I started my remodeling business in 1987. For the first six
years we worked out of a home office. The space was small and
the company was invisible, but the rent couldn’t have
In 1993 we moved to leased space, where we stayed for the next
14 years. This arrangement offered many advantages. The rent
was reasonable — only $1,500 a month for 1,600 square
feet of office space and 1,800 square feet of warehouse space
— and the location was central to our market area.
Although the building was nondescript inside and out, it was
located in a small commercial strip on the main
highway for our area. Visibility was orders of magnitude better
than it had been at our home office. But our landlord had
visions of redeveloping the property and, starting in 2004, put
us on a month-to-month lease.
From an existing warehouse that some developers might have
torn down, Boardwalk Builders created a smartly detailed,
In retrospect, this was the nudge we probably needed. We had
outgrown the space, and it was really time for us to move
anyway. Our volume — we do a mix of remodeling and
new-construction projects — had ballooned from $1.3
million to more than $5 million during the nearly decade and a
half we’d been renting the building. And the
office’s “shotgun” layout was awkward, with
no conference room and no private areas for our seven staff
So we began a search for a new home, preferably one with
warehouse and office space, plenty of parking, highway
frontage, and a location central to our market area. When it
became apparent that nothing for lease met our needs, we
started looking for places for sale.
Buying the Property
After a long search, we purchased a property in late 2005 for
the low, low price of only $800,000. (In 2008, a similar
property up the street sold for $1 million.) We got everything
on our wish list except the highway frontage. Well, almost
everything — we have enough parking, but not
plenty of it. And inside, we have more than 5,000
square feet, divided between warehouse and office space.
On the advice of my accountant, the property is owned not by
the construction company but by a separate LLC, of which I am a
majority partner (there are two other partners). The
construction company pays the LLC rent at market rates, which
covers the mortgage and maintenance on the building.
Remodeling the Building
My staff and I put together a program for the space and worked
with architect Mark McInturff to develop the design. We wanted
offices for six full-time and one part-time staff as well as a
conference room, a training room for field staff, and warehouse
space for equipment and material storage. Our goal was twofold:
to create a dynamic and satisfying workspace, and to project a
dignified presence that would showcase the company’s
design sense, capabilities, craftsmanship, and attention to
detail. Energy efficiency was a key component.
Based on a simple “back-of-envelope” estimating
process, we concluded that remodeling costs would probably be
around $200,000. (In the end, they turned out to be more like
$400,000.) The bank appraised the building at $1,150,000
post-remodel and loaned the LLC $1,125,000.
Constraints. The project presented several
challenges. First, because metal buildings are engineered for
maximum structural efficiency, we had to provide structural
supports — footings, steel reinforcements, and the like
— for all the new loads, including the second floor we
were adding on the inside.
Second, zoning limited the work to the existing
structure’s footprint and height. Fitting our two-story
office space into what had been a single-story volume without
raising the roof required some design tricks. To maintain a
spacious, airy feeling, we used open-web steel floor joists,
allowing the first-floor walls to be 8 feet tall with a
perceived ceiling height of 9 feet. And we used skylights,
interior windows, and through-floor openings to pull daylight
into the building’s core.
We also ran up against fire-code restrictions. Our original
design called for the two floors to share a light well, but the
fire marshal required that this opening be closed. To comply
— and yet preserve our original design intent — we
enclosed the space with glass.
Aesthetics and practicality. The project is located
in a 90-mph wind zone. Rather than clutter the building’s
appearance with storm shutters, we used impact-resistant glass
in the windows to meet the code requirements.
Inside, we left the existing concrete slab exposed as the
finish floor. We feel that this speaks to the building’s
prior use as a car-repair shop and calls attention to the
improvements we made (all the new footings are a different
color than the original floor).
The interior includes bright, open offices (above) and a
client conference room that showcases the company’s
By using spray foam insulation, efficient hvac systems,
skylights, and primarily fluorescent lighting, we were able to
reduce operating costs to less than what we’d been paying
in our previous, much smaller office.
The building is considerably nicer than our old digs. Just as
we’d hoped, it serves as both a comfortable workplace and
a credible demonstration of our capabilities. The exposed
structural elements — highlighted with color — let
us talk about being a company that puts things together; the
exterior’s mahogany skin — chosen for its warm,
comfortable color — represents our relationship-building
approach to business. The offices are bright and airy and
support employee productivity and satisfaction. And the
relationship between the office and warehouse spaces allows
front and back access to the warehouse via overhead garage
doors, creating efficient access to equipment and
Reaping the Rewards
When the remodel was complete, we had a grand opening party
for clients. We entered a couple of design competitions and won
prizes. Several folks have commented that the office
“suits us.” Everyone — including architects
— seems impressed. We use pictures of the space in some
of our ads.
What could have been a confining hallway instead reaches
vertically to a second-story landing and the sky beyond (left).
An open staircase, enclosed by glass to meet fire code,
connects the two floors (right).
During construction we worried that we would outgrow the
building before we moved in, but the collapse of the economy
has deferred that problem. Our volume peaked in 2006 and we
expect it’ll be several more years before we need to add
any staff members. With the tough sales environment, we
definitely feel the burden of the higher rent. On the other
hand, it’s the perfect time to have a home base that
showcases our skill and confidence.
Patty McDaniel is president of Boardwalk Builders in
Rehoboth Beach, Del.