Cover Story: Brick by Brick

Lindsay Cullum-Colwell remembers riding in her father’s truck as a little girl. Her dad, Rod, would take her and her brother, Brad, out on Saturday mornings so their mom could have some quiet time alone. Together, they’d visit job sites for projects he was building for his company, Cullum Homes. “He kept big rolls of plans on the dashboard. If he made a hard turn, they’d come down in the passenger seat,” Lindsay said with a laugh.

It has been a family affair for the company ever since Rod founded it with his wife, Kim. A magnetic pair, the two met on a college ski trip when Kim, an ASU student, met Rod, who then attended Scottsdale Community College. They married after they had both graduated from ASU.

A short time later, Rod discovered that he had a special skill. He was working with builders on marketing and realized that he could visualize and communicate what would work best on the land — where to place a garage or how to site an owner’s suite. “I just had a knack for that. I had an ability to verbalize it to people,” Rod said.

This talent came in handy when he was working as a real estate agent, describing what he would do with a particular lot. The client asked, “Why don’t you just build it for me?”

So Rod partnered with a builder and did precisely that, which led to the creation of Cullum Homes in 1985.

At first, the company was very small. Rod and Kim quit their old jobs and worked out of their home in McCormick Ranch for seven years. “We had no overhead and really no expenses and no employees,” Kim said. “It was just Rod and me.”

Today, Cullum Homes is an integrated design and construction firm specializing in luxury custom homes, architecture, interior design, renovations and home concierge. Their home builds are in some of the toniest neighborhoods in Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Desert Mountain, Phoenix and Carefree.

“Traditionally, the builder is in the middle of the architect and the designer,” said Rod. “But I said, ‘I’m done with the traditional way of building homes.’” Instead, Cullum Homes does everything from home site selection to home design, so they can supervise every stage of homebuilding and ensure it is done “the Cullum way.”

“You have one contract with us,” Rod said. “We think it’s the best way to get the best value for the client. Our niche is about the finest homebuilding experience and about the performance, quality, service and experience of the house.”

It’s a mindset Lindsay learned from the start. She was born a few months after Rod and Kim started Cullum Homes and has fond memories of growing up with the company. “One time, my brother and I started a Bobcat with one of my bobby pins and drove it around a job site. We got stuck trying to climb a pile of trusses,” she laughed.

Although building was in her blood, when it came time for college, Lindsay went to Vanderbilt University to study medicine. “I wanted to be a doctor, but when I got away to college, I discovered that I missed the interaction with what we did in the family business,” she said. So she decided to study economics as an undergrad, then come back to ASU for a master’s in architecture.

It seems Rod’s special skill was inherited. “It just kind of rubbed off on Lindsay,” he said. “She has that magical way of explaining how to best use the lot and make the most functional house.”

Lindsay describes her journey. “The love of designing homes and the ability to see spaces is something I always had. But to me, it was a hobby,” she said.

Eventually, she saw it as her calling and came on board  the family business full-time.

Her husband, Paul Colwell, later joined her. The two met at Vanderbilt and spent the early part of their marriage moving from city to city with Paul’s military career. “When he was away on mission or training exercises for the Navy, I’d fly out here and be able to work and visit job sites,” Lindsay said. The couple decided Paul would stick with the Navy as long as it made sense. Post-Navy, their first choice would be to come to Arizona.

“The Navy was always something that I enjoyed,” Paul said. “But my last appointment was when we had kids, and it was different to leave and come back six months later.”

So, after a 10-year career in the Navy and a corporate stint at Honeywell Aerospace, Paul joined the team at Cullum Homes and became an integral part of the business’s day-to-day operations. A former nuclear submarine officer, he ensures checklists are followed and tries to mitigate challenges so any mistakes don’t happen twice. He is essentially applying the discipline he learned in the Navy to the chaos of construction.

Paul appreciates the challenge, and the perks it provides. “It’s been exciting to go from where Lindsay and I would not be able to communicate for months at a time to now, where we sometimes carpool to work,” he said.

With Lindsay at the helm as managing principal and Paul serving as director of business process, they are now the second generation in charge of Cullum Homes. Rod and Kim have taken a step back and now serve as founders and mentors.

“I want to make sure the mentality of Cullum Homes is that things are done exactly as they should be — durable, sustainable and the best value we can deliver to clients. To do that, you need lots of sous chefs, but one head chef. And that chef needs to be Lindsay. Lindsay has replaced me in that role,” Rod said.

Cullum Homes has grown since its early days at McCormick Ranch and today employs 87 people. Lindsay feels a responsibility to each one. “The finest homebuilding experience is not only for our homeowners, but for our team and trade partners, for everyone that touches the project,” she said. “It’s a matter of doing the right thing by all those groups, and living to that standard.”

Through their work as an integrated design-build company, they get to know their clients and understand how they live in a house. “Home is the backdrop for where life happens,” Lindsay said. “Do the homeowners like to cook Christmas dinner for 30 grandchildren, but most of the time, it’s just two people? The homes we do are showpieces in and of themselves, but they really shine because they support those family traditions.”

Traditions are important to the Cullum family. “When our kids were growing up, my parents and Rod’s parents were 2 miles in either direction. So, we have always had an extended family of children, parents, grandchildren, cousins, aunts and uncles close to us. That’s important to me,” Kim said.

Earlier this year, the Cullum Homes team constructed a house for Habitat for Humanity

Also important is giving back to the community they’ve built their business in. Lindsay recalls volunteering for National Charity League with her mom as a girl. “It’s just what we did. It’s always been a part of the family,” she said.

The Cullums have brought their philanthropy to the company as well. They’ve been involved with Habitat for Humanity for many years and recently dedicated the first Cullum Homes-sponsored Habitat house.

“We were part of the construction team,” Kim said. “That offered us the opportunity to have many shifts for our team members. It’s optional, but many of them chose to do that. The homeowner was there too, which was great. She’s a single mom with two teenagers and we’ve gotten to know them really well.”

Once a quarter, the Cullum Homes team volunteers at Feed My Starving Children. “It’s fun and competitive,” Paul said. “We take our kids, and it’s good to see them enjoying it too.”

With holidays approaching, the family is making a punch list of plans. Each year, Kim and Rod host a Christmas Eve soup supper. Paul’s parents usually come in from Texas, and everyone enjoys a late afternoon family get-together before heading off to church, to visit in-laws or to other holiday plans.

The family also tries to take in some type of artistic production for the season. It will be “Elf” at the Phoenix Theatre Company this year. “Phoenix Theatre is near and dear to us,” Kim said. “Lindsay and I just co-chaired their gala, which is their big annual fundraising event.”

Somewhere in the season, too, the family tries to sneak in a shift at Feed My Starving Children. “They welcome children age 5 and up. It’s a great introduction to charitable work for a really young child,” Kim said.

And in a nod to Rod and Kim’s meet-cute beginnings, they make time for a trip to snow country each winter. “We have been going as a family to Park City since my parents started about 30 years ago,” Kim said. “Our grandkids are now learning how to ski, and they are quite good.”

At this stage of life, Rod and Kim do a lot of honoring tradition while looking to the future. “It’s been a very long journey for us — 38 years,” Kim said. “We’ve seen Arizona grow and change and are proud to employ a lot of people. We always wanted to stay here, raise our family here, and now Paul and Lindsay are raising their kids here.”

So, has the family’s special skill passed to a third generation of builders? It’s too soon to tell, but Brendan, 7, seems to have inherited his father’s process-type personality, while Annaleigh, 8, is more creative. “She likes to debate and push the limits,” Paul said.

Together, they enjoy building with bricks during their off-time — as a family, they’re really into Legos. They just finished a Cat D11 bulldozer, and they’ve built the Home Alone house, Disney Castle and massive Hogwarts Castle.

These days, it is Paul and Lindsay who haul their kids to jobs, just as Rod carted Lindsay in his truck when she a child.          

“They both enjoy going to job sites,” Paul said. “Even yesterday, we had to stop at some sites on the way to work. We carpooled and our kids got to go with us. They were anxious to get out and see what was going on.”

About Karen Werner

Karen Werner is the editor of Frontdoors Media. She is a writer, editor and media consultant. She has interned at The New Yorker, worked at Parents Magazine, edited five books and founded several local magazines. Her work has appeared in Sunset, Mental Floss and the Saturday Evening Post.
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