How Patricia and Ron Strimpfel built a 45-year legacy – and one of the most successful custom home-building companies in the Lowcountry
By Hannah Massen
A rustic, curving staircase. An outdoor kitchen overlooking the marina at sunset as idyllic sailboats drift by. High, arched windows flooding the reclaimed wood floors with natural light. As the owners and founders of Reclamation By Design, a custom home-building company based in Bluffton, the couple has helped over 400 families across the Lowcountry realize the vision for their dream homes.
The Strimpfels first visited Hilton Head Island in April 1978. The two had just started their own construction company in Norwalk, Ohio, the previous year but were eager to see the new Hilton Head developments in person they had heard about from friends who were also builders.
They never expected to move to South Carolina, but they were drawn to the Lowcountry for many of the same reasons their clients are: the area’s timeless ambiance, relaxed atmosphere and pristine landscapes.
“Leaving a cold, wet, wintry Ohio in early April and arriving at what we thought was close to heaven – with 80-degree weather, breezes, azaleas blooming and the beautiful beach in Palmetto Dunes – was enough to convince us this was the place we needed to be,” Strimpfel said.
The couple bought a lot in what is now Leamington for $13,000 and got to work on building homes. They told their families up North that if they ever ran out of work in the Lowcountry, they would move home, but Strimpfel says it didn’t take her and her husband long to realize that the Lowcountry was their home now. And 45 years later, the couple is still here and busier than ever.
As one of the oldest homebuilding companies in the area, the Strimpfels have been instrumental in meeting the Lowcountry’s changing housing needs. They mostly built smaller homes in the ‘70s and ‘80s – 1,800 to 2,200 square feet – for couples looking for a fresh start on Hilton Head Island. But with each passing decade, their build sizes grew, until the couple was constructing 4,000- to 5,000-square-foot homes.
Reclamation By Design’s website promises a homebuilding experience with “greater ease and affordability,” as well as unmatched attention to detail, which are promises that the Strimpfels hold themselves to. They take on six to eight homes per year to work one-on-one with clients on building their custom homes.
In 2003 Joni and Rick Vanderslice hired Reclamation By Design to build a home for them in Spanish Wells. Joni, an interior designer, wanted to use reclaimed wood from her grandparents’ barn as the second-story flooring and decorated it around the original colors of the wood.
“It was a masterpiece when it was finished – the best of all was the emotional connection to her family’s legacy and history,” Strimpfel said. “Think of all the generations that have experienced that wood in one form or another. That’s something new materials just can’t accomplish.”
The Strimpfels have now spent decades sourcing reclaimed building materials known for their strength, sustainability and character, to combine with modern amenities in every home they build. Strimpfel says she and her husband work best as a team with an architect, builder and interior designer, but they do work closely with their clients to design each home’s interior finishes. They ask clients to put together a series of photos of trim, beams, ceilings, fireplaces, wall treatments, shelving, niches or barn doors to use as inspiration, and the Strimpfels work out a design theme from there.
The couple’s process and attention to detail have earned Reclamation By Design over 125 Lighthouse Awards, given by the Hilton Head Area Home Builders Association in recognition of quality craftsmanship, and three of the South Carolina Home Builders Association’s esteemed Pinnacle Awards, including the “Best New Home” Pinnacle Award in 2022.
While the times and trends have changed, the Strimpfels still look back on the homes they built 20, 30 and 40 years ago with pride, crediting their success to their lasting passion for what they do. But owning a business hasn’t always been without its challenges. Strimpfel says the area has a real lack of master tradesmen, so as master craftspeople themselves, she and her husband decided to do as much work as they could themselves early on.
After over 40 years of home building, they hope to pass their business – and their legacy – on to their children, some of whom already work for Reclamation By Design.
“We are fortunate that all of our kids and grandchildren are here with us, and many are working with us,” Strimpfel said. “We didn’t have the luxury of having family or even a mentor here when we first started. We had to learn the hard way by trial and error. And not to say our kids won’t do the same thing, but at least they have us as sounding boards and advisers (not to mention undoubtedly free labor).”
Strimpfel feels that the friendships they have made with their clients and other local members of the building industry have made working a joy, not drudgery, for her and her husband.
“We try to approach each new project as though it’s unique and personal, just like the individuals we build for,” Strimpfel said. “We want every home to be different and have its own special features. It’s as though we are artists creating new masterpieces, each with our personal signature.”
5 key takeaways for starting a homebuilding company
1. Work as an apprentice for a framer, mason, electrician, and interior trim carpenter or cabinet maker during your teenage and college years. Learn as much as you can in all aspects so you not only understand but can do the work yourself if it comes to that.
2. Figure out what your personal strengths are and then find people to pick up the slack where you are weak. You need a well-rounded team to be able to survive as a custom home builder.
3. Network. Join the local HBA or join a networking group like BNI – get out and meet new subcontractors and suppliers. You’re going to need a large arsenal of subs to complete projects on time.
4. Never stop learning about new building techniques and products. Go to state and national trade shows and find out the latest innovations in building, attend seminars, listen to podcasts – keep educating yourself.
5. Learn to adapt. You’re challenged during good times when there’s more work than you can handle, and you’re challenged during recessions when you’re competing with 100 other builders for the same job. You have to differentiate yourself from the rest – promote what makes you different, and have a plan for how to survive in both situations.