Remaking History

With years of expertise and experience, Ladd Suydam of Ladd Suydam Contracting knows how to keep your historic remodel true to its past and make it fit your future.

Edited by Molly Godat 

Photography by Colin Miller/Strauss Peyton 


SLHL: How did you get started?

Ladd: I started working with my parents doing projects around the house. Though neither of them was trained in construction, this time was very beneficial for me to see that with effort, creativity, passion and patience a lot can be accomplished. Added to that, a mistake isn’t always a failure. Being willing to extend yourself and take time to learn from your mistakes has been a valuable lesson I’m still working on today.

During my college years, I worked framing houses in some of the new subdivisions going up. After college, I traveled internationally and worked during the duration. I was involved in some demolition crews as well as in some remote and environmentally protected areas in the Daintree rainforest in Australia. When my traveling had come to an end, I began working for a furniture company that designed and sold custom furniture as well as antiques. This allowed me to build on my experience by working with clients toward a goal. I later took time to go into custom cabinet-making which honed more fine carpentry skills.


SLHL: How long have you been in business?

Ladd:  We started our own general contracting business in 2009 right at the downturn of the economy. Sometimes the timing of a dream isn’t always the best, but it can certainly work out! Before our company, and excluding building retaining walls, decks and framing basements for my parents as a young adult, I had been working in the trades and learning various skills since 1998.


SLHL: Do you have a specialty or expertise?

Ladd: Our specialty is working on historic houses. They allow us to explore our passions for architectural details and history while considering the reality of design and budget. I enjoy developing a process in which customers are more involved and have a voice throughout the project. We can work toward creating if not a replica, at least a space that pays homage to the period and feel of the house. We’re traditionalists at heart with an open mind to today’s styles and living needs.    


SLHL: What has been your favorite project lately?

Ladd: A favorite project recently was a modern addition added to an early 1900s Spanish-style house in the Central West End. It took the better part of a year from planning to almost complete with the jobsite. We had wonderful homeowners and built a new relationship with an architect firm that we have enjoyed working with. This was a project that pushed us in logistics, organization and our internal processes. We really learned to lean on each other within our company as a unit and did well, all while providing a quality product that the homeowners have been thrilled with.


SLHL: What has been your most challenging project?

Ladd: Our most challenging project has also been our favorite. Again, this remodel and addition took us out of our box of recreating existing moldings and architectural details. Where we would normally mimic each detail, we now had to bring together two different styles that would work together. The difficulties and complexities on this project were both from a budget and a technical standpoint. We enjoyed the challenge of working with the homeowner and architect to find a connection between design goals and budget goals.


SLHL: Do you use any technology to make your job simpler or more accurate?

Ladd: Yes. We use software that provides the homeowner access to all the job information via computer, tablet or smartphone. This shows them all the proposed costs of the project, the anticipated project schedule and organizes all change orders to allow them to see the current construction costs. We strive to use technology in applications with not only our homeowners but our subcontractors and regularly seek new opportunities to integrate and streamline viable technologies into our construction administration and project management. Moreover, to aid in design development, we rely on virtual technologies. As much as we enjoy modern technology, our in-house team is crucial for our company to be what it is and to grow. Technology is nothing without people who are willing to grow, learn and evolve. But as with anything from a hammer to a computer, if the tool isn’t used properly it only causes problems.


SLHL: What’s the best advice for someone considering a remodel?

Ladd: Our first two questions for a homeowner who is considering a remodel are: “Why are you looking to remodel?” and “What’s your budget for this remodel?” When answering the why question, we work to get their goals in writing and get them to prioritize those goals. This allows us to see a more formalized window into what they are seeking while also helping in the communication process between family members, so that we all begin on the same page. With a prioritized list of goals, we have more tools to use if a budget point needs to be reached. By keeping these two points in front of us at all times, we are better able to work towards a scope that meets reality. For both parties, the budget really drives this reality.

My job is also to manage expectations. What a client wants versus what they want to spend might not line up. It’s our job to say what we see is possible and probable early on. We also try to let people know that the design phase can take time; it’s important to get that right. The job itself takes time; change orders, while not desired, do happen, and this isn’t a TV show where things are completed in unrealistic time frames. We try to prep every client before a job starts so we can all work together through the expected and unexpected.