Perhaps it began when his parents gave him an erector set as a kid.
"I've always had a fascination with building things," said Gary DeRose. "I'd turn a wagon into a cart and I'd turn that into a go-cart."People now can admire larger creations by DeRose through his company, Apache Builders, which specializes in spacious homes with vaulted ceilings, tall archways, beveled glass doors and a variety of details that set these homes apart.
"I want to do it differently than everyone else and I want to do it better," said DeRose. "Attention to detail is our motto."
A former Utah County resident, DeRose had completed a stint in the Navy in Vietnam and was working as a plumber to support his young family while finishing a degree in economics and marketing at Weber State University.
As a plumber, he saw the same mistakes and the same unimaginative designs in home after home.
"I thought, `I can do it better than that,' so I got my license," DeRose said. His wife Susan supported this abrupt career change, and the small, family run Apache Builders evolved from one or two houses built on speculation to a thriving business.
DeRose recently commissioned a glossy 30-page brochure featuring his houses that was printed in time for this year's building season.
Although he does a variety of styles and tries to make each home different, his houses contain distinctive DeRose trademarks - high ceilings, fancy foyers and beveled glass doors are among them. "I believe the front door on a home says everything. It's your first impression," he said. "I cut no costs there. People walk up and go `Wow!' "
He'll also take a relatively inexpensive material, such as drywall, and use it to create a multi-level framework for gas fireplaces or a soaring, Spanish-style arched doorway.
DeRose also enjoys working with glass block for circular showers and to bring natural light into walk-in closets. With back lighting, glass block can be surprisingly dramatic. He also favors lots of windows.
Walking into an Apache Builders home gives an immediate sense of spaciousness and light.
DeRose insists he won't build the same thing over and over.
"If I buy a stock plan, I completely change the floor plan and put in several changes that are different than any other home in a subdivision," he said. "We try to break up that subdivision cookie cutter look. Builders get in a rut, go with proven winners and keep duplicating them.
"I start with something unique, but I'll rebuild it only in a different subdivision - and even then, I'll change it," he said. "We'll change the elevation and we'll continue to change the floor plan, so each time we build it, it's different."
Other DeRose touches include built-in closet organizers, pre-hung closet doors that won't get out of adjustment, built-in ironing boards, central vacuums, maintenance-free exteriors, and concrete designs stamped around the perimeter of the driveway that look like decorative tiles.
Prices range from $150,000 to $450,000. DeRose said he puts the same quality materials and uses the same top-notch subcontractors for the less expensive homes. That, he suggests, is one reason why he has had to do very little advertising. Most of his business comes from word of mouth recommendations and repeat buyers.
He's had home owners who liked the houses he constructed for them in the first phase of a subdivision so much that they came back later, when the subdivision's fifth phase was under way, and moved up to a more expensive Apache Builders house.
"You can't fool people after they've owned one home, so why not put quality into it in the first place?" he said.
DeRose said he also eliminates the "gray areas" in contracts so buyers know exactly what they're getting and he takes pride in making deadlines.
"I do things the old way - honestly, delivering on time what you've promised people, getting the best materials and subcontractors, and the latest technology. You put that all together and ou've got the product," DeRose said. "I'm not knocking anybody else's game plan. That's just my game plan."
Although it is busy, Apache Builders is still relatively small and still family run. DeRose's daughters all are involved: Amanda does site cleanup, Jennifer does office work and Camie also helps with paperwork, while Susan (described by her husband as "a fantastic cook") offers useful advice on kitchens, colors and finishing touches.
Frank Lavery serves as full-time job superintendent, and DeRose has long had a good working relationship with Realtor Gale Frandsen of Prudential Prestige Real Estate.
DeRose traditionally has built in Sandy, Draper and Riverton, where he lives, because he knows the areas well. Lately, he's been thinking about getting into development because then he could control the quality and variety of houses in an entire subdivision. Additionally, good land is getting snatched up quickly so he thinks he'd better get ahead of the game.
"I'm doing it not because I want to develop, but out of necessity. I have no other place I can find quality lots," he said.
But, he adds, "I'll still be the builder on all of them."