As a business student at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Tony Sonnen had no idea what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, so he walked into a school career counselor’s office. She had him take a survey, which showed his interests were in the building and construction industries.
“It really wasn’t a surprise. On Saturdays I’d stay home to watch This Old House and Home Time. There was no HGTV at that time,” says Sonnen. Having decided to take the survey results to heart, Sonnen applied for a job with Gonyea Homes and became a weekend model home host. The owners of the firm, Dave Gonyea and Tim Carlson, were in their late 20s and early 30s at the time, running the business out of a model home garage.
“As we worked together, it became evident that I was very strong on the people side of the business—operations, sales, and marketing—and Dave’s and Tim’s strengths were in construction and project management,” says Sonnen. “I eventually bought in as an equal partner, and it’s ended up being an ideal arrangement.” Today, Sonnen is managing partner for the team.
Not only have Gonyea Home’s partners grown the business together, they have also grown their skill sets together. Based in Golden Valley, the team built its first million-dollar home in 2005.
“We didn’t plan to specialize in high-end, custom-built artisan homes, but we were always pushing our abilities,” says Sonnen. “And clients were thrilled with the outcome.”
Soon clients or friends of clients were coming to Gonyea asking the firm to build bigger, more-detailed homes with even higher-end finishes. Today the firm employs 30 people including the three owners, three full-time interior designers and four full-time architectural designers. The large in-house design team sets Gonyea apart from many of its competitors. “We are all very experienced,” says Sonnen.
Homeowners go through a three-stage process when building an artisan home with Gonyea. The first stage, architectural planning, typically takes three to four months. Overall style, budget, function, size and number of rooms, as well as current and future lifestyle issues are discussed after which the team develops detailed blueprints and elevations. The second stage involves ironing out the final details and finishes, everything from the color of the shingles to the knobs on the kitchen cabinets. As decisions are made, the cost of building the home is fine-tuned.