Canadian Contractor

By Gordon Wornoff   

Creative Eye: Millwork magic

Canadian Contractor canada contractor creative eye twin lions contracting

Twin Lions Contracting founders are creating multi-award-winning projects with their own innovative millwork company.

If you are in North Vancouver and you see someone struggling under a heap of 2021 building awards, please help the man out. It’s likely Kevin Hatch, co-founder of Twin Lions Contracting, whose company recently earned eight building awards at national, provincial and municipal levels.

Twin Lions’ rift-sawn white oak kitchen won them a prize from the Canadian Homebuilders Association, a Georgie Award from the CHBA BC, and a HAVAN award in metropolitan Vancouver. In all three awards, the kitchen fell into the $75,000 to $100,000 category. They picked up a CHBA “National Award for Renovation Excellence,” and a Grand Georgie Award for “Customer Satisfaction – Renovation.” The North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce recently awarded them a Community Leadership Award, and they have been voted the “Favourite Renovator” in their local paper, The North Shore News, for the last five years running.

In a year that has been tough on so many renovators, it was a pleasure to talk with Kevin and hear about a company 14
that is taking care of its community when times are slow, doing quality work, earning recognition and prevailing in
sophisticated millwork technology.

Gordon Wornoff [GW]: Please tell us about Twin Lions’ project, Cortez, whose kitchen was celebrated across the country in a rare triple triumph.

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Kevin Hatch [KH]: That project came across the desk and it was a family with two young kids. They wanted a good-sized home in the upper north end/Montroyal area. They found this house – great lot, great street, on a little cul-de-sac. It was very ‘80s, so it definitely needed a facelift. We went in there and blew out the guts of the main floor, closed in an exterior patio to increase the footprint and gave them a more functional space. We completely reconfigured the master bedroom, bathroom and closet area to make it much more desirable. The main shell and architectural massing were in pretty good shape to begin with. We incorporated some existing well-placed skylights into the final design. The
clients had some great taste. We worked with a designer that had an expert eye and it turned into a solid showpiece.

The ground was full of water, though. When we enclosed the 10-by-10 outdoor patio which was right next to the
kitchen, there was a river running underground. We had to dig down 12 feet where we thought we’d just have to go
below the frost line. It ended up being a drastic excavation in a small space and we added a ton of crushed stone, a ton
of concrete and a ton of drainage solutions. We had to move a lot of water away from the foundation of this house.

GW: Please tell us about this award-winning kitchen.
KH: The kitchen was a main priority for the clients. They loved having people over and entertaining. The extensions of the kitchen really worked for them. Imagine an L. The kitchen was the corner of the L and expanding out in one direction was the family room and fireplace, and the other end of the L was dining room and living room. It all connected really well, with white oak flooring everywhere. And we installed a massive sliding door so they can host indoor and outdoor gatherings.

We did rift-cut white oak cabinetry and cabinetry accents. Our other company, Millwerks, did the kitchen and bathrooms and all the feature pieces on this. That black fireplace is all rift-cut white oak, stained black. That might be my favourite fireplace we’ve ever done. We also did a big integrated table built into the island to extend the eating area with some cool metal brackets to give more functionality.

Every project has a budget, and because of the challenges with the water on this, we had to look for creative ways to save. Those black lights above the peninsula – they look expensive, but they were not. It’s a sleek-looking kitchen, that’s very on-point with what’s considered “in” in the design community right now. It looks like a very luxurious kitchen, but it was very simple – slab doors and minimal accessories. It’s not all smoke and mirrors – it’s a high-end looking kitchen that was done for a reasonable price.

GW: You and your business partner, Ben, operate a custom millwork business, Millwerks, that uses unique technology. How does it work?
KH: We take a 3D, photorealistic image of the space. The images mesh up with our CNC machines and design programming. So, it is next-level millwork that has been really enjoyable and fun to do.

Back in the day, we would take the tape measure around, measure the walls and get 30, 40 or 50 points of measurement through your whole house for a project. Now we get like 30, 40 or 50 million and we get intricate shop drawings and see if there’s a bow in the wall, or an irregularity you wouldn’t pick up just by measuring it. It helps us capture problems early on and fix them in the shop rather than muck around on site. It really speeds up installation and fabrication.

GW: You are a Red Seal carpenter by trade. How did you decide to take the technological plunge?
KH: I’ve always been one to look for innovations and efficiencies on the business-development side of things. This technology is used in a lot of different sectors, but not many people are using it in millwork like this. I didn’t originally start down this path with this much technology, but I have always wanted to push the envelope. We did things differently at Twin Lions, and I wanted to bring that same energy to Millwerks when we started it a few years ago.

We have someone who works for us, Ainsley Jackson, who is the mad scientist behind it. He’s a very experienced tinkerer and has made it work. Getting the technology to all work together seamlessly was difficult at the beginning, but now it’s working really well.

GW: Is this profitable? Has all the technology paid for itself?
KH: It was an expensive startup, but it allows us to be quite efficient, which translates into a better bottom line. For example, you can be pretty smart with your waste. We program the software to be very economical and make use of every square inch of a sheet of plywood.

It also sets us up to provide an extremely high-end product and still be competitive with where we want to be price-wise for the “everyperson.” Our clientele is not looking to blow their budget on the millwork.

GW: Does Millwerks do all the millwork for Twin Lions?
KH: For a while, yes, but Millwerks has grown exponentially faster than I originally anticipated. I had the same mentality when I was growing Twin Lions – quality and customer service cannot be sacrificed, especially while the company is in its infancy. It’s gotten to the point where we’ve been unable to take on all of Twin Lions’ jobs.

GW: How have your companies fared during the pandemic?
KH: When COVID-19 first hit, none of our clients cancelled, but everybody put things on pause. We have around 30 people working for Twin Lions and 11 or 12 with Millwerks, so we had to figure something out. Ben and I were adamant: “Nobody is leaving. We’re not letting anybody go. We’re paying everyone in full, that’s it.”

We had about seven guys we just didn’t have any work for, but we didn’t want to lose them. We threw it out to the community: “Hey, who needs help right now?” We had lot of people come back to us.

We put in two kitchens at the Disability Resource Centre and we did some work for a local rugby club, and the Parkgate Community Centre. We did a bunch of maintenance work for the North Shore Women’s Centre – kitchens, flooring, lighting. It was good to give everyone a sense of purpose and do something positive when everything was so negative.

Giving back to the community has always been a cornerstone of our business. We’ve sponsored local sports teams, but we want to do more now. We are planning to start a community bursary or scholarship fund to support kids going through trades programs in high schools. We also want to continue the community infrastructure programs and allocate some manpower and resources to the community. Maybe we’ll take applications to see who we can help on a more regular basis. Ben and I are both born and raised on the north shore, 80 percent of our staff comes from here, and we want to be a business that looks after our community.

I wish businesses shared this thought process that it’s not just your business you are working towards, you should be working towards the betterment of all. We should be taking on that social responsibility as community leaders. It makes things so much easier for so many people. We have the ability and the wherewithal to do it, so we always try to push ourselves.

We could immediately solve the entire skilled labour shortage in the trades if we boost women in the trades from four percent to 10 percent. It’s something we can achieve, but at this point, 90 percent leave after one year in the trades. We need to change that. cc

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