Story by Kaitlin Hill | Photos Courtesy of Thorsen Construction
For the team at Thorsen Construction, home is where the heart is. The third-generation family business has spent nearly 50 years building exquisite new homes and restoring historic structures from Alexandria to Middleburg. Though more than firm foundations and creative carpentry, it is the way the Thorsens have built their business that makes them truly unique. Their passion for family, craftsmanship, and philanthropy are all part of what makes a Thorsen house a true family home.
The firm was established in 1976, when father-son team, Jim and Bob Thorsen, began developing houses along the Shenandoah River outside of Woodstock, Virginia. Third generation Thorsen, John Thorsen, says, “They decided in 1978 to take Thorsen Construction to Alexandria, Virginia, where our main office has been ever since.”
Soon the business expanded beyond Alexandria into D.C., Maryland, and farther reaches of Virginia. “For a while, a large part of our business was the D.C. area, but our roots have always been in Fauquier County,” Thorsen notes, “In 2006, we opened a satellite office in Warrenton, and that’s when we started building more projects in the Fauquier area.” More offices called for more Thorsens, so John and his two brothers joined the family business.
The Thorsen Family pictured during little Hudson’s cowboy themed birthday party. Courtesy of Thorsen Construction.
“It’s kind of funny, we grew up working in the business during all of our [school] breaks. My dad worked us super hard during those breaks, so we would do well in school and never have to work construction when we got older. So, it’s kind of ironic that we all are here,” Thorsen says, laughing, “It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I really started to consider the family business as a legitimate career path.”
In addition to John, his brother James works for the company and lives in Aldie. His older brother, Robert, recently moved to Richmond to start up a Thorsen division, serving clients from the Northern Neck to Charlottesville.
For Thorsen Construction, the term family stretches a little further than blood relative. “We’re a tight-knit bunch, and we treat all of our employees, architects, and clients like they’re family members,” he says, “I think that really shows up in our carpenters’ work…The passion they put in translates into a superior finished product because they take so much pride in what they do.”
“A Tommy Beach designed custom home and equestrian complex in Upperville featuring a stunning zero-edge pool.” Courtesy of Thorsen Construction.
In addition to passion and finished product, working with a tight-knit team means work can be done in-house and efficiently. “There are three major benefits for this ‘in-house’ business model,” he explains, “The first is our ability to control the timeline. We are not at the mercy of subcontractors to show up and do their work because in many cases, we have our own guys who can do it. Secondly, the cost. We don’t have to worry about unnecessary change orders from subcontractors that would then typically have to get passed on to the client, so we can control the cost much better. Lastly, and most importantly, is the quality. We have several guys who have been with us for over 25 years and no subcontractor is going to execute at the level of quality those guys are.”
These attributes and an early start in Alexandria have made Thorsen Construction a go-to for historic building projects in the area.
“When we moved to Alexandria a lot of the work we were doing was historic restorations, you know homes built as early as 1750,” Thorsen says, “We were indoctrinated early, working with historic structures. We did the Lafayette House in Old Town, John S. Mosby’s House in Warrenton, and several other pretty prominent historic buildings.”
He continues, “When you are working in Old Town, Georgetown, and Middleburg, you have to know how to work in these historic buildings. Our carpenters are very well trained and are experts in what they do. And I think that is why we are asked to do a lot of these historic projects. You can’t just trust anyone to come in and match a trim profile that’s 200 years old, but our guys are trained to do so.”
Thorsen Construction recently completed a project at The Masters of the Foxhounds Association on Washington Street. Thorsen says, “Most of our Middleburg projects have a historical component to them in terms of matching the architecture that has always been a part of the Northern Piedmont region—wide plank floors, hand-hewn beams, Virginia fieldstone veneers…so blending new construction with the existing and making it seamlessly match the historical profiles of the original is something that we take pride in.”
“Vaulted ceiling and checkered painted heart pine wood floors highlight this addition and renovation in The Plains” Courtesy of Thorsen Construction.
They also take pride in giving back. A trait that, no surprise, comes from family. Thorsen says, “There has always been this spirit of creating, contributing to society, and entrepreneurship in the family. And the idea that there is always something needed in the world.”
Perhaps no Thorsen embodied that spirit more than Rebecca, John’s sister, who sadly passed in October 2016. In addition to working full-time for Thorsen Construction, Rebecca was actively involved with A21, a non-profit organization committed to ending human trafficking.
“An open concept renovation designed by Barnes Vanze Architects featuring reclaimed wide plank heart pine floors and rough sawn oak beams.” Courtesy of Thorsen Construction.
Thorsen shares, “She was the heart and soul of the family. She was the rock. So [her passing] was really tough for the family and the business. But we do our best every day to remember her in all that we do.”
In her honor, the Thorsen family donates annually to A21 and also hosts A21’s Walk for Freedom in Washington, D.C. each year. “We are picking up where she left off,” Thorsen says, “Because of her, we converted to a mission-driven company.”
One look at the Thorsen operation and the mission is clear. The family business is built on generations of experience, a dedication to excellence, and a desire to make a meaningful impact.
Thorsen says, “We are a passionate bunch that really enjoys what we do,” and it certainly shows. ML
“A beautiful front door that is perfectly lined up with the front elevation of the new horse barn beyond.” Courtesy of Thorsen Construction.
This article first appeared in the June 2020 issue of Middleburg Life.