Venessa Hurka is one of our favorite Santa Barbara residents. She owns Hurka Construction and is tackling the construction world with her peaceful style. For us at Parker Clay, we understand the importance of balancing family and work mode, so we caught up with Venessa to ask how she handles the adventures of owning your own business and the joys of having a growing family. Last year, Venessa and her team gave our flagship store in Santa Barbara a new look -- so make sure to swing by and check it out!
Tell us how your journey began as a contractor? What does your daily work life look like?
I’ve loved physically creating things since I can remember. When I was really young, I’d carve little towns out of the dirt hill in our back yard for us to play with cars and figurines. Then in Jr. High I remodeled my bathroom, and during college I constantly rearranged my apartment, modified furniture, changed out light fixtures and so on.
Becoming a contractor didn’t really register until I was mid engineering degree at Chico State. As fate would have it, I took an art class for fun and ran into another female who was studying construction management. I had no idea it was a major, but I liked it. One class and I was hooked.
My days are full of adventure. I get up at 5 am (sometimes earlier) and formulate my plan. I consult with my passion planner, Wunderlist checklist and punch my daily route into Ical. I usually run 2-3 jobs at any given time and like to be at my job sites at least twice a day. I’m all over Santa Barbara daily. I stop at coffee shops along the way to check in on the paperwork and settle into my Mission Canyon office whenever possible. My day’s main purpose is to keep everyone on track, problem solve and make sure we are creating a quality product in a way that we are all enjoying the process.
As a woman in a predominantly male occupation, what is your advice for our readers who find themselves in a similar environment?
I like to forget my profession is predominantly anything; women vs. men, old vs. young, whatever, we balance each other out, and I do what I do because I’m good at it. That being said, if you are struggling, my advice is to try to stop doubting yourself. There are good and bad days. On the days you are struggling, think back to the days when you were doing the same thing and feeling on top of the world.
Build your tribe and stay loyal. Connect with people that you like and that inspire you. My team is my family, and I’ve been working with many of them for seventeen years, which is the span of my professional career. I can reach out to them when I need someone onsite ASAP or when I need another perspective on a building assembly. And when I say team, it’s not just my fantastic trades; it’s my former employers mentoring and engineers and architects supporting along the way. It’s inspectors that I can reach out to when I’m trying to figure out how the codebook applies to my project.
Last but not least, classmates and colleagues sharing and supporting as we advance in our careers. Sometimes we are competitors, but we support and refer each other. We share a common goal of building better buildings in our community, and we know that what goes around comes around.
Can you share about a time when the odds were stacked against you, but you needed to continue on to finish the project?
The most memorable one was when I was trying to close out 12 luxury cottages on San Ysidro Creek. I was a baby project engineer fresh out of school. We were about halfway through the project when my boss and partner in the adventure fell ill and had to leave the company. I was the only other person that knew the project inside and out and my amazing employer at the time trusted me to bring it home. There were multiple general contractors on this project working in a tight space, working in different zones and phases. The infrastructure general contractor on the project did everything in his power to put his needs before ours. In one particular instance, he dug a 12’ wide, 8’ deep trench between us and the cottages. We had a schedule of our own to keep, so we built a bridge. The client had an eye for perfection, and the inspectors were on point. It was my first first-hand experience of meeting extremely high installation expectations, in a professional manner, while meeting a budget and schedule while following all the rules and playing nice with bullies. It was one of the biggest, scariest challenges of my life, but one I am the most proud of. And without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
You balance work and Mama life exceptionally well, what are your favorite ways to create harmony and balance in your life?
My husband is the key to why things stay balanced. If he didn’t bring me back down to earth, we’d spend our free time organizing cabinets, washing things and planning what other improvements we could put on our to-do lists. He keeps those date nights on the calendar. One of our favorites is datenightplanners.com. They create dates custom tailored to what we like, what we typically do and shakes it up by sending us on a date we wouldn’t have been able to come up with on our own. We leave every date as if it’s the best one. There’s something so nice about not being in charge of what we do, not falling into the same old patterns and having a night out that is a surprise for us both. Beyond that, Joe reminds us to turn on music at the end of the day, unplug, go outside, meet up with friends, have movie nights and slow down and cherish Sunday mornings.
What are a few ways you prevent burn out and reset in order to gain new perspective for your business?
I’m also an advocate for coaches and therapists. I have one that acts as both and she is my angel. I do one-on-ones with her as well as check in when my marriage or family is feeling stuck. We’ve talked to her about everything from difficult school decisions, whether to incorporate the business, what car purchase, to how we are affecting those around us. It isn’t all heavy childhood stuff; sometimes it’s an odd experience at 8 am that stays with me. She helps me connect the dots and reminds me everything has its yin and yang elements.
Laughing with girlfriends is next on the list. I cherish moments where I can turn off the phone, laugh and love. When there’s not a lot to laugh about, then there are shoulders to cry on and ears to listen — supporting when strong, accepting help when weak. I am blessed to have girlfriends like that.
You focus on peace and comfort in the home when you meet a client, what do you try to find out so that you can achieve a serene setting for them?
Where do they exhale? Who do they exhale with? What makes them exhale? We all have those moments where you just take a long deep breath, and as you exhale all the calls, the emails, the kid’s tears float away…. Everyone knows where, who, and what makes them exhale. If they don’t, I tell them where I would, who I would with, and how! Sometimes my clients are just as busy as me, too busy to be introspective or be creative, so a little guided inspiration helps.
Continuing on the peace and comfort thought, what are some style techniques that we could integrate to obtain a peaceful environment at home and at work?
Water, comfort, nature. The sound of water brings a sense of calm to any space, may it be a waterfall, small fountain or wading pool. We created a stock tank pool in our backyard (thanks to inspiration from my friend at Bevan Associates). The kids think it’s the best pool ever and splash around until dark. Once the sun goes down, I like to sneak outside with a cozy blanket and listen to water, crickets and chat with my hubby or friends.
Everyone needs a sacred space, sometimes even just a comfortable lookout point in their sunroom or a couple of chairs overlooking the yard. That space should have some connection to nature; a plant, a view, earshot to that trickling water feature.
Ask for advice. When we are in our own space, we get tunnel vision. We all have that fashion-forward friend. Ask them what they think. My friend recently told me to paint everything white. She was right.
Being raised in Santa Barbara, how has Santa Barbara shaped your construction style?
I have learned to respect our history, the land, and the people. Having worked on authentic adobe buildings or finding old 1800 bottles in the ground when excavating, reminds me that this town is so much more than what we are currently experiencing. Santa Barbara has a tough design review process, energy code, and building code enforcement. Many people are paying close attention to preserving this beautiful, well thought out and safe community. Everything I do has to speak to the lot it’s on, the building it’s a part of, the family that will live in it and the neighborhood that will enclose it.
Which Parker Clay Bag is your go to bag and how do you use it in your daily life?
Hands down the Entoto. I have to lug around a ton on a daily basis. Computers, files, measuring tapes and water by day and then a 2nd set of clothes for three kids, water bottles and all their junk they said they’d carry by night. When I have to meet up after work, I dump the whole thing out in my trunk and poof, and now I have this big fancy bag. I do love the Miramar for date days and the Makeda when we have an evening out. It is hard not to want every single thing Parker Clay makes. Walking around each day with a product that supports and empowers women makes me feel good, and I don’t think I could ever own another bag now that I’m hooked on the exceptional quality that Brittany and Ian have created. Bravo, Bentley Family!
All photos from this interview are from Hurka Construction's Instagram and photographer Kelly Sweda .