THE SWEETNESS OF HOME STYLE

Interview with Jean Brownhill, founder and CEO of Sweeten, a free platform that matches renovators with vetted general contractors, providing support through project completion.

VIGO: SWEETEN IS A REVOLUTIONARY TYPE OF SERVICE THAT PAIRS RENOVATORS WITH CONTRACTORS TO MAKE HOME REMODELS A SIMPLER PROCESS. CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT WHY YOU STARTED THE COMPANY?

Jean Brownhill (JB): I’m an architect by training. After working on high-end residential projects, I joined the global architecture department at Coach, where I devised a web platform for streamlining store construction worldwide. After saving up, I bought a fixer-upper of my own, and even though I was in the industry and tried to use every resource available, I hired the wrong general contractor for my renovation. It made me wonder how other renovators could find the right professional for their projects, when, despite my knowledge, I couldn’t. I launched Sweeten in 2011 to establish a free platform that matches people with different budgets and types of projects with the best general contractors in the business.

VIGO: TELL US ABOUT THE SWEETEN TEAM

JB: The Sweeten team is made up of industry experts, developers, engineers, account managers, and marketers. Every team member contributes to the success of the platform, whether he or she is managing communication with our contractors, advising our renovators on the next steps for their projects, or building our latest tools. We’ve also got a majority female leadership team in two areas--technology and construction--that are traditionally male-dominated.

VIGO: ACCORDING TO YOU, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE GREATEST CHALLENGES THAT INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES FACE WHEN RENOVATING THEIR HOMES?

JB: I’d say there are two major challenges: understanding your budget and finding the right professionals to execute your vision. At Sweeten, we help homeowners at each point of the process, from inspiration to [the]punch list. Our blog features costs guides for anything from a single bathroom to full-on gut remodels of entire homes, helping homeowners get a sense of what baseline costs are for low-end, mid-range, and high-end renovations. Hiring the right person to do the job is also crucial to the success of a project. Sweeten’s network of vetted and licensed contractors takes the difficult part of the process out of the equation for homeowners. We match you with a choice of excellent contractors most qualified to take on your project and who are excited to do the work. Plus, the real differentiator is that we [are involved in the project all the way through the very] end.

VIGO: YOU CLEARLY HAVE A LOT OF EXPERIENCE IN THE HOME AND COMMERCIAL RENOVATION INDUSTRIES. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING TO LOOK FOR WHEN PUTTING TOGETHER THE PERFECT RENOVATION TEAM?

JB: It all depends on the scope of your project— though you’re always going to need a general contractor to handle demolition and installation at a minimum. Before you start assembling your team, put together a list of your “must-haves” vs. “nice-to-haves” to help determine what kind of work will need to be done. Are you planning to change a bathroom layout? Open up a kitchen? You’ll need to hire an architect to draw up plans and get approvals. If you’d like help driving the design vision, an interior designer should be on your list, too. 

VIGO: HOW INVOLVED DO CONTRACTORS TEND TO BE WITH DESIGNERS WHEN RENOVATING A SPACE?

JB: It’s a partnership; the contractor and designer must be a unified team. The contractor is executing the homeowner and designer’s vision, and the work is a reflection of both of their efforts and ability to communicate successfully with one another. The more detail a designer can provide about what they’re looking to create, the better. I suggest that if designers are working with a new contractor, they grab a cup of coffee together before it starts. Both parties have the same goal—to execute a great project—so it’s good to kick off a project on the right foot. 

VIGO: WE SAW THAT ONE OF YOUR RECENT RENOVATIONS FEATURED THE VIGO GRAHAM PULL-DOWN KITCHEN FAUCET, A DECIDEDLY MODERN FIXTURE. DO YOU HAVE SPECIFIC DESIGN AESTHETICS THAT YOU TEND TO GRAVITATE TOWARDS?

JB: We fulfill the design wishes of the client and have hundreds of renovations underway at one time. We love seeing the range of design tastes, but if you look at our blog, you’ll see designs lean heavily toward more modern.

VIGO: YOU CURRENTLY SERVE THE GREATER NEW YORK CITY AND PHILADELPHIA AREAS. DO YOU HAVE PLANS TO EXPAND FURTHER?

JB: By late summer, we’ll be expanding into three new markets--Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami--in addition to our current NY and Philadelphia metro area coverage.

There you have it! If you're looking for a licensed and vetted general contractor, post your renovation project on Sweeten! Their team will match with you the right pro so you can create the home of your dreams.