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Preserving a Legacy, Leaving a New Mark at Greymark Design + Build

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Preserving a Legacy, Leaving a New Mark at Greymark Design + Build

In the wake of loss, Kelly Kirk created a new remodeling legacy while honoring the one that got her here 


By Caroline Broderick March 4, 2024
leslie king and kelly kirk greymark design build
Greymark Design + Build Founder Leslie King (left) and current Greymark President Kelly Kirk (right).

Kelly Kirk chose the name for her Houston-based remodeling company before she even worked there. She was only four, after all.

Her mother, Leslie King, opened Greymark Design + Build in 1994, one of the first women-owned remodeling companies in Houston, but the name was one decision she left up to her two daughters, with the choice between Waterstone or Greymark. 

Both names were combinations of greystone and watermark, and neither had meaning, King just wanted something strong, something that represented her.

 

Making a Mark

Remodeling wasn’t the first career King chose, but it was her dream. And it’s the one Kirk remembers most.

“She was forward-thinking,” says Kirk. “She started doing design-build before it was really a thing here, and she was always big on a lot of the core values that we still hold today, like work-life balance and continuous improvement.”

Early in her career, King became one of the few mud engineers in the oil industry, often called mud men. Standing at just 5 feet tall and hard of hearing—she’d lose her hearing entirely around 2015—she didn’t need a large physical presence to demand attention. 

 

leslie king greymark
Leslie King, founder of Greymark Design + Build

 

 

She went on to explore a variety of other roles, and after a period of home flipping, found remodeling. Shortly before opening Greymark, King and Kirk’s father divorced. King became both a business owner and a single mother within a few years.

But Kirk remembers her as a “bulldog” and “powerhouse” of a mom who dragged her to permit offices, inspections, and jobsites as a child. Greymark Design + Build became Kirk’s home away from home. Being the only one who knew QuickBooks, Kirk stepped in to assist with bookkeeping in high school (she later went on to become an accountant, to nobody’s surprise), and even in college, she agreed to spend her summers working alongside her mom. 

King made herself known in the Houston construction industry and went on to further her mark in local history as the first female president of the Greater Houston Builders’ Association Remodelers Council. In a very King fashion, she would also claim the title of the second female president of the association in 2015.

That was the same year cancer entered King’s life.

She made it very clear that I was not going to join Greymark fresh out of college. I needed to spread my wings and try something else.

 

The Second Chapter

First, cancer came as endometrial, with a thankful high chance of survival.

“We thought that would be the end of her story with that journey,” says Kirk. “Unfortunately, we were wrong.”

King recovered, and continued to make big moves at Greymark. The next dream came to fruition in 2017: Greymark would construct a brand new office building connected to a custom home for King. The day the foundation was poured, King felt off. A visit to the doctor found cancer, again.

“And this time, the prognosis was much more grim,” says Kirk.

 

All At Once

King never pressured either of her daughters to run Greymark Design + Build one day. If anything, she pressured them to do the opposite.

“She made it very clear that I was not going to join Greymark fresh out of college. I needed to spread my wings and try something else,” says Kirk. “[Greymark] was her dream, not mine … If I wanted to carry on Greymark, it needed to be because I wanted to.”

And Kirk did want to. She joined Greymark in 2018, shortly after her mother’s second cancer diagnosis, leaving behind her accountant career and jumping into the role of operations manager. As her mother’s abilities changed through her treatments, Kirk took on more responsibility and became vice president.

The following years would be what could only be described as whiplash. Kirk’s planned transition into ownership was meant to take time, but it all halted when her mother’s last treatment option wasn’t working. 

“We also found out at that same time, I think two days later, that I was pregnant with my first child,” says Kirk. “Greymark was looking at changing hands, and I was also looking at how I was going to be a new mother, while also navigating all of this.”

Leslie King died on Aug. 29, 2019, and Kirk gave birth to her son that October, five weeks early amid grief still very fresh. There was no plan in place, and Kirk would become a mother while grieving her own, and taking the helm of the company as its youngest employee. 

She returned to work the day after being discharged from the hospital.

 

kelly kirk
Kelly Kirk, current president of Greymark Design + Build

 

Leading Through Adversity

Despite the loss of a leader, the gaining of a new one, and new directions, the Greymark team continued together, united.

“There was a lot of blurring of professional and personal boundaries, which was probably not recommended by most business books,” recalls Kirk. “But when you're talking about the loss of a great leader like that, I think it's really difficult not to blur those lines. And to me, I felt like it actually strengthened the bond of our team.”

At the age of 30, Kirk found herself leading the company and discovering her own leadership approach. She describes her leadership style as collaborative, personal, less traditional, and open to change—philosophies that differ from her mother’s more traditional, top-down, leadership style.

“I do a lot of nurturing on my team because I know that you can't pour from an empty cup,” says Kirk. “If they don't feel fulfilled at work, that they are valued, and an important part of the team, then how can they give the best to the clients?”

It was this culture and leadership style that allowed Greymark to continue through the lockdowns of the pandemic shortly after Kirk took the helm.

“There have been a couple of moments where things have gotten really, really intense and really scary,” says Kirk. “But because we built up that level of trust, and that level of respect, when I sat down at one point and said, ‘Guys, I don't know how we're going to do this, can you help me?’ they rallied together, and it was a really beautiful moment.” 

 

Uniting Through Adversity

Despite being nimble and ready for change, there remained an intensely difficult decision that Kirk wanted to avoid, but one that was also the answer to their troubles: her mother’s home and office building.

To keep the company profitable, Kirk needed to lease half of the building.

“To me, it's not just walls and floor and roof,” she says. “To me, it's the place where my mother lived, where my mother died, the place that my mother built with everything she had, and everything she worked for, to have this symbol of everything that she's achieved in her life.”

It wasn’t a decision that Kirk could make on her own, admitting that without her team, she would not have moved forward. 

 

Welcome Home

Today, walking into Greymark Design + Build’s office is a return home, literally. 

The metal-clad ranch-style house features large, black-framed windows, a thoughtful layout, and inside, an eye-catching detail-oriented design achieved by some of the highest quality craftsmen in Houston. It's a pure creation from Leslie King.

The office portion of the building now serves as a hub for another woman-owned business, something that King would have loved.

The home portion though, wasn't going anywhere. Kirk moved Greymark’s offices into the home. It’s both their workplace and a showroom.

Kirk and her team get to say, “Welcome home,” to all clients walking through their doors, the doors that were once to her mother’s.

With the new chapter of Greymark ahead, the remodeling company has undergone a branding overhaul to reflect its next stage. Greymark Construction became Greymark Design + Build, and new, modern logos, marketing materials, and a website set the company up for the next generation.

And Kirk, though a different leader, maintains her mother’s spirit. She just so happens to be the third female president of the Greater Houston Builders Association Remodelers Council.

 

 

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written by

Caroline Broderick

Caroline Broderick is the Managing Editor for Pro Remodeler. Most recently, she served as the associate editor for PR's sister publications, Pro Builder, Custom Builder, and PRODUCTS where she covered design, building products, trends, and more in the residential construction industry. She can be reached at cbroderick@sgcmail.com.
 


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