When your work blends with your passions, that’s where the magic happens. And that’s obvious for Valon Quamina, a second-generation carpenter and contractor based in Brooklyn, NY.
From a very young age, Valon tried his hand at all kinds of elements of construction. He’s had a love for working with his hands for as long as he can remember, disassembling things to put them back together, building with LEGOs, and heading to job sites with his father.
Once his high school years hit, a familiar discussion many trade professionals can relate with followed: Valon wanted a future in construction like his father, while his mother’s side of the family encouraged him to pursue more of a “white-collar career path.” He settled on post-graduation plans that fell somewhat in the middle, studying Computer Science in college and landing an internship in architecture.
Valon followed the traditional path to make his family proud. He started a computer company after college, but something felt off—it just wasn’t his calling. A few years later, he had begun working with his dad on a few projects. They were discussing school and his choices for college studies one morning on the way to a site when Valon’s father said something that stuck with him forever.
“He said, ‘Listen, they can build computers to fix computers, but they can't build a computer that can build a house.’ I was floored! And at that moment, I was satisfied with my decision to move forward with working with him full time.”
Valon is well aware of his luck of the draw, having such an influential figure in his life to also act as his mentor. The two conquered all kinds of projects together, all types of trades, and Valon got the kind of hands-on experience he couldn’t have dreamed of anywhere else.
“I watched this man do so much and listened as he taught me even more. At nearly 60, he is still doing full kitchen gut renos solo,” Valon says.
That kind of drive and determination is something that’s stayed with him as he focuses on expanding his own business, Legacy Construction & Carpentry NYC. He started off doing handyman work to build his client base and slowly expanded the size of his projects while also saving and taking the necessary steps to get his contractor's license.
But the road to success and independence as a small business owner is a bumpy one. Valon still struggles with finding good and willing personnel, along with navigating shady contractors that hurt client needs and expectations.
Discouragement, however, is not something Valon believes in. When finding quality personnel became a roadblock, he began networking and chatting up trade professionals he found on job sites. When work slowed down, he stopped worrying about the bigger jobs coming. When he was tired of constantly justifying his rates, he decided he didn’t need to prove himself to anyone.
“I present myself, [my] process, and [my] cost and leave the ball in your court. I never entertained the ‘Why you and not the next guy?’ conversations. I end those quickly by stating that I'm not the next guy, so don't try to compare myself or my business to them.”
Today Valon comes with that self-assured attitude that all business owners aspire to: confidence in yourself, your professionalism, and your abilities. This is, of course, a little easier to emulate when your workwear makes you look and feel like a boss.
Another bonus of knowing your worth: motivation that doesn’t quit. He gets a kick out of turning client visions into reality and wants his business to be both a family legacy and a tool to teach anyone the skills they’re willing to learn more than anything.
“I just want to keep pushing myself to build cool things, incorporate cool products, and designs,” Valon says. “My motivation is to get a set of plans, execute to the best of our ability, rinse and repeat.”
Because when it all comes down to it, this was the life he dreamed of way back in high school. Creating that perfectly blended career of passion and skill, independence and community, and flexibility and freedom. It’s the life you live when you follow what you love.
“Prioritizing expanding my skills and knowledge is easy. This line of work is also my hobby. I genuinely love this stuff. I spend hours on YouTube watching videos from like-minded people and guys who are way better than I am. I spend a ton of time on Instagram following guys who are on a higher level than myself. Some influences from my past were This Old House, New Yankee Workshop, and Bob Villa. Someone who I consider a mentor now is Manny from @Hardcorerenos on Instagram. The guys are legends! While I'm learning from them, I'm gearing up for when I'm on that level to be looking for the people above that. I'm always on the hunt to learn more new and interesting things about this industry, but I also have a knack for the ‘old school' parts.”
Valon is lucky enough to bring the people he loves into the fold as well. With his wife, Carla, being an admin-minded person, deciding to be business partners was a “no-brainer.” Carla played an instrumental part in getting all of the business contracts written and core systems up and running. Valon credits her with not only making sure the ins and outs of the business run smoothly but also being the best pillar of support he could ask for.
“We always say to people that she's the brain and I'm the talent,” he says. “She is amazing. And this also speaks to the value of legacy building that I mentioned earlier. We both are both believers in this and don't look at the business as just a way to make money, but we want it to hopefully be generational for us and teach the same lesson to any who come up under us.”
Valon’s final words of wisdom for those following a similar path? Get in the habit of using contracts early, don’t dwell on the slip-ups, and stand in your beliefs.
“One thing I would like to tell people about the skilled trades is that, yeah, it's physical work, but I believe that there can be a place in the trades for anyone. Just having real skills is so invaluable. The possibilities are endless and fulfilling. I believe that there is nothing like the satisfaction you get when you accomplish a project, and you're being complimented by clients, friends, family, and colleagues. Also, with the changes happening in the world, a college degree and the debt that comes with it is painful, so I would say it's definitely a route to consider while making a choice in the future if you can identify even something [of] small interest to you.
For aspiring entrepreneurs, keep looking forward, treat your mistakes and mess-ups as learning lessons, and don't be discouraged. A business in the trades is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Photos by Kempe Hope.