VIEW FROM THE TOP: DANNY BERNADINI - UPSCALE CONSTRUCTION

Building Upscale

Working with some of the best architects in the world, spending time creatively solving problems for clients and building a home from the ground up are just a few of the things that make a day at the office so fulfilling for Danny Bernardini of Upscale Construction.  As a native San Franciscan, Bernardini has been hooked on building since he was a child.  To this day, we see the child inside of him is still very much alive with his infectious curiosity, good will and an inherent ability to keep the creative process of home building a win-win process for all involved.  CaenLucier had a moment to catch up with Danny between appointments at a favorite watering hole near his Union Street offices.

Danny Bernardini, Tony Kelly  and  Brad Hayes

Danny Bernardini, Tony Kelly and Brad Hayes

CaenLucier: What was it that led you to becoming a general contractor in San Francisco?  How and when was Upscale Construction formed?

Danny Bernardini: I loved building as a child.  When my father hired a contractor to do any work around the house, I sat there and looked and tried to help anywhere I could.  As I grew older, I wanted to get into development, so I worked for a general contractor in Marin, then got my license and started Upscale Construction in 1995.  I saved enough money to start doing some home flipping, but then got my first break on high end home remodeling via a VC who saw one of the homes I flipped.  Soon after that, the word got out and Upscale Construction grew to where we are today based on client/architect/ real estate agent references.

CL: The city is a competitive market for high-end building firms.  What sets Upscale apart for the competition?

DB: I truly believe our core values set us apart.  We try to instill in our team what got us to where we are today, which is a company based on mutual respect, creativity, and customer service.

Mutual Respect Treat all members on the project team, whether it is the laborer, sub-contractor, project manager, client, or architect with the mutual respect you would want.  You want everyone on site and involved in the project to have a positive attitude towards working in the client's best interest.  If everyone is well respected, you will get that positive attitude reflected in their work.

Creativity – Custom building comes with challenges behind every door.  We found that our creativity to problem solving was one of the reasons many of our clients liked working with us.  We empower our team to think out of the box to solve problems and to be proactive in doing so.  No idea is a dumb one.

Customer Service – The design/build industry is based on customer service.  After all, we are building the homes people quite often live in for the balance of their lives.  Without customer service, you can’t gain a complete understanding of what the client wants out of their home.  If you don’t understand that facet, how can you really build their dream home?

CL: What is your favorite part of the design/build process?

DB: I personally love seeing what gets accomplished on the site.  When I was a laborer/carpenter, and even now, I found myself losing what we call “valuable time” at the end of the day walking through the job site looking at what got accomplished.  There is nothing better than knowing you built something from scratch! This is why I don’t see this time as time lost.  I actually value this time.  On that note, I miss swinging the hammer, so I do a lot of that at my own home.  I am enjoying teaching my son to do so!

 

 

 

"Treat all members on the project team, whether it is a laborer Sub-contractor, PM, Client, Architect with the mutual respect you would want.  You want everyone on the site and involved in the project to have a positive attitude and want to work in the client best interest.  If everyone is well respected, you will get that positive attitude reflected in their work."

Pierce Street  Pacific Heights

Pierce Street Pacific Heights

CL: What are the challenges that are presented when working with an existing home in town?

DB: One of the bigger challenges is trying to keep the neighbors happy.  Let’s face it, there is construction occurring on every other house these days.  The neighbors are constantly faced with double parked cars, noise, debris, etc. We try to make it as easy as possible on the neighborhood and we try to set up a relationship with the neighbors so they know they can come to us with any issues.  We have heard some people say "at least Upscale Construction will be the builder."  If a neighbor has to deal with a job site, most feel at ease knowing it is us managing the construction.

Another big challenge is communication.  I feel we are great builders, but to be honest, I think there are a ton of great builders.  I believe our communication style reduces the challenge of the actual build out for the clients and architects we work with.

CL: Are there any particular architects that your enjoy working with?

DB: We are really blessed in San Francisco to have some of the best architects in the world!  I enjoy working most with architects that are good collaborators and involve us in the early budgeting phase. Just take a look at our signs around town and you will see many of the talented architects with whom we work.

CL: With San Francisco as a tech hub, what new technology has come into play in your profession?

DB: Home automation is more and more prevalent in the homes we are building.  Savant home control systems seem to be one of the more popular choices out there.  Also, 90% of the homes are installing radiant heat throughout.  The day of the forced air systems seems to be going away. 

CL: What would your dream project look like?

DB: Something with a Bat Cave, unlimited budget, unlimited schedule, pleasant neighbors, and at a site with unlimited parking...wouldn’t that be nice!  We recently completed a Mid-Century home in Sea Cliff where the design was true to the original design, but modernized for how peole live today.  The client happened to be the architect.  For him to build his dream home in the vernacular I most enjoy was a treat!!

CL: How would you advise people looking to do a large scale renovation or “ground up” project to best interview builders?

DB: Interview your general contractors to best understand how they work.  Be collaborative with them and the design team to achieve your budget.  Share your budget.  Share your goals.   If you can find the team that is your advocate (team being the right architect, engineers, and general contractor) then you have made a great start.  I would not put several general contractors up against each other. There is a fallacy that people think they will get the best price by doing this.  The problem there is you have too many sub contractors bidding on the project and the sub selection might be based on price only versus right fit.  The subs will also only give so much effort to bidding it and they will miss scope.  They have little motivation to bid it if they know they have little odds of getting the job.  I could go on and on, but it is key to find the team members you truly believe have got your back, then make sure they are capable of the build, capable of managing the build, and capable of open, effective communication and transparency.

"Find the team members you truly believe have got your back, then make sure they are capable of the build, capable of managing the build, and capable of open, effective communication and transparency."

CL: What are the common mistakes that clients make during the construction part of a new home?

DB: They change their minds too much!! I am not sure about the exact psychology behind it all, but it seems a lot of client’s want something but hold back until construction starts to add it.  For example, we do a lot of pre-construction analysis with clients and commonly the "off the cuff" cost is too high.  So we then work with the design team and client to cut the cost to something they are happy with.  Then we start...mid-stream they add most of the items we discussed (and cut) back into the project.  The big problem then becomes the changes cost more than originally budgeted.  There is a sequence we try to keep in construction.  Disrupting it costs time and time is money.   I understand there are many variables in making decisions, but if a client knows for sure that they are going to do something tell us early so we can do it for the best price and in the proper sequence.

CL: What architectural style do you most gravitate towards?

DB: Contemporary and Mid-Century Modern.

CL: What would you do if not building San Francisco’s finest residences?

DB: I would sell produce.  It was my first job on Union Street as a kid and I loved it!

CL: What is your favorite SF restaurant?

DB: Tony’s Pizza in North Beach.  I grew up hanging out in North Beach and I love pizza!!

CL: What do you like to do in your time off? 

DB: I enjoy working on construction projects around my house, golf (which I never have time to do), and tennis with my family.  Most of all, I love spending time with my wife and kids.  I am a workaholic so the time I do spend with them is precious.

Wine Country  Healdsburg

Wine Country Healdsburg

Vallejo Street  Cow Hollow

Vallejo Street Cow Hollow

Elizabeth Street  Noe Valley

Elizabeth Street Noe Valley

CaenLucier would like to thank Danny Bernardini for all his time and effort participating in LOFTY HEIGHTS!

VIEW FROM THE TOP: RICHARD BEARD ARCHITECTS

 

"Every site tells you something different, and siting and locating a new house is a real art.  After many years, I’m happy with my record."

When meeting Richard Beard for the first time one perceives a sense of calm and good humor.  Recently visiting his new Dogpatch offices, it is clear why, as we peruse high-caliber past projects and current visions underway that cast light on a creative talent at the top of his game.  With his substantial body of work, Beard shows his understanding of the ability of truly listening, deftly assessing a site, and creating an interactive approach with his discerning clientele which engages and always inspires.  After working at BAR Architects and heading up their residential design department, Beard decided to open up his own shop, Richard Beard Architects, in 2014 to create a smaller studio environment specifically focused on residential design.  We found him in good spirits over lunch as he shared some personal insights on architecture and beyond.

CaenLucier: When did you first realize that you wanted to dedicate your career to architecture?

Richard Beard: That’s easy:  I was a teenager, working for a bricklayer in Houston, under the hot Texas summer sun.  It was a very Ayn Rand / Fountainhead moment.  Think about when Gary Cooper is looking up out of the stone quarry at Patricia Neal, and you’ve pretty much got it.

CL: After working at BAR Architects as a senior partner for many years and heading up the custom home residential design group, how are you now enjoying having your own firm?

RB: I’m enjoying it a lot.  I’m happy to have been a part of BAR’s growth and success over the years—they’re up to about 85 people now I believe—but it was time for me to take a new tack and move on to a smaller studio of architects primarily focused on residential design.  The size is great, as is my staff, and I’m most happy that we have a roster of great clients and projects. 

Soda Canyon, napa valley  collaboration with paul wiseman

Soda Canyon, napa valley collaboration with paul wiseman

Burwell House  Sonoma County

Burwell House Sonoma County

CL: What architecture around the world inspires you?

RB: Wow.  That’s a big one.  I’ve been fortunate to have traveled quite a bit for work and pleasure.  It’s not always just the architecture, but how the community of design and culture develops with it.  From my own home state, Texas, there is Marfa, and all of Donald Judd’s work.  Completely amazing.   Visit his former studio in New York (soho) sometime, too.  And Renzo Piano’s Menil collection—one of the most beautiful yet understated museums in the world.  The Kimball in Fort Worth.  These were all early inspirations. Houston when I was growing up was a big boom town and still is to a degree.  Gerald Hines was bringing in great architects for commercial projects—it was inspiring.

The Menil  Collection

The Menil Collection

But further afield, have you been to the Amalfi Coast and Naples?  While it’s full of tourists much of the time, there are amazing places there that really impress on quite human scales and emotions:  in Naples, the Certosa for instance.  Sublime.  And on the coast, the San Pietro Hotel, sitting on an unbelievably steep bluff, not entirely “designed” but more accrued over the years, is really great.  And then there’s Ravello, the Villa Cimbrone and gardens.  No wonder Gore Vidal lived nearby for so long.

Villa Cimbrone  and Gardens

Villa Cimbrone and Gardens

I’m also a big fan of Japan.  In particular there’s a wonderful island, Naoshima, in the Seto Sea, that is magical in many ways.  Art installations and Tadao Ando’s architecture really amaze you, and the juxtaposition with the little fishing village’s indigenous architecture makes for quite a place.  I’m glad it’s so hard to get to, otherwise it’d be over-run.

CL: That’s interesting that you mentioned Japan.  I notice that you’ve had some multi-family projects over a long time in Japan.  How is working over there, versus here, for instance?

RB: Well, there’s quite a difference.  My client in Japan values quality, design and operations to an amazingly high degree.  For over twenty years I’ve been working for them, with the exact same team of interior and landscape designers.  They’re an inspirational group, challenging and rewarding.  Japanese contractors are amazing.  I was visiting a recent project under construction—I couldn’t believe how clean everything was.  On each floor are two rolling carts that contain fire extinguishers and five or six brooms.  That should tell you something.  The workers practice group supporting drills every day.

Pacific Heights  Paul Weisman  and  Richard Beard  Collaboration

Pacific Heights Paul Weisman and Richard Beard Collaboration

To view the before and after photos of this amazing residence- Click Here

CL: This all sounds pretty great; what would you like to do if you were not an architect? 

RB: Hah!  Concert pianist, but I’m a terrible player.  Ditto tennis.  Rock star?  But then Paul said I’d look like Keith Richards.  Writer was and is always an attraction, both fiction and non-fiction.

CL: What are your reading now?

RB: Apart from keeping up with the ever challenging stack of New Yorkers, I’m currently re-reading some of Truman Capote’s early essays, profiles and observations.   He was a great writer back then.  Also Haruki Murakami, “After Dark.”   And “Rendez-vous with Art” by Philippe de Montebello.

CL: What is your favorite project that you have completed recently?

RB: I think the Cole House project in Calistoga is a favorite.  It’s a historic farmhouse (late 19th century) complex we’ve completely re-done, while keeping all the historic exterior historic pieces in tact.  Great clients.  And the project includes a historic, commercial chicken coop.  Try that one.!

Cole House  Calistoga

Cole House Calistoga

Abalone Cove  Big Sur

Abalone Cove Big Sur

Santa Lucia Preserve  California

Santa Lucia Preserve California

ICAA Julia Morgan Award Winning Residence 2014  Dolores Heights, San Francisco

ICAA Julia Morgan Award Winning Residence 2014 Dolores Heights, San Francisco