- Deborah DeGraffenreid
Greg and Jan Buhler met through a sportscar racing club and will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary in September. For most of their marriage, she's been a homemaker, and he was a high-powered aviation attorney with a big Manhattan firm. After raising their two daughters on Long Island, they began hunting upstate for property with a Hudson River view, eventually building a 4,200-square-foot custom-designed Lindal on a sloped lot in Garrison.
Jan general-contracted the project. During the happy design collaboration with Atlantic Custom Homes, the Buhlers discovered the couple who owned the Lindal dealership were looking to retire. Then 9/11 happened, the same day the foundation was poured. Greg began to reconsider his two-hour commute. "When the planes hit, I was literally in a 'run-for-my-life' situation, and afterward, time took on new meaning for me," says the attorney. "Also, Jan did such a phenomenal job with our place, frankly it was killing me a little each day to leave."
The retiring owners of Atlantic Custom Homes had bought the dealership in 1983 and built it into one of the top Lindal dealerships in the world. Most clients work in Manhattan and build in the Hudson Valley, but Atlantic's built homes as far away as Lebanon and the Caribbean. The Buhlers bought the dealership in 2006 for an undisclosed sum and have since built 36 homes in four states. They typically have six to eight projects under way in various stages of completion. This year, Atlantic was honored as the top Lindal dealership in North America and the number two in the world.
Founded 65 years ago by Sir Walter Lindal, a Canadian who survived a Dickensian childhood to build the world's biggest maker of prefabricated cedar houses, Lindal's come a long way from its original $195 basic package. There are now thousands of Lindal house plans in computer banks. Most people can find exactly what they want, or a design requiring only minor changes. This saves time and money.
"Our clients come from all walks of life," says Greg. "When we bought the dealership, we anticipated that most of our clients would be baby boomers, but that's not actually what has happened. We're seeing more young professionals lately, because the baby boomers are still having trouble selling their homes and their retirement savings may have taken a large hit if they took anything out before the market's recent recovery."
Buhler says the smallest home Atlantic Custom Homes has "birthed" is 900 square feet, at a cost of about $185 per square foot, but there are plans available for Lindals as small as 700 square feet. The more modern, architect-designed styles, such as the ones commissioned by Dwell magazine, cost about $240 to $280 per square foot, fully finished but not including the cost of land.
"Almost anyone can afford a Lindal," says Greg. "But because the designs are designed to make the most of a view, people typically build them in places like the Hudson Valley, and not so much in suburban Long Island."
How's owning the dealership been for their marriage? "Really good. Greg and I have different skills, and this is such a fun business," says Jan. "Of course, being together all the time was initially quite an adjustment."
"I still do a little legal work," says Greg. "But this really is the life. We do work hard, though; we're constantly hosting open houses and green-building seminars."