Homebuilding benefits from more women on the ground, says design-build company co-founder

When it comes to home renovations, many don’t know where to start. From finding contractors you trust who can deliver a project on time within your budget, navigating the design process from start to finish can take years.

For Anna Karp, the Mexican co-founder and CEO of Bolster, it’s her daily life. She has helped renovate over 100 homes over the past 10 years, from old brownstones to branded condos in London, New York and Mexico.

The goal? Streamline architectural design, interior design and contractor process into one seamless machine.

The New York-based firm performs renovations with design, architecture and construction services, and with a female-led team. She recently completed the gut renovation of a townhouse in Park Slope, which was built in 1899, and another nearby house in Brooklyn, a design-build renovation of a six-bedroom home built in 1903. Maintaining the homes’ original charm, like the colorful stained glass windows, while giving them modern updates is key.

Mansion Global caught up with Ms. Karp to learn more about her approach to renovation, why handmade tiles are the must-haves of 2022, and how we can have more diversity in the construction industry.

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Mansion Global: Why did you start your home improvement company, Bolster?

Anna Karp: It was a bit of serendipity. I was working on forest conservation in foreign countries, and I met my co-founder Fraser Patterson. He invited me to partner in a construction company, and I thought I could have a big ecological impact, because working in forest conservation takes 20 years to pass a law. I learned that there was a lot of work to be done in the construction world, it’s still in the Stone Age, and I fell in love with it immediately.

MG: How do you explain what Bolster does?

AK: We design and build. We subcontract architects to do the entire architectural process. We help homeowners from start to finish. We listen to their design ideas, the directions in which they can go. The luxury is in knowing our process, as we educate owners on the price of their renovation as they progress through the design.

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MG: What does the consultation process look like?

AK: We help people channel their design goals without imposing a design directive on us. We are like a medium with a crystal ball. During a session, we try to bring out what a client really wants. In renovations, you always go through this process of trying to be a better version of yourself. That’s why you’re embarking on a renovation. If you want to be in a better space, we help people move on to a better stage in their lives. We must be respectful of what they love. We need to bring the right knowledge to their financial plan and go out there and do it beautifully.

MG: What is the biggest challenge in your work?

AK: We have a fixed price once we enter construction. We assume the risk and cooperate with the owners. We are demanding in the decision-making process. We encourage owners to do their homework, to do their research. We sometimes have to navigate the landscape of co-op building compliance, which can be challenging. Brown stones that have not been maintained for a long time tend to be complex projects. Planning and design before construction is essential. We don’t just design from pen to paper; we make a beautiful house. Each site is a mini-factory. Everything must be tip top. Managing it is an art.

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MG: Why is transparency so difficult with home renovations?

AK: You have parties that distrust each other in construction. What Bolster did, we integrate design, constructability and financing information, and schedule, from the beginning. And we manage them. It is a logical process with fixed costs. Owners have a fixed price. We all trust each other. We are data driven. It’s a full company with a construction manager, architect, project coordinator on site every day to make sure everything is on track.

MG: You are a licensed contractor, are there more women getting into construction?

AK: Yes, 100%. I’m colorblind, I’m hiring talent. But I try to hire women because I know there is a lack of diversity. I try to hire female carpenters, even though they are hard to find. I try to make sure they have a career projection, so they plan their careers. We have people who have really struggled to be where they are, and I take that very seriously. We are 40% women.

MG: What is your definition of luxury?

AK: Materials like Thassos white marble or Golden Calacatta marble are my definition of luxury. Giving people space is also a form of luxury. I always tell people, “There is space to breathe, there is space for space in a house.” Same with natural light. Luxury is very much in the immaterial. It’s in how the space makes you feel: comfortable and better. This positive impact that a space can have on your well-being is a form of luxury.

MG: What are the trends that people are looking for today in their home?

AK: Handmade tiles. Handmade mix of ceramic and marble tiles. There is a trend in luxury tiles. I see him move away from the large marble slab. It’s because people are spending more time at home and want a playful and creative space, whether it’s the kitchen or a specific room. People take more risks with tiles in particular.

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