Building a house for long-distance clients was a new experience for Victoria firm Integral Design.
“Tackling a full-house build for offshore owners was a major learning curve,” said co-owner Bob Ingram.
“We are in the change business, whether it’s a $10,000 reno, major landscaping or a $900,000 complete build. These are always very short-term, intense relationships and it always comes down to trust and communication — and in this case, more than ever.”
To gear up for the project, he invested in more technology for the 14-person company including iPhones, iPads and a new Mac platform.
On a local job, he and his crew would typically meet with clients once a week to review work and budgets, but with this project they emailed photos of interior and exterior details, progress reports, financial updates and more, multiple times a day.
“It started when Tom was in Victoria for a whirlwind week during which we built a sense of trust and showed him our work. He returned once, when the house was framed and … did a walk-through.”
Ingram said the toughest part was coming up with a price when the house had not been designed, “and then delivering in that range.”
Kyle Legett designed the house and construction manager Mike Keddie devoted most of a year to ensuring everything was as it should be.
“At the end of the day, the owners moved into a fully complete house on the day we promised. The shipping container arrived — it was flawless, which was lucky because they had no other place to go.”
He said it was a great experience.
“They are fabulous, tremendous clients, professional people. They kept us on our toes, no question, but what do you expect with a major-general and a seasoned, senior diplomat? The communication and expectation from them was very clear.”
Is this going to be a new specialty for his firm?
“No, no,” he said with a laugh, although he is now doing a reno for clients in Perth, Australia.
But this experience has changed how he does business.
His team takes iPads, DVDs and images of what they’re doing to every client meeting. They use iPhones to track details and hours, transferring the latter directly to spreadsheet programs.
“We’ve honed our process. This project offered us a tremendous opportunity, and took us in a new strategic direction,” he said.
It’s great to be able to offer a full range of services, said Ingram who used to be a project manager for HSBC bank. “We can take people from the initial excavation and demo, right through to the final build and landscaping.
“This [company] started 12 years ago, out of my basement. It’s really a hobby that got out of control.”