Bob Knepper is gradually trying to get out of the 20th century, but it has been hard. The owner of Knepper Construction Company founded the Parker, Colorado-based business in 1974 and continues to infuse his work with an old-school work ethic, drawing up 50-page project proposals by hand and only using his computer to check his e-mail—which he still avoids when he can.
“The modern-day general contractor to me is a pencil pusher,” he says. “There’s not a lot of us old guys around anymore, and contractors today don’t even have their own shop, people, or equipment; they just sub everything.” Not Knepper, though, whose cradle-to-grave approach allows him, his lean group of 12 employees, and his accompanying shop crew the ability to complete and generate more projects through referrals. The strategy helped double the number of projects Knepper Construction completed this past year, including a Tudor-style Denver home originally built in 1903 that fit perfectly into the firm’s restoration-heavy wheelhouse.
It was after the initial contractor had a falling out with the project architect, Kristin Park, that Park pushed for Knepper Construction’s involvement. The initial contractor was a client referral, but its expertise lay in commercial real estate, and its relative inexperience caused the project to stall for a year before Knepper Construction got involved. Fortunately, rehabs and renovations account for 99 percent of the company’s projects, so it was able to step in and complete the job within a year using only half its workforce.
The home still posed numerous challenges, though, including, first and foremost, its location in the historical part of Denver. Knepper Construction had to obtain extensive permitting from the city’s Landmark Preservation organization, but in the end it was still able to rework the dwelling from the inside out.
Pitched roofs, patterned brickwork, and decorative half timbering easily identified the home as one created in the Tudor style, popular in the area from 1890 to 1930, and all those elements—along with deteriorating stucco board, drooping batten, and a leaky roof—were torn down and replaced. “We made everything look like it was when it was built 100 years ago,” Knepper says. “But now it’s actually better.” The crew even replaced all the old windows with clad Marvin windows, which are normally unheard of for such a renovation job, and it finished the modern-day products so that they would match the existing trim and bead.
Because the home’s previous owners had subjected it to four renovations and additions, its classic features were masked. The original dwelling’s windows were inset at four inches, for example, and the numerous windows that lacked the inset stood out. So, Knepper Construction’s crew smoothed over those rough edges while making some additions of its own—including a bathroom for each of the home’s eight bedrooms—and it made sure to keep its work consistent with the original structure’s look.
The home’s exterior was subject to landmark regulations, but its interiors weren’t put under the same scrutiny. “We made it look like a house built in that era,” Knepper says, “but with modern ideas about space. This meant gutting the whole interior. … The biggest challenge of demolishing all the old walls was that they were actually created with masonry, with quite a few of them carrying loads up to the second floor. Care was used to surgically remove walls, shore up the upper levels, and get steel beams to handle the shifted loads.”
Notably, the Knepper Construction team underpinned the basement, allowing the company to replace a winding staircase with a straight five-foot-wide one. And, after excavating to reinforce the existing walls, the crew lowered half the basement by 15 inches and the other half by 30 inches. This allowed the client to tuck modern elements away downstairs, including a golf simulator, a game room, a powder room, a bathroom, and a card room. Removing walls allowed Knepper Construction to square up the home’s foundation and repair decaying joists that were making masonry walls crooked on the exterior. And, finally, the crew converted the home’s old guest quarters into a four-stall garage.
Such detailed work is what keeps Knepper himself so busy, and unfortunately there’s only one of him. To keep up, the contractor works a grueling 90-hour workweek, his family acting as his eyes and ears. His daughter helps by processing payroll electronically, and his two sons—one of whom has been with Knepper Construction for more than 18 years—work on-site, allowing Knepper himself, a carpenter by trade, to keep his personal touch while he splits time between the office and out in the field meeting clients. “We want to be friends with our clients,” he says. “Because those are the people who are going to get us the next job.”