From the Hollywood Hills to managing a high-end North London construction company. Meet Charlie Avara, the woman you’ll want to have on your side when you’re renovating your home.
How did you get started in construction? Was it an industry you always wanted to work in?
Not at all. Construction is my second career and I didn’t start working in the industry until I was in my 30s. From childhood, I had wanted to work in TV. I had a few breaks, but nothing really worked out for me until I moved to LA and got a job working on a docuseries. It was everything I had hoped for career-wise, but I quickly realised that I wasn’t happy.
One night I was having dinner with a friend, and he asked me to describe my perfect job. I said it would have to be project-based, not a nine to five, or stuck in an office, it had to involve working with clients and have an element of sales too and must be creative. My friend owned a design and build company in LA and he offered me a Project Manager role. At that stage, I felt like I had nothing to lose, so I said yes.
I quickly sold the design and build of a swimming pool to a family in the valley. Within weeks of starting the job, the person I was shadowing left and I was managing the project solo. I have never been so terrified in my life, but I compensated by being as informed as I possibly could. Every Wednesday and Thursday I turned up to ask every question I could think of to the tradesmen working on-site. On Fridays, I would share everything I had learned with the client, and the project was a massive success. I saw the joy on our clients’ faces when we delivered the project and I was hooked. I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life.
It sounds like you landed your dream career, what brought you back to London and All Done Design?
My visa ran out and I had to move home. I tried everything within my power to stay, but it wasn’t meant to be. So, back in the UK and back to square one. I started applying for Project Manager jobs at design and build companies, but I was drawn to one company in particular… All Done Design. I hadn’t heard back from them after sending my CV, so I called the office to ask for a meeting with the General Manager. The person I spoke to on the phone really tried to put me off, but I was very determined. I got the Managing Director on the phone and convinced him to meet with me. I came to that meeting armed up with project files, photographs, spreadsheets, and everything I’d learnt about running a job. We talked for about half an hour and by the time I got the train home I had an offer. I took the job with All Done in 2008, now I manage the company and the founding director is my husband. I feel very strongly that the reason the door closed to America is that I was meant to be here.
By now you have a lot of experience working on lots of projects, what have been your favourites?
Honestly, I don’t have a favourite project or client. The journey you go on with each client is unique and it can be a surprisingly emotional one. People trust me to build them their dream home and that’s a really special thing to be able to deliver. What I can say is, even after all these years, on every single project I learn something new. There’s always a complication to overcome or a problem or a crisis. Last year, managing two major projects during a pandemic was incredibly challenging. But my favourite part of every project is when I visit the client about a month after they’ve moved back in. We have a glass of champagne or a cup of tea together and there is a great sense of achievement with that family. You get to see the result of all your labour, and that is very gratifying.
Any final words for someone thinking about starting a renovation project
Yes, before you start any work you need to be very clear about what you want. Designers, architects and builders can build you castles, but it does come at a cost. Knowing your budget and being upfront about it is the best way to have productive conversations. Sometimes people can be reluctant to tell a builder how much they have to spend on a project because they feel like they are giving away too much information. While you don’t need to tell the builders everything, you do need to have an idea of how much the type of work you want to do will cost. You can find this out by doing your research. Speak to friends and family who have had similar work done, and go with a builder who has been recommended to you or someone who has built up a good reputation.
Before working with a builder, always go and view their previous projects. Either one they are currently working on or one that they’ve completed. If they have a good relationship with their clients, this shouldn’t be a problem, and both the client and builder will feel proud of the work. A builder who invites you to see a completed project and tells you how much that project cost will give you a sense of where they are pitched and what they can achieve for you.
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“Building your own home is about desire, fantasy. But it’s achievable anyone can do it.”