Building Better Projects with Jessica Steely


When best-selling National Geographic author and speaker Dan Buettner gave San Luis Obispo, California the distinction of being one of “the happiest places on earth,” part of his reasoning stemmed from the town’s careful and forward-thinking planning. The same philosophy of blending beauty, sustainability, and wellness extends in properties throughout the county. Take a look at some of the most beautiful homes around San Luis Obispo County, and you’ll notice that they often have something in common. Not only are they sustainable buildings, they share the same contractor. Semmes & Co. Builders, Inc. is well known for their philosophy on sustainability, a belief system that company President Jessica Steely embodies and exemplifies.

NT: Tell us about your path to becoming a builder/contractor.
JS: Semmes was founded in 1978 by Turko Semmes, after he graduated from Cal Poly with a Construction Management degree. I joined the Semmes team in 2004 after I graduated from the same program. For me, it is about creating spaces that are responsible, healthy and comfortable. It was important for me to join a group that continued to search for refined ways to build, not simply doing the norm because it is easy. I found that group in Semmes.

NT: What do you enjoy most about being a general contractor?
JS: In many ways, we are the choreographers of the project. Bringing all parties (often with extremely different viewpoints) together to achieve a common goal… and enjoy ourselves and make a fair living in the process.

NT: Tell us more about the collaboration involved.
JS: The best projects are when the owners and the architects have positive and collaborative attitudes; when we are brought onto the team early to assist in siting the home to maximize passive heating and cooling while establishing a realistic budget that we can stick to as the design evolves. The level of creativity allowed on these projects makes for an outstanding finished product.

NT: You mention passive heating and cooling – are those components of your sustainable building philosophy?
JS: Yes. Our philosophy is to build a better home. Passive heating and cooling means that instead of using machines, we use our climate’s ability to heat and cool our homes.

NT: What are other components of your philosophy?
JS: The materials we use do not leave lasting scars on the planet, the air is healthy and the home will last year after year with minimal wear. Understanding the science of building is key to achieving these goals.

NT: It seems like these days, that science is constantly changing. How do you stay up to date and inspired?
JS: Anytime I attend a seminar or expo with likeminded folks, my mind and spirit begin to race with excitement. Continuing education is a critical part of my career.
Jessica Steely 2

NT: You mention using materials that do not leave lasting scars on the planet. You’ve used Native Trails copper sinks in your projects – what factors led you to selecting them?
JS: Native trails products are used for a number of reasons. Copper itself has a specific style that fits nicely into many of our rustic, old world, and eclectic projects. We encourage our clients to select Native Trails because of the high quality product that it is, but also because it is a local company (a huge part of our vision of sustainability) with values we support. Having artisan crafted items in our homes is what brings these custom masterpieces to life. In fact, we recently used a Native Trails copper bar sink, copper bathroom sink, and a copper range hood in one project.

NT: That was ‘A Whimsical Retreat’ in Arroyo Grande, California – a charming, engaging home. What did you enjoy most about the project?
JS: The enthusiasm and collaborative optimism of the clients made the project what it is. They were open minded and engaged throughout the duration of the project, creating a long-lasting relationship.
Jessica Steely

NT: You clearly enjoy the process of engaging with the clients. What advice would you give them?
JS: Create the team early and organize throughout the process. Trust the people you have chosen and enjoy yourself, we’ve got you.