– Story by Erin McPhee Photography by Don Denton
Erik Larsen didn’t have to look far to find a suitable mission statement for his Victoria-based boutique construction firm.
Having completed a bachelor of arts degree in English literature at the University of Victoria before switching gears entirely to pursue a career in the construction industry, he was always inspired by the words of countless literary masters.
And inspiration, as well as personal motivation, was precisely what the Victoria native was striving for. Just after he launched his own company, the Larsen Group, in 2008, the economy crashed, severely limiting local construction work.
“I had the time to go back and look at Thoreau in particular, who I had always loved out of all the transcendentalists because he was such a practical guy,” said Erik. “The whole idea of profit extending beyond the monetary — where do you profit in your life? — and letting that reframe how you see the world and approach problems. A big piece of that was me trying to sort through my own anxieties and depression over a lack of work, but also it gave me direction and focus.”
Over a decade later, the Thoreau quote is still featured prominently on the Larsen Group’s website, expressing to future clients who Erik is and why he does what he does.
It also helps keep Erik, a 40-year-old married father of two, grounded. The Gonzales Bay resident says he and his wife, Catherine, an executive at Island Health, continue to make a concerted effort to balance their demanding work and home lives.
“We learned a few years ago that we’ve had to leave our work at the door and allow the jobs to not define us as individuals but to support a happy home life,” he says.
Erik is proud of the fact that the Larsen Group gives him the freedom to be more present at critical times with his growing children.
“It’s very easy to start a company and then have it own you, and I’m proud to have been successful and to have happy clients and happy employees and also have it not control and dominate my life,” he says.
When they’re not busy with work or school, the Larsen family can be found on the mountain year-round, skiing or snowboarding in the winter, and mountain biking during the warmer months. They also enjoy spending time in the personal oasis they’ve created in the backyard of their 120-year-old, three-storey home. Since moving in 11 years ago, Erik has devoted countless hours to renovating it.
“We did quite an extensive hardscaping, multi-deck exterior job with a nice firepit and hot tub and there’s a big kids’ character-style home in the back, a kids’ playhouse,” he says. “The creative angle of that was a lot of fun — from design and construction. There was a lot of concrete that I was out there pouring myself. It came together really well. It’s great to have. The whole yard is another room to the house. We spend a ton of time out there.”
Next, Erik plans to turn his attention to the inside of the house, which is shaping up to be slightly more challenging.
“Starting with something that’s that old is, I would say, a lot less fun,” he laughs. “It’s a ton of head-scratching and it’s taking me a few years just to get my head around the engineering and to try and sort it out.”
Erik is definitely up to the challenge, however, coming from a long line of woodworkers, carpenters and tradesmen.
“Even my grandfather was a woodworker,” he says. “Everyone always had shops. At a young age there are pictures of my dad and I when I was three and four in the shop with him. He would build boats, constantly renovate the house, small appliance repair, you name it. It’s always just been a natural thing.”
Erik’s siblings have followed a similar path. His brother is a custom furniture builder and his sister is an interior designer, and they often collaborate on professional projects.
And now Erik’s eldest child, nine-year-old Kai, seems to be showing a similar interest in maintaining the family legacy.
“Kai has an engineer’s mindset and is really fascinated with architecture and buildings in general,” he says. “He loves the Vancouver downtown library. Stuff like that really blows his mind. My father was a draftsman and a city planner as well as a carpenter, so it definitely runs in the family. It wouldn’t surprise me if Kai decided to go down that road. And my daughter Ella, 7, is all about dance.”
Erik is incredibly proud of the team he has created with the Larsen Group and their wide-ranging skill set, allowing them to handle every facet of a renovation, from design to construction to hand-built furnishings for rooms.
“Our distinguishing factor is our in-house suite of services,” he says. “Being able to take on a project and handle the majority of the items gives you a massive degree of control over the progression and the costing of the job and I think that’s a huge benefit.”
Maintaining an expansive service list is incredibly important to Erik and speaks to another aspect of his company’s mission statement. By allowing his staff more opportunities to be creative and to do different things, he hopes he’s feeding their respective passions for the work. By prioritizing this approach, which is more old-world in nature, Erik is intentionally revitalizing the classic role of a carpenter.
And he hopes Thoreau would approve.
Take a look at what Erik and the Larsen Group does here.