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Dana Willouby started her own business and loves the satisfaction of finishing a paint job.

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Louisville-based painting contractor Dana Willouby doesn’t think you should be surprised to see women leading the way when it comes to the traditionally male-dominated field of construction and home improvement. After all, female contractors like Dana, who owns her eponymous painting company, and Alexandria Bolton, owner of construction company SheWorks LLC, have been building their own paths to success for years. “And we — women — are really good at what we do,” Dana says. “Whether men are accepting or not, we’re here to stay.”

Alexandria points out that female builders are part of a natural progression in the home arts. “Women were usually the ones home to meet the contractor. Historically, you want us to tend to the home,” she says. “Then you need to let us make the decisions about the home.”

Dana echoed the sentiment: “As women, we run our homes. We encourage, support, and push our families. As women, we overcome challenges.”

Those challenges can be many for women trying to break through gender barriers. Dana, who said she has lost jobs due to being female, said it means women like her have to work a little harder to demonstrate the unique qualities and perspective they bring to a job. For example, she said female clients are comfortable having a female contractor in the home and appreciate her 24 years of experience, hands-on consultation, and interior design background. She also brings a demonstrated work ethic. “I will die before you outwork me,” she says, with a laugh. “Apparently, I have something to prove.”

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Alexandria Bolton, owner of her own construction company, poses with a ’50s look but gets lots of work done. She has flipped more than 45 houses in this area.

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“Don’t tell me I can’t do something,” says an equally determined Alexandria. “I hate the word ‘can’t.’ And when you tell me I can’t do something, that just makes me want to do it.”

Like starting her own businesses and podcast. Alexandria, a 30-year-old single mom from Louisville who also owns a real estate brokerage firm, Hippo House LLC, and recently launched the podcast, Love the Agent, became interested in real estate at age 15 when she began working for an appraiser. As an adult, she had learned the operational side of the building industry while working as an office assistant for a construction company in Denver, Colorado. Along the way, she noticed a condescending attitude among male contractors when dealing with female clients.

“I saw an inadequacy in the construction world where men were trying to tell you what’s what – what looks good, what works.” She said the contractors weren’t listening to the homeowner’s concerns or ideas but were instead pushing their own agendas to save time and money in order to move on to the next paying job.

Inspired to start her own construction company where she could bring a decidedly female perspective to the forefront, she moved back to Louisville in 2015 and purchased 10 houses at auction to flip, or fix up and resell, for a profit. Since then, Alexandria and her crew — Sara VonRoenn, a female contractor that works with her, an all-male construction crew, and various subcontractors — have flipped more than 45 homes in the Louisville area. Her focus is on quality construction. “You’re never going to be able to cut corners with me.”

Like Alexandria, Dana, 43, became interested in her vocation as a teen, when as a high school senior, the self-described “art geek” decided to paint her bedroom. Up until that point, she hadn’t expressed interest in becoming a second-generation painter. However, once her dad, Richard Wright, who owned his own painting business, examined her handiwork, he offered her a job. “I really had no interest in what he did, but he took a look and was like, ‘OK. Want to come to work?’ So, I worked for him for nine years before going out on my own.”

The married mother of two daughters, ages 20 and 15, said being your own boss and one-person crew has its perks, as far as setting your own hours and choosing which projects to take on. It also comes with an immense sense of satisfaction. “That smile at the end of the job, when they see the finished product. When they see the quality in the finished product … that is the most satisfying feeling,” she says. “I’m helping people.”

And despite having so many irons in the fire with her own businesses, Alexandria, like Dana, enjoys helping others, especially women, feel empowered by sharing her tips and know-how. “It’s truly fun, she says. “I love what I do.”

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Before (left) and After (right): Alexandria suggests streamlining a space to give it more of an open, airy vibe as seen here in this remodeled kitchen, one of her home renovation projects. Submitted photo.

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Stay-at-home orders during the pandemic had many homeowners ready to tackle projects around the house. But which projects should women tackle on their own and which should they call in a professional for help? Our experts weigh in.

Clean it up? Yes. Dana said if you want an easy way to spruce up your walls, a little elbow grease will do the trick, like just washing the walls and trim. “We all think we want to paint the walls, but a huge impact on the overall appearance of the room is to wash those walls and take care of your baseboards, doors, and door casings,” Dana says. “It makes the whole room look cleaner.” A good cleaning works wonders for a wholehouse makeover, too. “Sometimes for a flip, I just send the cleaning crew in,” Alexandria says. “They give it a spit-shine and essentially ‘flip’ the house by touching every corner of the house.” Alexandria also says women are perfectly able to clean their air filters and vacuum floor vents on their own.

Clear it out? Yes. Another way to refresh a room to make it appear larger or cleaner, according to Dana, is to declutter. “Take a minimalist approach by clearing clutter and removing items,” she says. Doing so helps with organization and clears away underlying stressors. Alexandria recommends clearing out landscaping that needs a refresh. “We might feel we can’t tackle it. But we can clean it up. Pull weeds, put rocks down. And go left to right as you work.”

Paint it? Maybe. Dana says when it comes to painting, “People either love it or hate it. There really is no middle when it comes to painting.” So, if you hate painting or are not comfortable tackling it yourself, call a professional. “Some people are not DIY-ers, and I appreciate that. It’s perfectly fine to admit. A lot of times, I come in and have to fix DIYs.” But if you are comfortable handling a paintbrush, Alexandria says to give your front door a fresh coat of paint. “It’s one of the most fun things you can do to give your house a lift.”

Tile it? Maybe. When trying something more permanent like tile, Alexandria suggests doing a practice run first by tiling a piece of wood instead of attempting the whole wall or floor. “Try it on a small scale and then call an expert if it doesn’t work out.”

Electrical, plumbing, and hardwood floors. No. Alexandria is adamant about certain projects that are not good for the DIY-er: Specialty projects that are permanent like electrical work, plumbing, or refinishing hardwood floors. “Don’t even try it,” she says. “It’s not worth it, time and money-wise.”

P.S. Learn from women who build together.

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