A Realtor and a Custom Home Builder Create Their Forever Home

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Realtor Emilee Collins and custom home builder Chad Collins found the perfect plot of land to design and build their family’s new home

By Morgan Cartier Weston|Photography by John Michael Simpson

Emilee Collins, a commercial and residential real estate agent, and Chad Collins of custom home builder Collins Design-Build often receive calls from others in the industry. One day, someone reached out to Chad about available lots to see if he was interested in building on them. “I said, ‘Well, my wife is a realtor if you need help selling them,” Chad says.

At the time, the couple already had plans to build their next home on a lot in one of Chad’s communities in northern Orange County. “I have always wanted to build my wife a house,” Chad says. The Collins’ dream was a long time in the making, given all the challenging years for their industry, including the 2008 recession and its impact on the housing market.

The owners’ bathroom features a large free-standing tub.

“Emilee went to look at this land, and she called me right away,” Chad explains. “She said, ‘Chad, you’ve got to come out here.’” The couple fell in love with a wooded lot with pond views and decided to change their plans.

Soon, another coincidence solidified their decision: Chad realized their new home would resemble the logo he has used for years, which depicts a single oak tree standing beside a home. “It was like I had envisioned it a long time ago,” Chad says. “We already felt strongly that this was the right place for us, but when we realized we could preserve a large oak tree on the property and build our home around it, we were even more certain.”

Aerial view of the custom home's open floor plan
Natural light is abundant in the main living space, and the home utilizes minimal blinds and window treatment.

Chad and Emilee, who are parents to Liam, 19, Graylon, 15, and Kendall, 11, knew their house would have to meet a range of practical needs. These “musts” ranged from having sufficient space to host gatherings with fellow members of New Sharon United Methodist Church to a soundproof garage space for Graylon to play music with his friends to the spacious scullery with appliance storage for avid baker Emilee.

“When my mother visited for the first time, she said it felt as though we just took all the little things from all the houses we had lived in and incorporated them into one place, and she’s absolutely right,” Chad says. “As you build houses for other people, you learn to understand the differences between fads and trends, and we feel we’ve created something that is both modern and timeless here.”

Emilee wanted lots of natural light, so the couple built the home facing south to maximize sun exposure year-round.

“Everything is built to maximize the pond view [and] the sunsets,” Chad says. “I joked with Emilee that she would need sunglasses.” The home utilizes minimal blinds and window treatments and even has transom windows above bedroom doors so that light continues to flow throughout. A 6-foot-wide door to the covered back patio more than doubles the living space and adds to the open feel.

Out back, the family and their guests can enjoy the peaceful landscape from the porch swing or pool, with screened patios to keep bugs out in summer and heaters and a fireplace to cozy up in the cooler months. Passthrough windows from the kitchen to the outdoor dining area make entertaining easy, too.

Another need was the potential for Chad and Emilee to live in the home long term. “We wanted zero-entry doors and showers, wider doorways, the ability to house a live-in caregiver or aging parent – just the flexibility to support whatever might come our way in life,” Chad says.

The couple is also passionate about meeting high energy standards. “We are proud to have a 55 HERS index rating, Energy Star certification and meet the national green building standard,” Chad says. “That was nonnegotiable for us.”

Chad plays guitar while sitting with Graylon in the custom home's spacious indoor-outdoor living area
Chad and Graylon often hang out or watch football by the fireplace on the back patio.

The couple relied on local experts who they have partnered with over the years to help bring their vision to life. “I have a great team, so I got out of the way and let my trade contractors and partners make a lot of decisions, some of which were based on what was available at the time,” he says.

Planning began in 2020, and the whole process from development to build took a little over two years; the family finally moved into their custom home in July 2022. Although some landscaping and hardscaping projects remain, including a fire pit in the backyard and putting area for Chad, the family could not be happier with the home.

“With any project like this, there is an element of being in the right place and the right time, and we feel lucky to have had that on our side in this process,” Chad says. “I feel blessed to have the opportunity, the skills, the partners, for everything to come together like it did, and no matter what else I do in life, nothing will replace the feeling of seeing my family not even be able to walk through the front door because their jaws were on the floor.”

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Morgan Weston

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