Residential Design

Vol 4, 2017

A business-to-business magazine focused on the collaborative process and talented work of residential architects and custom homebuilders.

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At once old school and cutting edge, Andy Bannister, president of Earthtone Construction, builds some of the most beautiful Northern California wine coun- try houses and estates. His 50-person, $22 million company also constructs, reno- vates, and maintains multifamily housing in the more urbanized parts of Marin and Solano counties. The mix enables his company to embrace new ways of building in the high-end work, while still keeping a foot in the real world of market-rate housing for the other 99 percent. It's a wise business plan, because multifamily work tends to remain strong even when single-family construction slows. Andy knows you can't put all your eggs in one basket; he's learned that firsthand through his nearly 40 years in construc- tion. Lest you think he's older than he is, keep in mind he started as a teenage apprentice for a 200-year-old construction company in England. Now he's leading his own company with two partners in Sebastopol, Calif. They'll be celebrating 20 years in business at the end of the year. PRO-FILE BUILD Waste Not, Want Not EARTHTONE CONSTRUCTION SEBASTOPOL, CALIF. Photo: Courtesy Earthtone Construction Photo: Ed Caldwell Twenty years in Northern California means at least two recessions weathered. Even though the area is now experiencing boom times, Andy keeps those hard-won lessons at the top of his mind. The last recession was, of course, the toughest. "A lot of folks in the construction in- dustry make the mistake of not preparing for downturns. We saw a lot of colleagues fall by the wayside while seeking the feast," he says. "We've grown to 50 people and $22 million a year, but we're not out buying lots of toys and getting in too deep. In the last recession, we had managed to save enough cash to get through. We even took advantage of the downturn to expand." Constraint in a boom and expansion in a bust sounds counterintuitive, but it's paid off for Earthtone. During the lengthy recession of the last decade, Andy took the opportunity to lower his rent and renovate. The confidence he showed in the company's future impressed the few clients who were left and inspired them to move forward as well. "It was leap of faith," he admits. "But we thought, 'this isn't going to last, it'll come back.' It was sort of funny, because right when we were remodeling the office space, that was when we got a new home to build and a remodel. And then things started picking up again. It's just about having the confidence. Stay lean, calm down, and carry on." Confidence is great, and it will get you far in almost any line of work, but we must not elide over the importance that having cash on hand played in the company's sur- vival. That's where "constraint in a boom" becomes the resonant lesson. Above left: Andy Bannister is the go-to custom builder for many of Northern California's residential architects. Above: Earthtone built Arkin Tilt Architects' off-the-grid, straw-bale Healdsburg Family Residence on 170 acres. VOL. 4, 2017 RESIDENTIALDESIGNMAGAZINE.COM 25

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