When it comes to home renovations, many don’t know where to start. Whether it’s finding contractors you trust, who can deliver a project on time within your budget, navigating the design process from start to finish could take years.
To Anna Karp, the Mexican co-founder and CEO of Bolster, it’s her everyday. She has helped renovate more than 100 homes over the past 10 years, from old brownstones to branded condos in London, New York and Mexico City.
The aim? Streamline the architectural design, interior design and contractor process all into one seamless machine.
The New York-based company does gut renovations with design, architectural and construction services—and with a women-led team. She recently completed a gut renovation of a townhouse in Park Slope, which was built in 1899, and another nearby home in Brooklyn, a design-build reno of a six-bedroom house built in 1903. Retaining the original charm of homes, such as colored stained-glass windows, is key, while giving them modern updates.
Mansion Global caught up with Ms. Karp to learn about her approach to renovating, why handmade tiles are the must-have of 2022, and how we can have more diversity in the construction industry.
Mansion Global: Why did you found your home reno firm, Bolster?
Anna Karp: It was a bit of serendipity. I was working on forest conservation in foreign countries, and I met my co-founder Fraser Patterson. He invited me to partner on a construction company, and I thought I could have a strong ecological impact, as working in forest conservation takes 20 years to pass a law. I learned a lot of work was to be done in the construction world, it’s still set in the stone age, and I fell in love with it immediately.
MG: How do you explain what Bolster does?
AK: We do design and build. We subcontract architects to do the whole architectural process. We help homeowners from beginning to end. We listen to their design ideas, directions in where they can go. Luxury is in knowledge in our process, as we inform homeowners on the price of their renovation as they move through design.
MG: What is the consultation process like?
AK: We help people channel their design goals without us imposing a design directive. We’re like a medium with a crystal ball. During a session, we try to bring out what a client really wants. In renovations, you’re always going through this process of trying to be a better version of yourself. That’s why you’re embarking on a renovation. If you want to be in a better space, we help people get to a better stage in their lives. We must be respectful of what they like. We must bring the right knowledge to their financial plan and go in and do it beautifully.
MG: What is the biggest challenge of your job?
AK: We have a fixed price once we go into build. We assume the risk and partner with homeowners. We’re exacting in the decision-making process. We encourage homeowners to do their homework, do their research. We sometimes must navigate the compliance landscape of co-op buildings, which can be difficult. Brownstones that haven’t been tended to in a long time, tend to be complex projects. Pre-construction planning and designing is key. We’re not just designing pen to paper; we’re manufacturing a beautiful home. Each site is a mini factory. Everything must be tip top. Managing it is an art.
MG: Why is transparency so difficult with home renovations?
AK: You have parties that distrust each other in construction. What Bolster has done, we integrate information on design, constructability and finance, and timeline, from the beginning. And we manage them. It’s a logical process with fixed price costs. Homeowners have a fixed price cost. We all trust each other. We’re data driven. It’s a full company with a build manager, architect, project coordinator on site every day to make sure it’s on track.
MG: You are a licensed contractor, are more women going into construction?
AK: Yes, 100%. I am color blind, I hire talent. But I do try to hire women because I know there’s a lack of diversity. I try to hire women carpenters, even though they’re hard to come by. I try to make sure they have a career projection, so they’re career planning. We have some people who really struggled to be where they are, and I take that very seriously. We’re 40% women.
MG: What is your definition of luxury?
AK: Materials like white Thassos marble or Golden Calacatta marble are my definition of luxury. Giving people space is a form of luxury, too. I always tell people: “There’s space to breathe, there’s space for space in a home.” Same with natural light. Luxury is a lot in the intangible. It’s in how the space makes you feel: cozy and better. That positive impact a space can have on your well-being is a form of luxury.
MG: What trends do you see people wanting in their homes today?
AK: Handmade tiles. Handmade mix of ceramic and marble tiles. There’s a trend in luxury tiling. I’m seeing it deviating from the big marble slab. It’s because people are spending more time in their home and want a playful, creative area, whether it’s the kitchen or a specific room. People are taking more risks with tiling specifically.