Justin Melanson couldn’t stay.
Melanson, who grew up Amish, wanted to experience something more than the town of Scottsville, Ky.
“Have you ever tried being Amish?” Melanson said. “It wasn’t my thing. No. I wanted to do everything. I wanted to get out and see way more than our small community. First thing I did after I left — and I was about 16, I believe — was start a gazebo company.”
He now owns Melanson Design in Bellefonte.
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“It is a construction company that is really all about custom construction,” he said. “We took art and construction and mixed them together. Anything you can think we can build. I can say that, because we’ve certainly been tested.”
Q: How did you become interested in this work?
A: I used to be Amish when I was a kid, and that’s just what we did. We worked, and I was pulled out of school early, and they throw you into the fields. I used to work on building farms when I was 13 years old. I was a little different when I was a kid. I liked to do paintings and stuff, and they were kind of like, “What’s going on with that kid?” After I left, I worked on oil paintings, drone photography, things like that, but construction pays the bills.
Q: What inspired you to start a business in Pennsylvania?
A: My parents moved here years and years ago. I moved out here near them and eventually got back into construction. I like doing creative things and building things.
Q: What did you learn early about how you needed to build the business?
A: Not everybody who is in construction is a great business person. Learning business without any schooling, I had a lot of bumps along the way. I learned you need to document everything and to make sure every contract is ironclad. It’d have been nice if I’d been able to stay in school and been able to take any business classes. I learned pretty quick the administrative stuff you have to do. I got past all that, but it’s also a lot of hard work when you come from being Amish to having nothing to go off of.
My goal is to eventually get out of construction completely and build tiny houses for homeless vets.
Q: On Facebook you describe yourself as an artist. Why?
A: I’m an artist. Construction — maybe not everyone would agree with me — but I think anyone can do construction. I’m not trying to downplay it, but you’re putting pieces of wood together. On our Facebook, though, you can see the art that goes into our construction. You can see The Freq station, interiors, everything we build. I design more than I do construction. If I could, I’d just design.
Q: Can it be challenging sometimes working with a client, trying to give them what they want while doing what is plausible?
A: “Unrealistic expectations” would be the term I’d use. Some clients just don’t understand you can’t do some things. We can build anything that is possible to build, let’s put it that way. We’ve been pushed quite a few times. At the co.space there’s a cave shower in a room. When they brought the idea to me I thought about it and figured out I could do it.
Someone once requested I take a tree stump, make it into a chess table and make all the chess pieces out of it, too, by hand carving. I could do that, but I wouldn’t. That would take an extraordinarily long time and not be worth the money, not even close. So, I’ve had some unrealistic expectations, and we can build anything, but we also have to think about what’s best for the business.
Q: You recently started a GoFundMe for a new project for veterans. What can you tell me about it?
A: That’s going to be a nonprofit. My goal is to eventually get out of construction completely and build tiny houses for homeless vets. I want to start it everywhere. It’s a really exciting project.
Q: What’s your favorite piece of work?
A: The co.space. They came to me and said they knew I was kind of crazy like them. They were buying this big, gigantic house and wanted people to walk in and say, “Wow.” I said that I could do that. That’s how it materialized. One of the ideas was if I could build a cave shower, which I had never done, but I decided to go for what they were thinking. That’s what we did. We did things like make their fireplace a waterfall, and they gave me a lot of free rein.
On the web
Melanson Design: www.melansondesign.com
GoFundMe for tiny house build: www.gofundme.com/myu4j4zw