John Finton and the Temples of California


John Finton’s publicist is billing him as the Indiana Jones of building. At first, I wasn’t buying it. Sure, he is the man behind many of the spectacular homes of Hollywood insiders and Silicon Valley superstars. He even built the grand estates of some of our own Haute Living cover subjects. But Indiana Jones is a character that travels to the ends of the earth to uncover secret treasures, dodging danger and enemies along the way. Besides market fluctuations and the looming threat of workplace accidents, what is the danger and excitement in being a builder?

How about crossing the Jordan River, trying to get to Aman on the first day of Ramadan, when the borders were closed during the first Gulf War, all to ensure that a client’s French stone was being handled correctly? (“The guy said he had pictures,” Finton recalls. “I said my client didn’t pay for me to come out here and look at pictures.”) How about heading into the jungles of Nicaragua-back before going to the jungles of Nicaragua was even a remotely good idea-in order to source the most authentic, hand-fired earth clay tiles for a roof? There are also the projects in Russia and Mexico, the giant slabs of pristine white marble from Greece, the rare and precious stones from Africa, and the constant trips to China. And, of course, there is the cat.

“We have a client overseas who wants to buy a special cat that I have never heard of before,” Finton says. “It’s a $22,000 crazy cat that is 30 pounds and looks like a Cheetah. It is not available in the U.S. and is difficult to get in Europe, with a long waiting list.” Finton had his hands on the purring feline in less than two weeks.

He has evolved from merely a builder to an all-around constructor of dreams, making the impossible happen despite any obstacle, which leads me to reconsider the Indiana Jones comparison. Whatever the wish, John Finton and Finton Construction can make it happen.

 His passion for frequent travel resulted in his involvement with a large sustainable community in Mexico.

A southern California native, Finton spent the summers and holidays of his youth working for his neighbor, a building contractor. After high school, he continued in the profession, earning enough to launch Finton Construction (with partners Michael Reeves and Dan Tontini) during his sophomore year of college. Thanks to his upbringing, he had a fairly strong handle on the business aspects of construction, and when his buddies were struggling to make ends meet while tending bar or flipping burgers, Finton relished in the spoils of his lucrative business, driving a Porsche and carrying a cell phone back before the device was ubiquitous.

Upon graduation, Finton went in search of his niche. With his degree and experience, he was armed with the tools necessary to cater to the upper echelons, to businessmen who were too savvy to deal with a contractor working out of the back of his truck, armed only with a yellow legal pad. Finton and his partners-college roommates-secured a list of architects in Los Angeles and began knocking on doors, making a name for themselves. It wasn’t long before they went from making a few hundred thousand per year to a few million. Since then, business hasn’t slowed.

Today, the architects come looking for him, and likely find him onsite at one of the 30 ongoing projects the team is typically working on. And now his clients-many of whom are repeat customers-rely on Finton not only for building, but also to find a lot, a house, and an architect. There are less than a half-dozen firms in the U.S. that do what Finton does, and none that do it quite so well. The firm overlooks every aspect of the building process and creates a superior product that satisfies even the most discerning clientele (including quite a few demanding starlets).

His stellar reputation has crossed borders, and the company is just as busy overseas as it is here, although with a different breed of challenges. In remote regions of Europe, Finton has encountered a lack of skilled tradesmen and resources. Instead of avoiding the area altogether, he began consulting for projects abroad, working with the local builders on sourcing the materials, such as a stone façade for a home in Russia and handling the logistics of a lighting system for a large estate.

In addition to the complexity of the materials and labor, Finton is dealing with the added pressure that comes with constructing a 60,000-square-foot home in Russia. “The complexity grows exponentially [as homes get bigger],” he says. “A 20,000-square-foot house can be five times more difficult to build than a 10,000-square-foot home….When you get something that big, the level of complexity of the mechanical systems, the plumbing systems, or the lighting, the theaters-everything grows, even in terms of how to staff such a project of that size. You can have hundreds of people working on the project in one day, and you have to deal with all of those personalities and manage all of those people. It’s very difficult.”

At that level, there can be an army of minions involved from the owner’s side, right on down to a personal shopper who is there to determine that the size of the closet is adequate. Finton is used to the hoopla, and handles it all with the grace and ease of an established businessman who puts his client’s needs first. He spends his days traveling to and from his many job sites, which dot the California coast. While these homes are astoundingly beautiful, the sheer grandness is not something that he strives to duplicate in his personal life.

“For me, less is more,” he explains. “Being around it every day has allowed me to see how much it takes to manage a house like that.” He equates a large estate to a large fishing yacht, such as the one that he keeps down in Mexico. “As the boats get bigger, the crew sizes get bigger, and it becomes much more of a commitment….So my home is much smaller than many of the guest houses I build.” But he doesn’t spend that much time there, thanks to his long days touring job sites (he is as hands-on as they come) and his frequent travels. As evidenced by his treks to the end of the earth to find materials for his clients, he loves to explore new places, and would rather own multiple homes around the world than one grand estate.

His passion for frequent travel resulted in his involvement with a large sustainable community in Mexico. While going south to meet his boat for a sailing trip, he swung by an architect friend’s budding project in Loreto Bay and immediately knew he wanted to be involved. “We’re working with Citibank and building their custom home component,” he explains. “There won’t be any cars, and there will be estuaries where you travel by canoe.” As of press time, Finton has six homes under construction in the development.

On a local green front, he is building a 12,000-square-foot sustainable estate for Keenen Wayans. The project is done in conjunction with Planet Green, and will be the subject of a series of 10 reality shows that will detail all of the decisions that go into such a large-scale project. The world will then have the opportunity to watch the Indiana Jones of Building in action, constructing one of the modern temples of California. It will be a performance sure to earn two-thumbs up.