After skiing and coaching cross-country on the U.S. Ski Team and building houses each summer, Gary Gallagher (wearing tie) attended architectural school. But he left for his first love -- construction. Still today, he doesn't consider it labor: "I just love what I do."

His first major renovation was a $600-per square-foot, 1,800-square-foot house, designed by an architect with 50 sheets of drawings and 150 detail drawings. Gallagher made $7,000 over cost, but the owners let him visit his showpiece house with any prospect. It launched his business, working solely with architects on a cost-plus system.

Gallagher allows design to drive the process and markets to architects, but clients are still the No. 1 priority. "Our primary concern is their emotional well-being," he says. "We communicate constantly."

The company does three or four jobs a year and offers a six-year craftsmanship warranty, yet spends less than $10,000 annually servicing warranty work. "They make fun of me," says Gallagher of his employees, "because I can see a 32nd at 30 feet. I'm very picky."