Rick Hjelm (third from right) admits he's spoiled. He hasn't advertised since 1987 and his company has jobs booked for the coming year. "People wait for us," he says. His high-end clients have the disposable income to create the houses they want, and they don't look for a remodeler in ads or in the phone book. Most of his work is on Puget Sound or in the Lakewood area of Seattle, which has houses set on seven lakes. The company's average job size is about $400,000, but they've done whole-house remodels, many for celebrity clients, that cost up to $2.8 million.

Though Hjelm used to subcontract design work, last year he partnered with a part-time architect for a more efficient system. Hjelm continues to plan the non-structural work and many of the kitchen layouts. He sees design as a team effort that involves him, the homeowner, the lead carpenter, and the architect.

For Hjelm, the finished project and a happy client are the best advertisement. "Every day we have to build our name as if it were the first day," he says. "So when things get lean, people know who we are."