By Francie Healy
Mike Martin, still a young guy, has been in the renovation business for 30 years. But he figures he’ll never retire. He loves what he’s doing too much.
Practically a legend among Ottawa renovators, Mike owns Luxury Renovations with his wife, Suzanne, a professional designer. Suzanne has run their design build firm, Luxurious Living Studio, since 2006.
Mike is well known not just because of his personality, integrity and knowledge, which are as big as he is tall, but because of the passion he has put into the development of the RenoMark™ program, which was launched in 2001.
It was a new concept, almost unheard of in Ottawa, until Mike grabbed onto it and presented it to his colleagues. He could see from the start that it was a powerful and important program. It would give homeowners information to protect themselves from the unscrupulous practices of incompetent or disreputable contractors and renovators.
Mike teamed up with Jason Labelle (owner of Dalton Corporation), and the men spent six or seven months of hard selling until Ottawa renovators began to see how powerful it was.
In all, Mike spent nearly 16 years as an active RenoMark™ champion, which is now a national program. It meant long days and meetings, and lots of travel. He has taken a break from it for now while others carry the torch, especially since the program has become so well received by renovators and the renovating public.
In addition to his work with RenoMark™, Mike has served as Chair of the Renovators Council of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association (GOHBA), Chair of the Ontario Home Builders Association (OHBA) and Chair of the Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA).
He works mostly “normal” hours now, and so do all his crew and trades. Clients appreciate this because Mike and his team have the site cleaned up and they’re out of there at an hour that allows a family’s private time.
When Mike first started out in the business, he worked flat out, seven days a week, while he got himself established. He met Suzanne, then a student of Advanced Interior Design, in 1984.
It was a match that was probably meant to happen. Suzanne Heaston Martin is a talented and successful designer in her own right. She ran Reno by Design, and has won several awards for her projects. She was named one of the “Fab Four” of Ottawa’s leading designers in 2010; she has been a guest designer in several “Room to Grow” television episodes; and she is a presenter at many Home Shows.
Suzanne has her own jobs, but most of the time she works hand-in-hand with Mike, and their clients appreciate that. It means one phone call to start the process, for one thing.
And she keeps Mike on his toes.
“She does awesome work,” Mike says. “She’s great with clients, and makes my life as a builder challenging.”
He laughs at this, but it’s true. Most of Suzanne’s designs require Mike to work within a sixteenth of an inch in order for it to be perfect.
“But it’s always spectacular,” he adds, because every inch of the design, even of empty space, is used with purpose.
“Today with all the TV shows and the internet,” Mike explains, “people have an idea what they want, and that’s a good thing. Suzanne’s fantastic at helping them get exactly what they want. She guides them along the process and keeps them within their budget.”
Their work is featured on the Houzz website (luxuriouslivingstudio.houzz.com), and Mike says he recently received an email from Houzz to say photos of their work had been downloaded 25,000 times, earning a new professional badge.
Mike says his love of the work has a lot to do with the result — “It’s nice to see how it all comes out” — but it also has to do with the people: the camaraderie among the trades and suppliers (some have been with him for about 25 years and share his passion), and especially their repeat clients. Mike enjoys meeting new people.
“People are what it’s all about,” he says. “And time. Quality always takes time.”
But it’s best when he and his clients “click”. Every once in awhile he’s had to turn down some people because he knew the “click” wasn’t there.
How does he know he and a client are a good fit?
He just goes by his gut. Experience has taught him that. But he adds no matter what, he never leaves a job until his clients are happy.
“That’s something I take pride in,” he says.
Renovation trends have been leaning more and more to a modern look, Mike says. He explains there are a lot of linear elements; natural, reused or recycled, materials; lots of glass; and steel. Many of his clients want open concepts such as kitchens opened up to living and dining rooms.
He also sees a big interest in renovations that allow for eventual aging in place or accommodation for elderly parents or a disabled relative. He calls it functional, “universal and accessible design”; but it is also beautiful — for instance, larger walk-in showers, reachable cabinets and wider doorways.
After 30 years and looking forward to many years yet to come, does he have any regrets?
None whatsoever, says Mike.