Builder follows passion early

Silicon Valley Business Journal – by Becky Bergman

Mark De Mattei was only a few credits shy of completing a business degree at San Jose University when he dropped out in 1985 to start his own construction company. Although rapid expansion throughout the high-tech industry fueled commercial development and building upgrades in the valley during the 1980s, launching De Mattei Construction Inc. was a risky undertaking. He was a 20-something who still lived at home, had no capital, little experience and an unknown reputation.

But he had a passion for the construction industry that had evolved since his teen years when he helped a neighbor gut and remodel his home. “I thought I could combine my business education with my love for construction, but I was terribly bored at school and I wanted to get out and start working hands-on immediately,” says De Mattei.

“I didn’t have any fear when I left school. Maybe it was a good thing I didn’t realize the enormity of what I was doing because I might not have followed through.”

Although he broke into the business by taking on a structural retrofit in downtown San Jose, De Mattei marketed himself as a custom homebuilder from the get-go. He says he never had any interest in mass producing homes or constructing neighborhoods. Without looking back, De Mattei spent the next two decades building a multi-million dollar custom homebuilding company.

While De Mattei does an occasional commercial job, he focuses primarily on custom residential remodels and homebuilding jobs throughout Silicon Valley. Project sizes typically range from 3,000 square feet to more than 7,000 square feet with costs averaging in the ballpark of $300 to $600 per square foot.

And this year, even as the roof caves in on the lending industry and subprime mortgages take a hit, De Mattei Construction is in the middle of a record year for the company with more than 70 projects in the pipeline poised to generate $50 million in revenues, up from s$41 million in 2006, he said.

De Mattei has built or remodeled more than 1,000 homes in the Silicon Valley region.

One fan is Sunset Magazine, which first tapped the builder in 2002 to participate in the prestigious Idea House project themed “Diary of a Remodel.” De Mattei spent one year remodeling a 63-year-old, one-story bungalow in Willow Glen. He transformed the 1,200-square-foot, three-bedroom, one-bath house into a two-story, 3,400-square-foot, four-bedroom, three-bath Monterey-revival-style stucco home with an adobe exterior, balconies and Mission-tile roof.

Sunset Magazine called on De Mattei two more times: for its two side-by-side homes in Los Gatos in 2003 and last year for the 6,500-square-foot House of Innovation in Alamo, a joint venture with Popular Science Magazine.

De Mattei, the youngest of three children, grew up on his grandparent’s 21st Street farm in San Jose, where his old-style Italian upbringing — and his rancher father and homemaker mother — taught him the value of hard work and family commitment. His brother Gary is a theatrical producer and his sister Debra Figone is San Jose’s new city manager.

From his front-room office on The Alameda, the athletically-built De Mattei reflects on his humble beginnings in the industry, his ascent as a well-known Rose Garden and Willow Glen area builder and the first big job that transformed him from a wanna-be to a must-have. A structural retrofit job on D.B. Cooper’s, a popular nightclub on Santa Clara Street, proved to be the big break De Mattei needed.

“I told myself when that happened to just go after it and make it work,” says De Mattei. “I’ve always believed if you listen and learn and work hard, the rest falls into place.”

The nightclub owner gave De Mattei enough cash upfront to enable him to hire five subcontractors for the job. He used the remainder of the fees he earned to lease office space in the 1907 Craftsman-style home the company currently occupies.

Since De Mattei purchased the house in 1999, he has incorporated his fondness for old world architecture and exceptional furnishings into his office surroundings, including a rare, custom-made Lacewood desk, a light fixture of 40 blown glass flowers by artist Dale Chihuly and a collection of LeRoy Neiman prints.