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From Adversity to Empowerment: A Personal Story of Tapping Into The Power Within

With family at the core of her entrepreneurial spirit, California native Julie Holland has devoted her life to her company Stonewood Kitchen and Bath. This mompreneur has been creating beautiful and functional interior spaces under her own company name since 2008. With 20-plus years of experience in the fields of construction and design, Julie led her company to earn three NARI awards for excellence in kitchen remodeling. In 2018, 2021 and 2022, Stonewood was named Best of Oakland and the East Bay in the category of Kitchen Remodeler by Oakland Magazine.

She shares, “We work with clients on the design and layout of spaces, providing all the materials that essentially sell with the house… cabinetry, counters, plumbing fixtures, tile, flooring, lighting, hardware, mirrors, and shower doors. But, we’re not limited to remodeling the existing space. We work with clients on grander scales…tearing down walls, reconfiguring layouts, building new homes… essentially making dream homes a reality.”

As a single mom, Julie has overcome obstacles and proven that life’s journey isn’t a straight path. With resolve, quick thinking and the ability to pivot to solve problems, Julie is building a legacy with her business and family. “For women, I think we have this role embedded in us that we’re supposed to play as mother and caretaker. We’re trying to manage our business on top of family, and we’re racing through life at 100 miles an hour. But, you run the risk of the wheels coming off! People would notice my achievements and that I could juggle running a company and being a mom. I was successfully doing those things, but it was overwhelming, and I was not taking care of myself. In hindsight, I acknowledge that I had choices on how I spent my time. I could have taken a step back, maybe accomplished half, shared responsibilities and placed more of a priority on myself. Now personally, I’ve been on a journey of self awareness.” Despite  hardships, Julie has thrived, expanding her business to multiple locations. With a demanding schedule, she manages to prioritize family while also serving others, investing time outside of the business to build relationships and give back to the community.

In a new life chapter, Julie is expanding her expectations, while at the same time pausing to soak up her successes both in business and motherhood. This season is unfolding with meaningful connections as Julie focuses on empowering other women, encouraging them through her personal experience that “you should not let fear paralyze you, but instead turn that fear into energy to help push you through.”

How has your upbringing shaped or influenced your entrepreneurial spirit?

Julie Holland: I was born in Southern California, raised mostly in Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks. When I was about four, my parents took a leap and opened a restaurant called Numero Uno. This evolved into my dad managing the restaurant during the day, then my mom running it at night. Growing up, I saw my parents own a business and witnessed firsthand the hard work that requires.

However, I also experienced them going through a really bad divorce and ultimately losing everything. Consequently, there was a ripple effect of their divorce that impacted me. There were times in my childhood when we didn’t have electricity or hot water. Then, we’d go stay with my grandparents.

I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t repeat my childhood story when I had my own family. I didn’t want to build something and then just let it crumble. My early life experience lit a fire inside of me, inspiring me to go all out in entrepreneurship.

With my parents’ work schedule and tight finances, I had to learn at an early age to take care of myself. I started working at 12 as a babysitter and saving money. At 15, I lied on my application at a pizza place saying I was older to get the job. I worked to buy my own car as a teenager. My experience taught me not to rely on other people. It was easier to count on myself and not risk being let down by others. But, sometimes, that’s not the best character trait. As a business owner, I’ve had to consciously learn to delegate and let go of some responsibilities. For an independent, self-reliant business owner, that’s been a challenge. It took a long time to be vulnerable and ask for help.

Sometimes, I’m fearful of taking a risk, letting anxiety and nervousness seep into my mind. People are afraid of failure, and like everyone, I have those fears, too. But, at the end of the day, I find strength to push through, to emerge out the other side of the tunnel, to make it happen.

Over the years, I’ve learned that not achieving a goal isn’t necessarily a failure. It’s actually a stepping stone to lead you somewhere else. If everything just came easy to us, if there were no obstacles, then we wouldn’t uncover our drive or tap into our creativity to propel us to where we ultimately need to be.

When COVID happened, I kept having this vision of a big boulder tumbling into a river, stopping the natural flow, but ultimately the water still found its way down, because it created a new path. When I’m in a rut, I envision that boulder and I picture myself as the water. I ask myself, “Okay, so what are we going to do? What other direction can we go in? What creative things can we do to get there?”

I remember a time it was a little bit slower at work, and I was anxious about it. At this moment, my son said, “Mom, what are you all stressed about? You always find a way to get the business to come in. You always figure it out. Stop worrying. It’s going to be okay.” My mom heart filled hearing him say that. More is caught than taught, and my son had watched me pivot and overcome obstacles over the years. Now, he was encouraging me. 

What was the process like when you started your first company?

Julie Holland: Looking back 24 years ago, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I can picture myself sitting cross-legged on my bedroom floor next to a pile of Architectural Digest magazines. I’d been collecting these magazines, always looking at every photo spread, circling designs and tagging pages. The ideas and the creativity behind them sparked a passion in me. At that moment, I made a decision to pursue a design career. I got a job as a receptionist with an architectural firm, attended junior college, and eventually moved to the Bay Area to go to San Francisco State University for design. While going to school, I worked for interior designers and after college I moved into working in construction, all with the goal of learning that side of the business to ultimately become a better designer. 

After two days on the job in construction, unbeknownst to me, the lead designer/project manager, whom I was supposed to be the assistant to, quit. Quickly, the company had me fill her shoes, and they were big shoes to fill. I started studying on my own to learn the position, running construction jobs, relying on the trades to educate me. I honestly wanted to quit because I felt I wasn’t experienced enough, to say the least. Even with the “up all night” self studying, it was very much over my head. Feeling overwhelmed after months, I did decide to quit. But, when I went into the office to give my boss’ wife the key, she said, “Julie, you got this. Just give it one more month and you’re going to get through the storm. You’re going to do it…you’re almost there.” And she was absolutely right. I stayed one more month and got through the storm, and then I stayed on for three more years until I moved to another design firm. 

In 2008, one of my vendors, a woman who owned a custom mirror company approached me to buy her business because she was relocating. Over the years, I had encouraged her to open a small showroom, network with designers and create a catalog. I loved her company, so it made sense to seize the opportunity. I bought the business in partnership with my then husband and his parents. However, soon after taking over the mirror company, I was laid off from my design job due to the housing crash. I hustled to sell as many mirrors as I could to flood cash into our new business. From door-to-door knocking to creating catalogs and marketing any way I could think of, I focused on making money. Soon, people were referring me to their clients for design. Eventually, I changed the company name to reflect our evolution into a design company. So, I launched Stonewood Kitchen and Bath. Then, we just included the mirror gallery as a part of the business. At the time, we also owned a cabinet fabrication shop, LB Cabinetry, and my husband made the cabinets.

So essentially, I was running three businesses with two kids at home and pregnant with our third child. But, personally our marriage was in shambles, fracturing with broken trust. With a heavy heart but pure resolve, we made a decision to close the cabinetry shop. We were just going to sell cabinets from sources we had developed relationships with. When we moved Stonewood to our current location in Walnut Creek, I decided to close the mirror business, as well.

Emotionally, closing a business is really difficult because it’s like one of your babies. You work so hard to create it and build it up. Then, essentially you let it go. Memories of my parents’ business failure crept in. That was tough.  But, for the greater good, the goal was to focus all my energy into one company, growing it and celebrating successes along the way. I really had to work through the concept of failure, reminding myself “This is not a fail, it’s a conscious decision that we’re going to let go to be able to refocus. Life is about learning lessons. The businesses were just stepping stones to get into a brick and mortar showroom, to learn how to hustle, and to know how to run a business.”

Ultimately, this is where I’m supposed to be. At the helm of Stonewood Kitchen and Bath. After my separation, I became sole owner of the business. And in 2021, I opened a showroom in Westlake Village, my hometown. I’m excited to serve clients in Southern California and grow the business geographically. 

What sets Stonewood Kitchen & Bath apart from other businesses in the same industry?

Julie Holland: At Stonewood Kitchen & Bath, I’m blessed to work with an amazing team to create beautiful spaces for our clients. I feel what sets Stonewood apart is our concierge-level service from concept to construction and beyond. While we specialize in full design services, based on years of experience, we also work seamlessly with contractors and interior designers and provide an additional level of expertise. The Stonewood team caters to the functionality of a home, but then we elevate the spaces that clients use daily, transforming them to rooms of beauty and comfort. We take a personal approach with our clients, investing the time to get to know them well, drawing out design ideas through questions… “What’s not working for you? In this space, what would enrich your life? You love to cook with your family, but the kitchen is too small? Let’s reconfigure the space and make different zones so you can enjoy it together! Do you love music? Great, let’s put some speakers in the ceiling so when you come home it will be your sanctuary.” 

Armed with details that we extract from our clients on how they desire to live in their space, our designs can change lives. When they get back into their homes, their life is different, completely renewed. It’s better, more functional and aesthetically inspiring. That’s essentially what we do. We get to know clients on a personal, functional and aesthetic level. We create designs completely customized for them. For example, with a current client, the couple wants to create a home with a Japanese influence, so we’re designing a tea room and meditation space for them with floor to ceiling windows of breathtaking views. That’s very specific to this particular client. We’re creating a space where they will be able to breathe, focus and find peace. This is the approach we take in every job. That’s what I love about it.… partnering with my clients to make their home a unique haven

What event or experience do you consider to be a defining moment in your life?

Julie Holland: For many people, there is a defining moment in their lives, a crossroads. I can close my eyes and remember my moment vividly… sitting in the car in front of our cabinet shop, my pregnancy bump pressed up against the steering wheel. Tears streaming down my face, I was crying from feeling desperate, alone and overwhelmed with a marriage crumbling.  The responsibility of the business and providing for my family weighed me down like a ton of bricks. Fear crept over me like a shadow, and I wanted to give up. But, I had this life inside me, Charlie kicking to remind me that my kids and others depended on me. I owed it to them and myself to push through. With my hands clasped on  my swollen belly, I remember saying to myself, “You’ve got to do this. You have to do this for him, you’ve got to do this for them. And for yourself. You’ve got to make it happen. It’s ok. You’re just going to have to reorganize and figure out how to relieve some things.”

Despite the fear and pain, I emerged with clarity from that moment. I knew I’d begin the process of closing the other businesses. A few years later, I started working with the business coach, knowing I needed to rely on the expertise of others to help me figure out how to let go of habits and practices that weren’t working. I learned that we’re not obligated to do everything. We’re not required to check all the boxes or be the hero in every aspect of our life. I spent energy just figuring out how to let go.

This didn’t just apply to the business, but to other areas of my life, as well. About five years ago, one of the biggest revelations I learned was to take care of yourself first – in mind, body and spirit. My mind needs to be healthy, my body’s got to be healthy and I need to focus on my soul. I’ve got to feel good about myself. I show my children that I’m making my health a priority. And if my kids see that I take care of myself and I’m happy, then they’ll focus on that, too. It’s like the old saying on the plane, “If the oxygen masks come down, put it on yourself first.” It really is true! You can’t breath life into others if you have no air yourself. If I look back at myself several years ago, I was so different… more anxious and weighed down by life. By shifting priorities and focus, by letting go, I’m happier and more confident now. Owning my self worth. And I see a change in my children, as well. I feel I’m being a better role model for them. And, I hope my personal growth is positively impacting my staff, clients and others, too.

What are your goals or plans for the future?

Julie Holland: I’m really excited about the next chapter in my life and business and focusing on connections with other women. My desire is to be a source of encouragement and wisdom for others whether they’re starting a business endeavor or dreaming about how to reach big goals. I want to personally develop connections, but also act like a facilitator, linking women together with similar passions and pursuits.

I’m thrilled to announce the launch of my new podcast, Dunamis Power Within, presented by Stonewood Kitchen & Bath. In each episode, we’ll showcase remarkable leaders who have turned adversity Into empowerment, sharing their inspiring and captivating stories.

My goal with the Dunamis Power Within podcast is to ignite a spark within our listeners. I truly believe that by hearing these stories of resilience and triumph, you will feel empowered to overcome your own challenges and reach your full potential. I’m excited to share this journey with you and look forward to exploring the power of transformation together.

I anticipate speaking engagements, one-on-one or group coaching and special events. This chapter grew in my heart from a place of gratitude. A few years ago, I was deep in the trenches of balancing the business and feeling the weight of responsibility. As I shared earlier, there were moments I couldn’t see how I’d make it through the hurdles. Then, God put people in my life at a perfectly-orchestrated moment. I was given opportunities, then it was my choice to embrace those opportunities and put them into action. I received blessings, and in turn, I want to bless others. I mentioned the idea of a boulder in the water blocking the flow and forcing new patterns. But, there’s another way that rocks affect water. When you toss a stone in the water, it creates a ripple effect with one ring leading to another. I see myself now as that rock, making waves and impacting others who in turn will carry that ripple forward.

In the context of Women’s Empowerment in honoring other women who have broken and are currently still breaking barriers- is there a woman that comes to mind you would like to mention?

Yeonmi Park is an activist and North Korean defector. Her family fled from North Korea to China in 2007 and settled in South Korea in 2009. In 2014, they moved to the United States. During the North Korean famine in the 1990s, her family resorted to black-market trading to survive. This woman is a big inspiration to me. She was so brave and courageous in what she did in order to escape North Korea. Her journey was extremely tough but her attitude and appreciation for life are so beautiful even after everything she went through. She says that she would not take away anything she went through because it made her who she is.

Podcast: Dunamispowerwithin.com

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