Meet the Locals

Meet The Surf Coast Locals: Gary Cleary from Noilla Builders

As the Surf Coast draws more seachangers, adding to our vibrant community, I’ve been delighted to get to know a not-so-new-comer, builder Gary Cleary, who came to Torquay four years ago.

His company, Noilla Builders, is very much a family business. Gary is on site, while his wife, Justine, runs the nitty-gritty of the business end of their company and also lends her modern design aesthetic to the team.

I’ve been impressed by their collective eye for detail and Noilla Builders has quickly built a reputation for excellence in construction on the Surf Coast. With vacant land selling fast, and several grants and schemes encouraging renovations and new builds, he’s a handy person to know.

I interviewed Gary, curious to know how he transplanted his successful Ballarat building firm to the Surf Coast.

Gary Cleary — Photo from Facebook

Where did you grow up and what prompted your move to the Surf Coast, Gary?

I was born and bred in Ballarat. I also did my apprenticeship in Ballarat 30 years ago. We only moved down to Torquay four years ago because Justine and I wanted a seachange. We loved coming to the Surf Coast for family holidays. My girls enjoyed the beach and we loved the friendly local community. One day a buyer rather unexpectedly knocked on our door, and we suddenly sold our house in Ballarat. So we thought ‘it’s now or never’! We took the plunge and brought a block of land in Torquay. Last year, we finished building our new home here.

Was it daunting starting a new business in a new area?

I’m a qualified carpenter by trade. Our firm generally specialised in homebuilding – bathrooms, kitchens, extensions, pergolas, renovations. We’ve also completed a lot of commercial work. Deciding to make the seachange was a little daunting. However, I had a few contacts on the Surf Coast and I still had a bit of work in Ballarat to run back to. We thought we’d rather have a crack and see how we went, than have it remain a dream. Work was a little bit slow at the beginning but I always expected that. It was great to get to spend more time with my wife and daughters and the friends that we’ve made down here. However, as we have grown to know more people and our name got out there, the work started to come flooding in. Now we’ve built our new house, people have seen the sort of quality that we build and things are growing.

It’s fabulous! Did you use all your own ideas or did you get an architect?

No, this house is based on the three best parts of the last three homes that Justine and I built for ourselves. One day, Justine and I were sitting around the dinner table. We drew up some plans and shuffled it around like a big jigsaw puzzle. Then we tweaked it a bit and sent it to a draftsman to get drawn up so we could build it.


What does your company name, Noilla stand for?

My children’s names, combined together.

Your attention to detail, where does that come from?

That comes from the guys who I did my apprenticeship with. My boss Peter Martin was very particular and millimetre perfect. We used to work on the theory that you do a job once, and you do it properly. These guys taught me right from wrong. If something doesn’t look right, you stop, fix it and then you go on.

Thinking of selling?
Just researching the market?

Peter would never be upset if it would take you all day to do something as long as it was done properly and he didn’t have to come back and fix it. Now I always say we’re not the fastest builder but we make sure everything’s spot on and done properly. I have never had to advertise, it has always been word of mouth. We built our business on being very honest, and very approachable.

How’s it working with other Surf Coast tradies?

Nine times out of ten the local tradies are highly skilled guys who are easy to work with and very approachable. You’ve got to put your name to good quality work. I’m very fussy with the final product, because I’m the one giving the client a seven and half year guarantee. My philosophy is if we build a house for someone, we have a lifetime association with them until they sell that house. In 30 years of building, I’ve only ever been called back to one house. Right or wrong, the client wanted a black door, and the sun kept destroying it. The third door we fixed it, the client said ‘just paint it a different colour’ and we’ve never been back!

And what about, Justine? What part does she play in your business?

Justine does the administration, which is a huge job in a construction company. She’s the brains behind the organisation, I’m just the brawn. She comes up with the concept and then I build it, then we market them. She also does the interior design: colour, fittings and fixtures. The proof is in the pudding – our last house was on the market for just 72 hours.

Is it hard to sell a dream home, like the one you’ve just built for yourself?

We take pride in the quality of all our buildings and in giving it to someone else. However, we are going to stay in this one we’ve just built. Justine and I share the experience of growing up in the same house all of our lives. Our parents still live in the homes we were raised in. Even when I go back to Ballarat, Mum and Dad’s place is still home. I always wanted our kids to feel that they have a house that they can always call home. That is why we put a lot of time and effort into designing this home because we plan on being in this house for a good fifteen or twenty years. Then, even if one day we move, the girls will be able to drive by when they are grown ups and see their childhood home.

Well, that’s wonderful. Thanks for your time, Gary. And good luck with Noilla Builders in 2021.

Find out more about Noilla Builders at their website:

Photo credits: Noilla Builders website