Focused on projects at the fringes of London, Kevlar Development Group leads with a community-shaping approach
Photo: Laura and Kevin Murphy of Kevlar Development Group and Duncan Harwood Custom Homes
WITH THEIR MOST recent project, the couple behind Kevlar Development Group are continuing to follow one of the rules of good storytelling: Show, don’t tell.
Laura and Kevin Murphy don’t just tell planners, politicians and the public about their intentions. They show them by doing it. And those intentions are to match their developments with the vibe of the community in which they’re building.
They focus primarily on edge development — smaller markets around London and Southwestern Ontario; their first commercial development was in Ilderton, for example.
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“In tertiary markets, commercial developments have a larger impact than they might in a city like London where there are many others with similar services,” says Laura, 37, also a London Inc. 20 Under 40 Class of 2021 recipient. “When we look for a tenant, we have a sense of OCD or control to make sure the business does well. We’re passionate about every project.”
The couple had their company name before they had a company, combining their names to create Kevlar when she was at Western and he was at Fanshawe College. In the last decade, they’ve built a family — their kids are 10, eight and four — and two companies.
Duncan Harwood Custom Homes does precisely what its name suggests, currently focused on a project in Dorchester. It operates with the couple’s friend and business partner, Matt Spence.
Kevlar grew out of their pre-kid interest in buying and selling residential properties. “We found a property in Ilderton that was zoned commercial,” Laura recalls. “We both had day jobs, but we wanted to expand what we were doing and build a commercial plaza.”
Not long after, they left their jobs and Kevlar became their full-time business and obsession.
“We’re together all day, driving around and talking about work. We take the kids with us,” she says. “They all have hard hats and steel toes. It’s a learning experience for them, although we sometimes bribe them with Skittles.”
They have continued to focus on smaller communities and split their projects between residential and commercial. They hold onto some commercial projects as landlord but sell others.
Perhaps their most visible and ambitious project is underway in Lambeth, Laura’s childhood community.
The Lambeth Health and Wellness Centre will open next year and be home to a range of medical services including family doctors, physiotherapists, dieticians, massage therapists, a pharmacy, a lab and more. Kevlar is refurbishing the former M.B. McEachren Elementary School on Colonel Talbot Road. Built in 1925, it received a heritage designation five years ago.
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“We’re going to maintain and restore the historical component and gut the interior — 32,000 square feet,” Laura says. “We’re looking for tenants right now. The shell will be complete by the end of November, so tenants can do leasehold improvements and be open in early 2023.”
The development has three components. Once the medical facility is up and running, Kevlar will develop two other sites that comprise the rest of the 5.5-acre property. “There’s a property across the road from Copp’s [Buildall] with tremendous commercial potential. And there are two acres in the back zoned urban reserve.”
Combine the Lambeth project with six other active projects, including a nine-acre, 81-unit condo development in Dorchester, and you have a very busy couple — so busy in fact they are about to hire their first operations manager, a long-time acquaintance leaving his current job this spring. Christopher Clark