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Specializing in Custom Residential Remodeling and Additions: An Interview with Hughes & Lynn

By Kristen Bosse

Please describe a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

Hughes and Lynn is a good company to call for small to large-scale remodeling projects.

Last year we were awarded a grant through HUD to renovate a dilapidated house in Hamtramck. We stripped the home to its bare studs and reconfigured the interior to accommodate a beautiful new kitchen and an interior stairway. With solar panels on the roof, the house got an energy star rating of 5+, which is about the best you can do. These sorts of projects are great, but we also do a lot of smaller projects. We renovate a bathroom or two each year. We replace windows. We do quite a few paint jobs, interior and exterior. We are skilled at rough and finish carpentry and even cabinetry. We also do our own tile work. Right now we're rebuilding a three-season room in Grosse Pointe.

Our company is based in Hamtramck. We work within the Detroit metro area and also frequently in Ann Arbor. We don't advertise. That's not how you'll find us. We don't have yard signs either. We have a loyal customer base, and most of our clients come to us via word-of-mouth.

What is your position at Hughes & Lynn?

This is a small owner-operated company. We have no employees. I work alongside my business partner, Kevin Lynn, on every job. I act as project manager, organizing subcontractors as we need them, but also I am actively involved in all our projects, wearing my tool belt, running saws, or pushing a paintbrush. Whatever needs to get done, I'm there doing it, alongside Kevin.

When does the purpose of remodeling move away from aesthetic beauty and move more towards necessity?

Nothing lasts forever. In our line of work, we discover all sorts of surprisingly bad construction practices, some accomplished by a homeowner or an errant contractor, some resulting from material failure like LP siding ? It's essentially just OSB, oriented stranded board, a junky plywood, pressed into the shape of siding and painted. Take a stick and soak it in water and see what happens to it. It'll blow apart. We replace a lot of it still.

Is it the 2nd law of thermal dynamics that says everything is constantly moving towards entropy? Entropy, meaning, everything is slowly but surely going to fall apart. So it's good to stay on top of stuff and not let it get too bad. A paint job every ten to fifteen years is more than a pretty good idea, especially for an old house. And we're a good company to hire for that. We can also fix any rotten wood we run across.

Another problem we run into a lot is leaks associated with old wooden window sills. Once they rot, the water getting into your house will not only cause mold and matt your insulation, but can rot out entire beams and require some major work. As I mentioned before we're currently rebuilding a three-season room in Grosse Pointe. The main beam that held up the roof was rotted through. It required removing and rebuilding the entire wall to re-support everything correctly. Corners were cut when it was first built. This led to big problem not 25 years down the road that required a major rebuild. 25 years?! You've got to expect more out of your contractor than 25 years. After our rebuild it should last for the life of the house. Now that's more like it.

What are the benefits of having the company owner's hands on involved?

The benefits are huge. We're the guys who bid the job, do the invoices and do the physical labor. Smaller companies like ours have a greater sense of responsibility over their work. We truly care about what we're doing. We want to do it right. We don't have a crew of guys doing it for us. We do it ourselves. We make sure it's done correctly the first time. We don't subcontract work that we are licensed to do. Also we don't have employees. We're the owners and the workers. We're skilled and knowledgeable about building rules to liability issues, and we've had a lot of experience working with costumers and resolving problems when they come up. Because we are absolute control over the project, we're confident it gets done right.

What are the first steps a homeowner should take if they're thinking of renovating a part of their home?

Depending on the scale of the project, usually it's best to hire an architect or designer. The more defined the project is from the start, the more smoothly it goes. We have good ideas about how to streamline projects, but architects are trained to think spatially and structurally. They bring an important dimension to the job. From our experience, the very best, most photogenic remodels are those that have a good plan put together from the onset, before the first nail is driven.

What sets your business apart from other comparable companies?

I hold a masters degree in English. I started in the building trades to pay my way through school. I was fascinated by the process of making and finishing. I like standing back and knowing that what I've done is good and is solid and will last.

Also I run an art gallery in Hamtramck called the Public Pool. I'm involved in the community here at a roots level. Utilizing the skills I've developed as a project manager, I organize the Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival (this year it's October 5, 2013). I'm invested in this community like I am in my business.

What sets your company apart from others?

Well, with us you get a higher level of creative thinking than you get with the other guys. That means we have good problem solving skills. And in many ways, understanding and approaching a large or complicated project is a lot like solving a complex problem. Also I'm connected to a large group of local artists, many who are skilled carpenters, metal smiths or simply have really creative design ideas. We've used them on several of our projects to design some incredibly unique kitchens and baths. One was blogged about by Dwell magazine.

What are some things homeowners should keep in mind during the remodeling process?

Remodeling always causes a mess. We do our best to keep our worksite clean. We recognize that we have a responsibility not only to the homeowner but the neighbors as well to clean up and not create hazardous conditions for children or animals. Certainly if there is lead paint present a whole new set of EPA rules apply. Lead removal jobs require a lot of plastic tarps, and create a lot of trash, but containment helps protect kids, and that's super important. It's a law too. We have follow it even if it requires additional costs.

What are the most important aspects of your business philosophy?

We have a small client base of repeat customers. We believe that business relationships are super important. In many ways they are like friendships. They valuable. We treat our customers, as we'd like to be treated. I've found that it is hugely important to create a clear understanding between our company and customer before we start a job. This helps avoid misunderstandings. We don't want those because they can cause a rift between and make it less likely that we'll be rehired for future projects. I've found that having a good clear contract that defines the job is an exceptional resource. Making sure everyone is on the same page is one of the most important parts of establishing a good working relationship. We also believe that cutting corners is the wrong way to do business. It undermines your relationship with your client and undermines your ability to stand behind your work. We're not out here to make a quick buck. We're builders because we truly love to build. We're reliable. We get the job done.

What are some key qualities that a homeowner should expect from a good design and remodeling company?

A good design company should have creative ideas. They should be schooled. We have worked with a number of different architects. One of my favorites was one who had just recently graduated from the University of Michigan. I like working with younger architects. Not only are they cheaper than more established ones, but they're more likely to have fresh ideas about how to design and build. Truly creating a good set of plans is the most important thing the architect will do. A plan lacking detail is one that is not well thought out and can lead to a lot more work and may cause additional charges to a customer. In my opinion, it's the architect's job to think through every aspect of the design and how it will be implemented and tie into the existing structure. When this isn't done right, it slows the process. Also the architect should be responsive when the builder has an issue or a question that requires resolution ?usually something that was not detailed in the plans. The architect is an integral part of a remodeling job. So make sure when you hire someone to draw plans that you're buying more than just pictures on paper.

Really a good builder has a lot of the same sort of qualities as a good architect. They've thought through the job. They have their subs lined up and have a clear understanding of how the project needs to run. They need to be responsible, flexible, a good manager, and a creative thinker.

What's the best way for people to get in contact with you?

The contact link through our website is good. Email us at info@hughesandlynn.com.

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Kristen has written impressive content including press releases and feature stories...

Phone: (203) 913-0483

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