HartmanBaldwin Design/Build: From Villas to Victorians Fit for a King (or Queen)

May 27, 2009
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From left, Bill Baldwin and Devon Hartman

From left, Bill Baldwin and Devon Hartman

For two summers in the mid-70s, Devon Hartman worked as a stone mason and carpenter at a French castle in the heart of the Burgundy region. A friend whom he met while studying French in Paris had inherited a chateau and invited Devon to help him restore it.

After one particularly long day, he laid his masonry tools down and mounted a wall to admire the French countryside, the pinot noir vineyards ablaze in red, purple and gold from the setting sun.

“Watching the sun go down over the vineyards, I realized at that moment I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing the rest of my life,” Hartman said. “That was it for me. I was done.”

He had fallen in love with architecture and building. “Here I was a kid from Kansas working on a 400-year-old building, and every stone we were putting in place we were analyzing to make sure it would last another 400 years.”

Until his French awakening, he was a true symbol of the socially conscious 60s and early 70s. A University of Kansas student, he dropped out of school because he wanted to solve problems, not just talk about them at late-night skull sessions with his dorm mates. He drove to California and ran halfway houses in Hollywood for three years and then a residential treatment facility for kids in Colorado Springs. Eventually, he landed at Pitzer College in Claremont, where he designed his own course of study, a dual major in psychology and French. It was his French studies that sent him to Paris and eventually to his summer breakthrough sitting on a castle wall.hb13

The French may not understand America, but Hartman well understood the French obsession with beauty, painting and architecture. How could he not, walking by Notre Dame Cathedral every day on the way to class?

Back in Claremont, Hartman changed his focus from halfway houses to extreme houses. He wanted nothing more than to be a castle builder and cathedral builder, creating and leaving a legacy of beauty. To keep his dream and vision alive, he began apprenticing himself to every builder in the area.hb36

“I just called the best painters, electricians and framers I knew,” Hartman said. “I would ask around and say, ‘Hey, I need to work for you.’ So, I learned everything I could because my goal was to learn how to build the whole house by myself.”

“It was during this time that Hartman met Bill Baldwin, an artist and “an amazing people person full of energy and ideas.”

“We just became friends and decided what we wanted to do together,” Hartman recalled. “We started working together in 1979, so we’ve been partners for 30 years, which is one of the things I’m most proud of in my whole life.”

Making ends meet in the beginning was tough. “Somebody would call and say, ‘Can you tile a bathroom?’ I’d go, ‘Yeah,’ and I’d run off to the library and figure out how to do the tile, and if it was wrong, we would tear it out, and we would do it over.”

That same dedication to quality is still a HartmanBaldwin design/build trademark. They quote a price and honor it. “We guarantee that the work is done right and that it’s going to last,” Hartman said. “We were doing this not as a business, but as a love. It was satisfying on a very deep level to create something more beautiful than it was before.”

It wasn’t long before HartmanBaldwin began changing the face of Claremont, a kitchen or a bathroom at a time, before taking on larger remodels and restorations and finally complete new construction projects. Word spread rapidly about their accountability and their approachability, and their fully integrated concept-to-completion approach.  hb24

“The whole problem in this industry is the fractionalization of professions,” Hartman said, bemoaning how little coordination there is among architect, builder and the client. “Why anybody would split off architecture from construction makes no sense. Without single-point design/build accountability, he added, most projects are doomed from the start. Remodels become “remuddles.” or worse.

“This is a very difficult business,” Hartman said. “There are thousands of people involved, thousands of details, thousands of steps … materials coming from all over the world. They have to be brought to bear at a certain time and certain place in a certain weather pattern with certain employees to get built.

“So it’s an extraordinarily complex system, and it always breaks down somewhere, but it really breaks down when you have five or six companies trying to run the thing. It’s just an untenable model that we decided to abandon 30 years ago.

In its place, HartmanBaldwin uses a team approach, bringing together the best architects, builders, project managers and craftspeople that are always on staff. “It’s always a team,” Hartman said.

Although “typical” rarely exists in the custom design/build world, projects usually take three to four months just to plan, Hartman noted.

“We’re kind of maniacs about details in the planning stage,” Hartman said. “If you do the planning correctly, the correction process is way less problematic and way more fun. In our feasibility study, we want to understand what all the options are.hb272

“You never want to hear a client say, ‘I wish we had thought of that.’”

Nor does a client ever want to learn their project is headed over budget.

“The people who are coming to us now more than ever need cost controls and need somebody at the beginning of the process to help them understand how best do I spend the dollars that I have,” Hartman noted. “And that’s what we’ve been doing for 30 years.”

Although HartmanBaldwin stands for the highest quality, their design/build model fits any size. Their expertise is unlocking the promise and potential of the home that the owner doesn’t necessarily see. Their insight and perspective can introduce a world of possibilities. It’s not unusual for the firm to encounter homeowners who have been paralyzed with fear simply because they didn’t even know the most basic information about remodeling or remodeling costs.

To help ease the feeling of paralysis, HartmanBaldwin holds frequent survival guide workshops for home remodelers, as well as mid-construction showcases to reveal behind-the-scene secrets about what happens in every stage of a remodel. Basic ranch houses built little better than cardboard boxes can become incredible homes with HartmanBaldwin’s help.hb33

 “The changes we make can dramatically alter how a family decides to live its life for the next 20 or 30 years,” Hartman said.

Working in California has allowed HartmanBaldwin to bring good design to a host of housing styles. “It’s kind of a joy,” Hartman said, “because there is so much eclecticism in our architecture, whether it be Victorian, or modern or Craftsman or Spanish.”

HartmanBaldwin has received more than 30 local and national awards for design/build excellence and literally hundreds of testimonials.

One client wrote HartmanBaldwin 15 years after it had completed his remodel. “Every day I get up and go into my living room, I think about you guys. I’m grateful for what you did because people can interact more freely in my home now. It’s more beautiful. There’s more light. We just feel better about our lives.”

“That’s kind of amazing,” Hartman said. You can literally change somebody’s life by changing their space.”

Again, that’s what Hartman-Baldwin does best. It’s a lifestyle-changer.

hb19One of the positive unintended consequences of their work is meeting a wide range of clients. “We get to meet hundreds of people a year and go live with 40 to 50 people a year and really get to know them,” Hartman said. “That’s a richness beyond anything we imagined.”

“It’s a difficult goal to tear up a whole house and redo it,” Hartman added. “There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears involved and a lot of emotional commitment that goes into every project. It can be a six-month or longer birthing project. After you go through that with somebody, you are friends for life.”

hb10HartmanBaldwin is passionate and focused on being the best design/builder in the country. “We want to be setting the bar for beauty and quality as high as it can possibly be set,” Hartman said.

In addition to creating artful designs that emphasize function, aesthetic and superior craftsmanship, HartmanBaldwin is focused on sustainable building solutions that are both energy efficient and environmentally sound. Hartman at heart is still an activist, maybe more so now that his planet is being visibly threatened by carbon emissions.

 “To be a really good builder from here on,” Hartman said, “we’re going to have to have to be building with less and less waste to the point where we can hopefully build with zero waste, zero pollution and zero energy going forward. Right now it’s a huge transition period where the builders who are focused on this are trying to go from ancient building practices to building practices that aren’t creating waste, pollution, or any carbon fuel for energy.” hb51

As part of its mission, HartmanBaldwin is strongly committed to helping home owners develop energy-efficient options for their homes.

“If we could make each of 110 million homes in the country 25% more energy efficient, we could be off fossil fuels in this country,” Hartman said. “We now know that energy efficiency is our way out of a whole world of hurt.”

HartmanBaldwin is certified by Energy Star and the Building Performance Institute to evaluate your home from attic to basement with the latest green technology to check the efficiency of your home’s windows, insulations, heating ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC), as well as the CO safety of all gas appliances. HartmanBaldwin offers a free home assessment for homeowners considering the following home improvement projects: solar panels, roof repair or replacement, HVAC repair or replacement and major remodeling.

Hartman’s optimism about the future is as high as it’s ever been. There are many reasons of course: his wife Mary, a sculptor, and their two children, Megan and Emily; his partnership with Bill; their complete design and construction staff of top experts and craftspeople; and the ability of Devon to still put his head, heart and hands on every project.

hb29“I’m super-jazzed,” Hartman said. “HartmanBaldwin is fantastically positioned to be able to affect everybody from an energy-efficient point of view, a comfort point of view, a building point of view and a beauty point of view.”

As for his own point of view … he hasn’t been so inspired since he looked across a valley of vineyards under Burgundy skies more than 30 years ago.

HartmanBaldwin is located at 100 West Foothill Blvd. Claremont, CA , 909 670-1344. http://www.harmanbaldwin.com.



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