Diego Vassallo got an early start on the fast-track to success.
Vassallo, the owner of KDR Homes and KDR Design Builders (Commercial) Inc., first got a taste for hands-on work as a child, learning to use miniature versions of tools set up alongside his dad’s workbench.
By the time he graduated from high school, he already had about five years of woodworking classes under his tool belt, so it was a natural choice to go directly from Maples Collegiate to Red River College. At 18, Vassallo was the youngest student in his pre-employment trades program, but he was already so advanced, he successfully challenged his first-year apprenticeship as a carpenter.
“From that point on I accelerated through the industry … I was lucky, I excelled,” he recalls.
The 46-year-old entrepreneur is still operating in high gear. The businesses he runs with his wife of 24 years, Domenica Vassallo, tackle everything from residential and commercial renovations to $1-million homes and high-profile projects including the City of Winnipeg’s new Transportation Management Centre, the St. Vital Park Pavilion, Grant Park’s MLCC and Osborne Village tapas hotspot Segovia.
Running KDR (it stands for Knowledge, Design and Reliability) wasn’t part of Vassallo’s career plan at the outset, but he was well prepared when the time came to strike out on his own in 2001. During his Carpentry apprenticeship, he took a year off to study Business Administration as a full-time RRC student, and went on to complete his certificate through Continuing Education courses. At the same time, he was gaining well-rounded experience in his construction career.
“I started as a cabinet maker, so I was working for a high-end cabinet company in the city and then from there I went to the commercial sector and worked for one of the largest companies in the city. I kind of went back and forth from commercial to residential throughout my career, so I have a vast knowledge of all aspects of construction,” he says.
“I’ve always worked with probably the best carpenters within the companies because I had a lot of aptitude and skill, so I was actually running crews as an apprentice for some of these companies, which was a bit challenging. I wasn’t a full-blown carpenter — I was an apprentice — but I was still running crews of other apprentices, carpenters and labourers on these large jobs.”
Vassallo, who earned his journeyman ticket in 1996, says he put in a lot of effort for other companies, treating their businesses as if they were his own, but he reached a crossroads when his last employer expanded to Toronto. Asked to move east to run the new operation, he decided instead to make a different move, launching his own business as something of a triple threat.
“We actually had three divisions — one was new building, one was commercial and one was residential renovations.”
When the commercial side of the business grew and took on bigger projects, he separated the companies into distinct entities. Projects on the residential side were big from the start.
The first house KDR built was a 2,700-square-foot bungalow with a three-car garage in Prairie Grove. In 2008, a $1.3-million show home in Bridgwater Forest had the distinction of selling for the highest price of any local property at that time. It was also the first home in the area to have geothermal heating and cooling. Today, the company is best known for delivering luxury in large custom homes, although it also offers a KDR Promo line of mid-range spec homes.
KDR has also earned a reputation for innovation. While the company has used 3D renderings for some time, Vassallo recently embraced virtual reality technology to give clients a 360° view of model homes.
And he’s borrowed from his commercial experience to introduce several original design concepts in residential homes — using ultra-shiny automobile paint on cabinetry before high-sheen acrylic finishes were widely available, incorporating commercial-grade stainless steels accents, and convincing a major cabinet company to start producing veneers with a horizontal grain, to name a few.
Curb appeal and trend-setting interior design features are just part of the creative mix, working hand-in-hand with cutting-edge construction techniques and energy-efficient technologies.
“Right now, we’re concentrating on making our product better every time we build a new home,” Vassallo says. “We always look ahead and see how we can build better.”
— Profile by Pat St. Germain (Creative Communications, 1989)