Would the People Working Backstage Please Come Forward and Take a Bow

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Old House Musings, Old House History

I was recently reading an article about an old mansion nearby that was being restored, and as always I was fascinated by the pictures that told the story of the hard work and commitment that went into bringing the mansion back to its former glory. The owner is planning to open the old house to the public when the restoration is complete, and as the public walks through, the magnificent old house will be the star of the show, and that is how it should be.

However, I wonder how many of those who tour the home will think about the many people behind the scenes who spent hundreds of hours dedicated to giving the old house new life. Every restoration from a small toll house to an historic estate is a group effort that involves architects, builders, craftspeople, vendors, and sometimes historians, and many of these people have devoted their lives to the restoration of old houses.

There are home builders who build new homes, but also spend time and money restoring old houses and buildings. I have met trim carpenters and toured millwork shops that specialize in historic millwork. Several months ago I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with a gentleman who owns a company in Amherst, Virginia that specializes in antique building products.

Jim has been involved in restoring old houses since the early 70’s when he was a college student in Louisiana. He got started helping a local architect who dedicated himself to the restoration of antebellum plantation homes around Louisiana, and quickly developed a passion for what he was doing. Jim started his company, which supplies historically correct building components to architects and builders, and when his wife received a job offer in Virginia, he moved his company north where he has operated for many years. During his time in Virginia he has supplied antique building products for many famous Virginia landmarks such as Monticello, Mount Vernon, and some of the historical buildings at the University of Virginia.

Jim’s office has bookshelves overflowing with books on historic architecture and it is no wonder that he gets calls from architects and builders from all over the South asking his advice. I spent several hours with Jim, but I could have easily spent several days. His knowledge was incredible and I enjoy being around people who are passionate about what they do.

So when that old mansion opens up to the public, or when anyone walks through an old house that has been restored to its original splendor, they should marvel at the home and its historic architecture as it truly is the star of the show. But I hope they also take a moment to applaud the many people who worked together to accomplish the restoration and seek them out if they are considering their own restoration.