By JOHN T. WARD
Mike Villane, owner of Lead Dog Custom Homes, recently completed a gut-job renovation of 219 East Bergen Place, where his young business is now headquartered.
Villane said official records indicate the house was built in 1915, when the street out front was known as Beech Street. But in renovating the house, he came across the date 1874 written in plaster in the attic, and believes that may indicate its actual construction date.
Villane’s business is only years old, but he spent 20 years working for Red Bank-based homebuilding giant Hovnanian Enterprises, rising from a customer service post to area president before he was “downsized out,” he said. He found that that “there were no jobs at the level I was at,” he said, so in 2009, he started his own company, in spite of the fact that the housing economy was on the skids.
“I wasn’t really willing to work for someone else,” he said.
Villane, now 51, started the company on his dining room table at home in Little Silver, naming the business after the person a group of running buddies would call that day’s pacesetter.
His approach to making the business work was to never say no to a job, whether it was a bathroom re-do or an 8,000-square-foot new home.
“There’s not much we would turn down,” Villane said.
Two years ago, Lead Dog had grown enough to move into an office above Bluestone Antiques on River Road in Fair Haven.
When the business outgrew that space, Villane considered buying the Allegra mansion at East Bergen Place and Broad Street, but found it had more office space than he wanted. That building is now nearing completion of a renovation by new owner Wayne Greenleaf.
The new place, acquired last November, cost Villane’s company $365,000, or little more than half the $660,000 the seller paid at or near the market peak in 2006, according to Monmouth County property records. But Villane said he’s sunk more than the purchase price into the restoration.
The restoration mixes the old and new. The exterior siding is traditional clapboard in style, but made of durable Hardyboard, a cement composite said to last decades. The rain gutters and spouts are copper.
Inside, wide-plank pine floors again gleam, as do oversized wood doors that are said to have been recovered from a New York City hotel years ago. A leaded-glass wall cupboard was restored. A large American flag waves next to an oversized front door of heavy wood.
“I have more money in this than it’s worth” on the market, Villane said of the building, but doesn’t mind, because he’s planning on staying for a long time. And while he’s got more space than he and his three employees need, he’s planning to fill them by growing the business.
“It would be a shame to tear down a building like this,” said Villane. “It’s part of history. And now, structurally, it’s better than if I’d built if from scratch.”