Stephen Howell

Howell Custom Building Group, Co-Founder

Did you always know you were going to be renovating and building homes for a living?

Actually, no. During the summers in college, I worked on construction crews, but I was an electrical engineer at Hewlett-Packard for 12 years. My wife, Sue, and I decided to build our own house in Boxford, and I remember a neighbor asking if I ever thought about it as a profession. I told him I loved it too much for that — then I realized how backward that sounded!

In a sea of construction companies, how do you distinguish yourself?

Among other things, our culture. It really is a family affair. Sue and I own the business, and my brother is a project manager. Our employees include a father/son/son-in-law and a husband/wife team. We develop close relationships with our clients: Once someone hires us, we want them to feel comfortable bringing us back for their next project, and almost two-thirds of our customers have.

Can you discuss some of the work you've done for Habitat for Humanity?

Habitat has a national initiative called Home Builders' Blitz where they ask building professionals to donate their services to build homes from start to finish in five days. This year we led the Home Builders Blitz for Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity and built a duplex in Lawrence. We put together a team of six builders — including some of our competitors — and spent eight months recruiting vendors to donate labor and materials. These companies aren't all necessarily seeing great times, but they still pitched in.

What was it like to see the finished project?

It was a life-changing experience. There were approximately 300 organizations and individuals involved. The two recipient families were there the whole time, serving food and doing their part to help out. We really got to know them, and it was so amazing to see their happy faces at the end. It's great to think that we helped give some families a fresh start.

Favorite restaurant in Boston

One of my favorites out in Lawrence is Inaka, where they know us by name. The New England maki is incredible.

Favorite neighborhood in Boston

The North End. We were down there the other night, and found ourselves in the middle of a big Fisherman's Feast going on. It's a great, diverse place, and we love Italian food.

Favorite spot outside of Boston proper

We love Newburyport on the waterfront. We go to Plum Island Beach to ride bikes and do our holiday shopping. It's like an outdoor mall full of unique stores with interesting gifts. They decorate the whole downtown, and it's really a festive atmosphere.

For more information about Stephen Howell and Howell Custom Building Group, please visit http://www.howellcustombuild.com/