Yuliana Alvarez

By Heather Garcia

Design Dreamer

Pictured: Photos by Jennifer Pisarcik, icometotheephotography.com

As a woman in the construction industry, Yuliana Alvarez knows what it’s like to be underestimated. Whether it’s cold callers asking to speak to her husband or men on a job site who exhibit a dose of skepticism when they first meet her, Alvarez approaches them all with grace and expertise that quickly garners respect.

Alvarez is an architectural designer, on track to get her Texas architect license this year. She is the owner of several companies, including Construction Chic, Cougar Contracting and Texas Pacific Construction. Being her own boss allows her the freedom to tackle projects in her own way and run with new ideas, and her different companies work together to see projects through from dreams to reality.

Wacoan writer Heather Garcia spoke with Alvarez to learn more about what drew her to construction and architecture, what it’s like being a female in a male-dominant field and how sometimes the best ideas come when you lay your head down at night.

WACOAN: You own Construction Chic. Can you tell me a little about what you do?

Alvarez: We offer architectural design services, both residential and commercial, interior design and construction consulting.

I currently own several different companies that kind of work with each other. So we will take basically an idea and turn it into a design and then also do the construction or the coordination of the project, depending on what it is. We basically will take a project from beginning to end.

WACOAN: What are the other companies you have?

Alvarez: I have Cougar Contracting, which primarily does residential remodel work. I have a company called Texas Pacific Construction that focuses a little more on new construction. We do some remodels in there as well. We try to take on some really fun projects in Waco, kind of North Waco, the Dean Highlands area, some of those older homes, and have been restoring them back to be period correct.

That has been a different challenge for me. I came from the new construction world. And so doing these older homes and making them period correct takes a little more research. You have to be a little more delicate to your surroundings.

WACOAN: What made you want to start your own businesses rather than join in with what someone else is doing?

Alvarez: I feel like I’m very forward thinking. I start to think about the future, and I have ideas. And maybe I have too many ideas. But sometimes that’s hard to say your ideas to somebody, and they may not agree with everything. So this way I get to dictate what I get to do. I get to dictate what projects I take on or how to design a project.

Realistically, it was more the freedom to stay true to what I do and what I like to do. Sometimes when you work for other people, I know that money is a factor. Everybody has to make money. But sometimes there are limitations when you’re not doing your own projects.

WACOAN: When did you first become interested in home design and architecture?

Alvarez: I’ve been around construction my entire life. Everybody in my family is in one of the trades. I honestly did not think that I was gonna be going into the construction portion of things, but I’ve always considered myself creative. I really liked art.

It wasn’t until high school when we were forced to think about a career that I went to do a job shadow with a local architect back in, I’m from Washington state. I did a job shadow with him, and he got me really involved in a large project. And I thought OK I could see myself doing this.

I decided that I was going to architecture school, and about a semester into it, I decided to take a construction management course. Just one. I thought, I’ll just see what it’s about. I fell in love with it. I learned more in one semester in that one class than I thought I had ever learned. So I went ahead and did both degrees.

WACOAN: Are there many women in the architecture or construction management fields?

Alvarez: There are more women in architecture than there are in construction. But by far there are less women than men in architecture. For instance, in my graduation class, we started with 700 people. Only 160 were accepted into the program, and out of that 160, we graduated with about 66 people. I would say one-quarter were women in the architecture field. And there were only two other women in my graduating class in construction management. It’s definitely not a field that most women go into.

WACOAN: Have you experienced any challenges being a woman in a predominantly male field?

Alvarez: Yes. [Laughs.] So I constantly get phone calls asking for my construction consulting or construction services. A lot of times people have just maybe seen my sign or were recommended, and they call and say, ‘We’re looking for your husband.’ I get that a lot.

Sometimes I walk onto a job site and the guys are looking at me like I don’t really know what’s going on. It probably takes about two minutes of me talking to them for them to realize, OK she does know what she’s talking about.

The initial reaction from people is that of, is she really knowledgeable? But, to be honest, everybody’s always pretty respectful. That [hesitation] turns around pretty quickly once we start to actually go through a project or talk about something.

I will say that I did once have in an interview, and I know that this is not something they are supposed to say, but I did have somebody ask if I had children and if I was going to be able to work the long hours.

WACOAN: Do you see certain advantages to being a woman in this field?

Alvarez: One of the things that I do feel that sets me and my companies apart is that, as we said, there aren’t a lot of women in this field. So a lot of times I will go out and meet with a client, and they’ve already met with another three builders. And they say, you know all three of them provided these options. And they basically are the same options over and over again.

When I come in, I actually talk to people about how they live, what they enjoy doing, if they’re morning people, if they’re not. Do they drink coffee in the morning? I kind of walk through their daily routine to make sure that our design is actually fitting for the person we’re doing the work for. So nine out of 10 times I get a job right after meeting with somebody for the first time because my view is so different I think.

WACOAN: Do you have a preference doing residential versus commercial?

Alvarez: I absolutely love the residential. That is by far what I like to do more. I can do commercial. I think I excel at it, but residential is different every day. It’s never the same thing. You get to customize to people’s likes, wants, must-haves. So every home is unique to each client.

WACOAN: What’s your favorite part of working on a home?

Alvarez: To be honest, so, I go through this random process. I take in all of the information. I think about it and I think about it and I think about it. Then I just go ahead and go to bed, and sometimes I have these dreams about what I’m working on. A lot of my ideas actually come to me in sleep.

Taking those ideas, putting them down on paper is fun, but my favorite part is the day that they frame up the home. So when the walls and the roof have been put on, and you finally see the vision that you’ve had in your head for so long that most other people can’t see, and it is real, it’s something you can touch. My absolute favorite part of any project is the day that the framing is done. When I can see what we’ve put on paper and actually have a tangible — I mean realistically, I think it’s a piece of art.

WACOAN: Is there a project you’re particularly proud of that you’ve gotten to work on?

Alvarez: Yes. I have a home that I designed in Cameron Park. It’s a very modern design. The Cloister at Cameron Park, this home sits right outside of that. It’s a very modern two-story, filled with glazing. Stucco home. This couple truly let me take my vision all the way through. We used that house as a parade house for Sorrells & Co. I believe it was 2019.

WACOAN: What’s your favorite part of your own home?

Alvarez: Of my own home? This is a terrible question. I have moved so many times I really don’t have a home. I live in a rental right now, so I’m not sure that I have anything that I absolutely love about my brown walls. Right now, my current home, there’s not really anything.

I’m working on my forever home, and it’s hard to say forever because in our business people come over and they love your product and they say ‘Can I buy this?’ And that’s what we do.

WACOAN: How would you describe your personal style?

Alvarez: I would say I am very eclectic. I love pieces from all different styles, and so being a designer is actually very difficult in accomplishing your own design because there’s so many things that I can appreciate and I love, that it’s hard to stick to one style. So I’m very eclectic.

WACOAN: When you’re in a home for a longer period of time, do you change your home decor/design often or do you have things that you love that you stick with?

Alvarez: I would say that I have things that I love and I stick with that. But if I’m wanting to introduce new colors, I try to do that in items that I know that I can change out pretty easily. So small decor items, pillows, curtains, that sort of thing.

WACOAN: If someone is unhappy with their home, what would you suggest is one step they can take as a starting point to make a change?

Alvarez: I would write down the things that you like, the things that you don’t like. And then quite honestly get rid of the items that you don’t absolutely love, or even try putting them in a different setting. Sometimes it’s just that our furniture is too big for a space or it’s too small for a space. Just by moving some items around or introducing some items that you love, it can change up an entire space.

WACOAN: What kind of design trends are you seeing on the rise in Waco or just in general?

Alvarez: I think Waco’s starting to move into a little bit more of a modern, more open concept and even just introducing more light into the home than what I’ve seen in the past. I think we still hold onto a lot of very traditional items in Waco. So it’s taking a little longer to introduce some of the modern elements that you see in some of the bigger cities. But I do see a change happening. I do see people looking at simple, things that are not as ornate, things that are easy to keep up with. Even spaces that aren’t so formal.

WACOAN: How long have you been in Waco?

Alvarez: I’ve been in Waco since March of 2013.

WACOAN: What brought you to Waco?
Alvarez: My husband’s job actually brought us here. He had a two-year contract. A few months into being here, I interviewed with an architecture firm. They hired me right away and this turned into home. I started to get involved in a lot of the downtown development. Did quite a bit of design for the Turner Brothers. So I was involved in The Hippodrome project, and if you are familiar with the Altura Lofts over on Sixth [Street] and Mary [Avenue]. Quite a few. I mean you’ve seen how much downtown has grown, and they were a big part in changing that.

WACOAN: What does your husband do?

Alvarez: He used to work for a furniture store; they have many stores around the country. He no longer works for them. He is working for one of my companies. He’s actually one of my site superintendents now. We work together every day.

WACOAN: You mentioned your family was involved in construction? What kinds of things do your family members do?

Alvarez: Not in town. They’re up in Washington, but I have a lot of family that are carpenters, a lot of them do cement work, paint, texture, tile work. I mean just about every one of the trades that goes into building a home, there is somebody in my family that works in one of those trades.

I wish I could convince them to come down here because I’d have a lot more help. It’s hard to get somebody 2,100 miles away to move here.

WACOAN: What do you like to do when you’re not working? Any hobbies?

Alvarez: That’s hard. I have three kids. We stay pretty busy just running around after them and their sports. I would say honestly I just love going out on a jog. That’s my stress reliever. If I can go out and just be able to take my energy out in a different way, that’s really what I do.

I think I’m still at the stage with my kids where it’s hard to have personal time. It’s either I go out for a jog or a run, or I go out to dinner with some friends.

I wish I could get back to doing more hand drawing and even hand rendering and that sort of thing, sketching.

WACOAN: When you talk about drawing, are you referring to architecture-type drawing or other subjects?

Alvarez: Other, so like going out and drawing some scenery. Just art in general, I did a lot of that growing up, so whether that was working with clay. Even I used to make my own curtains. It’s a lot of that sort of thing.

Now, my daughter is really into arts and crafts. So I do get to spend a little bit of time doing that when she’s doing a project, or we do a lot of baking together. I do actually hand draft some of my initial floor plans. I typically put down on paper by hand before I ever put them into a computer.

WACOAN: How old are your kids?

Alvarez: I have a 12-year-old, Emery. Daniel is my 9-year-old, and Natalia is my 6-year-old.

WACOAN: Aside from your businesses, are you involved in any other things in Waco?

Alvarez: I’m involved with the Waco AIA, [American Institute of Architects], basically the group of architects that gets together and they’re trying to do more for the community. It’s been very hard getting people together, it’s such a small community. I coached cheer for the last three years with the Hewitt Broncos. In all my spare time [Laughs.] That’s about as much as I can handle right now.

Favorite spots in Waco:

Cameron Park It’s just so beautiful and so different from the rest of Waco, you almost feel like you’re in a completely different place.

Austin Avenue. Austin Avenue has just become such a neat place to walk down. We office on Austin Avenue, but we’re up on 26th [Street], so I don’t get to walk downtown as often as I used to. But it’s become so nice to be able to just quite literally take a stroll right after you eat or go to one of the local restaurants and eat and be able to walk back to your office is just great.

Yuliana’s 5 Must-Have Items:

1. Ruled notebook. I always have ruled notebook paper
2. Black and red fine point pens. When we’re in creative mode, we like to have different colored pens so we can draw and sketch and show our different thoughts in different colors.
3. Laser measurer.
4. An extra set of shoes. Because you never know what you’re walking onto. In the office we have a tote bag that has all of these items. It’s just becoming the thing, when you go out the door and you’re going somewhere, you take the bag with you.
5. Water bottle. . My water bottle that I take everywhere, that’s not filled with water. It’s filled with lemonade.