When did you get into construction?
I’m from Seattle and, in the early 1990s, I worked as a laborer, roofer and flooring installer. Then I started framing full time and found that I was fascinated with the diverse skill set that it took to build a house. All the facets informed each other: You pull out a tape measure for all parts of construction.
How did you get to Taos?
I had friends here. I came to visit in 1998 and stayed. I started out some construction, but teaching was how I made a living – first at the San Cristobal Ranch Academy, then at Roots & Wings Charter School and Questa High School. But construction had always been part of my life, and the universe kept nudging me back to construction.
Did you go out on your own right away?
No. I worked with other contractors in town, like Wayne Rutherford, Joe Sieves and Natural Builders. I got a taste of what it was like to build in the high desert. Then the downturn of 2001 hit, and I went back to teaching. About five years ago, I took the plunge and became a general contractor. I wanted more autonomy and I wanted to control how things were done.
How did that go for you?
Pretty well. I started out with side projects on weekends, but soon found all my weekends full with work – meaning no life outside of work. When I got to the point where I had so much construction work that it was cutting into my other work and life, I took the leap of faith. I figured that if it didn’t work out, it would have been at the very least a learning experience. But it worked out.
What was your first job as a general contractor?
I built an off-the-grid cabin in El Rito. It was a solar stand-alone with water catchment, the whole off-the-grid deal. It was apropos that such a job would be my first.
Why is that?
I’ve always had a passion for nature. I have what you might call an “underground” degree in ecological philosophy. As a contractor, I can keep a sustainable focus on what I build, in line with ecological principles. I had the freedom to do things in the way I felt in keeping with my own quality standards and philosophy. I take an artistic approach to what I do, especially with finish work, like cabinetry and custom carpentry.
What type of jobs do you prefer?
The size or type of job doesn’t make much difference to me. What I like is to serve the people I work for, people who have authentic needs for housing. I like to give homeowners options up front so I can build something they want and also affordable. For instance, I take pride in a remodel that makes life more livable for them. This is service-oriented work, and I enjoy seeing the appreciation people have for the job you do. Don’t get me wrong; I still want to earn a living wage, but I want to make things affordable for people.
How’s the Taos market these days?
I’ve seen a real change in the five to six years that I’ve been a contractor. People these days are looking for efficiency and value. And, there’s a shift toward ecological sensitivity among homeowners, which fits my philosophy. People are still coming here to retire out of the city, and the area has enough infrastructure to support more growth and migration.
What’s the future look like for Tradesmen Builders?
It’s pretty fluid right now, but I’ve got work well into next year. As long as there’s a demand from new retirees, we’ll be fine. I can see that they want affordable value, more open space, but significant downsizing yet. Luckily, however, the culture of Northern New Mexico hasn’t been so quick to shake hands with “McMansions.” The rugged lifestyle and the 200-year-old adobes seem to keep them away.