Under The Dust: Joel Glass of Design Guild Homes

We’re excited to share a new series on the blog where we interview people in the industry who, with their brilliant talent, help bring designs to life. Today we’re sitting down with Joel Glass, a Bellevue general contractor and co-owner of family-owned Design Guild Homes.

Krissy: First, thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me and giving my followers an insight into what I consider the most important part of any job—outside of hiring me of course! What got you started in contracting and building? 

Joel: Our parents started our company in the ’70s. I started working for my dad when I was 12 years old on projects that were in the neighborhood for spending money. I’d ride my bike to the job and do mostly clean-up stuff. The other guys would give me rides to jobs further away. Then in college, I would come in and help the estimator during summer breaks. 

K: Asking for a friend, what is the difference between a “Builder” and a “General Contractor”?

I don’t know? Some might think of a builder as a framer? Whereas a GC oversees all of the trades.

K: Did you go to school for it or have any formal education or are you self-taught?

No formal training other than on-the-job training.

K: You have a family-owned business. How is it working with family?

There are pros and cons to any partnership. The thing that’s good about working with family is that you can always trust them.

K: In my business, integrity and quality are what matter most. I always come back to those pillars when I am faced with decisions for clients. What would you say are the pillars of your business that have kept you going through so many ups and downs in all the years that you have been doing this?

Integrity and quality are always important—I’d add good communication. Keeping the clients and our subs up to date on what’s going on and what’s coming up helps keep the job running smoothly and can help avoid unwanted surprises.

Design Guild Homes, Bellevue, WA

K: When clients start to get the “itch” to improve part of their home, where would you advise them to start?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Or in our case, the budget or the design. Small projects or projects where the budget isn’t the issue can probably start with the design. Others should maybe start with some budgeting so we don’t end up designing something that the client doesn’t want to proceed with because it exceeds their budget. If the budget comes in high, then we have the opportunity to reevaluate the scope. But once that is done, the design is definitely the important “first” step of the project.

K: I think the general public has a deep-seated fear of home improvement because of the nightmares that they have seen on TV (looking at YOU, HGTV). Which, unfortunately, those situations can absolutely happen! Everything from contractors not doing quality work, to schedule and budget nightmares. Any advice for people looking for a contractor and questions they should ask to avoid some of these VERY avoidable problems?

Honestly, I have not watched any of these shows. I’ve heard a few stories about them, but I’m not familiar with them. I guess since I do this all day, every day, the last thing I want to do is watch people on TV doing it…especially if they’re doing it poorly. But to the main point of your question, if you’re not familiar with the contractor or the referral hasn’t come from a trusted friend, then at the top of my list would be to ask for a list of references—good contractors will not bat an eye or hesitate with that request. Another thing to do is check the L&I website to see if the license is in good standing.

Design Guild Homes

K: What is the hardest part of your job?

Keeping up. The amount of construction activity going on right now is crazy. So doing our part as well as making sure all of our subs and suppliers can meet our schedules is proving to be challenging. 

K: What is your favorite part of the work you do?

Seeing the finished product. With projects both large and small, there is always a lot of work that goes into almost every aspect so it’s fun to see it all come together.

K: When it comes to clients, I find that I am interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing me. Sometimes the behaviors of a client at that initial meeting tell me that they would not be a good fit to work together for what is generally a year or longer. Do you have any of those that you could share that would hopefully help some of our readers? For me, it’s when I can tell a client will be too indecisive or if they reschedule a lot, that is also a major red flag. 

That’s a tough one. I don’t know if there’s one thing that will set me off on an initial interview. Maybe if the client is preoccupied with the price/budget as the sole decision point then I might not be the right contractor for them. Those clients often will do a lot of “shopping” and it can be a waste of our time.

K: What do you find the most important part about working with your sub-contractors. Price? Experience? Relationship? For me it is experience and then relationship.

Our subs are really key to the success of our projects. Many subs we’ve worked with for decades now. 

K: Let’s talk budgets. Even for me, I’m usually shocked at the price of remodeling now. It feels like the price of a kitchen used to be $75k and is now twice that! And again, TV has really done a disservice by showing the price of remodeling with DIY prices and I think that can get confusing for some viewers that those DIY prices should apply to a regular project with a high-quality contractor leading the job. Any comments on this?

We have to deal with this from time to time. The basic answer is that labor is generally the biggest cost component of any project. We’ve seen a lot of inflation over the past months that has impacted both labor and materials. There are a lot of factors that go into it but I think the biggest thing that impacted wages for the trades was the implementation of the $15/hr minimum wage. There might have been a few people at that $15 mark before this was implemented but what it did was force the wages for everyone up some.  Then since Covid hit, there’s been significant demand for the trades and in order for the various subs to hire and retain their good employees, they need to dangle the carrot.

K: What are your thoughts on working with a designer? You can be honest! Are they helpful or would you rather not, other than me :). I personally love being part of a really killer team that consists of me, the architect, and the builder—the TRIFECTA! For the designers out there, are there things that they could be better at when working with a builder/contractor?

We generally avoid all but the smallest projects without a designer. Some require both an architect and an interior designer, but without the design, we find ourselves effectively doing that aspect ourselves and that’s not our role. Our job is to execute the design. We can also help with some cost inputs as well as some practical constructability. Without a good design, the project is going to be challenging.

K: Any other advice you would give to my readers (a mix of both designers, industry professionals, and fans/followers of good design!)

I think one of the things we are starting to lose is the design presentation. Maybe it’s just what I see, but I think the face-to-face presentation of the design is important. At the presentation, you can explain what you’ve done and why you’ve done it. I’ve seen projects where the design is just emailed to the client for input and they may or may not understand the choices that were made and why.

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