A1DesignBuild: A passion for progression


3310 Northwest Ave.


They say that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

After 65 years of success, you’d think that would be a mantra A1DesignBuild would take to heart.

But keeping things the same as they ever were is not in the DNA of the innovative custom home company. Progression is at the core of everything they do, from how they approach the design process to the building materials and techniques they use and right on down to the way the company itself is structured. Not only will they help you build or renovate your dream house, but when the project is done, you’ll also have the pleasure of knowing your home sweet home was constructed in accordance with what’s best for the planet, that there’s a high likelihood your contractor has an ownership stake in the company, and that the a portion of the money you’ve spent with A1 will go toward helping the community at large.

Backing up a little, before it became A1DesignBuild the company was called A-1 Builders and Adaptations Design Studio and was owned by Rick Dubrow, who bought it in 1976 for $5,000 from a guy named Ralph. Thanks in no small part to Rick’s “hippie, tree-hugging sensibilities,” he set out to make A1 a different kind of construction company. And for 40 years, he did just that, combining his future-focused vision with quality design and community involvement.

He also staffed A1 with a likeminded crew on both the construction and design sides of the business, and when it came time for him to retire in 2017, he had a whole host of capable folks to hand his company off to. This led Dubrow and his staff to make a decision very much in keeping with their progressive ethos: They formed a worker-owned construction co-op, one of only two such construction companies in Bellingham.

“Rick introduced the idea to the core team here many years ago as he was planning for retirement,” A1 General Manager Patrick Martin says. “Passing on the legacy he created was critical to him and passing that on to the people who helped form it was equally important.”

The idea of a worker-owned co-op, as innovative as it might be, brings to mind another adage, one about the number of cooks in a kitchen. However, Patrick says that with an increased amount of people who have a stake in the business comes increased initiative and vision among the member-owners.

“The more people that are engaged in the governance and development of organizational systems, and share in the resources generated in successful development, the more deeply they seem to engage,” he says. “We have seen creativity, loyalty and pride increase exponentially with increased membership.”

A new ownership structure called for a new name, one that spoke to the company’s origins while being a purer distillation of who and what they are now. They settled on A1DesignBuild—and within the change lies a clear signal of the way they approach every project they take on.

“A1DesignBuild feels more streamlined and accurate,” Patrick says. “We design and build stuff, and we do it in that order—not design, build, design, correct, fix, then build some more.”

Proof of how thoughtful their process is from start to finish can be found all over A1DesignBuild’s website, which is chock full of testimonials from satisfied customers (some of which are likely your friends and neighbors), as well as photos of the fruits of A1’s considerable labors. You can read about Margarette’s Drayton Harbor cottage that was able to achieve her dual goals of having a lovely bathtub and sauna, while also giving her the energy-efficient space she craved. Paul had a South Hill garage rife with rot and carpenter ants before A1 got a hold of it, and now it houses not only his car and gym equipment, but also a guest apartment and solar array. By contrast, Denise and Bill’s hundred-year-old bungalow didn’t need the same level of demolition and renovation—instead they relied most heavily on A1’s design services to plan their small space down to the last detail, staying true to the historical legacy but including period-accurate light switches, drawer pulls, cabinet hinges, colors and tile layout.

All of that speaks to A1’s imagination and nimbleness when it comes to helping clients discern their needs and achieve their goals. Everything is custom, nothing is cookie-cutter and it’s all made possible by their integrated approach.

“We look at the entire home and the people in it to develop a well-thought-out and easy-to-execute plan in the field,” Patrick says. “We do not do construction projects without our design team being involved. Every project in our opinion warrants good design for it to fit within a fixed budget and go smoothly in the field.”

And, in music to the ears of anyone that’s ever hired a contractor, he continues, “This means we are always on budget and on schedule. It is a very smooth process and experience for our clients and our staff alike. Precisely because our design process is methodical, thorough and complete.”

That level of integration isn’t just limited to the job site. It’s woven into the very fabric of A1DesignBuild, and many of our favorite local organizations—Bellingham Food Bank, Pickford Film Center, Sustainable Connections, RE Sources, and several of Bellingham’s schools, just to name a few—have benefitted.

“For the last three years we have donated in excess of 10 percent of our net profit to our community,” Patrick says. “This shows up in donated cash, community organization sponsorship and membership, and plain hard work doing what we do best—designing and building stuff.”

The food pantries that sprung up all over the Birchwood neighborhood have A1’s fingerprints all over them (you can even build your own using free plans on their website) and they built and maintain a community bike repair station outside their Northwest Avenue office and design studio.

That design studio is where every journey with A1DesignBuild begins, whether you need their help with permitting and building an ADU, want to age in place, retrofit your home to make it energy efficient, modernize your historic home without losing its historic charm, trick out your outdoor space, give yourself the gift of a perfect bathtub and sauna—or build a High-Performance home from the ground up. With 65 years of experience, a team of committed owner-operators and a passion for progression, A1DesignBuild is in the business of making your dream home come true.

For more information about A1DesignBuild, who they are, what they do and how they do it, find them at

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