I come from a long line of builders. My great grandfather, Knud Jensen, who was alive until I was about 11 and lived just a few blocks from us at that time and remember well, was born in Denmark in 1897. He emigrated to the United States in 1921 to settle in the Bay Area of California, where he spent the rest of his life. That’s him on the far left as a young man on one of his first projects while still living in Denmark.
Here is a picture of the first house he built on his own in 1927 back when the Craftsman style was just coming on strong in the mainstream housing market. He went on to become one of the chief superintendents for one of the (still to this day) largest contractors in the Bay Area, Swenson Construction, and oversaw the construction of the San Jose Civic Auditorium in 1936 and did some early work on the Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel at Moffet Federal Air Field, a National Historic Landmark. He was notorious for getting into heated debates with architects. As a builder trained in Denmark, there was really little to no distinction made between a builder and an architect, the word architect literally meaning “master builder”. At one of the first wind tunnels at Moffet Field, he convinced the “architect” that building it from wood, rather than steel, would be more economical and just as structurally sound as what they architect had proposed. They eventually were forced to agree and he received a nice bonus from his boss for saving so much money on the project. I keep these pictures on the wall of my office, along with his old pocket watch, and some of his old hand-made tools, to remind me of my heritage. I still remember his Danish accent and the smell of his pipe.
This was his old drafting set. My, how things have changed. With computer aided design no so inexpensive and easy to use, I don’t have much use for electric pencil sharpener and eraser anymore either…..
His son, Tom Jensen, my grandfather who passed away a few years ago, was also a life-long builder and member of his local carpenter’s union his entire adult life. I vividly remember building bird houses with him in his little shop in the back yard when I was very young. He, my stepfather, and I all built a big deck together on the back of our house after I was already working as a professional carpenter full time during summers off in college. I still have some of his tools in my toolbox which I still use to this day. This was his hardhat.
Even my step father was a masonry contractor and I went on his jobs during the summers in high school and mixed mortar for him once in a while. So, building is quite literally in my blood and I have had some great examples of quality work, craftsmanship, and work ethic to learn from during my childhood. I think they have all be quite proud of my pursuit of a career in construction and architecture, and I try to do them proud.
I went straight from high school into the Cal Poly Architecture Program in 1983. I got a job working construction part time and continued to do that throughout college, and worked full time as a carpenter each summer. By the time I graduated, few architects were hiring and I would have had to take about a 50% pay cut from my current wages as a carpenter anyway. So, I stayed on in construction and obtained my general contractor’s license in 1990. Here is my faithful “Nugget” in my first pickup during my carpenter days.
I spent the next 15 years running my own small design/build company, staring out with whatever small bathroom and kitchen remodels I could get, and eventually developing a reputation and moving on finally to new custom homes and larger scale remodels, renovations, and additions.
During this time I also gradually waded through the very lengthy testing and work experience requirments to obtain my architect’s license. This required me to work part time on and off over the course of several years for an architect, while still trying to maintain my design/build business. I finally passed the last exam and obtained by architect’s licence in 2002. At that time, I gradually backed out of the construction end of the business and completed my last design/build of a custom home in November of 2005. Since then I have been pursuing architecture full time and worked from my home office originally, but have now been in my office in the Arroyo Grande Village since 2014.
Mostly since meeting my wife in 1994, I have also had the good fortune of having been able to travel all over the world, to 17 countries on 5 continents, and experienced many of the world’s great buildings from the ancient to the modern world. I was surprised how much one could be moved by great architecture. I try to use these experiences as inspiration for my work and life.