Discuss how the design-build industry has evolved since you started in the field. What is the most significant difference, and how have you adapted?
I think the biggest thing is that I have evolved as a designer by becoming a general contractor. In doing so, I have been able to streamline the process for the client and quickly realized this is the best thing that could be done for a client overall. My clients have the luxury of only talking to me and not five other people. For example, the traditional way of working would be the client engaging in back-and-forth conversations with the other team members they have hired, such as the architect, interior designer, kitchen designer, landscape architect and general contractor. The traditional way is still frustrating and there are many ways to improve it, but it all starts with a good plan and working with quality people.
How does your background in commercial design influence your residential work?
My background in commercial design made me the true professional I am today. It gave me professional business experience at an early age. I learned how to perform under the guidance and direction of some of the top people building in New York City at the time.
What are the most memorable projects you’ve designed and built and why do they stand out for you?
The most memorable are the historical ones, like the Wallace Neff home in Pasadena. I did research and worked with multiple craftsmen to duplicate several vintage details. My other favorite type of job is a typical mid-century home where I can blow out the walls and do any style the client wants, which gives me total freedom to create the finished look.
Tell us about some of the homes you’re working on right now.
All of the homes are older remodels that are being completely transformed inside with lots of help from my structural engineer. I use a lot of steel, so I can take out walls and do open plans. More than half of the remodels are undergoing complete exterior makeovers with new outdoor living spaces and landscaping.
Describe your clients—and how do you think they would describe you?
My clients are passionate about their homes and know what they want, but don’t know how to achieve it, nor do they have the time. They describe me as a very creative and talented person with a vision, who can see the end result before they see it. They also admire the speed at which I work at and my efficiency, which takes out all of the stress for them. I am constantly being called ‘Johnny on the spot.’ And my clients know that I am always available to them. As a true one-stop shop, there is very little for the client to do after the job starts, and they very much appreciate me handling the stress of the remodel for them.
How elaborate is your artistic process—do the ideas come easy? How do you know if an idea will ultimately make for a great design?
The ideas come easy for me. I see the space’s potential immediately. It’s like the space talks to me when I walk into the home. Then I just have to execute it all and engineer it. Once the plans are drawn to scale and the materials are picked, the design just sings to me and it feels right.
How hands-on are you when it comes to the building portion of your business?
I am 100 percent hands-on. As the old saying goes, ‘The devil is in the details.’ Nothing gets done without my approval. As far as my overall company, I handle my own marketing, I take every initial phone call from the client personally, and I am the only one who meets and communicates with the client throughout the project. I personally draw all of the plans, create all of the design details and select all of the materials. I work with my engineer one-on-one so he’s clear on what I want, and I am clear on my options before the plan is drawn. Then I permit the job at the city and run the job personally from conception to completion on a daily basis. I wear my orange ostrich cowboy boots for a reason…because I spend a lot of time in the dirt at the job site. This girl from Iowa still has to maintain some kind of style while she is performing her duties in the design-build world.
What are the spaces and architecture that have had the most impact on your own work?
The Art Deco era for its style, and my love of all architecture in general.
What design and construction trends are you seeing right now?
The trend is the use of cleaner lines and easier maintenance, but all still done in a warm, organic style. For example, I am using a lot more porcelain flooring that looks like wood. And I am using manmade solid surfaces more often than I am using natural stone slab such as granite and marble.
Describe your dream property.
A Dwell-like modern, cube-shaped house with all glass on one side overlooking a vast open view of either the mountains or the desert and no other houses in sight.
What’s your favorite part of your home?
It’s the fact that I didn’t use white paint anywhere. All of the colors I used are warm grays and natural earth tones, which create a very soothing environment. I also have a fantastic view of rolling green hills outside the rear of my home, which is like an Impressionist painting.