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Spotlight - Diana Skellenger, Skelly Home Renovations

image Skelly Home Renovations CEO, Diana Skellenger.

AUSTIN - Diana Skellenger has proved that inspiration to pursue a construction career can come from many kinds of backgrounds. She runs her residential and commercial renovation firm, Skelly Home Renovations, with the same kind of precise planning and eye for detail she was known for in her other lines of work.




Share about your background.
    I was born in Seattle, and before I can remember, my family moved to Texas. I lived in Colleyville for most of my life.
    I learned the lifestyle and work ethic of an entrepreneur from both of my parents – my dad is a physician who owned his practice, and my mom owns a wind energy company. I always had to push myself really hard to get a reward, which sounds kind of harsh, but that is where my work ethic comes from. Construction is a really demanding and challenging field. Opening any kind of business requires a lot of hard work and many hours, so those are things that I saw from my parents when I was growing up.

How did your path lead you to the construction industry?

    I attended the University of Texas, where I studied public relations. It primarily involved writing press releases, doing team exercises, putting together media kits, pitches and writing speeches. There is really no relation to what I do now, besides the fact that I feel college is a good experience to kind of grow up.
    After college, I started working with a corporate event company that did consulting and fundraising; I worked on the event side of that business with a lot of non-profits in Austin. I quickly realized that although I was good at it and produced a lot of results, I didn’t love the industry and I was working 60-70 hours a week. I just burned out really quickly, which was terrible.
    After that, I was recruited by a real estate title company.  That was a really big change of pace because that was more of a marketing role where I was trying to bring in business for the title company. It was a fantastic learning experience.
    I then worked for a construction company for about three years. From that company, I was given the opportunity to learn how a job site runs, what it is like to manage subcontractors, and learn about all of the different trades. I was on job sites all of the time.

Is that when you thought construction might be your path?
    It was very odd, but I just had an epiphany that I thought I should just be doing construction. I kind of always say that I merged the [last two jobs] with construction. Although most people don’t associate events with construction, events have a formula, a timeline and a series of events that you put together to create an event. In construction, it’s the same thing. There is a series of events that you put together to create a kitchen or a bathroom, and the end result is a lot of planning, execution, formula and scheduling. You use the same process but you are getting a different product. That just kind of naturally segued into starting my own business, Skelly Home Renovations.

How has the business evolved?
    Now, we only do construction and project management. However, when I started Skelly Home, I offered design services as part of an all-inclusive package. I did this to start building a network and referral base that was broader than the four years I had spent in construction prior to opening my business.
    The business was just me for about 11 months. Then I hired an assistant, and now there are seven of us. My sister, Alex, is office manager, and my husband, Sean, is now involved. Everybody is on my team. The way we created this business, it’s like a ‘we’ thing, it’s not an ‘I’ thing. Yes, I own the business, but it is the team that builds everything.
    Our commercial projects are primarily retail, business-focused spaces. I would love to get more into commercial because it’s a lot less emotional.  And, of course, we renovated our own office space.
What do you enjoy about your work?
    The thing that I enjoy most about construction is the fact that there are new challenges every day, whether it is how a client is responding, a design challenge we haven’t built or fabricated before or with getting a permit from the city. Every day is a new learning experience, so there is constant solution-creation in construction. Everybody is always challenged, so sometimes it can be slightly overwhelming.
    You never go home at the end of the day feeling aloof. You always go home feeling accomplished because you’ve created something and have done something tangible that day, which not every industry can say. It’s rewarding.

How do you enjoy your free time?
    It’s kind of hard to have free time in the first couple of years of a business! I like being outside; I like running, cooking, and reading. My husband and I play tennis sometimes, and we enjoy exploring Austin every weekend. We’re also really big travelers; we’re going to Portugal, Poland, Prague and Turkey this year.
    Personal projects are always very rewarding; my husband and I do one to two of these a year because, with that comes freedom of the selections, timeline and subs we want to use –that’s all our decision. When you’re working with clients, it’s obviously different because we are typically working with a designer. My dream buy is somewhere on the beach in Portugal or Spain. I admire European construction and would like to build more of it.  

Tell me about a unique personal project you have completed.

    “Birdie” is our RV. Birdie was created because I love to travel, and I thought that would encourage Sean and I to travel more through Texas together, but it hasn’t! It has turned into an investment and is rented out through Airbnb. We got her and gutted her a little over a year ago and then we spent the year renovating her. We did some of the work ourselves, but we primarily used the subcontractors that we use for all of our clients. She’s super badass if you look at the inside!  Everywhere you look, there is something interesting and cool. You can rent her for the night at tinkins.com.
What do you hope the future holds for you?
    Obviously, I want to be learning and improving constantly with my business. I also need to find more of a balance, so that has been the biggest challenge lately outside of the business. When everything is aligned, I perform better. I just do. When my relationships and my business are going well, and I’m working out and my animals are doing well, I perform better, and that is across every single aspect of my life. I think working on all of those things constantly is what builds and grows the business so well because that is the brand. The brand is all of that.
    Skelly Home is a full-service residential and commercial renovation firm in Austin. –mjm

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Author Info
Tracy Peters tracy@constructionnews.net