Shea Chappell: How the Two Became One
By any measure, Charlie Shea is a giant among custom homebuilders in Colorado Springs. Starting with nothing in the mid-1980s, CR Shea Homes built more than 200 projects in the shadow of Pikes Peak. The Sheas built more homes in the iconic Kissing Camels neighborhood (overlooking the world-famous Garden of the Gods) than any other builder.
Charlie was knee-deep in every one of them. He loved every aspect of building from scratch. After military service as a Navy SEAL, he returned to homebuilding because it was more calling than a career; it was the only thing he was passionate about. He became a carpenter and studied architecture in college.
“I wanted to be a builder,” Charlie recalls. “I was creative growing up. If I couldn’t afford to buy it, I’d figure out how to build it. I didn’t grow up in a family homebuilding business, but we built three custom homes before I went to college. I was fascinated by the process.”
Charlie also wanted to be his clients’ buddy. Together with wife Nancy, they lived in the developments where they built. They marketed the business by walking their dog through the neighborhood, getting acquainted and staying visible. They never had an office outside of their home; they held meetings at home so clients could see exactly what they were going to get. Years after turning over a home, they enjoyed going back for dinner with the owners to see how they had made it their own.
In 2019, Charlie found that, while he could retire from a career, he couldn’t walk away from his calling. “We knew that we didn’t want to turn the phone off, turn the lights out, and leave our clients hanging. We wanted to make sure our clients were taken care of.”
The Sheas had met Lain and Barbara Chappell at a Ferguson showroom cooking demonstration. Nancy was taken with them; “Charlie, these are the nicest people.”
In 1995, the Chappells had formed Solid Rock Construction to do remodels and basement finishes. In 2004, they launched Solid Rock Custom Homes on a reputation built on quality and professionalism. Their work in Teller, El Paso and Douglas counties had earned numerous awards from the Parade of Homes, the Better Business Bureau, Houzz and the Colorado Springs Gazette (as one of their Best Places to Work).
Lain had studied accounting and business administration at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. A lifelong learner, he is one of the very few Colorado builders to have earned the title of Graduate Master Builder from the National Home Builders Association (NAHB). His advanced degrees and capabilities had caught the attention of the Sheas. “Nancy and I admired the systems that they have to run their business,” says Charlie. “They were really, really good.”
“We picked them for their personalities and the way they run their business; they’re honest, loyal people. But the most exciting thing for me was when we understood how they ran their business; their systems are topnotch and their team of people are incredible.”
Charlie paid Lain the highest compliment: “My father was an outstanding man who had sincere convictions in life. And I find that in Lain. At the end of the project he is as committed as he was in the beginning.”
The respect was mutual. Lain says, “One of the many things I admire in Charlie is his true grit. When Charlie says he’s gonna do something, I can count on it getting done. With Charlie’s Navy Seal background and his cowboy mentality, I’ll take that to the bank.”
When the Sheas asked the Chappells if they’d like to sit down and talk about an opportunity to work together, Lain and Barbara say they “were all ears.” So began an eight-month conversation from which Shea Chappell Custom Homes was born.
During that time, the Sheas entrusted their book of business to the Chappells. Though Charlie and Nancy now have no financial interest in Shea Chappell, it still provides a place for him to indulge his passion. Lain says, “Charlie and I will talk once a day, six or seven times a week, I’ll call him or he’ll call me and we bounce things off of each other.”
Charlie agrees. “I can expect a call from Lain, or he from me, first thing in the morning. We chat about what’s going to take place that day, or what might be coming up, or something that he’s drafting. He might want to run it by me before sending it out to the appropriate parties.”
Nancy and Barbara have a strong bond, as well. “One thing I like about Nancy and our relationship is that we both are very passionate about the quality of our homes,” says Barbara. “Together, we do the punch list for every home. We look for things that we want corrected or that are not up to our standard before our client moves in. We’ve found that our expectations are very similar, extremely high. You’ll see us down on the floor clipping the little carpet tags, touching up paint, or even filling a nail hole.”
Both Charlie and Lain learned that “Lain is not Charlie and Charlie is not Lain.” That realization forms the basis for a close working relationship: instead of duplicating their respective strength, Lain and Charlie complement each other, making Shea Chappell stronger than either could be independently.
That understanding allows the Sheas and Chappells to forge a relationship that is both effective and enjoyable at the same time.