A trailblazer in the home remodeling business for nearly 40 years, Harrell Design + Build, a women-founded and employee-owned company, celebrated its grand opening in Mountain View with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning.
“We’re so excited to be back in Mountain View,” said CEO Lisa Sten, who spoke to a gathering of employees, local residents and city representatives, that included Mayor Alison Hicks and Mountain View Chamber of Commerce CEO Peter Katz.
The launching of Harrell Design + Build, located at 2284 Old Middlefield Way, isn't the company’s first foray into Mountain View. But it certainly is the most ambitious. “It’s our ‘forever home,’” Sten said.
The newly-renovated 12,720 square-foot building, which used to house Art and Frames Unlimited, features a 7,000 square-foot showroom with full-room displays, home interior products and open spaces for workshops and community events.
“It took a few years to get here, but we have one spot for everything now,” Sten said.
“And the building still has opportunity to grow,” she added.
Harrell Design + Build, which employs about 50 people, takes up a little over half of the building, leasing out the rest of the space to other businesses.
At a time when the city is making a concentrated effort to bring businesses back to Mountain View, the return of Harrell Design + Build, which was based out of Palo Alto for seven years, is especially welcome news, Katz said.
Originally known as Harrell Remodeling, Harrell Design + Build got its start in a Menlo Park garage in 1985. Iris Harrell founded the company with her life partner, Ann Benson, whom she met in Texas as a touring musician. According to company lore, Benson put a screwdriver in Harrell’s hand and said, “Start doing something.” Harrell never looked back.
At the time, Harrell was one of the few women in the country to run a residential construction company. Many of her earliest clients were “little old widowed ladies” who preferred not to be alone with men working in their homes, according to the company website.
Harrell found her niche and continued to differentiate her business with a personal touch that focused on clients’ needs. Even to this day, the company builds the homes that clients want, Sten said.
Sten joined Harrell Remodeling as a designer in 2000, just as it was getting ready to move out of Menlo Park and expand to a new location on Old Middlefield Way in Mountain View. Around this time, Harrell started to offer an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) that provided company shares to employees. When Harrell retired in 2014, the company transitioned from 37% to 100% employee-owned, Sten said.
In 2016, the company sold its Mountain View building and relocated to a rental space in Palo Alto. “But we saved our pennies, knowing we would be homeowners again,” Sten said. In 2020, the company’s CEO at the time, Ciro Giammona, retired and Sten took over right before the pandemic hit.
While construction stalled during the early months of the pandemic, demand for home remodels quickly surged, and every year since then has been “our best year ever,” Sten said. The company brought in $14 million in revenue in 2021, according to an industry publication.
In 2022, the company rebranded as Harrell Design + Build and finalized the purchase of its “forever home” in Mountain View.
Harrell Design + Build spent the next year renovating the building to create a home design showroom that customers could walk into and experience directly in a tactile way. It also focused on its exterior features, particularly its signage.
“We wanted to have a good street presence,” Sten said. “We wanted to contribute to the neighborhood and feel like we've elevated the design a little bit in this area. “We hope that others will follow,” she added.
Katz expressed a similar desire, describing Harrell Design + Build as a homecoming that would help uplift an often-overlooked part of the city. “It's important for us to understand that there are different parts of the city that need another bit of renovation,” he said.
“We talk a lot about downtown, we talk a lot about El Camino, a lot about San Antonio Center. So, it's wonderful to be out here on Middlefield,” he said.