Some people don’t believe it’s right to throw away something that has value. For Ralph and Helene Belisle, that applies to houses, as well — and that’s why they started a home renovation company in their city, Vancouver.
In many ways, Vancouver is an exciting collision of contemporary and charming. One looks up at a downtown skyline filled with modern, Asian-influenced high-rises and down at cobblestone streets lined with brick buildings dating back to the Wild West.
But the Belisles were seeing too much of the old torn down to make way for the new. “I would fix almost anything before throwing it away,” says Ralph, a carpenter by trade. “Not only is it more ethical, I find it a lot more fun and interesting, as well.”
The Belisles started TQ Construction in 1985 with the goal of providing homeowners with high-quality craftsmanship and unique customization in the renovation of their homes. They want clients to know it can be worth it to simply stay put.
“People’s needs change, but often they really don’t want to move. We can show them how to hold on to what they truly love about their house, and build on it,” Ralph says. “It’s about retaining materials and labor which have value and history. It’s about taking a home that’s already good and making it even better.”
Helene started out as the company’s bookkeeper, but she grew into a marketing role and she now focuses on promoting the company and developing its brand. She says she loves design and the way it can make a living environment exceptional.
More often than not, it’s simply a matter of opening up the floor plan. “Fifty years ago, rooms were smaller,” Helene says. “But they built good foundations and good frames back then. And older finishes are often beautiful and can’t be found elsewhere.”
One of the things in Vancouver that has particularly high value is the land upon which homes sit. “Expansion of the city is very limited,” Helene explains, “because of the mountains and the ocean. Therefore, real estate is very expensive and people don’t move around as much as they do in other cities.”
Canada was largely immune to the real-estate bubble that hit the United States — partly because Canada has much stricter lending rules — and TQ’s business was unaffected during the recession, partly helped by the strong influx of affluent Asian immigrants to Vancouver. But with general consumer spending down — and frugality de rigueur these days — clients have been recently reluctant to plunk down large amounts on big projects, according to Helene. TQ’s projects typically range from $100,000 to $1.5 million.
So in April, TQ started a small project division, focused on bathroom and kitchen remodels, called Q Design Build (qdesignbuild.ca). “The market is changing, so we’re targeting smaller jobs,” Helene says. “Clients are simply being more careful about how they spend their money.”
Q Design Build is working on two projects so far: a kitchen for $70,000 and a bathroom for $30,000.
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is style preferences. “For several years now, clients want modern design, clean looks, easy maintenance — that trend is not going away,” she says. “Granite countertops and stainless steel appliances are still in.”
TQ Construction, based in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, employs 25, including electricians, administrators, designers, carpenters and project managers.
TQ is a full-service company and has long-standing relationships with every professional and trade that could be involved in home design and construction.
“I believe that what we do here at TQ improves not only our customers’ homes, but the quality of their lives,” she says. “They bring us their problems — whether they concern additional space requirements, flow, livability, outdated décor or a need for improved sustainability — and we offer solutions.”