On the Level: Women-owned Level Craft Construction is detail-oriented

Debbie Hollonbeck and Virginia Van Lear

A construction company owned and operated by women may sound like a novel concept, but Virginia Van Lear and Debbie Hollonbeck, the two partners of Level Craft Construction, believe that they actually have a big advantage.

Like many builders, they’re well-organized and detail-oriented. When working with clients, however, it’s women who tend to have an edge. Their ability to listen carefully allow them to fully understand their clients’ needs. Van Lear and Hollonbeck say that it’s those communication skills — with clients, vendors and sub-contractors — that really makes the difference.

“We not only think about construction, but what’s going inside, and the overall functionality of the entire space we create,” Hollonbeck said. “We look at all aspects of constructing a house, creating intimate spaces (inside and out), as well as environmental concerns. We’re not just putting up walls, we’re creating a home.”

A living room in Decatur home designed by Level Craft.

Both women live in Decatur and have strong backgrounds in construction. Van Lear has been in the homebuilding industry more than 20 years. She has built, designed and renovated Atlanta-area homes and commercial spaces since 1996. The Licensed Residential Contractor and Earth Craft Certified Builder is, admittedly, one of a small number of female contractors in Atlanta.

Just over five years ago, Van Lear met up with Hollonbeck, a former teacher. She and her husband Scot had renovated and sold a few homes in the area before deciding to build their home in Decatur. They hired a female contractor for the project, and Hollonbeck worked with her closely, staying involved with every step of the process. It was such a good experience that the contractor hired Hollonbeck and they worked together for six years.

Van Lear fills the role of General Contractor and Hollonbeck is Project Manager/Design for Level Craft. Their skills and knowledge blend well and they share a hands-on, client-based vision. They also share a fine arts background.

The kitchen and dining room at the Decatur home.

“Our artist backgrounds make it easier — second-nature really — to make important aesthetic decisions that span the gamut from exterior architectural details to interior color palette selections,” Van Lear said. “We know the history of architecture, design and engineering. When clients hire us, they’re really getting an incredible deal,” she added with a smile.

Van Lear earned a BFA from the University of Georgia and opened a Virginia-Highland area art gallery at the age of 23. She later sold the gallery and invested the proceeds into properties she could renovate and rent. Hollenbeck spent many years as an elementary school arts teacher before following her passion of home restoration and remodeling.
Nancy Cost is an interior designer who sometimes collaborates with Level Craft Construction. Formerly a Lead Project Designer for Thrive Homes, she now owns her own design firm which specializes in helping homeowners with interior finishes for new construction and renovation projects.

“As a designer, I see how much thought and effort Level Craft puts into building a great project,” Cost said. “Some builders don’t feel comfortable doing things outside of their box, but as a company run by women, I feel the Level Craft team excels at listening, communicating and digging into the process in a way that benefits the client tremendously.”

A kitchen in Victoria Estates.

When asked about building in Intown, Hollonbeck said, “Atlanta as a whole is such an incredible mix of culture and history. Homes reflect their owners and we absolutely adore the charm and personality of Intown neighborhoods.”

Van Lear explained that construction can become extremely challenging in some neighborhoods where the lots are close together and driveways aren’t accessible. “At that point, material management becomes a concern, as well as the navigation of trucks and workers,” she said. “We want to maintain a safe environment and not disrupt the neighbors.”

Recently, Van Lear and Hollonbeck were presented with one of the most challenging residential projects they’d ever taken on — a super modern house plan on a steep and heavily wooded lot located in the Emory area.

A home project in Grant Park.

“The topography of land alone presented many difficulties that we were proud to overcome,” Hollonbeck explained. “The end result is not only an incredible site, but it also enabled us to implement many newly acquired skills along the way.”

She said that she’d love to be involved in more projects like that one, “projects that test our level of expertise and expand our ability to incorporate interesting and unique materials and engineering techniques. That project was our unintended homage to Frank Lloyd Wright’s modern masterpiece, Fallingwater.”

Level Craft is continuing to grow. While still working on projects in Decatur, Midtown and Virginia Highlands, the company has recently widened its service area to include Buckhead and Brookhaven. “As you can imagine, doubling resources, managing time and employing the right people become the challenging aspects within a growing business,” Van Lear said, but she adds that she’s looking forward to branching out.

Debbie Hollonbeck and Virginia Van Lear

“There are many different facets within our profession, and we truly like them all — from the initial lot acquisition to the finishing touches, client interaction, the business side of things, problem solving — I could go on and on,” Van Lear said. “I guess if I had to narrow it down, I love the daily challenges of each unique project.”

Every home poses its own set of trials and tribulations, Hollonbeck adds. “We love finding the perfect solutions to those distinct issues. Seeing the finished result and doing the final walkthrough is most definitely exciting,” she said. “There’s nothing like seeing the satisfied look on clients’ faces, knowing that we were able to provide not a just a house but a home, the home they’ve always dreamed of.”

For more information, visit levelcraftatlanta.com.

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