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Lifelong Learning in the Construction Trades

A Senior Superintendent Reflects on Custom Homebuilding in Santa Barbara

Photo: Keith HammDan Formanek

In 1990, as Giffin & Crane was expanding into the luxury homebuilding market in Santa Barbara, Dan Formanek joined the firm’s dedicated, growing team. He’s been with the company ever since, helping it to develop and maintain its edge in an industry constantly evolving with new tools and techniques.   

Throughout the decades, Formanek has drawn from a broad skill set, its foundation established while he was growing up in Minnesota. In his early teens, he was painting houses with his older brother, and by the time he got his driver’s license, he was working for a neighbor — his high school industrial arts teacher who built homes during summer break. 

“When I first learned construction, it was comprehensive,” Dan says of his time with the teacher. “We did most of the work ourselves — concrete, blockwork, framing, roofing, siding, drywall, finish work. My initial foray in homebuilding was really broad-based, which has served me well in all my work since.” 

Right out of high school, Formanek left chilly Minnesota “on a lark,” he said, for the warmer climes of the American Southwest. He joined a friend, framing houses and laying tile in Tempe, Arizona, where it wasn’t uncommon for construction crews to punch in at daybreak during summertime heat waves. 

“We’d start as soon as we could see a pencil line on a piece of lumber, work eight hours straight, and retreat by 1:30 or 2:00, just before the hottest part of the day,” Formanek remembered.

From there, he did a stint painting houses in Alaska before heading back home for a few years of higher education. A lifelong singer, who started out in the church choir as a kid, Formanek pursued a vocals major in the music department at Minnesota State University Moorhead. These days, he’ll sing an occasional wedding or funeral, if only to keep his chops tuned up.

Formanek’s creative talents shine not only through his music but also on the job site, where his peers consider him nothing less than a master builder, especially when it comes to solving complex problems.   

“We’re not tract home builders; it’s all custom homes,” Formanek said. “So we’re doing a lot of site-specific research and development on every project. It’s about building on what you’ve learned in the past, integrating your new abilities — and all these new tools and techniques — to come up with solutions to puzzles that sometimes, at first glance, seem insurmountable.”

“Homebuilding is certainly an ongoing learning experience,” he added, making sure to point out that Giffin & Crane’s creative force is — and has always been — a team effort. “Everything is constantly changing with technology and materials. That’s part of the game. And together, we never stop learning new things.” 

Giffin & Crane has been building custom homes in Santa Barbara since 1986. 

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