Making It Happen
DKC Inc. transforms New York’s upscale residences, businesses
David Kelly, President and Owner of DKC Inc., is no stranger to upscale renovations. The general contractor manages projects in some of the priciest homes and penthouses along Park Avenue in Manhattan, and has been at the helm of some pretty spectacular transformations.
“One project we managed for a hedge fund manager was a 10,000-square-foot duplex penthouse, which the client wanted converted into a playground for him and his boys. Money was not an issue,” David says. The renovation featured sophisticated wood molding, trim, cabinetry and paneling designed, produced and installed by DKC; kitchen and bathroom hardware made of white gold; a couch of chinchilla fur; and a pool covered by a retractable deck.
“With the push of a button, you could cover the pool, providing additional outdoor space,” David says. DKC worked closely with a team of experts including an interior designer, an architect, a design engineer and a pool and hot tub specialist. Though the 10-month project (which was done in phases over the course of three years) started with custom millwork and an expansion of a few closets, its scope grew over time. “One of the most unique changes we made was to create a sliding wall that could open up to the outside, creating an indoor/outdoor living space,” he says.
Headquartered in Mount Vernon, New York, DKC manages new construction, renovations and design-build projects for residential and commercial clients throughout New York. The company has its own 15,000-square-foot millwork shop to provide clients with custom wood trim, cabinetry, molding and paneling.
As a young boy living in a small town in Northern Ireland, David had big dreams. He says, “My grandfather lived in New York in the early 1900s and used to tell me stories about the places he visited and what he did here. He worked all over, including in the Empire State Building.”
While David carried those dreams through his early life, he put his hands to work learning carpentry and woodworking. “I started building houses alongside my dad at the age of 10,” he says. “But I wanted to do more than just make a living.”
David heard stories from friends who had already settled in the United States. “A couple of guys I knew told me that there was good work and good money in New York, so when I was 19 years old, I decided to check it out,” he says. David arrived in New York in 2002 on a Friday. By Monday, he found himself on his first job site in the U.S. “I was here for a two-week vacation but never left,” he muses.
He found himself in awe of New York. “I visited all those places my grandfather told me about. I found his name on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor at Ellis Island in New York Harbor,” he says.
Making the Leap
David soon began doing finished carpentry work for businesses along Fifth Avenue. As word of his skills spread, David started working side projects during the evenings and on the weekends. “I met a lot of people, and they liked my work,” he says.
At the age of 24, David found himself at a crossroads. He recalls, “I was making so much money doing side work that I had to make a decision—stick with the steady paycheck from my regular job or start my own business.” The decision wasn’t easy with his first child on the way, but he ultimately decided to make the leap. “I decided I’d make a go of it,” he says.
Already known around downtown New York, landing projects was easy. “Getting work was never a problem. But I knew nothing about running a business at first. I had to teach myself about insurance and how to do proposals and billing. Google became my best friend,” David says.
Some of the company’s early projects included giving recently vacated apartments a refreshed look. “After a tenant would move out, we’d come in to tidy up the apartment. We’d sand the floor and update the cabinets and plumbing fixtures,” he says.
Before long, David was hiring his first employee. “He was one of my closest friends, who I met when I moved to New York. He worked with me for 10 years until he moved back to Ireland,” David says. Today, DKC has a team of up to 20 employees.
The company often manages high-end residential projects for owners and developers in Manhattan and Westchester County. “We do everything from a small $50,000 kitchen renovation on up to a $15 million renovation of an entire townhouse,” David says.
Being a contractor of choice for renovations in some of New York’s most expensive residential high-rise apartment buildings is a feat in and of itself. “Not just anyone can work in these buildings,” David says. In addition to carrying at least $5 million in insurance, a general contractor—and all subcontractors—must be vetted by the building owner. “You have to be in excellent standing and have a very good reputation,” he adds.
Regardless of where it’s working, the team at DKC abides by a central tenet—keeping job sites clean. “This is ultimately someone’s home,” David says. “I know things can get messy when you’re removing walls, but we work hard to minimize dust and dirt and keep a job site clean. There are no stray coffee cups or lunch trash lying around. We want clients to be confident in our work and to see that we truly care about their home or business.”
David and his team take the time to understand a client’s needs and priorities up front. “We want to have a clear understanding of the budget and to understand where they want to spend their money. The resulting renovation needs to fit the client’s needs, wants and lifestyle,” he says.
To accomplish great work, it’s all hands on deck for DKC. “No one is afraid to get their hands dirty to get the job done,” David says. He cites a fast-paced Park Avenue project in which the client requested a certain type of lightweight floor fill for the bathroom that could only be purchased in Albany—about 150 miles upstate. “I told the client not to sweat it. I’d pick it up myself at 7 a.m. and be back in downtown New York by noon. At DKC, we work hard to solve problems and do what needs to be done to accomplish a project.”
Best Mistake He Ever Made
One of David’s longest-running partnerships started by chance. “It was during our early years, and I was meeting a client for a millwork installation job. I was standing outside of a building on Fifth Avenue waiting for the client, who I had never met. It was a winter day, and it was absolutely freezing. This woman walks up to me and asked me if I was the millwork installer. I said yes. She owned a millwork company and took me up to a super high-end apartment on the 92nd floor, where I got the job. It turns out that she was meeting someone else, and I was meeting someone else. It was the best mistake I ever made. We work together even today,” he says.
One of David’s favorite projects involved the preservation of a century-old home. “A couple had bought a bloody well old home in Scarsdale. It was in terrible shape. No insulation, terrible heat, damaged molding and floors, and a sagging foundation. Every other contractor and architect they spoke to told them to knock the house down and start over. But that house was as solid as anything. The couple bought the house because they loved its character. I understood why they wanted to keep it,” he says.
Though David appreciated their desire to restore the house, he was transparent about what that would take. He recalls, “I told them that it’s doable but that it would take a lot of time and they needed to be realistic about the cost. I vetted all the subcontractors. Two months later, when we had the final estimate and schedule, they were very happy with the cost and timeline.”
The first order of business was to fix the uneven floors of the home, which was built on a stone foundation. “We jacked the entire house up off the foundation, [which we removed and then installed] a new foundation and basement. We then removed the stairs and stripped everything down to its bare bones,” David says. The company salvaged what it could and remade what it couldn’t. “We matched all the original trim and molding, modernized the plumbing and electrical and added spray foam insulation.”
The renovation of the 12,000-square-foot house took two and a half years, and the client couldn’t have been happier. “It was a very gratifying project to work on,” David says.
“We work very hard at DKC,” he adds. “Clients trust us and have confidence in our abilities. Every day we’re out there making it happen.”