Mind Hand’s two principals, Philip Paul and Dan Aiksnoras, bring different expertise to their roles. Dan functions as the designer, preparing drawings for approval in advance of the construction and Phil is more of the main orchestrator, though both oversee the construction.
As client Ginny Markovich says, having another couple to work with often facilitated the process. “We would often gang up on each other, Phil on my side and Dan on my husband’s side and work things out that way.”
Dan has an architecture degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; when he first arrived in New York City, he worked at a custom furniture and cabinetry company and then as a project architect at an architectural firm. On their first collaboration, Dan hired Phil as a contractor.
Dan first became interested in design work in high school when his art teacher showed him Winslow Homer’s sketchbooks, as Dan says, “to teach me the value of thumbnail sketches and working ideas out.” College further cemented that notion. “Being able to see alternative approaches to our clients’ needs and wants helps a great deal,” Dan says. “While Phil conducts the interview with a client, I listen and watch and see how the client is reacting.”
“A lot of times you have to retain both an architect and a contractor so it was nice to have it all in one. They really do act as a team.”
Typically Dan begins the job at the worksite, “since my knowledge of the plans is fresh in my mind and that way any unforeseen situations can be readily addressed. Phil comes in when the cast on site needs the extra coordination.“
Phil’s role in the business is that of the manager, salesman and negotiator. He first came to New York as an aspiring director and attributes his ability to stage-manage projects to that training. During what he fondly calls his “attempt to make it in show business,” Phil developed a reputation among friends for having built his own kitchen out of found furniture. That led to requests for shelves and cabinets. After Phil and Dan met and their personal relationship grew, they began collaborating on interior construction projects and rented bench space in an existing woodworking shop.
When the company that owned the shop went out of business, Dan and Phil and several partners purchased the machinery and rented the Chelsea loft where Mind Hand was born. The two incorporated in 1998, and adopted the name that highlights their specialties — design (Mind) and build (Hand).
Phil and Dan made sure to provide their employees full health insurance and paid holiday, personal and sick days and to include women among their construction workers. “Treating our employees with respect has been a key to our success,” Phil says. “It allows us to retain the best people for many years.”
Business grew as they took on larger projects including full renovations of Manhattan apartments and Connecticut homes. As favorite customers moved to new homes or acquired new properties, Dan and Phil managed projects as far afield as suburban Boston, Aspen, Boca Raton and Paris. At one point the team had over a year of projects scheduled in advance.
“Treating our employees with respect has been a key to our success,” Phil says. “It allows us to retain the best people for many years.”
Now in their fifteenth year of business, Mind/Hand boasts a total of eight employees and an expanded location — a 15,000 square foot workshop in Queens where the two do the woodworking that is a key part of their business.