By Marc Huminilowycz

When the nominees for Renovator of the Year were being introduced at this year’s OHBA Awards Ceremony at Blue Mountain in Collingwood, Amsted Design Build founder Steve Barkhouse pondered the phrase “leadership in the industry” contained in the award qualifications and criteria in the introduction.

Suddenly Barkhouse realized that the description applies to his company, which has, since its beginning over 25 years ago, established itself as one of the most recognized and respected custom home specialists in Ottawa. “We’ve recently taken on a leadership role, and we take it very seriously,” Barkhouse says, noting Amsted’s commitment to community service as an example. “We’re proud of the charitable work we do, and we make it public to set an example in our industry and encourage others to follow our lead.”

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Amsted set a unique goal for itself: to take part in 25 community acts that give back to the neighbourhoods where the company works. Amsted far exceeded its goals, participating in a number of charitable programs and events benefitting, among other organizations, the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa, local food banks, the Ottawa Hospital and Ronald McDonald House. In addition, company staff put up bat houses in Kanata (to remedy a severe mosquito infestation) and both planted flowers and built an accessible gazebo at a local seniors’ home to allow residents to easily access the outdoors. “We went all out to give back,” Barkhouse exclaims.

The company’s exemplary charitable work aside, Amsted emphasizes the importance of customer satisfaction, while designing and building to the highest industry standards. “We have a strong focus on training,” he notes. “The industry and technology are changing all the time, and clients are shopping the world via the internet for new techniques and products.”

It’s a bright customer base, Barkhouse says, citing Ottawa as one of the most educated cities in the world. “Our clients communicate with us directly. They help us, and we’re willing to learn. We take this experience and formalize it into procedures, policies and structures that guide our work and help us consistently produce top quality.”

“Communication is vital in our business—with our customers, our clients, our partners and our fellow team members,” says Barkhouse. “We regularly have whole-day communication exercises to help us identify the people we work for, and with. Every few weeks, I appear on CTV News in Ottawa to discuss reno trends. And we regularly put on seminars for the public, like a recent one titled ‘How to Have a Successful Reno,’ which provided general steps on the reno process, as well as what to do and what not to do. These activities are informative for the community, they’re good for business and they’re a growth opportunity for me, helping to push my boundaries.”

This year’s OHBA Renovator of the Year award is Amsted’s second consecutive win in the category. The award recognizes innovation and excellence in residential construction across Ontario, as well as outstanding professionalism and integrity within a company’s business, industry and the community it serves. Amsted has also been honoured with the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association Housing Design award for Renovator of the Year six times, including back-to-back wins in 2014 and 2015.

There’s also a GuildQuality feather in Amsted’s cap. The North American builder and renovator organization, which conducts third-party customer satisfaction surveys to help its members “deliver exceptional customer experiences and get the recognition they deserve for their commitment to quality,” bestowed Amsted with its sixth consecutive Guildmaster Award this year—one of only 17 design-build companies in North America to accomplish the feat.

“GuildQuality interviews our past customers, asking them 25 questions about their experience with our company, including sales, design, construction quality, cleanliness, value and other criteria, so that we can consistently improve our work,” Barkhouse explains. “Because it’s a third-party survey, respondents can be very open and honest. Considering all that goes into a reno, our satisfaction ratings are consistently 96%, with 100% saying they would refer us to family and friends. We’re very proud of that!”

Established in 1989 as a one-man operation, Amsted Design-Build has evolved into a highly skilled team with more than 450 combined years’ experience in the construction industry. A number of the company’s staff has been with Amsted for over 15 years. This culture of loyalty and stability has allowed the growing firm to invest in ongoing training in order to stay on top of the latest building techniques and technologies, including LEED-certified design, heritage preservation and green building.

“We have the best team in the world, and I’m honoured that they trust me to represent them in the community,” Barkhouse says. “They’re the people on the jobsite, doing great design and fine-quality work and putting the effort to effectively communicate with clients. I just facilitate the whole process.”