Justin Krzyston has an eye for both design and construction, and loves to share his talents with others. Krzyston grew up in Chicago, but after high school moved to California. He began working in the construction and design field as an employee, but eventually became a licensed contractor himself. Inspiringly, he started his own construction company and now serves as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Stonehurst Construction and Design Inc.
Find Your Grind spoke to Justin about the importance of knowing a little bit about everything, thinking outside of the box, and what you can learn from watching HGTV.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What steps did you take to get your job?
Right out of high school, I moved to California and my girlfriend’s dad was the stereotypical contractor. He was big and loud and I decided to work for him. He would do the construction work while I would meet with the clients, learn the jobs, and find him the jobs he’d actually work on. After awhile, I realized that his workmanship wasn’t very precise – sometimes the walls wouldn’t even be straight. But he was adamant about doing all of the work himself, so I secretly decided to get my own contractor’s license.
How did you get the license?
It’s difficult to get a contractor’s license. You have to go to school for at least two years of what they call Journeyman Level, so you work underneath someone with a license already. You also need considerable on-site experience with a licensed contractor. Then, you take the test to actually get licensed. Make sure you stay in touch with your on-site contractor so that they can sign off that you actually did the work!
What are your thoughts on networking?
It’s all about being able to have that idea and dream that this is where I want to get to and find that niche of what people want. By having these ideas, I have been lucky enough to work with clients like Garth Brooks, Adam Lambert, Natalie Portman and David Hasselhoff. I’ve had the opportunity to have a show on HGTV and to have my work published. I never thought that the boy who couldn’t hold a hammer 10 years ago would ever be in this position.
What advice would you give to someone interested in construction?
I would tell them to take a woodworking class. You need to have a basic understanding of the way things are built. You have to know a little bit about every single trade. I always tell my employees we don’t have to know everything about everything, but we do have to know a little about every trade. This way we can have a full understanding of the way a project is supposed to be run and a house is supposed to be built. That being said, you need to start tinkering on things often – first to make sure this is really what you want to do and to learn how to properly do things. I’d say go hang out in your local Home Depot, watch HGTV, learn from all of these things.
What qualities do you look for in employees?
At the end of the day, I am only as good as my employees are. If my painters are awful, nobody cares what the drywall looks like or the rest of the house, they all just care about the paint. So it is really important to me that everyone I hire is a reflection of me. It is difficult to find someone with that skillset and that personality, but it is important because they will be interacting with clients. I also need employees who can roll with the punches. In this field, something always goes wrong. A project might take longer than we said and it might cost more than you thought, so the employees need to be able to handle everything that comes their way. They also need good teamwork skills, as I may have 50-60 employees working on one project, all on top of one another.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part is after the job is over. I make a connection with all of my clients, so unlike many other contractors, I always stay in touch with my clients and some of them are even repeat customers. I go to my client’s birthday parties and I’ve even had Thanksgiving dinner with some. Being welcomed into their house well after the project is my favorite part because I get to see my designs being lived in. We all put so much work into their house so it is the most gratifying feeling seeing them enjoy and live in our own creation.
If you could talk to your teenage self, what would you say?
I’d tell myself not to give up and to think outside of the box. Be aware of your surroundings, because it is important to find a passion. You need to find something you’re passionate about to make connections with other people so that you’re doing something you’re comfortable with and having fun with every day. I always say, no matter how crazy my day is and how much I have going on, I’m always having fun.
What does it mean to you to find your grind?
“Find your grind” means to find your passion, the job that always makes you happy, the job you’re having fun with. Always love what you’re doing – it’s going to be hard especially when you go out on your own, but you’re creating your own destiny so you need to keep going, keep trying, and always have fun. Each day is different and you want to keep having that passion.
Photo by Joshua Ness