Grand Eras Renewed
In business for himself since 1990, and proud to be a part of Williamston’s downtown for the past five years, Eyke graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in construction management in the mid-1970s, then cut his teeth in management out East working for several different large construction firms, including Pulte Homes. But owning his own business had been a long-term goal, so Eyke returned home, and “put on my tool belt.”
Having watched the trades for 15 years, he knew how things went together, but had to start at rock bottom with his fledgling company, “because you don’t just show up and say ‘I’m a builder.’” He started by building decks, and that grew into basement refinishing, then additions, then more employees. All the while, Eyke was designing everything he worked on “down to the nth degree.”
Having come to appreciate historic architecture on the East Coast, Eyke began target marketing older subdivisions in East Lansing of the 1920s, ‘30s and ’40s housing stock. What happened next? “I got one job there, and I never quit,” he said. As he developed a reputation for “blending additions seamlessly,” it fueled a desire “to build new homes in architectural styles of an older era,” commonly referred to as an old-new house or a period reproduction.
While you can’t just plunk down a Tudor-style house in a newer subdivision – “it will look foreign,” in older subdivisions “you can have a colonial revival next to a Tudor, next to a Prairie Style, next to an Arts and Craft, next to a Cape Code, and because of the flavor of it, the pattern, the quilt work if you will,” it all fits together, he explained.
Lafollette will design your floor plan, elevations, help you with your kitchen cabinets, doors, finish, door treatment, hardware, and light fixtures. A dedicated student of old architectural styles, Eyke said that if someone is doing a kitchen remodel of a 1930s Tudor, “I’ll research it, and come back to them with some suggestions. And with all that research comes knowledge.” In fact, he opened his main street Williamston showroom to help educate people on different kinds of styles that are available.
In the showroom, LaFollette also sells two lines of manufactured cabinets, Showplace Wood Products Cabinets, and Plain and Fancy Custom Cabinets. They also have a 3,000-square-foot custom wood shop, where they manufacture custom cabinets, architectural elements and pieces. They can match doors and windows that are no longer manufactured.
With four carpenters that work directly for him, Eyke said he’s “not a cell phone builder. I’m a hands-on builder. When I’m out there building, I’m telling my people how I want it done. How to do the joinery, the application…the correct installation procedures.” Eyke said that growing too big is “a huge issue,” because he needs to be involved with every job, and if the company gets much bigger, he won’t be able to maintain his three-times-a-week visits per jobsite. While he’s worked as far away as Grand Haven, he said LaFollette doesn’t go looking out of its market for work, and are busy enough in the Lansing area that they don’t have to. In fact, business has been steady for the last five years, with some customers waiting up to nine months for LaFollette’s expertise.
“Typically, our bread and butter job is a remodel that’s about $150,000-$200,000.” They build new homes about once a year, but “we’re not out there building 10, 20, 30 homes in a subdivision. If you have an older home that has special needs, and requires my special talents, then I’ll go in and help with the remodel, be it an addition, renovation, or a gourmet kitchen.”
“We believe in building green,” Eykes continued. “Everyone’s concerned about the environment – so are we. But we believe that the best way to build green is to build to last. It doesn’t matter what products you put in if you, or the next owner, end up tearing it out because it doesn’t fit. The best way to do it is to build something that meets the flavor of the house [so that] the next person who… buys the property sees the complete package and the nature of the house.”
Asked whether he does much commercial building, Eyke answered, “If a restaurant came to me and said, ‘I want an 1890s period Victorian bar,’ I’d be able to build it. But what you find… is that there’s usually a separation between commercial and residential. Some people float back and forth, but there’s usually a separation. [Our business is] referral, but commercial jobs go through a clearinghouse.”
Eyke also consults for people building their own house, but when it comes to remodeling, that’s not a job most people want to take on, or even should take on. “You need to have the experience of getting in and getting dirty with these old structures, and the pitfalls you may have,” he said.
What about certifications? He is, of course, a licensed builder, but “the road of hard knocks is my certification,” he said with a wry smile. “There are a lot of certifications out there that you can get through associations. But with my experience, I’m way beyond that. For a new person in the business, they can spend two years doing kitchen and bath designs, and then they’re ready to write their certification. Does that mean they have as much as experience as someone who has 15 or 16 years, and is a skilled carpenter? No.”
So while he may not have a framed piece of parchment deeming him certified, what he does have is a terrific track record of crafting new homes, beautifully remodeling and adding on to older ones, and satisfying customers.
Now that’s something to build on.
LaFollette Custom Homes
145 W. Grand River Ave.