Julie Howard likes to say she grew up at Home Depot. As a young girl with a mother who was passionate for design and home building, she learned a lot about constructing homes at an early age.
“My mom would sit with graph paper and draw out a house, then she would meet with the architect to have the plans made,” Howard says. “She would then hire the builder and totally oversee the project. I grew up on construction sites. My mom would pick me up from school and drag me to the cabinet store and or to a home supply store. She taught me a great deal and instilled my love for home design and building.”
As a young adult, Howard began remodeling properties in Chicago and the suburbs with her husband, Nick.
“We would buy properties, fix them up, and sell them for a profit,” she explains. “We did all of the remodeling work ourselves, and we did it pretty successfully until the market turned.”
When the housing market turned upside down, Howard continued to focus on her other careers—as as a teacher at Prairie Middle School and raising her children, Vivi, Brooks, and Lola, now 11, 8 and 5, before deciding it was the right time to design and build her first single family home. She knew exactly what she was looking for in a lot and location in the Village and as soon as it came available, she jumped at the opportunity.
Knowing that this particular home project was going to be where her family lived, she kept their busy daily lives and love for entertaining top of mind when designing the home.
“I really thought through how the house was going to be used by us when we moved in,” Howard says. “Where would we eat, where would we play board games, where would the kids store all of their gear, and where would they play with their friends.”
Howard oversaw the entire building project from start to finish—from designing every aspect of the home, to serving as the general contractor to managing the tradesmen on site each and every day.
“My phone started ringing at 6 a.m. and didn’t stop until 10 p.m. at night with people asking me questions, but I loved every second of the process,” she says. “I use the same skills being a general contractor that I use to be a teacher. You have to be passionate about what you do, think quickly on your feet, and be incredibly organized, efficient, and decisive,” Howard adds.
When designing her home, Howard used the central hallway as a focal point.
“I always start with a hallway,” Howard explains. “I begin with drawing bubbles of rooms on paper and see how each room will flow into the other. “In this home for my family, I wanted to have a center corridor that created an element of surprise as to where it led, yet opened and connected everything together. I think hallways are under-estimated in today’s home building. There was a trend to do away with them, to create larger, more open spaces, but I feel they add a lot of character. It’s important for hallways to be well designed. They should be wide, have high ceilings, and have statement flooring, and lighting. I also always think of vantage points. I make sure every single room has a focal point,” she says.
After completing her own home, Howard was ready for another building project. She teamed up with her business partner, Brian Taylor, who grew up in a family of builders in Barrington, and set their sites on building high-end spec homes, both in Barrington and in Western Springs.
Howard again chose a lot in the Village for her next project. She focused on integrating what she knew a buyer would want—a very high quality product with today’s popular home design requests such as custom cabinetry, 10-foot ceilings, large kitchen with center island opening to a family room, back hall storage lockers, extensive mill work, specially designed flooring, and second floor laundry.
She also focused on maintaining the design integrity of the home, so it looked like it belonged on the block.
“On this particular project, all the neighboring houses are bungalows. So I couldn’t build a four-square design and expect it to fit,” Howard says. “I brought the elevation down of the roofline to be in alignment with the neighboring homes and then built up and back from there.
“Every choice I made on that project, I asked myself if it was good enough for me and my family to live with,” she explains. “My attention to quality and architectural details was the highest of any of my projects to date.”
As one of the only female home builders in the Barrington community, Howard continues to raise the bar for others in her industry. Her most recent spec home recently set a record for one of the highest sales of a new construction in the Village of Barrington that is on public record.
“I attack house projects from a design perspective,” she says. I have personally designed all of the houses I have built and I know where everything is going to go, down to every single outlet and light fixture. It’s what sets me apart.”