Tom Hinerfeld isn’t one to let a good opportunity pass him by. The veteran Los Angeles builder has earned a sterling reputation by keeping his eyes and mind open to new ideas and approaches. His company, Hinerfeld-Ward (HWI), is known for its meticulous craftsmanship, particularly in the demanding arena of modern architecture. It builds both residential and light commercial, and runs not only its own cabinet shop but also a custom metal division. And over the past few years it’s started an in-house design studio. With its diversified but consistent commitment to top-quality work, HWI may well serve as a model for building companies of the future.
The 13-year-old business opened its custom cabinet and millwork shop, Imagine Woodworks, after in-house carpenter and master woodworker Julio Chavez suggested the idea. “We were doing such custom work; cabinets with concrete, metal, plastic,” Hinerfeld says. “It was so hard to coordinate because you couldn't get one shop to do it all.” Now, he and his staff can have the shop do whatever they need. He still bids out to other cabinet shops sometimes, if Imagine is too busy or if he can find a better price elsewhere. “We treat all the building divisions of HWI as outside subcontractors, even though they are a division of the company,” he says. “It keeps us current with market conditions and helps drive us to provide better quality, service, and value to our clients.” About 50 percent to 60 percent of the cabinet shop's work is for HWI, and the rest goes to outside customers.
Custom metal fabricator Morse Sheet Metal merged with HWI three years ago to form the company's architectural metal division. Founder Graham Morse still runs the metal shop, and works with plenty of other general contractors. “All my major competitors use us,” notes Hinerfeld, who receives the same bids from the shop as outside contractors do. The metal studio is located in a leased building, unlike the cabinet shop, whose space HWI owns. “The dream is to one day have everything be on one site,” Hinerfeld says.
In the meantime, though, he and his staff are putting the finishing touches on a shiny new office called Building Imagination. Designed by HWI vice president Peter Borrego and senior designer Jennifer Yano, the project lies in an industrial L.A. neighborhood that the company hopes to help revitalize. Borrego and Yano divided the building into two three-story structures with a courtyard in the middle. HWI will occupy one of the buildings and rent out the other.
Building Imagination marks HWI's first development project of its own since the early 1990s. Back then, Hinerfeld did some development work as part of another construction company he co-founded after graduating from Georgetown University in 1981. But he got too busy for developing during the building boom of the past 15 years. “We saw the market change in 2007,” he says of his renewed interest. “We wanted to create opportunities for ourselves, and we love modern architecture.”
The Borrego-run design division provides architectural services for just under one-third of the company's construction projects, as well as details and shop drawings for the cabinet and metal shops. Most of HWI's other work is designed by top-drawer L.A. firms such as Kappe Architects/Planners, Aleks Istanbullu Architects, and Neil M. Denari Architects, to name a few.
HWI definitely has felt the slowdown, but its diversified approach has kept it busy enough over the past couple of years. “It's been rough,” Hinerfeld says. “We're finally starting to feel a turnaround.” The office project helped, as did Fox Hills Lofts, an under-construction modern duplex designed in-house. The company has just started construction on a handful of custom homes and is designing a holistic health facility, among other projects.
What keeps HWI going is its constant interest in innovative ideas and its willingness to collaborate. In 2007, for example, it worked with LivingHomes, a modern prefab developer, on a modular home in Santa Monica, Calif.—the first in the country to receive LEED Platinum certification. Although the home's modules were built by a factory, HWI constructed the foundation and garage, as well as doing much of the finish work. “We're OK performing at different levels on different projects,” Hinerfeld says. “We don't have to be the prime on everything.” Adds architect Aleks Istanbullu, “Tom just wants to make the best project; that's what makes him a good collaborator.”
The company did act as the overseeing contractor for the just-completed A+D Architecture and Design Museum>Los Angeles building. As a museum board member, Hinerfeld played a major role in coordinating donations of products and services to the construction effort. In July, he was voted president of the board.
Hinerfeld's fascination with innovation extends to building materials. He has a nose for under-the-radar items that make his projects look and wear just the way they should. Currently he's working with the inventor of a new, lightweight cementitious material to manufacture and distribute the product nationwide. “It can mimic metal, concrete, stone, wood, and a rainbow of colors,” Hinerfeld says. “The applications are wide-ranging.” This latest wrinkle could make up another bold step in the ongoing evolution of Hinerfeld-Ward.
Hinerfeld-Ward, Los Angeles / www.hinerfeld-ward.com / Type of business: Custom builder, design/build / Years in business: 13 / Employees: 35 / Annual revenue: $12.5 million / Average number of projects per year: 10 / Project type breakdown—remodeling vs. new construction: 50 percent vs. 50 percent / Project type breakdown—residential vs. commercial: 50 percent vs. 50 percent