Only female homebuilder in Williamsburg learned trade from grandfather

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Beverly Olsen (Brandy Centolanza/WYDaily)
Beverly Olsen (Brandy Centolanza/WYDaily)

While construction and homebuilding is traditionally viewed as a field for men, that doesn’t seem to have any effect on Beverly Olsen, owner of Olsen Fine Homebuilding. She’s been doing it most of her life.

Olsen, the only female homebuilder in Williamsburg, spent her summers growing up in Connecticut helping her grandfather, Anders Arthur Olsen, at construction sites.

He was a master builder who worked on the restoration of the Nathan Hale homestead historical site in Coventry, Conn. Olsen’s grandfather taught her how to install hardwood flooring and interior house trim, layer bricks for chimneys, and other home-building skills and techniques early on.

“He knew almost everything,” said Olsen. “I learned the trade from him. It was very satisfying seeing an end product. It was very gratifying.”

Olsen graduated with a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Connecticut. She worked for IBM in manufacturing and then research and development as a manager for eight years before deciding to branch out and start her own business, Olsen Construction and Engineering.

The company specialized in the building of luxury residential homes as well as nightclubs, restaurants, and other commercial construction throughout Connecticut.

“I’ve never met another woman builder, but it doesn’t phase me,” she said. “I just focus on the job.”

Olsen, her husband, and her two children relocated to Williamsburg in 2002. She built the family’s first home in Ford’s Colony in six months, and started her current business after earning an advanced building license from the state.

The first home she built with Olsen Fine Homebuilding was for a young couple who moved to the area from Northern Virginia.

“They were very meticulous,” she said. “They knew exactly what they wanted, which was helpful to me as a builder. It was a nice project, and a beautiful home on the inside. They referred me to someone else, and I’ve been busy ever since. The business has just flourished.”

Olsen builds three or four houses annually in the larger neighborhoods throughout Williamsburg, including Ford’s Colony, Kingsmill, Governor’s Land, Windsor Forest, and Settler’s Mill. She’s also built a home in Virginia Beach. In addition, Olsen Fine Homebuilding does remodeling and renovation projects, including kitchens, bathrooms, sunrooms, and home additions.

She takes pride in the quality of the subcontractors and others involved in the homebuilding business who she teams up with for her projects.

“We have a treasure trove of highly-skilled people in this area,” she said. “I love communicating with my clients and the subcontractors, and creating a team of people with that skill set, and creating a product without a lot of stress.”

Olsen is the first homebuilder in the area to develop the practice of conditioned crawl spaces, and the first builder to develop and install a Cistern system into a residence in James City County.

“Rainwater is collected from the roof via gutters into an underground pipe system that empties into an underground tank,” she explained. “This water is used for irrigation of lawns and plantings.”

She’s currently working on the construction of an 8,000-square foot home in The Vineyards at Jockey’s Neck neighborhood.

“It’s the largest home I’ve ever built,” she said. “I’m very hands on with the projects, and I’m at each site at least once a day. I’m enjoying it.”

Her clientele includes retirees who are relocating to the Williamsburg area as well as current residents seeking to move up or down in the sizing of their homes. Homeowner trends Olsen is also seeing include incorporating technology into homes; adding green home technology for lower energy costs; and renovating to achieve a more open floor plan.

“People don’t want wasteful rooms,” she said. “They want rooms that are useful all the time.”

Olsen works with her clients as best she can to create a house that fits their lifestyle needs and their pocketbook. 

“Budget is key,” she said. “No matter what the budget, I try to make each home look very special on the inside.”

Olsen hopes to expand the business and hire more help. That will come to fruition in December when her son, Simon Watrous, graduates college from James Madison University and joins Olsen Fine Homebuilding as a project manager.

“I’m so excited,” Olsen said. “He’s very organized and such a hard worker. He will make a great addition to our team.”

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