Although the construction industry has long been dominated by males, a group of female leaders based in Utah seeks to change that notion for the future of the skilled workforce.
Their first step was establishing a new chapter of the NAHB’s Professional Women in Building Council (PWB) in the Salt Lake City area, and their second was to come together to design and build what is believed to be the nation’s first home built by an all-female skilled labor team.
Titled The House That She Built, the special project aims to highlight and utilize women professionals, skilled tradeswomen, and women-owned companies for all stages of a home’s construction and ultimate sale.
The skilled teams, comprised of architects, designers, engineers, and contractors, provided the labor and installed the materials needed to complete the two-story home with approximately 3,200 square feet of living space.
The home broke ground in late 2020—during peak COVID-19 uncertainty—to ensure it could be completed and showcased in the 2021 Utah Valley Parade of Homes.
“As a group of PWB women, we all come from different backgrounds, we all have different careers, and we all have found different paths to our careers. And when we would meet early on in our council, we were so grateful,” says Kristi Allen, lead general contractor for the project and owner of Utah-based WoodCastle Homes. “We all felt that we had found a place in the industry where we really belonged. So this idea for The House That She Built just encapsulated that idea of belonging and the very spot for each of us in the industry.”
The Female Perspective
After the group decided to embark on this journey, the team needed to acquire a lot. Jennie Tanner, the current Utah PWB president and owner of Tanner Glass & Hardware, set out to pitch the idea to local builders and see who would be able and willing to help them meet their goal.
To Tanner’s surprise, many builders they pitched declined the opportunity in the beginning. It wasn’t until they went to Oakwood Homes did they secure the project’s site.
“When I made the presentation to Oakwood with Kristin Smith, our founder, they were almost an immediate yes,” says Tanner. “They do St. Jude homes, and they bring in high school students to help them, so they’ve already had the experience of allowing people to build their homes on their lots.”
Located in Wander in Saratoga Springs, a town south of Salt Lake City and nestled along Utah Lake’s north shore, the master-planned community is oriented around the Jordan River and is inspired by the area’s natural features. According to Oakwood, it “is the ideal neighborhood if you enjoy living near the vibrant activity of shopping, dining, schools, and entertainment.”
Based on an original Oakwood floor plan, as required to fit within the design aesthetic of the Wander community, the team utilized the Hudson plan in the builder’s Omni collection.
The two-story home includes a finished basement and features a two-car garage, four bedrooms, and three-and-a-half bathrooms.
While the home mirrors the Hudson’s original elevation, the team did receive special permissions to update certain exterior features, such as the front and garage door selections. Natalie Miles, Utah PWB secretary and owner of Natalie Miles Design, took the lead on designing, selecting, and sourcing the exterior materials that give the home its eclectic, contemporary farmhouse style at first glance.
“We did have a full team of designers that we put together, which was really unique because different designers took on different things. So I took on the exterior,” states Miles. “We had one designer do the bathrooms and laundry, another woman took on the bedrooms, another woman took on the kitchen area … and it was amazing how well they meshed with each other.”
Inside the home, the design team was allowed to rearrange the floor plan as they saw fit. As a result, the home’s design is centered on functionality for a family, from a woman’s perspective.
The design provides for the individual needs of a family by incorporating elements such as a children’s play area and a serene master retreat, while also including opportunities for the family to gather together and create memories.
Upon entrance through the front door, homeowners walk through a foyer and past a half bath and the staircase to be greeted by the great room, outfitted with a fireplace and built-ins in the living area, a built-in banquette in the dining area, and a full kitchen.
Upstairs, the team completely reorganized the floor and created additional purposeful space. In the home’s loft at the top of the staircase, the team added a study station, where kids have a space away from screens to do homework but are still in close proximity to their bedrooms and a bathroom.
Double doors welcome owners into the luxurious master suite, which boasts two walk-in closets with built-in organization. Beyond the closets, the master bathroom features a double vanity, open storage, and an enclosed wet area with both tub and shower configurations.
“There was a master in the original floor plan, but it was not as grand as what we were able to turn it into,” continues Miles.
Two additional bedrooms separated by a full bath and a generously sized laundry room with hamper separators completes the second-floor offerings.
Downstairs in the basement, the designers added a children’s play space, including a playhouse with its own brick façade and monkey bars on the ceiling. Plus, the floor features the fourth bedroom, which could be utilized as a gym or home office, and a third full bath.
“We had a lot of fun with the plan, and it became very meaningful because of COVID,” says Tanner. “It made so much sense to people who were walking through the house during the Parade of Homes.”
Following its showcase, the home was intended to be sold to a loving family, with the proceeds from the sale to be divided between scholarships, women-run charities, and future home projects like The House That She Built.
“The project shines a light on the skilled labor shortage facing the nation, an issue NAHB has been working hard to address,” states an NAHB Now post celebrating the project’s completion last June. “Adding new workers is an important goal of the industry, and bringing additional women into the construction labor force represents a potential opportunity to address that goal.”
The scholarships will account for 60% of the total profit and will be awarded to women pursuing construction management-related degrees or trade school programs.
Twenty percent of the profits will be used by the Utah PWB for education initiatives and future building events, and the remaining 20% will be donated to local woman-based charities.
“I do feel like we have started national momentum,” concludes Tanner. “I hate to take credit for it, but at the same time because of The House That She Built you’re seeing more women in construction on social media, whether it’s LinkedIn or Instagram or Facebook. We didn’t create the narrative, but we propelled that narrative to a completely different place.”