Top 20 Trades and Specialists
Photo by Ben Stechschulte
Blacksmith Lucian Avery hammers mild steel into a thumb-latch for a door.
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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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.;
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.
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.;
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.