Full Circle

Richard Laughlin built his firm from the ground up. Ingenuity and doing right by others are key to his sustained success.

For Bar Triangle Ranck by Laughlin Homes

For Bar Triangle Ranch, Laughlin Homes + Restoration Design/Build collaborated closely with the client. Richard Laughlin started his firm 34 years ago at age 23 and credits practical high school courses like business math with helping him get his start.  

April 11, 2017

Growing up in Fredericksburg, Texas, Richard Laughlin hung around his father’s and grandfather’s jobsites. By the time he was in high school, he knew he wanted to be a builder and took a trades class where he got to build a house—“everything but the plumbing and electric,” he says. “People are actually still living in that house.” 

Those beginnings helped Laughlin develop a successful construction business that has morphed into Laughlin Homes + Restoration Design/Build (LHRDB), now staffed by 10 carpenters and four administrative employees. He has been in business for 34 years. But it’s for more than business success that Laughlin feels “blessed,” and he goes to great lengths to give back to the community that has sustained him. 
After high school, Laughlin worked for a local builder on custom homes. During the crash of the late 1980s, when he and his crew were “roofing, building farm fences, hauling hay; whatever we could do,” he realized he could draw and liked design work. Laughlin learned AutoCAD and began to use design as a loss leader to get jobs. 

On the interiors and exterior of Bar Triangle Ranch, Laughlin and his clients used rough-hewn materials that channel the rustic pioneering spirit of the home’s Texas Hill Country locale, about 100 miles west of Austin. 

His design philosophy then, as now, was about trying to “capture the clients’ personality.” He asks clients for a list of 10 things they want in their home: “A place for grandpa’s clock? Artwork? A view? A particular style? I get them to concentrate ahead of time.” If he gets six or seven things, he says, “It saves me a lot of time [so I’m not] doing marriage counseling.” 

When a photographer remarked that Laughlin could make money from his designs, he began to copyright his drawings, have clients sign a design agreement, and to charge a retainer and design fee. He’ll sometimes sell a design, but the focus is on what the company can build itself. Last year LHRDB did 27 projects—new builds, remodels, and historical restorations. While his average home runs between $500,000 and $650,000, Laughlin also will take on a $20,000 kitchen remodel. 

“You never go wrong by doing right,” is Laughlin’s motto. “I once fixed a window for a woman who owned an antique shop down the street. It was a pain, but it was the right thing to do.” Not long after, actress Madeleine Stowe purchased antiques at the shop. The owner referred Stowe to Laughlin, who designed and built Stowe’s home, which got into InStyle magazine. “In that same magazine was an article about Oprah [Winfrey’s] house,” Laughlin says, “and the architect who designed it saw my work in the magazine and called me. Good karma brings good results.” 

Bar Triangle’s dining room shows how the site’s 360-degree view inspired  Laughlin to build the home around a circular core. A hand-forged catwalk offers mountain views. The chandelier was also designed by Laughlin’s firm.

Karma has extended to befriending and working for the women who own Junk Gypsy Company (before they had a show on HGTV and were famous), doing five TV episodes and working on their showroom. Through them, Laughlin connected with Rachel Ashwell of Shabby Chic fame. 

Doing right means that Laughlin is willing to pitch in on any job. “Some builders tease me,” he says. “We did an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The other builders were in the VIP tent in their suits and I was on the roof with the guys working at 3 a.m. I get a lot more out of my guys by working side by side with them. I try not to ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.” 

Laughlin’s latest endeavor brings him full circle. He and several other Texas builders and remodelers worked with the state legislature to get House Bill 5 passed, which changed high school graduation requirements, enabling career-oriented coursework for students. “Now they can spend two-and-a-half hours in a construction skills class,” says Laughlin, who teaches a class locally. “We had 21 kids the first semester, and then 14 more showed up during study hall just to participate,” he adds. The local Home Builders Association, vendors, subs, and many of Laughlin’s clients have made substantial donations. Laughlin is looking to create an endowment and hopes that the NAHB will take the program nationwide.

 

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