Laura Lovo: Stanley Martin Custom Homes and Design Trends

About This Episode

Go With John as he chats with Laura Lovo. Laura is the Design Manager at Stanley Martin Custom Homes. In this episode, John and Laura discuss the path to finding your dream career. Laura also shares her favorite aspects of working at the design studio as well as predictions on future home design trends. In addition to having an eye for all things home design, Laura also enjoys painting in her free time!
Stanley Martin Custom Homes Website


[00:00:02] In case you missed it, here’s a clip from Episode five with Michael Schnitzer, president of Stanley Martin Custom Homes.


[00:00:10] Just like with any business, you have to put the time and you have to invest the energy right to get the outcome you want. It’s there’s no easy path, right? There’s just no easy path. So as we started growing, we started growing.


[00:00:27] The company started growing the business. I think in the beginning, you know, we always took the approach that we would modify our plans. Right.


[00:00:37] So we were modifying plans, making one of the mantras even from the beginning was we have to put a pretty face on a house. Absolutely. Because if you don’t A, I’m not going to be proud of it as a builder.


[00:00:52] B, the customer probably isn’t going to be proud of it when they’re standing the street looking at their home.


[00:01:02] Laura Lovo is in the studio with us today, and she is the design studio manager at Stanley Martin Custom Homes. She and I have worked together for the last decade and today she is going to tell us a little bit how things work at the selection process at Stanley Martin Custom Homes, as well as some of her other life experiences.


[00:01:28] All right, so we’re here today with Laura Lovo. She’s the design studio manager over at Stanley Martin Custom Homes. And thank you for coming in, Laura. Thanks for having me, John. So tell us a little bit about how you got to Stanley Martin custom home. So where did you go to school?


[00:01:43] Sure. So I went to James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I was an English major Spanish minor, which really has nothing to do with home building or design. When I graduated from college, I didn’t have a job right out of the chute, so I went back to the temp agency, had worked for off and on through college and high school. They placed me right out there with a home builder. So I was working in their marketing department for about six months. And then they said, hey, you’ve been working on some of our model homes. You’ve got a good eye for design. We’ve got a position opening up in our design studio. Would you be interested in transitioning over to that department? And I said, yep, love model homes, love picking out cabinets and flooring. So I went to work in their design studio. I was there for about a year. Total went to work for another homebuilder. After that, a little bit better opportunity. And then after about three years there, that’s when the market crash happened in 2008. So I was laid off. Actually, they they totally closed the entire division of the home builder. And then about a month after that, they actually brought me back on one of their side projects that they had. And then one of my former coworkers worked for Stanley Martin Custom Homes at the time. And Stanley Martin had an opening. And my former coworker said, come on over here. And I did. And the rest is history. Yeah. What year was that? I started with Stanley Martin in 2009.


[00:03:32] Wow. That was a little while ago.


[00:03:34] Yeah. I’m not old enough to be working there for that long.


[00:03:37] Yeah, that’s true. So. So, yeah. So that’s, that’s. So you’ve been there pretty much since the inception of, of or the rebirth of the company because we we rebooted in 2006, 2007. So you’ve been there for since about the start.


[00:03:55] Yeah. I’m one of the old timers, you and me. So. So what? Let’s talk a little bit.


[00:04:01] So I’m just curious, kind of a total side note here. So what was it like going to school in Harrisonburg with a with a with u. Because I drive through there all the time. You know, I’ve got a place out there and I always think this is a really cool place, but it must be miserable trying to get to class in the snow. In the cold. How was it at James Madison University.


[00:04:20] So you definitely walk a lot. Get your steps in for sure. I grew up in Warrenton, Virginia, which is about an hour and a half from JMU. So I’m kind of used to the weather. And I’d say that the two towns are pretty equivalent. The probably the worst thing is that everything At JMU seems like it’s uphill. Yes.


[00:04:43] Both directions. Right. Right. And then when there’s snow and ice on the ground. Right? Yes.


[00:04:48] Yes. And then there’s a train that runs right through campus. So, you know, if you start to hear the ding, ding, ding of the warning bell warning bars coming down that you better hustle because otherwise they’ll be waiting 45 minutes for the world’s slowest train to pass.


[00:05:05] Right. Right. Right. That makes sense. Now, what was the best part about going to school there?


[00:05:09] What was your favorite part? Um, so it’s just a really good group of people. I ended up in a dorm that was pretty small, only about 25 or 30 people. So instantly freshman year, I had twenty five new best friends. Oh, that’s nice. So that was for me growing up at a small town, not really having left or experienced any type of big city or, you know, huge communities. It was nice to start off with a small group and create that core group of friends right away.


[00:05:43] Right. Right. Fantastic. So so let’s go back. So thank you for sharing that appreciate it. So, so let’s go. So let’s talk a little bit about so you come to Stanley Martin Custom Homes and you’re you’re working with the with the folks helping them through the design process. So what is it, you know, tell us a little bit about what you do and how do you bring people through and what are some of your favorite parts about the experience working with the folks?


[00:06:10] Sure. So at the highest level, I help our customers pick out all of their finishes for their home, everything from cabinets to flooring, plumbing, fixtures, exterior finishes like siding or stone. My favorite thing about doing that is that it’s always evolving and no two customers are the same, which means it’s impossible for me to get bored at work right now. That’s true. Yeah, that’s true. You know, after being there for 11 years, if I did the same exact thing every day, I would go crazy. So it’s nice to work with different personalities. And over the years, see, trends evolve and every time we get a new product in, it’s kind of like a kid on Christmas or, you know, what is this new toy we get to play with?


[00:07:01] Yeah. Yeah. So so, you know, I think another interesting thing that probably most folks listening wouldn’t even realize is that because we work with Michael Schnitzer, we are working with so many different genres of homes all the time. I don’t know of another single builder out there that can execute well in the arts and crafts, execute well in traditional, execute well and contemporary. So you get to design in all these different genres. So that’s got to keep you on your toes as well.


[00:07:36] Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. You know, there’s definitely trends that you see coming in and out. But because we work with so many different clients with different taste, while we may follow trends, we’re never stuck in that groove. So I can go from working with a really contemporary client that’s going to pick something totally different from a customer that has very traditional taste, which is keeps things interesting for sure.


[00:08:04] So when somebody comes in, how do you. So so because it’s a really interesting process for me. So somebody comes in or the contemporary or their arts and crafts, how do you start the process with them? What do you what do you say to them or what do you do to try? Because you have to understand what they want before you can start to show them how we can put it together.


[00:08:24] Yeah. So I always say a picture is worth a thousand words. I made that up.


[00:08:29] Yeah, just kidding.


[00:08:31] But starting off with inspiration. Pictures for me is, is the best place to begin. If somebody comes in and they have ten pictures of different kitchens, you can almost always see a common thread. Right. Whether it’s the cabinet color or the overall feel of the the space inspiration, pictures are always the best place to start. And then you can kind of take a step back from looking at, OK, this kitchen is beautiful. Well, then you start to figure out, OK, what is it about the cabinets that we like or the countertop in this picture? Kind of like putting together a puzzle. Mm hmm.


[00:09:13] So do folks in general, I guess, how much of a struggle do most of the folks have choosing their finishes? Is there a lot of counseling involved with the selection process? Or tell us a little bit about.


[00:09:31] Yeah, how it generally goes. So I would say everybody is different. I mean, I have some clients come in and they basically have everything already picked out because they’ve been dreaming about it and planning to build their their homes for a couple of years. Then I have other customers who come in and they do not have any idea what they’re looking for. So then there’s people in between and probably at both ends of the spectrum.


[00:10:02] There’s challenges on each side. Yes, exactly. Exactly. So which one which one do you enjoy working with more? Do you prefer the person that has kind of everything picked out, or do you like taking somebody from a blank slate and working them into the program?


[00:10:18] I’d say like the people in the middle the best, actually, because if they have a general idea of what they’d like to see and the type of style that they are going for, but they may not know the exact products they need, I like working with them to get to the end. Right.


[00:10:37] So so they’re open minded so you can show them the options and then you guys can work together versus somebody who’s already firmly in a track.


[00:10:45] Exactly right. Or has no clue. Right.


[00:10:47] You can still use a bit of my creativity, but it’s not starting from scratch and hoping for the best.


[00:10:55] Yeah. So so what kind of challenges come up? You know, so so one thing that comes to mind and I’m just going to throw this out that we don’t have to necessarily talk about this.


[00:11:04] But I know I don’t know, five or seven or eight years ago, a cabinet company went out of business. Right. And we had to go back and, you know, go through the cabinet selections process again with some folks.


[00:11:15] But what what kind of challenges or things come up during the selection process? And I can imagine, you know, at Stanley Martin Custom Homes, you can buy a home off the shelf right where you. By one of our plans, and you’re choosing all your options out of the studio, there’s probably not a lot of challenges in that genre right now because it’s all part of the program. But when you’re in a custom home and you’re doing things that are a little bit out of our normal process, what what kind of things come up and how do you work through them?


[00:11:47] Sure. So I would say probably the hardest thing is a bit what you had alluded to when products that we’ve picked are no longer available, whether it’s because a manufacturer has discontinued a product or potentially a temporary availability issue like we’re seeing in the days of covid. Oh, yeah. And that’s always really hard to deal with because we’ve been planning on using this tile, for example, and we’ve picked other products like cabinets and countertops to go with the tile. And now all of a sudden one of our pieces isn’t available to us. So it’s it’s kind of like having to go back to the drawing board. Right. But when that happens, we’re under a lot of pressure because we’re trying to build a home and get things completed quickly. So that’s one of the biggest challenges is when we’ve got the rug pulled out from under us. Right.


[00:12:45] That’s part of what keeps your job interesting, though, too, right?


[00:12:48] Yeah. The you could do without. Yeah, I could do without that part. Yeah, I understand.


[00:12:55] So now for the folks that go outside of the design studio, where where do you. So, so I think tile is a pretty common place. Where that would you say is that what is the most common place where folks would go outside of the studio.


[00:13:10] Yeah, I think tile is is probably the biggest. There’s so many different tile options, whether we’re talking about for a kitchen backsplash or for a bathroom or for a laundry room. It’s a lot of fun to go outside of the 20 or 30 tiles we have in my design studio to a thousand tile options. Right.


[00:13:34] So how does that process work? So let’s say I’m buying a house and I come in and I say, Laura, you know what? This beautiful tile here in the design studio. But I want something a little different. So what do you say?


[00:13:45] Well, the first thing we would do is talk about what they are looking for. Again, if they’ve got inspiration, pictures that we can pull from, that would probably be the the starting place. Right. And then from there, we work with an outside tile company, OK? And then I’ve got some great contacts, some great design contacts over there that we can share the inspiration pictures with. And they can say, oh, I know exactly what those tile is or hey, I don’t have the exact tile. But here’s something that’s very similar in shape and color and in design. We can also visit the outside tile showroom, which is a lot of fun to, you know, again, kid in a candy store. That is a lot of fun. Every time I go there, I see a new tile that I want for my new house. For my house.


[00:14:36] Yeah. So what is it about tile? Because I agree. You go to you go to the tile supplier. It’s really amazing, all the different things you can do with tile.


[00:14:43] Yeah. I mean there’s just lots of different sizes, colors, patterns, and even from there you can take different sized tiles and lay them in a different way. So you get a different look. Exactly. A room can look totally different with a straight grout line versus, say, a herringbone grout joint. Mm hmm.


[00:15:03] So now where else do people go outside of the studio?


[00:15:06] Probably the next biggest is cabinets. OK, that’s a huge component in any house. So if if someone’s got a particular cabinet color that they’re looking for or just a different feature or style, we can go outside the box on cabinets.


[00:15:26] So while you’re in kitchens, let’s talk a little bit about appliances, OK? Is that is that is always a very a complicated conversation if you want to make it complicated. So I always I always tell people people ask me a lot. They’ll say, you know what, John isn’t building a new home, a really complicated process. And I’ll say, you can make it as complicated or as easy as you want for sure. So I think appliances. So we have a lot of great appliances in the Stanley Martin showroom. But when you want to start getting into the other levels of appliances, if you want to start getting to the to the Viking and the Wolf. So what do you say to folks about the appliance options that are out there?


[00:16:12] Yeah, so you’re right. There’s a ton of options out there. And probably the first thing that we would need to figure out is what are you looking for? And by that I mean, are you a cook? And you need. Six burners and a griddle on your stove, or are you more of a takeout person and we can go a bit simpler with a four burner top. Similarly with a refrigerator, you know, if you’ve got four kids at home, we may need to go bigger on the refrigerator. But if it’s two people in a household, maybe a regular 36 inch fridge would work. So it’s digging a little bit deeper to figure out how they live, how they cook. And then from there, we can take that information and start to dove into the different manufacturers. Right. Certainly, some manufacturers specialize a bit more in refrigeration versus cooking. And we work with a great outside company for some of the specialty appliances. So it’s kind of like a Doctor right. I’m a general practitioner, but then we’ll go to a specialist whenever we need some help with appliances.


[00:17:22] Well, that’s a great analogy, actually, for the whole process. Right, because that and I’ve never heard that before all the years that we’ve been working together. So, yeah, you’re a general practitioner. You go to the tile specialist, right? You go to the appliance specialist, you go to the kitchen cabinets specialist. So as needed, you will and you go with the folks. Right. So we don’t just say go over and see our appliance guy. You go with the the buyers to the tile.


[00:17:48] Yeah. I don’t want people to feel untethered. And certainly there’s particularly with appliances, there’s some integration that will need to happen, such as with the cabinet layout. Right. I need to make sure I leave you space for 48 inch refrigerator if that’s what you pick. There’s integration with the plumbing company to get the gasline sized appropriately for the stove and the water line in the right location for the refrigeration. So it’s it’s helpful for me to be there where I can overhear the appliance rep, the specialists talking about the features of of this or that. But I need to be in the background. Kind of noting OK. If they pick this, then I need to do that.


[00:18:35] And that’s that’s really a good point, because my experience with renovating homes and renovating kitchens, you know, you have to know, for example, behind a refrigerator, where does the outlet need to be? Right. Because some of the refrigerators need the outlet at the top and some of them need it in the center and some of them need them down low. So depending on what refrigerator you pick, it will impact the the electricians. Exactly. Install and the same thing with a with a range. Where does the gas line need to come out of the back of the wall and where does the electrical outlet need to be and does it need to be 220 or does it need to be, you know, 110? And yeah, there’s a lot of there’s a lot of pulling pieces together just to get the appliances into the kitchen. Yeah, absolutely. And then you add the complexity of making the cabinets fit, right? It’s yeah. It’s quite an ordeal.


[00:19:28] It’s definitely hipbone is connected to the leg bone is connected. So it’s it’s.


[00:19:34] Yeah, yeah. It’s a lot. So really the countertop and the backsplash, that’s really the easiest part of the whole thing.


[00:19:40] Definitely. I mean the discredited after the fact.


[00:19:44] So good. So, so what other parts of the design phase do you find most interesting.


[00:19:52] Sure. So there’s a lot of details, as you just mentioned, about the cabinet layout. That’s one of my most favorite parts, is actually putting together the cabinets, figuring out how much space we have. And then the best use of that space. I always try to walk myself through the different kitchens on paper, figuring out the trash bin better here next to the sink, or would it be better in the island where people coming in from the breakfast table can have access to it? There’s a lot of things in the kitchen that we kind of take it take for granted these days, but I always think it can be better. Right? So if you can reduce your walk to the stove by five steps, that doesn’t sound like a lot. But thinking you’re going to do that walk every day, possibly multiple times a day, it adds up. It does. Yeah, it does. And then having things be next to whatever else, trying to pair things together. So, for example, putting in a stack of drawers where the Tupperware is going to live right next to the refrigerator, where are you going to put the food in the Tupperware into? That makes a lot of sense. So it’s just kind of piecing together a puzzle and trying to figure out what would be the best use of the space. And sometimes that’s totally specific to the customer. Right? Right. If somebody cooks a lot while we need to allow a lot more space. Or not only a food processor, but all the other kitchen gadgets that people have these days. So let’s set that space up a little bit differently than for somebody who, you know, maybe cooks once and then does a lot of leftovers or does takeout. Right.


[00:21:44] Right now. That makes good sense. So so you get now when the homes are completed, you get to go out and walk into homes and you get to look and touch and feel all the work that you did back at the beginning of the process. That’s right. So there’s something kind of magical that happens with that, because you’ve been through the process from design to completion. Many, many, many. I don’t even want to guess how many hundreds. I know it’s it’s a lot. A lot. So when you go out and you are walking the house and opening the drawers and closing the drawers, and how does that help you bring your institutional knowledge forward to the subsequent transactions? Walk us through a little bit. How does that feel? Yeah, when you see your work in real time, that’s a great question.


[00:22:33] I actually right before this, I was at one of our homes in Falls Church walking through and it was a totally customized floor plan. And I think what we did with the kitchen made a lot of sense. But it’s always very helpful to actually be able to stand in the completed space and make sure, OK, we did put the trash bin in the right spot or I’m glad we put the space pull out to the right hand side of the stove versus the left hand side of the stove. It’s not always perfect, right? Sometimes I walk home and I think to myself, OK, on the next time I’m going to make a note to do this a little bit differently. Right. Basically, it’s going from things on paper to actually seeing it in real life and and walking through and kind of trying to do the same steps that I think our customers will will do whenever they’re actually about to make a meal on a kitchen or get ready in the morning going between the bathroom and the walk in closet, for example.


[00:23:35] And that’s you know what? This is one of the things that makes you so great. And it’s also one of the things that makes Michael so great, because Michael for 30, 40 years has designed homes and walked them. And he’s looked at them on paper and then he’s walked them and then designed another home and walked in. And you do it over and over and over again. And it really makes you exceptional at what you do.


[00:23:56] So it’s a well, I think it’s important to do, especially as we’re customizing floor plans and changing things up. You know, if we built the same thing 50 times, we’d only have to do that walkthrough once or twice. Yeah. To perfect it. Yeah. But because every home is a little bit different, you know, we’ve got to keep on doing that to make sure that you’re dialed in.


[00:24:19] Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And I think and I think most of our customers probably only do this once in their lifetime. Right. Maybe twice. Maybe twice. We have a couple that have done it three times.


[00:24:30] Right. I think they’re just competing with each other. Exactly. Yeah.


[00:24:34] So, so, so I think our customers really rely on this process that we have that you have that that makes you who you are and you’re in your role. So that’s awesome.


[00:24:46] Yeah, it’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s, you know, makes you feel worthwhile at the same time.


[00:24:51] Yeah. Yeah. Good.


[00:24:52] Hi. Michael Schnitzer here, president of Stanley Martin Custom Homes. In 2001, we built a home that was judged to be the best custom home built in America. This was mostly based on our execution of high level details. We apply the same processes and systems to all custom homes we built to learn more about our processes, pricing and floor plans. Please visit us at we build on your lot dotcom that we build on your lot dotcom.


[00:25:44] So so going back to 2009, and I’m laughing because I built my house out in Shenandoah County in 2013 and I told Michael the other day, I said, man, my house feels so dated. You know, when I go from when I go from, you know, where we’re recording today to the to the Shenandoah property, it’s I feel like I’m going back 100 years. So. So take us back to two thousand, nine, 10, 11. And, you know, just you know, we had the the dark cabinets and gold colored, not gold colored countertops, but more tan. And you know what what what has really changed the most over the last ten years in design?


[00:26:30] So I would say color schemes in general, two thousand nine, as you mentioned, was definitely more in the warm tones. You know, everybody was doing the stained cabinets. You’d see a lot of the darker granite or busier granite. Almost all granite. Yeah. No quartz back then, right? Yeah, right. So we’ve seen a shift towards cooler color tones. I mean, you can’t walk into a kitchen these days without seeing at least accents or hints of gray. I think people in general are going lighter on everything. Right. You want to walk into a room and have it feel light and bright and airy. So we’ve seen a lot of cabinet shift over whites, probably the most popular color cabinets, but also some other lighter grays later off whites. If people are doing darker cabinets than I’m seeing the introduction of fewer upper cabinets, maybe adding some open shelving or at least breaking it up with some lighter countertops and lighter backsplash.


[00:27:41] So are you. So what do you think is. Yeah, so there’s definitely a lot of white now. And I think maybe five years ago I think we had a lot of gray. I think I think Gray was pretty heavy five years ago. Is in a ball rolling more to the white.


[00:27:56] Oh. So we’re still seeing some of those gray accents.


[00:28:01] But the gray cabinets, I think there was a period of time where a lot of folks were doing.


[00:28:05] Yes, yeah. Right. I’d say less totally gray cabinets. OK, and now more of a painted cabinet that has some grayish undertones, but still is closer to white than closer to gray. Got it.


[00:28:20] Yeah. Then it does make sense.


[00:28:23] So are you seeing more glass doors, more lighting, more what are you seeing any trends in that in that area?


[00:28:32] So glass doors is an interesting concept. They had been very popular. Right? Everybody wants the study with the glass doors so you can kind of still communicate with your family while you’re working. Right. It’ll be interesting to see how that changes now that more and more people have their entire families back home. Right, right. We may go back to those solid doors. So it’s you know, this is my cave and this is where I’m coming to get away from the family. Yeah, but I think in general, still having connectivity between the different areas of the home is important. We may we may see the addition of ways to close off rooms if needed. Like, I wouldn’t be surprised if if that starts to happen where OK, maybe this front room can act as a dining room. But yeah, mom and dad are both staying at home. Yeah. Working. Maybe it’s no longer a dining room and it’s a second study. Yeah. So I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see barn doors on the dining room just so they can have the best of both worlds.


[00:29:39] Yeah. Yeah. That’s a that’s a good that’s a good point. And I was, I was going to I was getting ready to get to the whole covid thing because we’re having this conversation in, you know, Q3 2020. And we’ve been living in a covid world now for about six months. And, you know, I think probably the first three or four months, I don’t think a lot of the covid factor was baked in to the to the process. And I think as more people are beginning to realize, we may be living in a new normal for many, many years to come. And people are building bigger homes and they are working from home and their home schooling potentially. And we don’t know if we’re going to have school in class or if we’re going to have home schooling or a combination thereof. So so I think the fully open floor plan is maybe on the chopping block for a little while where we may be going to an open floor plan with a barn door, like you said, where you can close off a dining room or. Do they do solid doors in the study so you can get a little more separation or do more people start building the loft again, you know, because they want that extra level away from the family because they’re working from home?


[00:30:51] Yeah, exactly. Or little nooks, for example, off the kitchen. If there’s a portion of a large pantry closet, then they can set aside for the zoom meetings or class, you know, maybe not totally reinventing the wheel on the floor plan, but adding these space elements, adding these ways to, you know, make a room more private if needed. Yeah, I think we’ll see that.


[00:31:18] So how is covid affected you?


[00:31:22] So the biggest change has been going from 100 percent in person selection meetings with customers to 75 percent Skype or Zoom or teams meetings and twenty five percent in person. When this first started, I was amazed. I didn’t know how we were going to have people. We were all amazing. You know, it’s hard to fathom having people pick colors and finishes over the Internet, right? So I just I didn’t know how people would respond to that, but we really didn’t have a choice. Yeah. You know, I didn’t want to be out there. According to the governor, we couldn’t have a lot of a lot of these in-person meetings. And I think our clients felt the same way where, you know, safer at home. What can we do, you know, to to keep away from others. But I was pleasantly surprised at how receptive our clients were and also at how well it seemed to work. Yeah. You know, we would take these selection catalogs that we’d put together PDF that we’re sending our clients ahead of time. And then we would have virtual appointments where we’re all looking at the same cabinets as an example, looking at the same catalog of cabinets, talking about, OK, let’s look at the inspiration picture. Looks like we’re going for a shaker cabinet. This is the one that I think would would work best for you. Not necessarily picking finishes one hundred percent, but at least narrowing it down, you know, taking fifteen different colors and saying, you know what, I know these are out. Let’s focus more on these two or three. Right. We’ve got a lot of model home, virtual walk through online. These are helpful, super helpful. You can see how things actually finish out in a real sized house. Right. And how they look paired with this backsplash or this floor so that actually the selection process virtually went pretty smoothly. Yeah. And then we are still doing usually one, sometimes two in-person meetings out of the studio. Everybody’s got their mask on. We’re asking people to wear gloves if they want to handle any of the samples restricting the number of clients who are in the studio at any time. But that’s our opportunity to take these three cabinets that are in the running. Look at them in person, see how they match up with the countertops that we thought we’d want to see them with the backsplash tile. And from there, you know, make our final choices. And the feedback from customers has been good. I think a lot of people are happy that they don’t have to drive, you know, sometimes thirty minutes or an hour to get to the studio or miss work or have to arrange for child care. Yeah. So I think even, you know, if we do go back to normal, I think there’s some carryover. Yeah. From this that, you know, we’ll let people still do some things virtually at work.


[00:34:36] I think we can all agree that there is going to be a new normal. We don’t know what the normal is, but the new normal is not going to be the old normal.


[00:34:45] Right, right. There’s no doubt about that.


[00:34:48] So how are you personally feeling about the whole covid thing? So I know in the beginning it really hit us all hard. Yeah, I know we had a huge competitive competitive advantage because we already were selling some homes over the Internet to people in the Foreign Service and the military who were buying homes overseas. And so we already had experience and a process in place and we certainly greatly improved it very quickly. Yeah. When we were bringing more people through. But I know in the very beginning, because you and I haven’t really sat down and spoken in about six months. Yes, I know it’s been a long time. So this is really our first conversation. And I know how you were feeling back then. Tell us all here. How were you feeling when this first hit? Yeah, I know you didn’t want to be there, but let’s talk a little.


[00:35:38] More about that, yeah, so I did not want to be out in public. I wanted to be in my house and not see people that, you know, I didn’t know where they had been. I think everybody was kind of feeling like we don’t know how covid works. We don’t know how it spread. So, you know, I probably was on the very cautious end of things. And I think fortunately, as we’ve gotten some more information, it’s allowed me to unravel a little bit. I think you and me both.


[00:36:11] I think you would fall into that exact same category. So, yeah. So how do you feel now when you go to work? Are you going to. How often you go? I know at the beginning you didn’t want to go in at all. But how do you feel now when you go into the office you feel better.


[00:36:24] Yeah. So I feel better. I mean I think we’ve got some more knowledge in our in our pocket. I also know that, you know, everybody who I’m going to see at the office is wearing a mask, whether it’s my colleagues, whether it’s the clients coming in. We’re asking people to wear gloves if they want to handle samples. And, you know, we’ve got some plexiglass divider. So I think it’s I think it’s well thought out. And you’re comfortable. You feel comfortable? I’m comfortable. Yeah.


[00:36:55] Yeah. So now how comfortable? Because, you know, it’s funny when you deal with the public, you deal with everything, you deal with everybody. And there’s you know, I run into folks that want to come in and have an in-person meeting and they don’t care. And and, you know, we do care. Obviously, we want to be careful. But are you are you running? So what is your read on kind of the folks that you’re working with? How have they evolved? Do you feel like people are getting more responsible about this or are you still running into folks that just say, look, I don’t want to wear a mask? And what do you experience?


[00:37:29] I think the good news is that all of our customers have followed the rules and without any pushback. Yeah. So I definitely am appreciative to that. I mean, I think we’re all in this together. Absolutely. My mask protects you. Your mask protects me. Yeah. So I’m happy that our customers fall in line and and show up wearing their masks and our are open to doing some virtual appointments. I definitely feel more comfortable with the group of people that I work with and that I have interacted with, whether it’s clients or trade partners as compared to, you know, when I go to the grocery store and I see some people who have the mask pulled down below their nose or, you know, it’s yeah, it’s crazy.


[00:38:17] It’s a little crazy when some people think is is acceptable.


[00:38:20] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s really it’s a it’s a it’s a it’s a head scratcher. Yeah. It really is.


[00:38:32] John Jorgenson here, and if you’re considering building a new home in Northern Virginia or Montgomery County, Maryland, reach out to us through our Web site. We build on your lot dotcom. That’s what we build on your lot dotcom. We have pricing and floor plans online, lots of great process information and contact us through the Web site so we can get you started on the path to your very own Stanley Martin Custom Home.


[00:39:03] So, Laura, you mentioned earlier that you were laid off. Mm hmm. So what year was that?


[00:39:10] So that’s 2008, OK, the height of the housing crisis. Yeah, not surprising. You know, lots of layoffs in the building industry.


[00:39:17] Yep, yep. Yep. So so let me just back because I want to ask you about that, but let’s back up a little bit. So you went to college English major. Yes. Spanish minor.


[00:39:28] Yes. Please don’t ask me to say anything in Spanish, so don’t worry too.


[00:39:32] I wonder. I never learn anything, so don’t worry. I would not do that to you.


[00:39:36] So so, you know, I guess a lot of the folks we speak with on this show are, you know, entrepreneurs and a lot of them went to college. So you took the college route and went the career path. So what what advice or what lessons did you learn? Is there anything you would tell kind of the young folks that might be listening who are in high school or junior high school coming up into that ranks about going to college? Would. Sure. How do you feel about it and what kind of experience did that bring to your life?


[00:40:08] So I think the most helpful thing about going to college is not necessarily what I learned in my actual classes, but it was really helpful for me to learn how to live my own life right at college. You’re responsible for getting yourself out of bed, going to your classes. Mom and dad aren’t there to say hey at seven thirty right up and go to English class. It’s up to you. Right? And then there’s personal responsibility in getting your work done right. Nobody’s going to do it for you. Similarly, mom and dad aren’t there to say, did you write your paper for history? Why No. One, it’s up to you. And so that’s that’s a probably the biggest difference between high school and college is you learn personal responsibility, time management. Right. If you’ve got a bunch of things to do, you’ve got to make the decision whether you go out with your friends or whether you buckle down and study for your test tomorrow. So for me, college is more about life skills than necessarily the specific information and each one of my classes.


[00:41:19] But the information was important or not at all?


[00:41:21] Well, yes, as an English major, I’m happy to say I can read and write. Yeah, just kidding.


[00:41:28] But I do, you know, obviously take away a lot of good information about how to be a good communicator and how to.


[00:41:35] You must cringe when you read my emails. I only circle things and read occasionally.


[00:41:42] I found this so so leading up to college. Did you have a lot of support from your family in school? So you mentioned. Yeah. You know, so was your boy, your mom and dad really behind you making sure you did all your homework and in high school?


[00:41:57] So luckily for them, I was a pretty good student on my own. You know, I liked getting good grades, so I was pretty self-sufficient in high school. But there definitely was some oversight on my parents just to make sure I got things done. And I was taking the right classes to be able to get into college. My mom didn’t go to college, so she was really pushing to, you know, advance myself in my right. But I’m glad I won. It was a great experience.


[00:42:28] Yeah. So now how important you mentioned you had twenty five roommates or dorm mates, your dorm. How important was the experience that you got interacting with twenty five strangers all at once? You said you had an instant family, right. And you had all these friendships all of a sudden but you had twenty five different personalities. Yeah. That were all there that you had to kind of deal with every day.


[00:42:53] Yeah. I mean I think that’s part of what keep kept it interesting and made us all be friends is you could have this person who was the Joker and then this person who you know knew where the best places to eat on campus were. It was good to have the introduction to lots of different personalities, but on a smaller scale. Right. Than if I lived in a dorm with three hundred kids.


[00:43:18] Right. Where most of the folks who went to school with were they local Virginia or were they from all over the country?


[00:43:24] So JMU was mostly Virginians. There were a couple of people who came from out of state, Maryland, Vermont, but most people are local.


[00:43:35] Got you. Makes sense. All right. So let’s fast forward. So you go to college, you get straight A’s, they’re decent.


[00:43:43] You’re good at college.


[00:43:45] You you’re working and the market crashes. Yes. And you get laid off.


[00:43:50] Tell us how that felt for you. So not great. We, you know, kind of sense that it was coming. Just, you know, in 2008, you were hearing about how the market’s crashing. And then as we got closer and closer to when I actually got laid off, there were the specific rumors at the company that they were actually going to close down the entire division and stop building in Virginia altogether. So it was at that point just kind of a waiting game. And we didn’t know if it was going to be that day, that week, that month. So, you know, finally happened. They closed the division down. I think all but three or four people were laid off. Wow. So it was it was a scary time, especially since I’d only worked for homebuilders. Right. I knew I couldn’t just go and get a job at another homebuilder because everybody was happy. It was tough. Tough there. Yeah. Yeah. So I didn’t really know what else to do. I started to apply for a couple of other jobs, some in marketing, just some various things. And it felt like it was a really long time, but it was only about a month and a half.


[00:45:11] That’s a long time. So you were living on your own?


[00:45:13] I was living with my my future husband at the time.


[00:45:16] And you had bills to pay? Yeah. And it was yeah.


[00:45:22] It’s kind of scary looking at your checking account, your savings account every month and seeing things come out of it. You’re not seeing anything be added to it.


[00:45:30] Yeah. Yeah, not. So then remind me again to a month and a half later you got a job where.


[00:45:35] So I actually went back to work for the same company. That’s right. In a different division. And they had a contract actually building homes on Navy bases. So that was fortunately not affected by the housing crisis. Right. So a month and a half later, they said, hey, we’ve got an opening in this division. Would you come work for us? It was more of a purchasing role than design role. But, yeah, I would have, you know, scrubbed the floors at. Sure, right. Sure. So I was there for probably another eight or nine months doing that job and then carried you over.


[00:46:12] Yeah. Yeah, yeah. So how did that experience affect you and how you live today? Was it was there an impact on how you look at your money and your future and what can happen in the world?


[00:46:24] Well, it’s definitely humbling to know that you’re replaceable, you know, or not needed at all. Yeah, so humbling. And then also a good lesson that you always want to have a safety net. So whether it’s, you know, having cash reserves in case the worst happens again or for me, one thing that I thought of is, oh my gosh, I have to be able to go work in a different industry if this were to happen again. Right. I was fortunate that I got pulled back into the homebuilding industry right away. But there were lots of of colleagues who they were laid off in 2008 and, you know, had to spend a year reinventing themselves to now go and work in a totally different industry. So I think it’s you you get in into a groove with where you are, but you’ve got to be able to modify and go work for somebody else or learn a different skill in order to to switch things.


[00:47:29] Plan B. Exactly. You know, and that’s kind of a common thread with a lot of the folks we talked to is they say you got to be ready for anything and you got to be ready to adapt and you have to have a plan B because you may never need it. But when you when you need it, you don’t want to lose too much time going after it. Exactly. Exactly.


[00:47:48] Covid has taught us that as well. And you’ve got to be able to adapt and change things up in order to be with the times.


[00:47:57] Yeah, well, you know, the amazing thing about covid, you know, and I’m looking at our producer, Nick, over here is that it it we didn’t lose one minute at our facility. We went the second this hit and and adapted and we started digging up our Plan Bs. And one of our Plan Bs was the was the podcast that we’re recording right now. And the funny thing is this was the inception was was more than 10 years ago and we almost got it off the ground in 2013. But as you know, we’ve been so busy with building and growing and everything’s been going so well as I actually sat on the shelf collecting dust for four, seven years. So when covid hit, you know, we pulled it out and it’s brought us here today to have all these great conversations.


[00:48:46] So I think people are tapping into, you know, kind of these hidden passions, interests that they’ve put off for so long. Yeah. Whether it’s because they have more time on their hands now or need a creative outlet. So, yes, there’s. And some good to come of it.


[00:49:01] Oh, I absolutely agree with you.


[00:49:03] So any any other any other stories that you have or any other hobbies or things that you’ve gone after with covid, what have you done differently personally?


[00:49:16] Yeah, so I used to to be a big yoga and barre person, but that’s very not what I was going to ask you to clarify that. Yeah. So you know that that’s been a huge change. I know some gyms and facilities are opening up, but the place I went to still hasn’t.


[00:49:41] And so what is barre? I know what yoga is. Yeah.


[00:49:44] What is b a r r e so barre b a r r e is it’s an exercise that has its foundations in ballet and dance. So it’s a lot of oftentimes you’ll be actually at a ballet bar and you can hold on to it for support or use it as resistance. But it’s a lot of slow controlled movements. I think if you were to watch it, you would think this doesn’t look that hard. They’re going very slow. They don’t have huge weights, you know, that they’re holding. But if you were to do it, I think instantly you’ll find out it’s no joke. Right? Bet your muscles were hurt for a week afterwards.


[00:50:31] So are you. So what are you doing since you can’t do that?


[00:50:35] So I definitely have, you know, slipped on on working out, try to still get a little bit in. But it’s to me, it’s less motivation to see somebody, you know, telling me to to do far more on the screen than it was right to life.


[00:50:51] Right. Because you could turn this screen off.


[00:50:53] Exactly. Exactly. Yeah.


[00:50:57] So one of the the things I’ve picked up, though, during covid is I do a follow along watercolor painting. There’s a great site out there that you can order the paints from the brushes, you can order templates, and then they guide you step by step. So somebody who never thought they could create a painting that looked anything like a panda bear. Yeah. Which is the one that I just did. I mean, I’ll show you my my watercolor. And it’s I’m not going to say it’s professional.


[00:51:28] Yeah. But it’s more than I ever thought. I personally send to a picture. Yeah. So we can so we can put it online. All right. So everybody can see. I’d love to see them right off. I’ll send you the panda. So what about else, anything else happening in your world. How is your house. So house is good. Yeah.


[00:51:44] With my husband I have kind of adapted to both of us working from home. Yeah. Yeah. We have a smaller house in Northern Virginia, so I’m upstairs in the office and then my husband is downstairs at the dining room with his three computer monitors and and he needs one more.


[00:52:03] Yeah. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an Amazon box on the steps when I get home.


[00:52:08] Yeah. So it’s you know, it’s definitely been interesting. Yeah. It feels weird now and we have to leave the house. Yeah. The things that, you know, we knew, OK, we’ve got to pack our lunch and take the laptop. Now it just it seems more daunting. Yeah. I guess I’m out of practice. So, you know, I make myself a list before I go in, but it’s it’s been good.


[00:52:34] Yeah. So are you. So so you’re pretty much in the house all day when you’re working from home, the both of you. And you just.


[00:52:41] Yes, yeah. We kind of go to our separate areas. The nice thing about working from home is that I’ve been able to get outside more during the day. Yeah. You know, sometimes when you’re so busy and you’re just changing your desk trying to to get through these emails or get this report done, especially when you’re in office building effort, right? Yeah, I take the elevator, go down stairs just to see the light of day. Yeah. Whereas when you’re at your house, you know, you can take a fifteen minute walk around the block at lunchtime. So that’s nice. That’s been a nice benefit to working from home. Yeah.


[00:53:18] Good, good. So any advice you have for the youngsters out there that might be listening. So people just getting out of college, people just going to college, starting their career or if they’re not there. Sure.


[00:53:32] So do you have any advice you want to throw out there to the folks that say, yeah, so what I would tell people is don’t feel like you have to do exactly what you went to school for. You know, some people know from the day that they start kindergarten that they want to be a doctor. OK, that’s fine. You probably should go out and practice medicine after, you know, going to school for that long, but for. Somebody who I don’t really know exactly what I want to do, I’ll be a business major or like me, an English major. That’s fine. It doesn’t necessarily set your whole career path for you. So be open to it and just know there’s a lot of good companies out there. There’s a lot of interesting jobs. And I think if you’re intelligent and willing to work hard, you can succeed at a lot of those places. So don’t pigeonhole yourself.


[00:54:27] That’s good advice. That’s good advice. And you probably don’t really you didn’t know you wanted to go into design when you were in college. You don’t really I think your your your brain kind of unfolds like a blooming flower as you age. Right. And you learn different things about yourself as you as you go through life. And you graduated from college and fell into the design world. Right. And you’re very good at it. And you’re very good at the customer service side of it. And that’s your area. But you had no way of knowing that when you were in college.


[00:54:59] So that’s really going to be a teacher. Yeah. So it’s you know, it’s OK to take that sharp turn your life and, you know, whether you do it.


[00:55:08] I try not to laugh because I’m good a lot, but so I can’t see you as a teacher learning everything that I’ve just learned about you now because you like the different, you know, the the the different finishes and the different products changing and the new things coming in. And I think if I guess if you’re a teacher, you can teach different classes. Right. But I think a teacher is more a little more regimented than you would probably personally like.


[00:55:35] Looking back, I can’t imagine going and being a teacher. Right. I mean, I think it’s a great job. It’s, you know, one hundred percent, probably one of the most fulfilling jobs and thankless.


[00:55:48] Yeah, yes.


[00:55:50] But looking back at it, I probably would not have been successful. Yeah. And that so that, you know, that’s that’s my point is it’s OK to do things to end up in a different spot than where you thought you were headed.


[00:56:03] Right. Right now, I think that’s great advice. All right, Laura. Well, thank you for coming in and sitting down and chatting with us today. We really enjoyed it. So thank you.


[00:56:11] Thanks for having me.


[00:56:17] Hey, I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of the Go with John show, please subscribe on the podcast platform of your choice and keep up with our latest episodes and what’s going on with the show at Go with John Dotcom. That’s go with John Dotcom.