From the Ground Up
UC Davis sculptor and art studio lecturer Nancy Sayavong taps into her diverse background in design and construction to remodel homes. A co-owner of a real estate business, Sayavong is currently turning a 1916 house with no insulation into a livable home for herself and her partner.
“There are so many ups and downs with it, but ultimately, the outcome is so rewarding,” Sayavong said.
Her experience in home remodeling goes back to graduate school, when she worked for a small, custom cabinet-making company that exclusively partners with high-end architecture firms and well-known clients, including billionaires and Hollywood stars.
“The projects and clients’ expectations of professionalism were out of this world,” said Sayavong, noting her favorite interior design project: a $33 million vacation home in the South Bay. The interior of the home resembles that of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The catch? Everything that looked hard was soft and vice versa, such as a boulder-like object made out of felt.
Originally from Tennessee, Sayavong completed her undergraduate studies in sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she developed her craft of building through metal shop and woodworking classes. When she moved back home to work at a custom metal fabrication shop, she did commercial work for locations such as the Cheesecake Factory and Nordstrom, where she was the fabricator responsible for welding, surface finishing, and installing staircases and gates on site. Wishing to further her academic career, she then moved to California and completed her M.F.A. in art practice at UC Berkeley.
Learning to collaborate and communicate with others is an invaluable skill in her trade, Sayavong added, noting the lessons translate to teaching as well.
“The thing that’s similar with remodeling and teaching is figuring out what [students’, contractors’ and her assistant’s] weaknesses are and then moving them to a direction that they need to go, to pursue the work that they want to pursue,” said Sayavong.
While remodeling projects are gratifying, they can also be time-consuming. “I try to work on one property at a time because I need to focus on my own art and my teaching. I can’t overextend and try not to burn out,” Sayavong said. “It’s a huge process, but I do it because it’s challenging.”