Taking the Practical Approach

With all the exposure and many awards Laughlin Homes and Restoration in Fredericksburg, Texas, has received, it’s surprising that it remains one of a few design/build firms in the area. Perhaps it’s because while success can be duplicated, experience cannot, and experience is what Richard Laughlin, president, has plenty of.

Laughlin left the commercial side of construction at age 24 as a hands-on home builder in 1984. His years of experience with the design/build process feeds the local trend of historical accuracy in new construction and major renovations. Laughlin knows which designs will work and which won’t. There’s no need to solve design problems in the field because they’re solved in the office. It’s this practicality Laughlin teaches to his intern architects, who work for two years under his tutelage.

“I had the opportunity to hire a grad student from Texas Tech, on a part-time basis. It has been great, like having another tool in the toolbox,” Laughlin says. The first one left to work for a firm in San Antonio. The current intern is doing much more than busy work. She is drawing schematics, meeting with clients, is on jobsites meeting with customers and helping them make selections.

“I was amazed at what they don’t teach students in school, like designing around materials, and practical things like matching room size to standard carpet sizes, for example. I’m not saying sacrifice good design, but at least be aware and not wasteful,” he says.

Laughlin is adamant about making drawings simple. “I make these students get out there on the site with their drawings and see how practical they are. They see the reality of working with the guys in the field and how the drawings are applied. I tell them not to make the drawings cluttered, and to make measurements that make sense; make it 15 ft., not 15 ft. 11/16 in.”

Laughlin hired his first intern as volume increased more than 30 percent in two years. Such a change necessitates maintaining good subcontractor relations. “We’re so busy here; we try to keep materials on the job for the subs, and the sites clean. I hear them complain about other builders not paying them on time, so when they present an invoice, I pay that day. Also if you want them to be loyal, you have to be loyal to them. Don’t beat them down on price. I know the subs need to make their profits to do a quality job.”

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