The D.I.Y. Guy

By Hannah Wallace April 30, 2008

David Sessions, owner and president of Willis A. Smith Construction, modestly calls himself a “glorified paper shuffler” as he juggles several complex commercial construction projects at once—including the much-heralded restoration of the Sarasota Opera House, the Suncoast Polytechnic campus on the site of the old Sarasota County Technical Institute, a 220-bed dormitory and an administration building at the Ringling College of Art and Design, and his own “green” corporate headquarters, for which he recently broke ground in Lakewood Ranch.

You’d think a guy who owns a construction company would turn to some completely opposite hobby as an outlet for his creativity. But after hours, Sessions heads back home to east Manatee County, picks up his toolbox and proceeds to do all the finish carpentry in his own house, room by room. Among his projects: the intricate woodworking accents around the fireplace, the built-in shelves and the faux-painted ceiling panels

“I call it my therapy,” says Sessions. “It’s peace and quiet. It requires a lot of thought, and it requires making mistakes then going in and correcting them.”

A 1983 graduate of the University of Florida with a degree in building construction, Sessions is a self-taught do-it-yourselfer. “For the 20-something years my wife, Amy, and I have been married, we’ve redone a room every year—paint, carpentry, floors; we get bored with the same old thing.”

The recently completed $20 million redo of the Opera House inspired Sessions to tackle another do-it-yourself skill: faux painting. “I become completely inspired with something that requires a level of skill and craftsmanship,” he says. “I asked a couple of the [faux painting] ladies there, ‘How do you do this, how do you do that?’ They were kind enough to show me some techniques, and I used them to faux-paint my living room ceiling.”

Sessions says that, over the years, he’s picked up many great ideas from visiting his company’s job sites. “I will look at something from a finished standpoint and say, “’That’s a good idea, how can I incorporate that at home?’”

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