Cedar Winds Design~Build is building Ontario’s cottage country, one gorgeous home at a time

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Cedar Winds Design~Build is a thriving, family owned custom homebuilding business based in Haliburton, Ont. But the three members of the Evans clan involved in the company – Glenn, Teresa, and their youngest of two sons, Nelson – took a rather indirect route to get there. “We take the long way around, but always end up in the right place,” says Glenn.

Like many builders, Glenn had an early exposure to the construction industry: his grandfather and then father owned a small excavation and landscape supply business. His journey started off working in the family firm while in high school where he got “eyewitness exposure” to the various stages of construction, followed by five years of “hands-on learning as I went along” doing framing, roofing, siding, and various other jobs in the industry.

Then he took a detour, studying to become an architectural technologist at Humber College, before landing a job at North York Hydro where he worked on design and inspections for five years, before ending up back with his dad for a decade.

Finally, in his mid-30s, Glenn launched Cedar Winds in 1998 as a one-man show, initially taking on some smaller renovation projects but, “the end goal was always to build new homes exclusively.”

Teresa is a nurse by training. After a decade as a stay-at-home mom, she says, “I dabbled in helping Glenn choose colours, tiles, that sort of thing. I was passionate about it so I took some interior design courses.” Today, she’s a project manager and the company’s design consultant.

Then there’s the newest family member to join the business, 29-year-old son Nelson. Prior to getting in construction he was a trained chef. “I got tired of the low pay and horrible hours,” says Nelson of his previous career. When the framing crew that Cedar Winds worked with was looking for some help, Nelson traded in his kitchen knives for a toolbelt. About five years ago he moved to the family business where he now acts as a project manager.

Cottage Chic: While most of Cedar Winds' clients are homebuyers, their company's design style fits in seamlessly with a cottage country esthetic.

Teresa candidly admits that, “I wouldn’t recommend [working with family] for most,” but the Evans family has figured out how to make it work. “You’ve got to keep to your own strengths,” she says. “If we’re both doing the same job, people don’t know who to go to with questions or problems.” And she feels the collaborative creativity they can offer (albeit behind the scenes) is a great benefit to their clients. “You’re not just getting one person’s ideas. It’s very much a team effort, throwing around ideas on how to best make things look good while still being functional.”

With family dynamics balanced, Glenn says their biggest struggle is “managing client expectations. HGTV is our biggest competitor.” And while he’s often heard the common refrain, “But I saw so-and-so do it this way on TV…” he has a witty rebuttal to help set the record straight: “I just watched an episode of ER and I think I’m ready to perform my first appendectomy.”

With a crew of seven out in the field, Cedar Winds typically has four or five projects at various stages underway at any given time. Recognizing that their client base tends to fall into the older demographic groups, many with plans of retiring in the region, “Aging in place considerations are a consistent part of our design meetings. We discuss installing grab bars, curbless showers, elevators, and other facets that can assist with mobility,” says Teresa. “Wider doorways are something we always suggest,” adds Glenn.

That said, terrain and psychology often intervene. Located in what’s known as the Haliburton Highlands, “nothing’s flat” so ranch bungalows are out of the question and many clients, even those in their 50s “aren’t there yet” when it comes to thinking about their potential future needs.

Glenn and Teresa both grew up in Haliburton County, a relatively sparsely populated region bordering the southern edge of Algonquin Provincial Park. They both moved away, then back to start a family, and are very attached and connected to the community. Glenn is currently serving a second term on the local economic development committee, was a board member of the chamber of commerce, and is the vice-president of the Haliburton County Home Builders Association.

Working under the tagline, The Better Way to Build, the Evans long ago recognized the importance of using the latest technology to grow their business. Over a five-year period of trial-and-error working with Microsoft Project, Smartsheet, and Buildertrend, they finally landed on a program they’re happy with: CoConstruct. “We invested a lot time, effort, and money into finding the right system,” says Glenn. “For residential construction – renovations or custom homebuilding – I don’t think there’s anything in the market that comes close to it.”

Teresa wholeheartedly agrees: “Clients have a better insight into what’s going on with the project, all the communication with the clients, trades, and office staff is organized and documented, and the invoicing and accounting are all linked in.”

Now, after just over two decades in business, Cedar Winds is coming up on completing nearly 100 projects, building everything from 480-sq.ft. bunkies up to 8,000-sq.ft. homes. Asked if he can pick out a favourite project of his over the years Glenn declines saying instead, “It’s the people that you remember. It’s always a treat when you have an opportunity to go back months after they’ve moved in. It’s really quite satisfying.”

It’s right up there with the satisfaction of building a well-respected family business from the ground up.

Glenn, Teresa, and Nelson Evans of Cedar Winds Design~Build in Haliburton, Ont.

Allan Britnell
Allan Britnell
Freelance writer and the former editor of the Canadian Home Builders' Association's members' magazine, Building Excellence.
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