April 14, 2019
It was a cloudy Thursday morning in Austin, Texas as I headed straight from the airport to meet Diana at Carpenters Hall for lunch. This amazing (just-opened!) restaurant just so happens to be part of a very on-trend mixed-use property that’s one part The Carpenter Hotel, one part restaurant, one part coffee shop, one part event space, one part mercantile...you get the point. All the things; one roof. Of course I loved it…
Diana is the founder of Skelly Home Renovations, a full-service residential and commercial renovation firm, and Tinkins, a company she recently co-founded with her husband, Sean, that operates a fleet of glammed out RVs available to rent in the Austin area.
This badass female founder operates in a traditionally male dominated construction field, so I was thrilled when she agreed to hang with me on my visit to Austin to talk all things design, renovation, business, and beyond!
WHERE ARE YOU FROM ORIGINALLY?
Originally I was born in Seattle while my dad was in his medical residency. We moved before I have any memory though, to Colleyville, Texas and I lived there until I moved to Austin for college. My mom is from Holland so I also had the privilege of spending every summer in Europe, much more interesting than Colleyville...ha! I’m a big believer in travel and that it’s the anecdote to ignorance, something I got from Trevor Noah.
WHAT DID YOU STUDY AT UT AUSTIN?
I studied Public Relations, which mostly included lots of writing and group projects. I learned construction and project management after I graduated college, with lots of in-the-field experience, studying, and of course trial and error. Mistakes are the best way to learn; they absolutely suck at that moment, but you will never make that same mistake twice and every mistake is an opportunity to grow.
LET’S TALK SKELLY HOME. WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND YOU STARTING YOUR OWN GIG.
I worked for another company in the industry prior to Skelly Home being founded. They had a different business model, but were still construction based. I founded Skelly Home because I wanted to create a firm that provided a good product as well as stellar customer service, this isn’t as common or attainable in the construction industry as you might think. These two things encompass our brand + mission and are the two items that every conversation here always comes back to to ensure we are aligning with them. An important note, is that I also have an extremely supportive spouse, beyond any level of support that I ever expected. I don’t just mean hold my hand kind of support (which is also necessary every day), but he jumped into this business with me as a teammate. Behind every successful business, I believe there is lots of support, that is at least true for me. I have Sean but also a super incredible team and family - who is also merged. My sister is our Director of First Impressions at our office!
WHAT’S BEEN YOUR FAVORITE RENO OR DESIGN PROJECT WITH SKELLY?
Tough question! There are so many favorites and that is also constantly evolving with time, increased challenges and new building products and finishes. This may sound anticlimactic, but my favorite recent project was our office, it was completed last June and I approved each and every single item in our space, down to the forks and candles. The office was a white box prior to us renovating it and now it serves as a space for all of us to be productive, but also relax when we need to. We have a little lounge and recently added a yoga/meditation room for those moments when you just need a break from everything! I put a lot of my love into this space and I think the emotional part of a project adds so much to my love for this space. I am constantly striving to increase production and happiness here.
WHAT’S BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF RUNNING A BUSINESS?
People! People are the hardest part of running any service based business, we have clients, sub contractors, employees, and of course myself. When you have so many different personalities working together towards an end product there are always bound to be disagreements, moments of frustration and general highs and lows. Founding a company also means you are the natural brand manager, even though you may also have someone filling this role, and it’s impossible to require everyone to represent that brand during all minutes of the working day.
HOW / WHEN DID YOU AND YOUR HUSBAND DECIDE TO TAKE ON THE RV RENO AND ESTABLISH TINKINS?
We decided to purchase Birdie in November 2017 and she wasn’t completed until a year later, which was honestly a terrible turnaround time, Skelly Home happened and we got super busy and therefore those clients came first. Birdie was pushed to the back burned for many, many months until I just got sick of watching her sit stagnant, she turned into a mostly Sunday project after I had enough.
We purchased her as an investment, knowing that we would rent her out, but also to encourage us to travel more within Texas. The investment portion of that goal is working out well, the other side (for us travel more) is flopping. Birdie and Tinkins have been a super fun side project for both of us, we love working on projects like this together and it allows us to both get our creative juices flowing.
HOW LONG DID THE PROCESS TAKE?
Birdie took 1 year, from gut to finish. Yikes! In reality if we would have been working more diligently on her it probably could have taken us 3-4 months. I mean she is only 200-300 square feet...To our credit though, RV renos are much different than residential houses; there are weight restrictions, serious size limitations, and we wanted everything to be pretty custom, so there were a full building hurdles we had to jump through.
WHERE DID THE NAME TINKINS COME FROM?
Tinkins was a name that Sean and I created while drinking wine in Virginia, we were there for a conference to learn a construction project management tool. The RV is made of metal, hence TIN and the definition of kinship is the state or fact of being of KIN; Tinkins is a combination of these two words and what we want people to experience while they are in Birdie. Technically, RV’s are made of aluminum or steel but the word tin is cuter.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION FOR WHAT TINKINS EVOLVES TO BE AS A STAND ALONE COMPANY?
Our ultimate goal is to have a fleet of these highly curated and unique RV’s. RV’s are primarily brown and boring and TinKins will break this mold, Birdie is a perfect example of that.
YOU RECENTLY HAD YOUR FIRST BOOKING AT TINKINS! HOW HAS IT BEEN GOING? THINGS YOU LIKE FROM THE HOSPITALITY END? DON’T LOVE?
Birdie was placed up for rent one week prior to SXSW here in Austin and was booked within 20 minutes, we were super excited about that and we received an amazing response/review from the first renter! She is now booked 3 more times this month and we hope the trend continues to grow. Birdie is sitting on a lot in South Austin, in close proximity to South Lamar, it is super ideal and Sean (my husband) and I live super close to the location, so we can walk to Birdie. We found the lot on an app called, NextDoor and we promptly hired a project manager. Skelly Home keeps me busy enough and I certainly didn’t want to deal with questions when I finally am able to shut my brain down about the location of the TV remote or something ridiculous. I have zero patience for these types of questions!!
WHAT’S THE MEANING BEHIND NAMING YOUR FIRST RENOVATED RV ‘BIRDIE’?
We chose Birdie's name before she was even purchased. Cole and Son used to make the bird wallpaper, and I am constantly using their wallpapers in our own condos, houses and office. We knew we wanted to buy an RV, and the bird wallpaper gives her her name. Sean and I make decisions super quickly, it was the first wallpaper we found, the first RV we looked at, that’s typically how we operate. I'm so lucky to be with someone who supports my ideas and vise versa, it is so motivating. The RV was always going to be a woman, women are a part of the definition of bringing family together, kinship. Birdie is a badass.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE / SURPRISE WHILE RENOVATING BIRDIE?
Specifically, the mechanical for the RV was very challenging. We were lucky to find amazing mechanics who specialize in RV’s relatively quickly and now have him on speed dial! The systems in an RV are entirely different than a house.
Even though Birdie is stagnant it’s important to us that everything can and will operate safely if we want to take her on a road trip.
Something funny that happened during the renovation project was that her entire exterior was painted the wrong color, it was painted a bright turquoise instead of the calming green/blue you see now. We didn't want her to be obnoxious, we wanted her to blend in with her surroundings while also standing out from other cars and RV’s.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE LOCAL SPOTS AROUND AUSTIN?
My favorite spots around Birdie are Odd Duck, Alamo Drafthouse, Juiceland, Zilker Park...There is so much gold in the area that Birdie sits.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE IS THE EXPERIENCE THAT GUESTS HAVE WHEN THEY STAY AT BIRDIE (AND FUTURE TINKINS PROPERTIES?)?
When they walk into the RV I want their jaw to drop a bit, I think she is just super surprising and interesting. Everywhere you look there is something unique and fun about her. Most importantly, I want them to feel comfortable in her and my hope is that they feel some sense of peace and relaxation while staying in Birdie. It’s so hard to find the time to disconnect and she offers that to people!
ANY FAMOUS LAST WORDS?