The 54-foot long great room of the home on the cover looks out on Mt. Mansfield and the Stowe Ski Area through seven separate five-foot-tall Weathershield Legacy high performance, Low E window units, surrounded by native Vermont cherry trim. “We needed good glass to withstand the high altitude and cold weather,” Danny Cole explained.

Hand Made Custom Homes

By Dick Nelson for Vermont B/A Magazine

View/Download PDF from Vermont B/A Magazine

Cole Contracting Article CoverLittle did Dan Cole know, as he grew up helping his father build milk houses and fix tractors around the family farm in Johnson, that he was also preparing himself for what would ultimately become his life’s work: building custom houses. But he was.

“My dad grew up on a farm himself,” says Cole, sitting in the back room of Wicked Wings in downtown Johnson, a venue his company renovated in the 1990s. “He was very multi-faceted, very talented. He did everything. I learned a lot from him by helping build calf pens, hay wagons, framing dairy barns, fixing things.

“I also helped him remodel—one room a winter. My mother would sketch out the design and my dad and I would build it. We had a huge farmhouse and we didn’t have any money to hire someone, so we did it all ourselves.

“In my opinion, we don’t have enough farms today. On the farm, we did the things we did because they had to be done, even electrical work, mechanical work on the farm vehicles.”

For many years, after he started his contracting firm in 1985, Cole did his own electrical work, his own plumbing, his own drywall, his own painting and foundations. “You couldn’t really sub out a lot of it,” he says, “because of the budget.” As the houses he built got bigger and more complex, his building team grew larger as. Today, he averages a crew of about five and most of the trades are subbed out. But Cole can still do them himself if called upon.

Another transformative influence, beyond the farm, was Cole’s decision at age 17 to join the Air Force, where he spent four years serving in The Philippines. “That certainly taught me a lot,” he says, “including responsibility. And things like being on time, being self-disciplined. It gave me a good foundation for running a business.”

An Epiphany

vermont custom sculpture house kitchen

Located on the site of the former kitchen, the home’s master bath has a warm, welcoming glow from the combination of a gas fireplace (where the range used to be), Vermont-made brick, granite countertop, stained glass, and Vermont cedar vanities, handles and interior doors fabricated in the Cole Contracting workshop.

Currently, Cole is indeed running a very successful business, with a portfolio of unique, eye-pleasing, beautifully-executed custom homes around the central Vermont area, including some of the most exclusive sections of Stowe. He is also diversified, having done projects ranging from the aforementioned restaurant to a shopping center in Morrisville. But it took him a while to get there.

“I attended Johnson State College on the GI Bill and studied psychology with a business administration minor. I went to work as a counsellor, working with troubled teenagers at a group home, but it was really tough work. There were eight of us on staff and all of the kids were living there in one big house. We had to be there to handle situations any time of the day or night. I found myself wanted to work more in the business field.”

An epiphany came when Cole was in the process of using those skills acquired on the farm to build his own house in 1985.

“In building my own house, I realized I wanted to work with my hands for a living. It revealed to me my real calling. I had the skills from working with my dad. Also, during summers off from college, I had worked for Pizzagalli (now PC Construction) and Curtis & Bedell. I also worked for J.A. MacDonald, doing a lot of concrete and steel work, a lot of rebar. And I worked for a crane service. So when I thought about it, a career in building was a natural.”

So he handed in his resignation and formed his own business, Cole Contracting, LLC, soon after, following a short stint with Bread Loaf Corp. Slowly but surely, he began building the business.

“For my first decade, I built mostly FHA homes. They liked me. I always overbuilt (the FHA homes). I would put in a little more workmanship than was standard, a little bit better materials than were required. I would never, for example, put in a hollow core front door. It was always solid wood. “

Eventually, the hard work and the attention to quality “led to bigger and better things,” including collaboration with some of the leading designers and architects in the area and the chance to build more challenging houses. Which is what he’s been doing ever since.


The fireplace in the kitchen is a mirror image of a second fireplace at the opposite end of the room. “Like many other elements in the house, the fireplace is rounded, or radiused, at the shoulder,” says Cole. For the cabinetry, Danny and his crew used native, kiln-dried cherry harvested in Eden, maple flooring harvested on-site, brick made in Essex that was reclaimed from a previous project and cleaned up for reuse, and Bethel gray granite countertops.


Partners In Success

During his long ascent in the trade, Cole acquired a fellow traveler in the person of sculptor and designer John Rubino, a member of the National Council of Building Design Certification and long a fixture on the central Vermont arts and building scene.

pucillo bath -afix-lrg

This unusual bathroom was designed to suggest a lighthouse, with the room narrowing from bottom to top, and the row of Pella operable windows at the top resembling the ring of windows atop a lighthouse. The post and beam ceiling structure was built on the ground and hoisted into place by a crane. The bath surround is white Italian marble. The large window faces Mt. Mansfield and Smugglers Notch.

“As I became a little more established, I started working with John,” Cole says. “We became friends. I was so impressed by his sculpture and his jewelry. He had also started using CAD (computer aided design) in 1988 or 1989, before most of the others. He has a very inquiring mind. Our relationship grew, from working together on some of those FHA houses to bigger things.


One of those “bigger and better” things was the home shown on pages 8 & 9 of this article. Known as The Sculpture House, it was profiled in an article by Kim Dixon in the June 2013 issue of Vermont B/A.

Says Cole: “Building a house in a totally different way was a real leap of faith—using sculpture as a structural component. It was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. But it took a lot of guts. There were no examples to look at. That was the most exciting project I’ve done, I think.”

In a phone interview from Virginia, where he recently relocated to be nearer his grandchildren, Rubino recalls the roots of his relationship with Cole.

“We got together when I was project manager on the renovation of a small school in Stowe. Dan was working for Bread Loaf, just before he went out on his own. After he started his company, we did several small projects together. We were also pretty tight in other ways, behind the scenes. I’d help him with estimating, scheduling and that sort of thing when he was getting going on his own.”


Even when their time on a common project did not frequently intersect, the men would still meet up after hours and put their heads together.

“We would discuss different aspects of a project, help determine the best way to get it done. I remember one project that had a really weird roof. He came over and said, ‘I can’t figure this out.’ I called the architect and he said he couldn’t figure it out either. He said, ‘I figured you could figure it out in the field.’ Turns out there was no solution. The plans just didn’t work and had to be changed.”

Rubino says the thing that sets Cole apart from other builders is his “people skills.”

The Personal Touch

DSC_0010-cr-afix-1200“He knows what he’s doing,” says Rubino of Cole, “but a lot of guys out there know what they’re doing. The difference is that it’s always comfortable working with Dan. He’s fair. He’s fighting for the project. I’m the same way, so we work well together.

“I think, ‘What’s the best way to get the project done?’ He’s the same way. And he’s that way all the time.

“To me, when it comes to builders, the best ‘hire’ is based on personality. Hire the personality. A lot of builders have the talent, the skills. But if (the client, the designer and the builder) don’t fit well together, it won’t go well.

“Even though I live down here now, we still talk to each other. Questions come up. Danny is always willing to seek out the correct professional to solve the problem, answer an issue, rather than just going ahead. I think the customers appreciate that. I definitely appreciate that. I’m not aware of a customer that was not extremely happy working with Dan.”

Cole agrees that interpersonal relationships are a key to successful contracting.

Pucillo kitchen-sq-feature

The red birch cabinetry in the same home was fashioned in the Cole Contracting shop by Danny Cole and Elliot Kimble. The kitchen also features Canadian Laurentian green granite countertops and Vermont Verde 12 X 12 floor tiles.

“I think my psychology degree serves me well,” he says. “In home building, the most important thing is listening. Listening skills aren’t focused on enough. That background gave me the skills to listen well and hear what my clients are telling me. Dealing with husbands and wives can be complicated. Open dialogue, finding out what people really want, is vital. Words sometimes fall short of revealing what we really want and really feel.


“People are modest when they conceptualize. But once they get into it, things change. (Home building) is a fiduciary relationship. The first thing I want to know…and this is how much do you want to spend? It’s uncomfortable but necessary. As you talk, then you get a feeling of whether you’ll be able to keep the price within that particular budget. You need to get to the bottom of what people really want, be able to paraphrase what they say and tell it back to them in a concrete way. Find out, what is the goal of the project?

“I try to give people as realistic a number as possible. The biggest challenge is managing the cost. The new technologies, like composite siding, are great. Vermont is hard on wood, hard to keep the paint on, no doubt about it. That’s why Azek and these other composite products are doing so well. But they cost money.”

Keep It Simple

“Simple things are important,” he continues. “Where is the house going to sit on the site? Where is the front door going to be? That one is very important.

Back 3

This Alan Guazzoni-designed house sits on the site of a former 100-plus-acre dairy farm in Stowe, with dramatic views all around through multiple Pella windows and doors.

“What do you want the entryway to say? Do you want one step, two steps, even to the ground? They’re going to be going through that door a lot, welcoming guests through that door.

“Making doors is one of my favorite things. You can buy them from a thousand different companies these days, but it’s not the same as a door made by hand, for that particular house. There’s no sticker on that door. It was hand made from a piece of mahogany or fir. That’s the stuff that turns me on. I love that.

“I have a nice little shop right under my house, 20 by 48. I have shapers. I’ve made custom fir doors with true divided light, custom cabinetry. I’ve done full kitchens the last five years or so. What’s increasingly popular is customized spaces with no standard measurements. Open bins, open shelving. People with second homes don’t want to spend time looking through the drawers to find what they need.”

Cole also often helps his clients with the design of their new home, keeping alive the disappearing art of hand drawing. “Hand drawing has more impact, more feel to it,” he says. “It’s warmer, you can color it in. It has a nostalgic feel to it.

“I hand draw a lot of representational stuff, with pencil. I find drawing is a very relaxing, therapeutic process. People might say something, but they’re thinking something else. (With drawings)

I help them understand all the different styles of houses, shapes. There are so many words and terms thrown around. When you sit down with them, you have to offer them ideas to help them visualize all these things and to help them get going.”

“In building my own house, I realized I wanted to work with my hands for a living. It revealed to me my real calling. I had the skills from working with my dad. Also, during summers off from college, I had worked for Pizzagalli (now PC Construction) and Curtis & Bedell. I also worked for J.A. MacDonald, doing a lot of concrete and steel work, a lot of rebar. And I worked for a crane service. So when I thought about it, a career in building was a natural.”

—Danny Cole

Stay Local


The home’s kitchen is was built on-site by the Cole contracting crew from native hickory to match the home’s staircase and railing. The floor is made up of variable-sized, fossilized, Turkish limestone, shipped directly from Turkey, with each piece individually wrapped to prevent shipping damage.

“I like to promote all these incredible things we have to offer here in Vermont. Vermont is a unique, wonderful place. We have so many local products. My whole house is made from native butternut. It’s a soft hardwood. It has an incredible warmth about it. You can get the best products available right here in Vermont. We have some great sawmills. Where else can you get a load of logs from the property and a few months later have it all sawn, stickered and delivered to the property? That’s pretty amazing.

“We also have stone, slate, granite. And that’s not to mention all the great craftspeople. It’s just a great place to be a builder.”

Cole’s appreciation for his locale, and his old-fashioned, honest approach to his craft, have combined to earn Cole unanimous respect from his fellow building professionals—and especially from his clients—and lift Cole Contracting to the top of the heap in one of the most exclusive custom home markets in northern New England.

“Building a house for someone is a huge responsibility,” he says. “I complete what I start. I’ll stick with people even if the financing gets rough. I tell them, ‘We’ll get it done.’ Sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith.

“After 30 years, I have a great relationship with all my clients. If they need something done, they call me first, even if I haven’t spoken to them in years. That’s important to me.”


The bath in the same home (Wasserman) brings in great outdoors inside through multiple Pella windows. “It’s almost like having an outdoor shower and bath,” says Cole. The floor (not shown) is comprised of river stone tile, to further the natural look.

View/Download PDF from Vermont B/A Magazine