People were not Kurt Clason’s calling, initially.
Though he could talk someone’s ear off, his first career was engineering, where the most complex numbers and formulas became a second language to him. Yet learning to manage people took a little time. On paper, it may be unexpected that Clason, NAHB’s Remodeler of the Year, has made an overwhelmingly positive impression with that background, but in his personal and work relationships, it’s no surprise.
Clason opened Ossipee, New Hampshire-based Clason Remodeling, known then as K.A. Clason Fine Woodworking, in 2006 after retiring from the U.S. Coast Guard. His first focus included building and fixing island properties until the recession nudged him to expand into remodeling. Clason Remodeling has since settled into the title of the “Lakes Region’s premier remodeler.” It’s an inscription he and his team of 13 proudly wear on their shirts and show through their professionalism on the jobsite.
The title came to the company in 2019 when Clason decided to differentiate himself from surrounding Lakes Region builders and remodelers.
The Clason Remodeling crew. | Photo: Allan Wolf – WolfReel Visuals
“We made the decision to change the name of the company then and instead focus solely on remodels,” Clason wrote in his Remodeler of the Year application. “There are several high-end new construction builders in the area, but all say that they also do remodels.”
That, his frame-to-finish process, and dedication to superior craftsmanship are what sets him apart from the local competition. Clason and his team work on three to five projects a year within the $500,000 to $1 million-plus range.
Much of the company’s work is renovating vacation homes for clients primarily from Massachusetts, New York, and California—the type of clientele who appreciate the most innovative products, design, and construction methods, something Clason makes a primary focus for himself and his crew. Continuing education, whether it’s through NAHB, local associations, or attending the International Builders’ Show, keeps Clason’s crew ahead of the rest.
Education has been a constant value in Clason’s life.
Growing up in the bedroom community of Shrewsbury, Mass. to a second-generation townie doctor, a stay-at-home mother, and lineage of woodworkers, Kurt recalls his high school years as college-focused despite wanting to spend most of his time in the school woodshop. There, he‘d craft curio shelves for friends and attend one of his five woodworking classes, but Clason knew he was college-bound. This led him to the US Coast Guard Academy where he graduated with a degree in engineering and later on received his MBA.
The majority of his years in the Coast Guard would be spent managing off-shore construction crews, learning to manage finances and schedules—until his last two years. When orders came to shut down a shipyard in Louisiana, a commanding officer offered Clason a choice: Go to the shipyard or stay in the Northeast as a personnel officer.
When Clason left the Coast Guard, he was offered several high-paying jobs but turned them down to start his own company. “If I had taken that job at $150,000 in 2006, I’d definitely be making more than I’m making now, but would I be having fun?"
“I had never dealt with personnel except with my guys’ evaluations,” recalls Clason.
Two years as a personnel officer gave Clason a crash course in human resources and working with employees of varying backgrounds.
“Up until that point, it was something I had zero concept of,” he says. “I knew when metals failed, I knew what the hydraulic power of the ocean was, but didn’t understand that some of the best performers in the world could be the ones you don’t expect. It was eye-opening beyond belief.”
Though Clason credits much of his people skills to those years in the Coast Guard, his ability to put people first embedded itself into his leadership style naturally. His team describes the energy he brings to the office or the jobsite as one that draws people in and makes them want to put forth their best work. It’s something honed through many years and he’s come to deeply understand that if a leader gives their all to their team and leads with empathy, that team will give them the world in return.
And that’s exactly what the Clason Remodeling team does.
“When I got to meet Kurt and talk to him, my deciding factor that made me want to work with him was that he said, ‘This is the last job I want you to get,’” recalls Ed Scribner, project manager, who’s worked with Clason for four years. “It told me that’s the type of guy that would look out for me and I’d look out for him.”
On the topic of employee benefits, Clason says there may be those who argue benefits are not best for bottom lines, but in the end, it increases retention, resulting in cost savings. | Photo: Allan Wolf – WolfReel Visuals
Jigsaw Puzzle of a Team
One of the key reasons for Clason Remodeling’s success has been its team, and it trickles down from Clason’s investments in education and his values of flexibility and empathy. He describes his company as a group of jigsaw pieces. Each team member comes from a different walk of life, bringing those talents to the company culture: One was a meat cutter. Another worked for a commercial painting company. Two were former roofers.
For Clason, capitalizing on these different specialties has created a quality-focused, reliable team. He says his crew works hard and knows how to have fun, typical for the industry, but Clason approaches team management in an atypical way.
For employees with decades of experience, Clason’s different approach took some time to get used to. “In our industry, that’s a hard thought process,” he says. “I think it’s institutional. Our industry is a hard industry.” Some unusual offerings—aside from Clason’s grace—includes competitive pay, health insurance, and a 401k (“It’s the right thing to do,” Clason says). When he first started his business, he never thought he could offer health benefits and retirement plans, yet today he strives to ensure the careers he offers to his employees are backed by that security.
“To be legit in this industry, to pay insurances, to jump through hoops—he does it,” says Deric Faiella, lead carpenter, who’s worked with Clason for 15 years. “We’re all protected. This is the rest of our lives, we’re in it for the long haul.”
Clason Remodeling team members wear the title “The Lakes Region’s Premier Remodeler.” Clason says his team succeeds because of their differences. | Photo: Allan Wolf – WolfReel Visuals
Not Only Carpenters, Craftsmen
Clason creates a quality, reliable business internally through his people-first leadership style and does the same externally through his craftsmanship-first philosophy. Sometimes one project can change an entire company’s mindset, and that was the case with Clason Remodeling.
That project, nicknamed Little Green, made Clason realize that he could stand out from the competition through impeccable remodels executed with highly skilled woodworking. That project won the People’s Choice Award in the 2017 Parade of Homes and the New Hampshire Home Design Award for Excellence in Interior Design.
Little Green required Clason Remodeling to bring a 1900s lakefront home’s energy performance to modern-day standards while adding a laundry list of other items that the clients requested. That included getting the home to an R-28 value, and no visible joints, fasteners, or nails.
“They were the type of customer that was like, ‘This is the forever house. I want it done once and I want it done right,’” recalls Clason. “It changes the thought process in your head to slow down, build it right.”
It showed Clason that there were clients out there who would pay for the time and effort it takes for top-notch craftsmanship, and he says the majority of their clients today come for the company’s woodworking and finishing skills. Additionally, he saw that the area needed more remodeling of old homes than new builds, which began the process of becoming the Lakes Region’s premier remodeler. And it all goes back to Little Green.
Clason strives to be as far separated from “Chuck in a truck” as possible. One way he does so is through his professional titles and continued education.
He has an NAHB Remodeler designation, is the 2022 Chairman of the NAHB Remodelers Council, an NAHB Certified Aging in Place Specialist, and Certified Graduate Remodeler. His son, Dylan, who he has mentored and worked with professionally for nearly 10 years, is an NAHB Certified Green Professional and a member of NAHB’s Legal Action Committee.
If Clason doesn’t learn something every day, he would go crazy. And while he emphasizes that there’s no textbook for remodeling, the engineer tries to absorb as much knowledge as he can and try innovations, whether it’s technology, tools, or building practices.
“What I like is that we’re on the cutting edge of all the newer stuff coming out,” says Scribner. “It isn’t just that we’re set with these old standards and this is how we’re going to build something. We do incorporate those, but we also want to know what the new insulating factors are or all the new products coming out, so we go to IBS, and he brings everybody because we’re a group and we work as a company and a team.”
Learning and sharing knowledge goes beyond Clason’s team, but into his community as well. Clason, along with three local building association presidents, created an event with local trade schools to help students build tiny homes and another for a two-day build event. Today, he knows the local businesses where some of those students he mentored in the programs work now.
Lead Carpenter Deric Faiella describes Clason as honorable, friendly, and passionate. “He’s interested in other people’s lives. He knows everything he needs to about each of his employees.” | Photo: Allan Wolf – WolfReel Visuals
“We’ve seen a huge growth in the amount of 18-year-olds in the market,” says Clason.
Interpersonally, Clason impacts the residential construction industry by simply sharing his passion. For example, Office Manager Briar Rose Lambert recalled when Clason sat down with her daughter to teach her Chief Architect. This simple act influenced her decision to become an architect. The two are currently building a desk together in the office’s workshop.
“You can’t have a conversation with him where you don’t learn something,” says Lambert.
Within the associations, Clason helped revive the New Hampshire Remodeler’s Council in 2018, and when Clason stepped in as president for the Maine Remodeler’s Council in 2019 (Clason lives in southern Maine with his wife Mary Beth and dog Kodiak, and commutes just 30 minutes across state lines for work), he took the 65 member association up to more than 100 members.
Clason previously served as the president of the Lakes Region Builders and Remodelers Association, currently serves on the New Hampshire Home Builders Association, and he even represents the state by serving as New Hampshire’s representative for the NAHB.
“He’s involved with going to DC, he’s at the state level—he is just involved in so much, and that’s where his passion shines,” says Scribner. “And when he meets his customers, his customers know that he’s not just some guy putting up houses.”