They needed somebody to do their estimating,” Mooney said. “Some of the projects I was putting proposals together for were like $5-, $10-, and $15 million summer vacation homes; just these amazing, beautifully designed homes.”

Honing his knowledge and familiarity with the high-end residential field in the Hamptons for two years formulating detailed construction budgets, proposals, and schedules for homes ranging from 5,000-to-12,000 square feet, Mooney returned to his home state of Michigan where he served as Senior Project Manager with a local custom home builder. Mooney said he welcomed the opportunity to work for the company managing single-family, luxury home projects in Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills.

“When I worked out in New York, I was exposed to a lot of great things. I really learned what high-end construction was all about, really at the ultimate level. It was really just an amazing experience, so in moving back here, I was able to build on that knowledge, but in a different capacity,” Mooney said. “I was managing projects really from the ground-up doing the estimating, the scheduling, and then managing the day-to-day on-site activities with all the tradespeople, suppliers, designers, and working with homeowners.”

It would be a short five years later Mooney would have the opportunity to start his own company. Though it happened to be in the midst of the 2008-2012 economic downturn, and as Mooney noted driving around to construction sites in the fall of 2008 was an eerie feeling, the timing was right to launch PRMCustom Builders and since then has grown organically throughout the years.

Paul Mooney Built House

“I’ve managed to grow the business organically by producing what I feel to be a very, high-quality home whether it is in the $500,000 to $1 million price range, $1 million to $2 million, or $3 million to $4 million. We’ve built at all those price points and the one thing that I’ve been very consistent about is quality is always more important than speed,” Mooney said.

“There are a lot of judgment calls you make as a builder: ‘If this were my home, how would I want to do this?’ That has been important to me and a lot of my clients have told me over the years they don’t always see or understand to some degree when we are building the home, but after they are in it for some time, the little things that I think we do or try to implement, they appreciate, because of the ergonomics. They live it every day,” Mooney added.

With mostly word-of-mouth referrals throughout the last 12 years—and some more recent design competition entries and marketing—PRM Custom Builders has developed a portfolio of homes reflective of diverse architectural vernacular from contemporary and modern farmhouse to craftsman colonial. Theirs is a process that begins with an introductory meeting and a series of conversations to understand client lifestyle and vision, and an in-depth level of engagement throughout the entire design-and-build framework as the team works through plans, sketches, budgets, and selections. Mooney noted while the team often brings in an architect to work with clients, he still approaches the project with a level of responsibility for the overall design of the home his team is building.

“If I have things that can add value and insight to the process, I’m going to say something, because I do come at it from a different vantage point than an architect or a designer does and in a way, my company, we are ultimately facilitating. We are driving everything,” Mooney said. “You want to treat your clients the way you would want to be treated. I find that when clients can trust you and they feel confident in you, you’re more effective at being able to do your job. It is a very personal process and I re- main friends with many of my clients.”

Mooney also noted having an understanding of design style and architectural vernacular is also important from a building standpoint to be able to provide informed ad- vice to clients when it comes to the different products and materials available at different price points. While it is one thing to know how exterior materials will weather and patina in time exposed to the elements, it is another to have an understanding of how the design and the aesthetic correlate with specific indoor and outdoor selections.

“If someone is looking for a modern farmhouse instead of a neoclassic shingle-style and they say we really would like to have some brackets on the house, I would direct them to doing something a little bit more clean-lined, a little bit oversized, possibly, introduce the natural element—the natural wood—and not as polished of a look as paint, because the wood adds character,” Mooney said. “I think it is important for the builder to have an understanding of the different architectural styles, what that means, the different products available to us, and also have an understanding of what the different design styles means in terms of details.”

Paul Mooney Interior

Paul Mooney Interior Kitchen Design

Once the design layout begins to take shape—which is broken down into phases and sequences for the clients in terms of material selections for each room—and is brought to three-dimensional life through rendering software, the team is able to provide clients with an experiential view of the home. Mooney noted the step not only offers the client a chance to give feedback and make textural or layout changes of the home, but also eliminates the time-consuming process of redrawing the plan.

While working with architects, interior designers, cabinet designers, and other creative geniuses in the industry, Mooney said the team strives to provide clients with a cohesive vision and designate a single lead for communication to ensure the design, style, layout, and details are clearly defined.

“If I’m taking what the architect has provided me, but I’ve only received some of the details and I’m left to interpret the rest, I’m going to either execute what I think makes sense or if I’m reaching out to the designer or the homeowner, maybe they are going to have some input, but it’s going to be from a different perspective,” Mooney said. “I think you want

everybody on board and commit to clearly defining every element, every detail, as best you can at that time. The more clearly it is defined on paper, the more efficient it will be executed in the field, and my experience has been you end up with a superior product every time.”

For Mooney, it is ideal to have the high-level of engagement and finalization on paper before the building phase even begins by breaking ground. Knowing where a television is going to placed, whether there are built-ins or coffered ceilings, what the lighting plan will look like, whether the interior color of the windows will be stained or painted, where outlets will be located, and what the optimal furniture layout is, all help to optimize the process. While not often easy to accomplish, Mooney said once the foundation is poured, changes tend to be very costly and slows the process down.

“It is really hard to create a beautiful home if you have poor design, so I think the design is really critical. But honestly, I love the design process. I love when the foundation is getting poured, I love the smell of fresh concrete, and I love when a house is being framed,” Mooney said. “I really enjoy every phase of it. It is really exciting for me.”

To Mooney, design is the sum of all parts where, in terms of a residential build, the architect, designer, and builder have considered every possible facet of the project, have identified all the details and components, and have clearly defined them at a high level. Yet it is the relationships developed among the design-and-build industry and with the homeowner, the communication, and the passion to push creative and fine-detail boundaries that defines both process and final build. For Mooney, there is pride in a clean jobsite, having materials on site on time, and revisit- ing an old project to see how the existing or new homeowner enjoys the experience—and if there is an issue, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if a client lives next door or an hour away, the team will take care of it.

“It is how you react and how you deal with it that is really the difference,” Mooney said.

Original Article: Great Lakes by Design
Photography: Emma Burcusel