By Carla Sorrell | Photo by Jeffrey Bosdet
Construction has been a lifelong focus for Mike De Palma. As a teenager, Mike De Palma left school and got onto a building site, where he found a confidence missing in the classroom. Over the last 23 years, he has completed thousands of projects in Greater Victoria, worked across all 13 municipalities and has built a beautiful, tactile showroom that echoes the promise: If you build it, they will come.
A name change in 2019, to Flintstones Design & Build, reflected Mike De Palma’s desire to “focus on where we have most value, coming up with the plan and taking it all the way through to a great finished project.”
Although stonework is still at the heart of the business, the shift toward more comprehensive, creative custom- builds meant taking on projects that the team can see through from start to finish, or from design to build.
Gratefully indebted to the community, Flintstones has contributed to multiple restoration projects around Victoria, building a legacy beyond commercial projects. “We want to look back and ask what did we build? How did we improve our clients’ lives? How did we improve our community? How did we improve our coworkers’ lives? We want to build stuff we are proud of.”
What defines your approach to working with a homeowner?
There is no single process that works for everyone. We listen and ask lots of questions.
If I’m talking the whole time, how am I going to find out how to better serve my clients? For some, the lighting might be the most important, and for others, it might be flooring or millwork. Time and money are always going to be on the higher end of importance, but when it comes to quality, it’s a given, it has to be there or we’re not going to do it.
Do many homeowners know what they want when they come to you?
Some know exactly what they want, but some homeowners don’t know what is possible. In a lot of cases, neither do we until, for instance, we do a zoning analysis. Let’s say you live in a 75-year- old house in Oak Bay; it’s legal non-conforming. What can you do? The only way we are going to know this is by digging into the zoning: Are there any encroachments on setbacks? Are there any right of ways? Are there any covenants on your property? From there we can come up with a plan to maximize your individual property to meet your needs.
What question should someone ask themselves before they call a builder?
Timing. It’s not realistic to think you are going to do a build, and it’s going to start in a month or two. Without knowing the industry, clients can be blown away about how long a [big] project might take, between when we start a feasibility study and when we actually finish construction. It’s up to us to educate our clients and make the process as simple and transparent as possible.
When it comes to material choices, what are the considerations?
We’ll get the clients to put images together of what they like and don’t like, [so we can] give them suggestions of what materials we think would fit the look they are going for. We break the whole project down on a spreadsheet and go through it line item by line item, from flooring, to drywall, to paint, to siding, to roofing, to gutters, to windows, to doors, to blinds, giving multiple options for each. The client can decide where they want to spend their money.
How do you work with older homes?
It’s very rare that we take down old homes [80 years or older]. The majority of projects we’re completing are large-scale renovations where we will be structurally upgrading the house. Let’s say the home has an old crawl space or old stone foundation only five or six feet high, with dirt underneath and rodents and hanging wires are prevalent.
We come in, and we’ll pick up the house, dig down the full-depth foundation, upgrade the services [insulation, plumbing, electrics] to the home and put it on a proper foundation. We can then clad the foundation in a way that it looks like it has been there for the last hundred years.
It’s more challenging to do that than to build a new house. We’re basically building a new home in an existing shell, so there are more restrictions to overcome.
What are the advantages to choosing to renovate a heritage home?
Some clients stay away from heritage status due to the limitations it could create to future property owners, as the designation travels with the title. But others want their home to have the historical value, so it’s protected for the future. There’s a lot of value in those old homes.
We’re not going to get the same materials that they used to have with the old growth, the quality of the materials, without spending a fortune getting there. A lot of the older homes have a much bigger footprint than what you would be allowed to build if you took it down. And sustainability — why pay to throw it all in landfill when we can reuse it? You’re never going to get that same feeling in a new home.
It can be much easier to phase a project like this. You can decide to do the lift first, finish the suite in a few years, and update the kitchen in another few. We’ll come up with a master plan for the project, then it comes down to our client’s schedule and budget. At least when it’s all finished, it will look like it was thoughtfully done. With a new house, that’s a lot more challenging.
Why should a homeowner consider adding stonework or masonry to their project?
When I look at the marvels of the world that humans have built — Stonehenge, the pyramids, the incredible stonework and masonry in structures across Europe — that’s what got me into masonry. It gives me this incredible feeling. Beautiful woodwork gives me that same feeling. There’s something subconscious to us about those primal elements. Those are elements we use in a lot of our projects.
What changes have you witnessed with how people approach their outdoor living space?
I think it’s one of the fastest growing trends in construction. We can do structures that are completely open, warm and illuminated, and then, at the push of a button, it’s waterproof. You’ve got a kitchen out there, and, all of a sudden, it’s where the family comes together to spend time, getting fresh air, cooking, having fun and maybe not so much on your mobile device but actually being present.