Best Trades and Building Specialists 2005

Most contractors no longer do everything from framing to finish flooring. For that, they've got a network of subcontractors, or "subs": plumbers, electricians, painters, roofers, and the like.

Best of 2005
Photo by Erika Larsen
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Most contractors no longer do everything from framing to finish flooring. For that, they've got a network of subcontractors, or "subs": plumbers, electricians, painters, roofers, and the like. "I'm pretty handy with a paintbrush," says TOH general contractor Tom Silva, "but having an expert who's fast and accurate saves the homeowners a lot of time and money." Subs are paid by the general contractor, who coordinates and signs off on their work.

If you're interested in using the services of a particular sub — a tile setter whose work you love, for example — you can propose it to the GC, but he may be reluctant to hire someone he hasn't worked with before. On a small job, a subcontractor may be all you need. But if you're doing the hiring yourself, be sure to get references and check prospects out thoroughly.

Search our growing database of Best Builders across the nation.

Most contractors no longer do everything from framing to finish flooring. For that, they've got a network of subcontractors, or "subs": plumbers, electricians, painters, roofers, and the like. "I'm pretty handy with a paintbrush," says TOH general contractor Tom Silva, "but having an expert who's fast and accurate saves the homeowners a lot of time and money." Subs are paid by the general contractor, who coordinates and signs off on their work.

If you're interested in using the services of a particular sub — a tile setter whose work you love, for example — you can propose it to the GC, but he may be reluctant to hire someone he hasn't worked with before. On a small job, a subcontractor may be all you need. But if you're doing the hiring yourself, be sure to get references and check prospects out thoroughly.

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How to Find a Landscape Pro

 

How to Find a Landscape Pro

robert tomlin
Photo by Matt McSpadden
The secret to a leak-free chimney: handyman Robert Tomlin
Landscape designers are experts on soil conditions, plants, and hardscaping materials. They typically draft landscaping plans and charge around $40 to $100 per hour. (Visit apld.org, the website of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, for a list of members in your area.)

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Landscape architects, on the other hand, hold advanced degrees and are registered with the state. They draw up more detailed plans outlining hardscaping, drainage, and structures such as retaining walls and typically charge $100 to $150 an hour. Members of the American Society of Landscape Architects (asla.org) are expected to abide by strict guidelines for professional conduct.

If you already have a landscape plan, you can hire a landscape contractor to build or care for it. "Decide what kind of company you need: construction, construction and maintenance, or just maintenance," says TOH landscape contractor Roger Cook. "Look at their work. A garden should look pretty good, period, no matter what time of year it is. And always talk to the homeowners to see how the contractor treated them."

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Top 20 Trades and Specialists

 

Top 20 Trades and Specialists

blacksmith
Photo by Ben Stechschulte
Blacksmith Lucian Avery hammers mild steel into a thumb-latch for a door.
Unearthing History
18th Century Fireplaces, Savannah, Ga.; 912-353-7212; savannahclayworks.com
Chris Phillips has built or repaired more than 3,000 fireplaces since starting his company in 1974. But around Georgia, he's equally known for reviving the historic technique of making wood-fired grave tiles — clay markers used during the 18th and 19th centuries as border tiles in the gardens of the wealthy and as tombstones for the poor. To learn the craft, he traveled to the tiny town of Gillsville, Georgia, where a family of seventh-generation folk potters carries on the tradition.

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Handyman Extraordinaire
Robert Tomlin, Hunt, Tex.; 830-238-3032



Fortunately for the residents of one tiny Texas town, Robert Tomlin never says no. Not when homeowners call him in the middle of the night to fix a conked-out furnace, and not when the wall behind the refrigerator springs a leak on Christmas morning. Tomlin holds the keys to the summer homes of half of Hunt, entrusted after years of service to do whatever is necessary, from flashing a chimney to fishing wires through the walls. Besides, he says, sooner or later, they'll need an addition built, and there will be no question about who they'll call.

Gardens Without Borders
Oehme, van Sweden & Associates Inc., Washington, D.C.; 202-546-7575; ovsla.com
Landscape architects James van Sweden and Wolfgang Oehme pioneered the "New American Garden," a meadow-style landscape with a relaxed, naturalistic feel. They'll do lawns, but only if they have to. "If a client has a specific need, we design the lawn for that environment," says Van Sweden. "We don't design big lawns without a purpose."

A Sense of Proportion
River Wood Studio, Frenchtown, N.J.; 908-996-2723
Whether Ethan Perry is working on paneled wainscoting for a library wall or building a circular staircase in a house once used as military headquarters by George Washington, he keeps the big picture in mind. "Every house has a weight to it — a sense of moldings and materials that allows you certain proportions," he says. Perry, whose bread and butter is custom woodworking, has built bookcases that swing open to reveal secret passages and doors made from exotic woods or covered in exquisite veneers. "This is where craftsmanship and art apply to daily life."

Easy as 1, 2, 3
Historic Color Consulting, Ann Arbor, Mich.; 734-668-0298; arts-crafts.com/market/robs
After he's done his job, Robert Schweitzer gives clients color-coded maps of their house and tells them to simply paint by the numbers. Schweitzer, a historic-color expert, researches stylistically appropriate shades, then makes a color placement key for body, trim, and accent combinations. Because much of his work is via e-mail, projects take him all over the country, from a 1920s bungalow in California (Timber Wolf gray body, off-white trim, and forest green windows) to an 1840s Federal-style residence in Massachusetts (medium gray with thyme trim and mahogany window sash).

Creative CarpentryCarolina Joinery Inc., Charleston, S.C.; 843-853-3636; carolinajoinery.com
In addition to traditional casework, moldings, doors, and cabinetry, workers at Carolina Joinery have carved a pig's-head finial for a newel post and crafted the state's palmetto symbol into a floor medallion. "My boys take on just about anything," says founder Brian O'Neil. He takes particular pride in being asked to do projects that require intricate hand carving. "It was very important to me to learn something that was a vanishing craft," he says.

Copper Doctor
Copperworks Corporation, Decatur, Ala.; 256-350-6279; ornametals.com
Guenther Huber-Delle, whose family has been in the coppersmithing business in Germany for more than 150 years, likes to do things the old-fashioned way. He often consults a manual published in 1928 on fabricating gutters, finials, and other architectural ornaments. But he had to improvise when one recent client presented him with an unusual request: to wrap his entire house in copper. Huber-Delle obliged, creating a huge, gleaming structure waiting for its patina to settle in.

Old Techniques, New Technology
Harmonson Stairs, Mount Laurel, N.J.; 856-235-7511; harmonson.com
When one client wanted to reproduce the staircase that Kate Winslet glided down in "Titanic," Harmonson Stairs complied. "There's nothing we can't copy or build," says president Bart Withstandley, who bought the company in 1985. To the skills of a crew of master stairbuilders, he's added state-of-the-art computer-aided design to make ornamental rails, for example. "Our stairs go together better now than they used to," Withstandley says. "We do things down to the thousandth of an inch."

Man of Steel
Man of Steel Lucian Avery Blacksmith, Hardwick, Vt.; 802-472-3899; lucianaveryblacksmith.com



Lucian Avery took up blacksmithing in his 20s because he wanted to make his own garden tools. And while he's capable of artistic flights of fancy, he still prefers to craft everyday functional items, ranging from garden gates to candleholders. "I enjoy the physical part of being at the anvil," he says. One of his specialties is early American hardware — custom door hinges, decorative knockers, and latches. A nursery worker in his teens, his twisting, curved metalwork is directly inspired by the vines and other plants he tended.

Chip Off the Old Block
E.H. Hutson Plumbing Co. Inc., Savannah, Ga.; 912-354-4965
Third-generation neighborhood plumber Ernest Hutson has spent most of his life on the same few streets. His home and workshop are in a house his grandfather built, and most of his jobs are within a pipe wrench's throw. Hutson has been around the neighborhood long enough to master its quirks: He's the man local residents call on when they need to repair an old chain-operated toilet or update the plumbing in a house whose pipes date back a hundred years.

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Roofs With Deep Roots

 

Roofs With Deep Roots

Gail Spears
Photo by Shelley Strazis
Gail Spears in a rare moment of repose in one of her California gardens.
Wells Roofing and Sheet Metal Company, Charleston, S.C.; 843-881-8868
Made from purple Welsh slate dug out of the oldest continuously operating quarry in the world or French clay Patrimony tiles from a 400-year-old foundry, it's unlikely that Joe Wells's roofs are going anywhere. "The roofs we put on," says Wells of his 23-year-old company, "your grandchildren won't take off."

Getting Her Hands Dirty
Gail Spears Interiors and Landscape Design, Los Angeles, Calif.; 310-398-8895(continued below ad)



It's not every day you're asked to landscape a concrete mountain. But Gail Spears did just that for a client's 25-foot-high replica of the Matterhorn. Spears and her six-person crew clambered over it "like goats," she says, planting long grasses and aloe to create a pleasing alpine landscape. "I don't believe in doing drawings on paper and giving it to somebody else to install," she says.

Off-the-Wall Dedication
Cianni Painting Company, Bensalem, Pa.; 215-757-3895Bob Cianni will always get the job done on time, even if it means painting around a sleeping client. After 20 hours in the operating room, one such customer, a neurosurgeon, came home and fell asleep in a room Cianni had promised to finish that day. Rather than miss his deadline, he erected a drop-cloth tent over the sleeping doc and went to work. In business for 28 years, Cianni doesn't take more than two jobs at a time, he says, so he can give each one the same attention he would give his own house.

Cabinet Revival
The Kennebec Company, Bath, Maine; 207-443-2131; kennebeccompany.com
Owned by Jeffrey Peavey and headed by his brother James, this 31-year-old company brings an old touch to new cabinets. For a late-Victorian-era house in Connecticut, for example, "our job was to build a kitchen that looked like it had been there since the late 1800s," Jeffrey says. Their period-inspired cabinets—in Georgian, Federal, and Arts and Crafts styles, among others—are built and finished by hand by one of 20 craftsmen.

A Tree-Planter Grows in Brooklyn
Todd Rader & Amy Crews Landscape Architecture, Brooklyn, N.Y.; 718-636-5185
Urban landscape architects Amy Crews and Todd Rader are known for turning unsightly inner-city lots into serene perennial gardens. With freestanding trellises and shade-loving plants, Crews and Rader transform patches of dirt behind 19th-century Brooklyn brownstones into thriving natural hideaways.

More Than Meets the Eye
Painted Illusions Studio, Nashville, Tenn.; 615-780-2004; paintedillusionsstudio.com
It takes a trained eye—or thorough inspection—to reveal that the faux finishes painted by husband-and-wife team Elizabeth Brantley and Doug Yaw aren't the real deal. They can paint a plaster wall to match the woodwork in a 19th- century house, as they did on a recent Kentucky project; make concrete floors look like stained poplar; and re-create textured leather, Venetian plaster, even rusted iron.

The Outdoors as Studio
Whitehead Landscape and Design, Bainbridge Island, Wash.; 206-842-5267
An avid hiker and outdoorswoman, Linda Whitehead's love of rocky landscapes is reflected in her designs, which are known for their decorative bluestone walls and broken-concrete walkways. "I'm an artist who happens to work with living things," she says. "I use a Bobcat as my sculpting tool, rock and masonry as my pencil, and foliage and flowers as my paint."

Jane of All Trades
Crawford & Associates Historic Preservation Consultants, Savannah, Ga.; 912-429-1655



Carpenter Jane Crawford takes on jobs that others might find tedious, like restoring more than 50 windows of the 1880s Granite Steps mansion in the heart of Savannah's historic district. Or rebuilding the 21-foot-tall, triple-hung sash window of an old train-repair workshop. "Nobody wanted to do this kind of work," she says. "But I did, and I'm pretty good at it." It's not the only thing she's good at: Crawford also restored four farmhouses in an 1870s sharecroppers' village and replastered and regilded the exterior of the Lucas Theater, another local landmark.

Larger-Than-Life Metalwork
Les Metalliers Champenois, Paterson, N.J.; 973-279-3573; l-m-c.com
Helping to repair the Statue of Liberty must have affected Jean Wiart's sense of scale. After fabricating Lady Liberty's torch in 1986, Wiart founded a custom metalwork company that helps clients visualize their choices with full-size drawings of every project. At his workshop, giant sheets of paper stretch the height of an 18-foot wall, awaiting client approval for every wrought-iron balcony, bronze gate, and ornamental staircase. LMC metalworkers then use the pen-and-ink outlines as templates for the final work.

All His Marbles
Ceramic Harmony, Huntsville, Ala.; 256-883-1204; ceramicharmony.com
Second-generation master tile setter Werner Stark has a reputation for perfection. Take, for example, his test for a newly laid floor. He rolls a metal marble across the surface, and it had better not skip, jump, or dip anywhere. This low-tech scrutiny follows months of preparation—Stark digitizes a template for every installation, uses high-powered water jets to cut intricate designs in stone, and fits slabs together within 1/32 inch, about the thickness of a fingernail.

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Where to Find It

 

Where to Find It

Jane Crawford
Photo by Mark Anderson
Jane Crawford reconditions an 1898 paneled pine door.
Joe Billingham
Billingham Built
Erwinna, PA
610-294-9652
bbuilt.com

Bradford C. Grant
architect
757-727-5441
Dennis Alan Mann
architect
513-556-0230
from The Online Directory of African-American Architects
Cincinnati, OH
blackarch.uc.edu

Michael Emrick Architect
Nashville, TN
615-294-8092

Charlie Englebert
Craftsmen Homebuilders Inc.
Huntsville, AL
256-535-4418

Clara Frenk
American Society of Landscape Architects
Washington, D.C.
202-216-2371
asla.org

Julius M. Gribou
AIA
Dean of School of Architecture at The University of Texas at San Antonio
San Antonio, TX
210-458-3010
utsa.edu

Louis M. Jackson
historic preservation specialist
Tennessee Historical Commission
Nashville, TN
615-532-1550
state.tn.us/environment/hist

James P. Keating Jr
Savannah, GA
912-844-9201

Alice-Anne Krishnan
New Orleans, LA

Chris Quinn
Red House Inc.
Burlington, VT
802-651-0122
redhousebuilding.com

Larry S. Leake
Richard Marks Restorations Inc.
Charleston, SC
843-853-0024

Don McDonald
Architect
San Antonio, TX
210-735-9722

Ken Spriggs
The Spriggs Group
Savannah, GA
912-232-6441
spriggsgroup.com

Chris West
West Construction
New Canaan, CT
203-966-7918

 
 

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