Former Stay-at-Home Mom Builds Her Own Business From the Ground Up

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Photo by Briana Brough

Tell me about your business.

I established myself as an LLC in January 2015. It’s just me, and anyone who helps me is a subcontractor, from bookkeepers to electricians to framers. I acquire properties, design houses, contract and sell them. I work with clients to do residential remodels or new construction.

Walk me through your career journey. How did you end up launching J. Hoffman Studio?

I went to school for architecture in Buffalo in the mid-1990s. I worked in the field for a short time before having three kids [Sadie, 16, Asa, 14, and Noah, 10] and deciding to stay home. I always loved design and architecture and found ways to weave it into my life with our family by designing or remodeling every house we lived in. [Around 2014,] I was trying to figure out how I was going to work my way back into my profession, but, as the primary caretaker of the kids, I wanted to figure out a way to still be flexible. I didn’t want to go back to, say, an architecture office as a full-time employee and then have to juggle all the things that come up with the kids like doctor’s appointments and summer vacations. At first I thought I would flip houses to earn money and get my head back into the design game. I eventually decided to get my general contractor’s license [in 2015], so I didn’t have to pay the middleman anymore (because I’m a micromanager anyway). I found a cottage in West Durham, and I was going to flip it. I put the offer in and when I started looking at the structure itself, I realized it was a tear down. So, rather than walk away, I thought, “OK, I wanted to get back into design, here’s my chance.” So I tore it down and designed a house from scratch. That is how I launched my business. It was a great confidence booster.

What challenges are you facing right now?

I’m at that point where I’m trying to figure out where I want my business to grow. Do I want to hire a project manager, an estimator, an office administrator? I’d love to get to where I’ve got all the permits, everyone hired, the building is underway and the schedule is set… I’d like at that point to step away and put a project manager in place who then manages the job site every day so I can get back to looking for that next big project.

Where do you look for new projects?

Ideally I’m staying within a 30-minute radius of my home office in Chapel Hill. I love finding lots tucked away in urban areas, where people can walk to shops and restaurants.

What do you offer your clients that other design-build firms may not?

When I am designing a home, I am really thinking carefully about the site, where the light is coming in, the way that I would want to live on that site, the features that I look for as a parent with three kids like an ample mudroom, enough storage space and bigger windows. And unique design details that you’re not going to find in a spec house, like the materials I choose and how I use them.

Right now, what are you working on?

I’m building a new construction guest house for clients, doing a residential remodel after extensive water damage and working on designs for two new houses that I’ll be building in lots that I own in Carrboro. And I’ve got client projects lined up, waiting in the wings.

What’s inspiring you these days?

What’s inspiring my design work is agricultural buildings, farms, outbuildings – buildings that are very utilitarian. They were built for a function and you see that reflected in their form.

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Laura Zolman Kirk

Associate Editor Laura Zolman Kirk is a Kentuckian turned Chapel Hillian and totally in love with this special slice of North Carolina.
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