In the ‘70’s the streets of Houston were lined with gold.  Out-of-state license plates were as common as the “lone star” one.  One of my older sisters and her husband had moved here and bought a little U.S. Home off of old Spencer Hwy. and Jack Rabbit Road. In our letters and calls to each other she had conveyed the boomtown that Houston was and the endless sprawl of building that was going on. It wasn’t long before I was knocking on her door and they put me up while I looked for a new career in a new town. She was a nurse, and her shift required her to be up at 4:30 a.m. to be at work down at the Medical Center. I quickly got in the habit of joining her for early coffee and then thumbing through the “want ads” for new jobs.  I was hired on the first job I applied for with Fox & Jacobs Homes, starting at $6.50 an hour to hang doors. I’d show up in the morning and they’d give me a big flatbed truck full of doors that I would spend the rest of the day hanging. I soon learned the finer art of hanging doors, plumb and square.

 After a while the job became too routine and I longed for something else. I had been eyeballing the way the framed houses came together so quickly with fast-paced crews of carpenters banging away in symphonies of rapid-fire nail guns and blazing buzz saws in the blistering sun.  To a young kid it looked like sawdust heaven, and that’s where I wanted to be. I put in for a position as a framer’s helper and was hired on the spot. That job paid $7.00 an hour and we worked an average of 50 – 60 hour weeks.  I kept up with the hard-core demands of the crew and humped backbreaking loads of lumber all day long across the concrete slabs that reflected heat up to temperatures of 120 degrees.  At the end of the day they’d sit around on the floor and drink cold beers while I swept up and cleaned the job to make ready for the next day.

  When we finished a house, the boss would just throw away the blueprints on the ground. I’d pick up the discarded plans and take them home, and after a cold shower and a hot meal I’d retreat to my room to study them late into the evening.  The bookstores were my next stop on my quest for knowledge of the structural components of a residential home.  I bought “how-to” books on carpentry, framing and roof geometry. I bought calculators, speed squares and framing squares.  I kept my eyes wide to all the steps and details of the process that our framing crew went through and absorbed the tips and tricks of the trade like a sponge.  It wasn’t long before I moved up to a framer, then a lead carpenter with an increase in pay to $9.50 an hour. I continued to learn as much as I could and studied the blueprints of each home plan long after we would complete the job, looking through the reasoning of how all the structural components were put together and the loads were carried and transferred throughout the frame and foundation. I was basically teaching myself how an engineer and architect think and becoming a self-made designer. I bought drafting tools and a drafting table and began to design and draw my own homes. I soon put together my own framing crews and was building homes for all the major home building companies throughout  greater Houston  up until the early ‘80’s.

Then, the bottom fell out! Interests rates went up to 21% and Houston slid into a deep energy recession. New construction seemed to grind to a halt, and very few new slabs were being poured or enough lumber packages being dropped to sustain a framing crew.  Builders were going under everywhere, and foreclosures were going through the roof. By necessity, I was forced to find a new way to make a living doing what I loved – working with tools.  I lucked into a relationship with a small custom fixture supplier where I got tons of leads on work involved in custom kitchens and baths.  It was during the rest of the ‘80’s that I learned the finer art of interior construction finishes. I absorbed all the skills and studied the finish trades with the same enthusiasm that I had with the structural framing experience.  I subscribed to Fine Woodworking and Fine Homebuilding and amassed a collection that became my library of references and techniques.

 I became a master carpenter and cabinet builder. I became a Corian and laminate mechanic. I became a drywall finisher, electrician and plumber. I became a meticulous tile and stone setter. I became a professional painter and studied decorative faux painting in New York under one of the few masters in the western hemisphere.  (Later, in the early ‘90’s, having probably the first exhibition of faux painting at the George R. Brown Home & Garden Show under my company called “Where Faux Art.”) All these skills where honed and refined over the years and coagulated in an experience as a well rounded builder who has in-depth understanding of all the trades and techniques of the complete design and building process.








Copyright © 2004 Harry James Building and Design. All rights reserved.