Political power couples do repeat business with P.A. Portner to support just one special interest: their home, typically in the form of what Phil Portner (left) characterizes as “whole-house blitzes” that free them up for their busy Washington careers.

“The types of clients we have generally want the best,” says Portner, who has steadily built his company's capacity to handle increasingly involved projects. “My philosophy is to hire people who are overqualified,” from a controller with an MBA to trade partners willing to take all day to finesse a lighting scheme. “Once a project starts, everybody knows that from day one, we're fully committed,” he says.

One reason for that full-bore commitment is the company's cost-plus pricing method. Projects stretch well into the six figures, and transparent invoicing shows every cost and variance. Budgets and schedules are tightly managed, and constant communication extends to clients having crew members' cell phone numbers, should they need 24/7 access.

Through close relationships with interior designers, Portner has built his business almost entirely off referrals. He's stepping up marketing, however, with an emphasis on networking with designers and sponsoring charity events.

- Leah Thayer