Ten Years and Counting


While contemplating my next blog topic, I reviewed where I've been and looked at my past topics.  It hit me -- ten years ago this month, I started Solluna Builders.  Well, sort of.

The story starts in June 2002, when I was laid off from my position as Green Building Coordinator with American YouthWorks because they decided to close the green building program there. (It's so sad that program came to an end.)

So what's the first thing you do when you get laid off?  You polish your resume, call your circle of influence, let everyone know you are looking for work, right?  Hell, no, you go on a road trip.  I loaded up my motorcycle and headed for the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America International Rally in Trenton, Canada.  I was in need of some serious helmet time, and three weeks on the road gave it to me.

What would I do with my life?  How would I use all this valuable information I had acquired about green building?  Would I dare start another business?  Would I strike out on my own or bring in partners?  Would I have to relocate or was Austin the right place?  What about capital and start-up cost?  How would I learn what I didn't know?  Was my past work experience going to help or hurt me?  Where should I stop for lunch and spend the night?  Should we ride all of the Blue Ridge Parkway or just parts of it?  Wow, there was a lot of stuff going through my head.

Upon my return, I spent the next five months writing a business plan, but I still wasn't sure I wanted to start another business.  In December 2002, I got a call from the Disabled Veterans Association needing some houses retrofitted and remodeled for disabled vets.  Not having the manpower or trades available, I turned them down.  But two weeks later my construction manager from American YouthWorks called to let me know he and the rest of the green building crew had just been laid off, too.  We partnered up, contacted the DVA association, and went to work.  Solluna Builders was up and running.

Friends from past lives often ask how my previous careers prepared me for being a home builder. Great question!  Most valuable were the ten years I spent as an advertising photographer creating photo illustrations.  Huh?  You're probably cocking your head in confusion.  Well, let me set this up for you.

It was back in the '80's.  Imagine -- if you will -- a time before digital cameras.  A time before PhotoShop software.  A time when we used candles for lights and processed our film in caves.  Ok, it wasn't quite that bad, but you get the idea.

As a photo illustrator, I had to create everything in front of the camera.  I built my own sets and created my own lighting equipment to achieve the look I was seeking.  I was responsible for everything in the photo.  No detail was too small.  No hair out of place.  No label or price tag showing.  No supports for the sets peeking through.  Nothing left to chance and no reshoots.

A typical photo shoot started with a meeting between the client, the art director, and me.  Sometimes I was given a layout to work from.  Sometimes just a concept.  The first thing I did was to set up a camera on a tripod.  This was my vantage point, my muse, my center.  Everything had to look right through the lens.  Then I would build the set right there in front of the camera and start lighting it.  The word "photography" is derived from the Greek words photos -- light --  and graphos --writing.  Writing with light.

After many more meetings with the client and art director, things would inevitably change.  During the process, I assembled other professionals -- photo assistants, stylists, set dressers, prop masters, hair and makeup artists, models, and so forth.  My job was director, producer, control freak, set builder, and photographer.  The day of the actual photo shoot was sometimes terrific, and sometimes anti-climactic after all that planning and preparation.  However, the best days of all were those when I delivered the film to the client or art director and saw the smiles on their faces because I had given them what they were looking for.

So now, as a home builder, a job typically starts with a meeting between the client, the home designer, and me.  I am given plans, or we start with just a concept.  One of the greatest gifts from my days in photography is my ability to look at a two-dimension drawing and know what it will look like when I have built it.  I love this part!

After many more meetings with the client and home designer, things inevitably change.  After we've worked out the changes, the pricing, and the specifications, I take the plans out to the empty lot and look through my mind's eye to envision the completed home.  Then I assemble other professionals -- the foundation crew, the framers, the roofer, plumber, electrician, cabinet guy, flooring expert, tile layer, and so forth.  My job is director, producer, project manager, control freak, builder, and photographer.  And the best days of all are those when I deliver the keys to the home owners and see the smiles on the faces because I've given what they were looking for.  Even better is when they tell me to keep a set of the keys in case I want to show their home to prospective buyers.

So how has one of my previous careers helped me as a home builder?  Perfectly.  I'm still responsible for everything that goes on during the build.  Nothing out of place.  Nothing left to chance and no rebuilds.

On another note, I'd like to thank everyone for your warm comments on my last blog post.  It was the best response I've ever received.  Also, thank you for your support for my brother.  He passed away July 6 as a result of his brain tumor.  RIP, Captain Frank Jeansonne.  You will be missed, Bro.