Rich 100: Leaders by design

Creating lux homes for the rich pays off nicely for ex-Platinum Blonde guitarist Sergio Galli and partner Mehran Moeinifar.

Sergio Galli and Mehran Moeinifar build houses people wish they could afford. Take their $3.5-million, 6,500-square-foot, four-bedroom, six-bathroom mansion in ritzy Oakville, Ont. Press a touchscreen just inside its mahogany front doors and a chandelier hanging from the 20-foot ceiling and other lights turn on, the cast stone fireplace in the dining room ignites, and music fills the air. Want more luxury? Upstairs, in the ensuite bathroom, there’s a glass sit-down shower that converts into your own personal steam room. In the basement, a $300,000 theatre is the perfect venue for you and six friends to watch your favourite sports team win (or lose) on a 110-inch-wide high-definition projection TV, while reclining in leather seats with drink holders.

Galli and Moeinifar, partners in Prince Bay Luxury Homes, based in Mississauga, Ont., say creating dream homes is a natural fit for them, since they appreciate the finer things in life. They both drive an S-class Mercedes and live in multimillion-dollar digs. The two met three years ago and quickly bonded over lamb chops at Barberian’s, an old-fashioned steak house in Toronto, and their relationship resembles a romance of sorts. “When we hooked up, we were both so excited,” Moeinifar says. “I never knew there was anyone like him out there, and he didn’t think there was anyone like me.”

The pensive Moeinifar oversees construction and provides business acumen, while the jovial Galli handles the architecture, landscaping and interior design, and deals with clients. Together, they’ve grown Prince Bay, which Moeinifar founded in 2000, into a company that builds about 10 luxury houses per year in the Toronto area, generates annual revenues of $30 million to $40 million and employs a full-time construction crew. Not bad for a university dropout (Moeinifar) and someone who only finished high school (Galli).

Part of their success, they say, is because each house they make is unique. To ensure quality moldings, woodwork and other furnishings, Prince Bay has its own manufacturing facility in Toronto. But Galli and Moeinifar also try to satisfy any request, regardless of how over-the-top it might be. For instance, a customer once asked for a dining room table made of Brazilian wood with legs in the shape of baby lions. To pull that off, Galli and Moeinifar hired an artist from Iran, who spent three months in Toronto hand-carving the piece of furniture. “It cost the guy a lot of money, but he was blown away,” Moeinifar says.

Their growing reputation in the luxury home business has also contributed to the pair’s appreciation of themselves. “It’s not easy being the best,” Moeinifar says only half-jokingly. And they’re so chuffed about their designs that they don’t mind if competitors take pictures of their homes. “Look, there are millions of pictures of the Mona Lisa,” Galli says, “But how many people can actually paint it?”

Galli wasn’t always the da Vinci of luxury homes. He’s the former lead guitarist of Canadian rock band Platinum Blonde. When the group broke up in the late ’80s, Galli pursued his passion for architecture. He applied to a program at the University of Toronto, but didn’t get in. Shortly after, Galli bought six lots in Toronto, planning to build new houses and sell for a tidy profit. Talk about your bad timing. Canada fell into a recession in 1990, and Galli’s properties lost almost half their value. “I hadn’t read a newspaper in 10 years. I didn’t even know how to spell economy,” Galli says.

These days, Galli and Moeinifar don’t make those types of mistakes. Although they build a few houses each year to sell on the market, the duo spend most of their time creating custom homes for CEOs, entrepreneurs and other deep-pocketed folks, charging roughly 15%–20% commission on costs. Despite the tough economy, they’ve managed to stay busy. “When you get into our price ranges, people have a lot of money, and they’re comfortable no matter what,” Moeinifar says. Nevertheless, it recently took them about 10 months to sell a property, which they had completed back in March. Indeed, the market for residences of $1.5 million or more in the Toronto area has cooled. Sales were down 4% through the first seven months of the year, according to realtor Re/Max.

Galli isn’t worried. Although he’s in a new rock band, the Ending, which has a track selling on iTunes and an album scheduled for release in 2009, there’s little chance he’ll leave Prince Bay if the luxury housing market tanks. Indeed, Galli and Moeinifar have big plans for their company, which includes growing their fledgling condo business, and possibly expanding abroad to places such as Dubai. Whichever route they choose, their approach will be the same. “We think: what are we going to do today to really wow people?” Moeinifar says.