Dovetail sets the standard of Modern building through its network of in-house makers and a fierce attention to detail.
Modern Masters is a recurring 360Modern digital feature, spotlighting the top Modern architects, designers, and builders in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
Seattle-based general contractor Dovetail raises the bar of Modern building through its robust network of in-house makers, a factor that places these custom builders a cut above the rest. Founded in 1991 and bought by Principal Chad Rollins and Managing Principal Scott Edwards in 2010, Dovetail collaborates with some of the Pacific Northwest’s most acclaimed architects and designers to bring Modern residential and commercial visions to life. We talked to Scott and Chad about the genesis of the Dovetail we know today, how Modernism and sustainability go hand-and-hand, and more.
Scott and Chad, how did you each end up at Dovetail? And where along the line did you meet each other?
Chad Rollins: I worked as an architect for about five years at Miller Hull, and then went to work for a general contractor. After a few years there, I transitioned into Dovetail when it was a much different company. At the time, Scott and I didn’t own it. I’ve been here for 16 years now. In the throes of all that, Scott had returned to Dovetail with an option to buy the company and in doing so, [we] formed a partnership. Scott and I became business partners and from there it evolved into what it is now, which is a substantially different company than what it was back then, in terms of the work we did and the evolution of our shops. We have a lot of in-house fabrication, both custom wood and architectural metal, as well as concrete and structural framing—our ability to perform and control the highest craft components of our projects has vastly expanded over the years.
When did you come together to buy the company?
Scott Edwards: It was 2005 when Chad and I first met—he had been at Dovetail a couple of years and I had worked here previously—when we were a much smaller company. Ironically, [Dovetail] wasn’t doing a lot of Modern work when I was first here. I left for a couple of years and while I was gone, Chad came in and had a huge influence through his architecture background, pushing Dovetail towards the Modern work that we’re doing now. When I came back as a general manager, Chad was running our biggest, most complex work. We formed a connection and a strong partnership, and in 2010 we were able to make the purchase of the company.
What was Dovetail before, and how has it changed into what it is today?
Edwards: I think Chad’s will to evolve Dovetail led us away from traditional-type work into more Modern forms. We’ve also always had a strong talent level at Dovetail in terms of our carpentry and craft capabilities. Our founder started with a woodshop in the company, so there has always been this bent on self-performance, to be actual builders more than just contractors. As for the operational changes [to the company], we continued to identify the carpenters, the project managers, and the superintendents that also shared a passion for more Modern work and also wanted that challenge. We’re constantly looking for the next most complicated or more beautiful project and running towards that.
How does that shape the projects?
Edwards: In Modern work, the people who want to be involved are inherently looking for improvement, evolution, and wanting to engage in a part of our industry that’s always pushing the limits, so it has a propensity to be geared more towards sustainability, which is important to everyone who works here. All of us are really wedded to the outdoors and the environments here. The structures that we make are handmade, from the moment you start to the moment you finish. We have carefully endeavored to build a culture that attracts top-level talent in the market, as well as people who have a desire to create an inspiring workplace. With the Modern projects, we just feel it is incredibly inspiring to build this architecture on a beautiful site with a connection to the outdoors.
What sets Dovetail apart from other custom builders?
Rollins: [We provide] an integrated process by virtue of us having so much in-house fabrication, which gives us the ability to [present] mock-ups early on. That way, [clients can] see what that scope of work looks like before the actual thing is built, both in pricing and just early material selections—and that folds into concrete, framing, cabinetry, and architectural metalwork. Having all those experts in-house and available for the design team and the owners to touch base with is a huge part of it.
Edwards: Along with all that self-performance, we have a strong level of project management. We’re producing an experience for our clients who trust us with this complicated, discerning work on a beautiful site. With us, they trust that we as builders are going to deliver their architectural vision. If our project management is on point and we’re setting the right cadence, people feel like they’re moving through the decision making process of the project, and [they] get really excited about the result. It’s a really exceptional thing to build a house, and we want to bring the clients along for that ride as much as we can. We try to [approach] the project with experience and discipline, so ultimately we have the room to enjoy the process. When we’re doing all those things, it can be a rewarding experience for everyone involved—and should be. That’s what the projects deserve.
You’ve mentioned the landscape—how does the Pacific Northwest inspire the modern construction work that you’re doing?
Edwards: Living in Washington, whether it’s a city lot with an amazing view over the Sound, a wooded lot out on Whidbey Island, or even a commercial project downtown, Washingtonians share this joy for, “Oh my gosh did you see that sunrise this morning?” and “Did you see the whale out in the distance?” Being on sites, I think more than anything everyone appreciates that beauty, and it comes through in the work and in the morale of the team. When you’re around a group of people that’s really appreciative of the work and the environment, there’s a deeper level of respect and care. It brings everybody together and makes them inspired.
And how does that play into the finished product?
Rollins: With the projects that we build, we’re afforded this opportunity to build something that’s lasting in a way that maybe isn’t always the case in other areas. These houses aren’t 10- or 15-year homes, they’re 50- to 100-year homes—or at least thought of that way. What better way to preserve and be mindful of the environment than to be able to put objects like that into the world? It’s a culmination of things that Scott mentioned, but also being in the good graces of awesome architects in the Pacific Northwest and being able to latch onto ideas early and mind-meld around them before bringing them to fruition. I think that’s one of the coolest things we do. We have so many people in our company that can look at lines on paper, or an image, and immediately start to take it to that next level of excellence. I think for other general contractors, that process isn’t quite as accessible. It’s once removed, or you’re hiring the expert that’s three doors away, and the end result may be different than what the original intention was.
How do you feel a mission of sustainability fits into modern design?
Edwards: Modern work is pushing more into the future by its definition, [and] I think there’s more room for people to consider different practices and materials. There’s more consideration for how the project connects to nature, like how the sun moves through the site and how it interacts with big glass. Because we have the big glass, [we ask ourselves,] “How are we mitigating other parts of the envelope to account for the fact that that zone of the house isn’t going to be as efficient?” We learn about the science of what it takes to build each project and pass along the lessons that come out of those engineering exercises to other projects.
Rollins: It is pretty cool to see that some of our clients and architects promote a smaller footprint, and they’re doing it in the sense that we can create a higher quality project, which is enduring. What was once an 8,000-square-foot house is now 5,000 [square feet]—I think those are moves in the right direction.
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