Canadian Contractor

By John Bleasby   

Rose’s Way

Canadian Contractor Barroso Homes canada contractor Rose Barroso

Rose Barroso and her husband Jorge Cruz have built Barroso Homes into one of Toronto’s premier high-end custom homebuilders. Their journey has been as unconventional as the way Rose designs her projects.

The original residences in the leafy Kingsway neighbourhood in Toronto’s west end typify the post-war era of ranch-style bungalows on wide lots. Those still standing are survivors of the recent build-and-replace movement featuring fauxclassic homes with stone facades and huge front entrance porticoes. The mix of the old and the new makes a strange brew.

Yet these newer mini-mansions were more acceptable to long-time homeowners than the modernism Barroso Homes began introducing to the area about seven years ago. The neighbours were not amused, and the new builder on the block, Rose Barroso, was feeling the heat.

“I was getting hate mail, messages from neighbours asking, ‘Who do you think you are?’ ” Rose recalls. “They were telling me I was ruining the character of the neighbourhood. Real estate agents called, asking if I knew what I was getting into, claiming the interest wasn’t there.”

How things have changed. Now agents line up to show Barroso Homes’ builds before they go on the market.

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There was, of course, a turning point. “When my first modern house was 60 per cent finished, a car parked outside and a lady walked in,” Rose says. “She told me: ‘I used to be an international model. Now I’m a designer. I’d like to look at this house.’ Afterwards she asked, ‘Can I bring my husband tomorrow?’ When they came back the next day, the husband took five minutes then asked her if this was what she wanted.”

It was, and the couple bought the house. “From that moment on, I knew that although the pool of buyers might be smaller, so was the stock. There was a balance.”

 

By definition, a builder who buys a lot and builds a house with a view to finding a buyer later, is a ‘spec’ builder. But the term can have a little of the pejorative about it. When Rose finds a site and embarks on the design, she doesn’t do what most spec builders do, which is to make safe – even if luxurious – decisions on design elements. Barroso Homes’ projects are more like design-build projects with Rose as the owner/occupier (although she isn’t going to move in). Her projects are that personal to her.

This process is outside-of-the-box and Rose doesn’t click with every architect. “I have a vison for the home I want to create… I need an architect who understands what I’m building, who listens. I change things on site. I may like what I see on paper but when I see it up, well…”

Working with a client during the design-build stage doesn’t really agree with Rose’s creative impulses and visions either.

“I did some homes that way at the beginning, but now I’ve become a bit more selfish. I would rather do a complete home than work with the client through the process. I’ve had some prospective buyers ask if they can come and look, and I’ve said, ‘Not yet, not yet,’ because Barroso Homes’ ‘Lady Luck’ project illustrates Rose’s talent for sourcing items that bring focus to any room, particularly through her use of color and unique ceiling mounted light fixtures. These are bold choices, but ones that resonate with her high end clients. while people might love my ideas, it then suddenly becomes their home. A client will second-guess my ideas. When it becomes their home, they’ll say that maybe it’s a little too modern, maybe it’s a little too funky, maybe it’s a little too outside the box.”

Rose needs that empty canvas all for herself. “I get to implement what others might be afraid of. That is, until it’s done, and then they love it. For me, I trust my choices, I’ve done my own research, and I know how it’s going to look.” The success of Barroso Homes over the past 12 years validates her tastes and choices.

It all takes time

Like her full circle design-build-sell process, Rose Barroso’s career path has been equally unconventional. A lot has to do with the influence of her husband, Jorge Cruz. Jorge is a highly experienced builder who for 17 years ran his own company contracting the framing crews that assembled houses for large developers like Mattamy Homes and Regal Crest all over the GTA.

At peak times, Jorge was overseeing as many as 80 crews framing more than 500 homes. Due to the magnitude of his responsibilities, Jorge was leaving home at 4:30 in the morning and coming home at eight or nine at night after meetings, often working into to the early hours going over drawings and documents.

It was in those early morning marathons that Rose and Jorge began to learn to work together. “I’d pour a glass of wine and sit with him. We’d chat and I’d ask questions. I was curious. What were all those scribbly lines and things? What’s an LVL?” Rose recalls.

At that time, Rose was raising their children and serving as bookkeeper for Jorge’s company. It was a challenging work-family balancing act. She chose to scale back her career in commercial aviation with Air Transat, originally as flight cabin crew, finally as a flight operations manager. “Then one day about 14 years ago, Jorge arrived home and said there was a house for sale on our street,” Rose says. “He asked how about we buy it and I renovate it?”

Pushing and pushing

Rose wasn’t sure. ”Jorge said ‘You can do this, Rose.’ He was pushing, pushing, and I was saying ‘I don’t know anything about this!’ They went ahead anyway. “It was a very small reno, but very successful. Within months, we purchased another home and renovated it, and I said ‘Hey! This is cool!‘” Three years on and a few projects later, a real estate agent approached Rose suggesting she should be building not just renovating. There was little holding her back from that point.

Jorge’s support for Rose’s success creating stunning multimillion dollar homes over the past dozen years can’t be overestimated. “My husband believes in women, he believes a woman can do the job. He’s always said, ‘Honey, look at what you do!’ and ‘If you’ve got questions, ask me or ask the guys! No one is born knowing everything.’ Jorge has pushed me further than I thought I could go. Now I know how to stand up and do my thing.”

Three years of persuasion

Although they’ve worked together on Barroso Homes since 2014, it took three years of persuasion for Rose to recruit Jorge fulltime. Rose’s ambition to be bigger, better and more outside-of-the box with each project was colliding with reality.

“I didn’t have the time to do it all,” Rose says. “There were years when I was doing my company work, my research, my sourcing with suppliers, being on site, then going home, having dinner, then working until three or four in the morning.”

It couldn’t go on. “There were kids in the equation. I had to be a builder, a wife, a mom, and a secretary,” she recalls. “One day, I said to Jorge: ‘I’m going to burn out. Something is going to have to give. Either I don’t build so big or you don’t take on any more contracts.’ We were becoming friends instead of husband and wife.”

Rose made her pitch: If they worked together they could continue to grow Barroso Homes and do at least as well financially as they were before. More importantly, their family lifestyle would improve dramatically. Jorge finally agreed and passed his contracts over to another company.

Adjustment period

“It’s not like it worked immediately. There were hiccups,” says Rose. “After a few months, Jorge called me at the office. I had noticed something was bothering him. I went to meet him at the site, and asked what was up. He looked at me and said, ‘I want to know what my position is with this company.’”

The problem was that some of the men on the site, some of them old-school European tradesmen, were having a hard time reconciling which of the two was in charge.

“The guys we’re asking Jorge if he had confirmed things on this and that with me,” Rose recalls. And I said to Jorge, ‘Welcome to my life! As a woman in construction, I’ve been asked that kind of question for 10 years!’ So, I had a meeting with everyone and told them that Jorge was just as much their boss as I was. And I told Jorge, ‘When I’m on site, I’m not your wife. I’m also not your boss. I am a builder, and if you do something I don’t like, I will call you on it, and I don’t want you to get upset. Outside the site, I’m your wife. Here, we work together.”

Over the past three years, Rose and Jorge have found the balance that such a close and intense work-family relationship requires. Rose takes what she calls her ‘doodles’ to the architect or to the site and lets her imagination fly. Jorg manages the projects using his immense experience and friendly personality to keep their loyal team of trades working efficiently as they move from project to project, building another dream come true.

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