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Designer Stays ‘in the Trenches’

Clearcut Construction owner Richard Ryder utilizes his skills as both a designer and builder to guide clients through the entire remodeling process.

authors Autumn McGarr 

Youngsville, NC — Although the name of the firm is Clearcut Construction, owner Richard Ryder has – since he founded his business in 2002 – come to consider himself a designer first and a builder second. Over the years, Clearcut Construction has evolved from a small screened porch and deck construction company, to a new home construction company, to a full-service design-build firm specializing in kitchens and baths.

This beachy remodel incorporated an existing screened porch in order to provide an additional space and ample natural light. A new walk-in pantry with custom cabinetry provides plenty of storage.
Photos: Bob Fortner Photography

“I walked in blind to the fact that [making] selections on tile, paint colors, appliances, etc. is a full-time job and also a necessity for a well-executed project,” Ryder recalls of the early days of his transition from builder to designer. “I put all my stock into building the structure without focusing on the finishes until I was on the front lines. I found myself shooting from the hip trying to figure this out.”

Some of Ryder’s earliest forays into the design world won local and regional awards and recognition, and Clearcut has since gone on to garner plenty of attention on Houzz and Instagram for its clean, airy designs. “My design specialty is taking small, non-practical spaces and transforming them into stylish [and] functional homes that our clients can love,” Ryder declares.

The designer-builder

“Design-build” is not exactly a one-size-fits-all descriptor. In some cases, this indicates a firm that is primarily a builder but has a designer on staff or as a subcontractor; in other cases, this describes the partnership between a designer and a builder.

While all of these are perfectly functional design-build company structures, Clearcut Construction is somewhat unique in that Ryder himself wears both hats. According to Ryder, his presence onsite enables him to stay “in the trenches” of each project as a designer, allowing the design to evolve and adapt through every step of the demo and building process.

In a market saturated with track builders, Clearcut’s unique services appeal to the area’s large population of young professionals seeking unique spaces. “[Our clients] tend to be in the downtown areas, where remodeling existing homes in well-established neighborhoods is the direction they take to be close to work,” Ryder remarks. “This also comes from the direction that Raleigh and many surrounding towns are taking to revamp and give new life to their buildings while preserving their history.” He adds, “It’s such a great area to be a design-build contractor.”

Photos: Bob Fortner Photography

Building client trust

In developing his bifold designer/builder skill sets, Ryder has become adept at reading the subtle cues new clients give out in order to get a better grasp on who they are and what they need.

His approach to understanding clients is more subtle than a simple question-and-answer form, taking on an almost detective-like quality. “Mannerisms come into play, as well as inspiration picture collaborative idea books. I like to throw out tests during our meetings to see how they respond by facial expressions.”

“With all the different personalities, we must…discern if [clients] actually know what they want or are just saying what they think they should want,” he notes, adding, “We have found that, more times than not, it’s more about what they should say or should do based on their research online, not what makes sense for their home and family.”

Ryder views this initial combination of misconceptions and misinformation as a barrier that must first be breached before the real collaboration can begin. “Once we are past that barrier, we move into what they really like by looking through their idea books and searching for consistent themes throughout the pictures they have selected,” he explains. “We also gain their confidence by sharing previous projects we have done or are in the process of doing.”

For clients who are ready to fully commit to the design and remodeling process, Ryder will often take them to tour current projects and meet existing clients “so that they get a feel for not only the quality, but the relationship with the current customer. Since this tends to be at the end of projects, [which can be] make-or-break for contractors in general, this seems to go a long way.”

Additionally, Ryder prizes honesty in his design process, allowing clients to see his process – warts and all – without trying to make his work look effortless. “When clients see me struggling with myself on certain hardware or selections in general, it gives them the security that I am passionate about the outcome, which eventually gives me more free reign on directing them in the design.” ▪

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