Whether you’d like a one-of-a-kind glass lamp, a faux-paint job, or even a full-scale renovation, local master craftsmen are here to help.
Master craftsmen are in their element here in the Hudson Valley, so whether you want to simply brighten up a room or make a major change, the very best help is near at hand
By Valerie Havas and Rita Ross
Jim Winchell at Victorian Builders
68 Marcott Rd., Cottekill. 845-687-7764
From foundations to fireplaces, James Winchell has built it all in his 30 years as a stonemason. He currently works his creative magic refurbishing stately old stone buildings, as well as start-from-scratch projects for new construction — plus plenty of other projects — as a staff member at Victorian Builders & Remodeling.
“We do anything from stone walls and stone gatehouses to stairways,” says Winchell, who lives in – appropriately – Stone Ridge. There’s also a big call for stone fireplaces in private residences these days, notes Winchell, whose palette includes everything from marble and cobblestone to brick and slate.
He points out that the Valley has a special historical link to his craft: “The regional bluestone and fieldstone quarry industry actually started in this area,” he says. One of the most extensive projects he’s handled recently was the stonework on an “enormous” structure at the Lifebridge Sanctuary retreat in High Falls.
Winchell says his occupation offers particular satisfaction because the results are so tangible. “When you build something with stone, you can step back and look at what you’ve done and you know it’s going to be there for a while. It’s a good feeling. I take pride in what I do.”
Some of Winchell’s major projects require two or three apprentices. One of them is his son, James, 22, who’s following in his father’s footsteps to help keep alive the traditional art.
This elaborate fireplace incorporates traditional masonry using cut stone, a brick firebox and a massive bluestone hearth. Unusual decorative elements like the “painting” on the chimney breast and the sunburst inset in the wood floor are also executed in stone
Jan and John Gilmor at Gilmor Glassworks
Intersection of Rt. 22 & Rt. 44
John Gilmor planned to major in pre-med when he started college. “But then I fell in love with ceramics and sculpture, and everything changed,” he says. Jan Gilmor — his wife and partner in their company, Gilmor Glassworks — initially focused her studies on fine and performing arts, but wound up turning her artistic talents to design.
As John became a master in the art of molten glassmaking, the couple proved to be a perfect creative team — Jan is chief designer, while John handles much of the nuts-and-bolts operations at the glassworks, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
The Gilmors use an age-old, mouth-blown and pressed-glass technique to create one-of-a-kind vases, bowls, stemware, perfume bottles, decorative pieces, and other distinctive items. Every step of the process — from melting sand and other materials to making the wares — takes place in their Millerton studio.
The Gilmors have created ornaments for the White House Christmas tree, and were commissioned in the 1980s to make a piece to decorate the presidential yacht (they designed a sand-blasted vase). Among the many celebrities who have brightened their homes with a Gilmor piece was the late opera legend, Pavarotti. Their creations have also been featured in international exhibits.
The Gilmor Glassworks gang has grown over the years; the staff now includes two full-time glassblowers and two apprentices. “I still try to blow glass at least once a week,” says John. (Visitors are welcome to watch glassblowing sessions; just call ahead, as the schedule varies.) His favorite designs: ribbon vases, which feature ribbon-like stripes running vertically through each piece. “The vases are among the more recent designs,” adds Jan. “They’re fairly elaborate to make — it requires three or four people during the various stages of production. They’re not only artistically satisfying, but they’re extremely well received by the public. People really love them.”
Molten magic: Among the Gilmor's hottest new designs are this striking glass lamp, which comes in a variety of colors (with custom colors an option). Prices start at $1350. Colorful ribbon vases have proven to be favorites. They cost from $500 to $800
Sally Hope’s company is certainly aptly named. Hope routinely takes ordinary, store-bought tiles and transforms them into something extraordinary — sun-baked Tuscan landscapes, glorious underwater tableaux, nostalgic recreations of days gone by. Though her work often takes the form of murals, she also paints individual ceramic or stone tiles.
Hope’s artistic journey began in England, where she studied graphic design at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art. After coming to the United States some 25 years ago, she became an apprentice at Versatile, and eventually bought the business. While Hope once made her own tiles, her focus is now just on decorating them, although she still uses her kiln. “The ceramic tiles have to be fired because they’re painted with glaze,” she explains.
Sometimes Hope’s clients know exactly what they want — a portrait of their beloved pet or family home, say — and sometimes they just want to kick around a few ideas before deciding on a design. The artist has been known to suggest trompe l’oeil “windows” to brighten up a windowless space, and to personalize the wine bottles in a still life (a popular choice for kitchen backsplashes) with customers’ names and wedding dates.
Though some commissions are more interesting than others, Hope insists that every project is rewarding. “I enjoy all of it,” she declares.
Hope will meet customers either at their home or at a tile shop of their choosing. Painted tiles start at $80 a square foot; individual tiles begin at $25. She also paints murals, furniture and sinks.
Favorite themes among Hope’s customers are house portraits and still lifes (the one in the center is painted on tumbled stone). A much quirkier commission was the image of Winston Churchill gazing over ponds in an English landscape — a tile assemblage that the clients installed in their shower
Mark Lacko at Betonas
50 Lisburne Lane,
“Concrete is natural,” says Mark Lacko. “It’s environmentally friendly, durable and easy to maintain. But its main advantage is that it can be made to order.” Lacko, who graduated from Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute with a degree in industrial design, started Betonas, a company specializing in cast-concrete products, in 2004. Paying tribute to his heritage, he named it after the Lithuanian word for the material.
Although much of his business involves custom work — countertops, shower enclosures, hearths, and the like — he also offers a standard line of sinks, bowls, vessels and tables. His vessels are shallow bowls suitable for indoors or out. Paired with a stand, they can be used as a table; alone, they can serve as a birdbath, planter, or even a bowl.
While Betonas offers a basic palette of 30 colors, you can request whatever you’re having made in virtually any shade, and Lacko will do his best to oblige. Many of his pigments come from a French ocher mine, “the same pigments that have been used for centuries,” he asserts. Customers can also ask that certain “extras” — say, crushed bluestone, mother-of-pearl, or even recycled glass — be added to the mixture. And once the concrete hardens, they can select the finishing technique — everything from gentle polishing to acid-etching or diamond grinding.
“Concrete is becoming a mainstream material, on a par with natural stone like granite or marble, or with other manufactured materials, like Corian or stone made with a resin base,” Lacko declares.
Set in stone: Sleek cast-concrete vessels can serve as planters, bowls, birdbaths, or just as decorative pieces. To use them as tables, simply add a top. Prices range from $200 to about $700. Stands, which may be made of branches, vines, hammered steel, or concrete, vary in price depending on material. Below: The Hannah Table, with its mid-century modern feel, has a glass center and recycled glass disks embedded in the rim. About $1800
Debra and Fletcher Coddington at Arrowsmith Forge
3788 Rt. 44, Millbrook
“We’re one of the few steel forges remaining in the Valley,” declares Debra Coddington of Arrowsmith Forge, which produces everything from metal jewelry to ornamental gates. Coddington runs the 30-year-old business with her husband, Fletcher, a Millbrook native who started working with metal as a teenager. “He was an undiagnosed dyslexic and couldn’t read or write well as a child,” says Debra. “But he loved creative projects, and his parents encouraged him to work with his hands.” Debra owned a goldsmith and jewelry business in Manhattan; she and Fletcher met at a blacksmithing conference in Westchester in 1978. “We started our business making things in our front yard in Millbrook,” she says, laughing. Today they’ve expanded to a 15,000-square-foot iron shop with a large showroom and a forge staff of five.
Combining old-world artistry with modern technology, Arrowsmith produces limited-production, hammer-forged, solid-steel custom pieces. Some of the most popular are their distinctive beds, but they also make tables, chairs, benches, hearth screens, chandeliers, sconces, floor lamps, and bed and bath accessories, including vanities and towel racks.
A few products hearken back to the days of traditional blacksmithery, particularly the equestrian-oriented items like carriage fittings and horse-blanket racks. “We also make unique pieces like latches, hinges, doorknobs and other items for restorations of old houses,” says Debra. “Someone might be restoring a Colonial home with, say, three out of 40 of the original door latches missing. We create a piece that’s so realistic they shouldn’t even be able to tell which latches are the originals and which ones were replaced.... Our customers love to have input on the designs,” adds Debra, who counts Mary Tyler Moore among the forge’s well-known clients. The Coddingtons recently opened Arrowsmith for the Home, a satellite store at 3275 Franklin Avenue in Millbrook featuring gifts and products made by top-notch craftsmen. (The store number is 845-677-5057.) And if you have a beloved metal piece that needs repair, they can handle that, too.
The embossed copper leaves of this dramatic sconce capture the glories of a maple in fall. Spanning 48 inches, its branches are hand-forged iron. $6800. The Penny Scroll bed is hot-forged solid iron. Queen-size headboard, footboard and frame: $2250. The curvy Firenze table base in hot-rolled mild steel shows classic blacksmithing techniques. 30-inch base $1000.
P.O. Box 511,
Nicholas Simile creates his distinctive furniture in a red, barn-like workshop behind his home in Rosendale, Ulster County — but what emerges is strictly of a modern bent. “I’m pretty much self-taught,” says Simile. “I’ve always made art and created things, and I learned techniques for hand-joining wood when I lived in New Mexico. Since then I’ve learned by looking and thinking and inventing.” While he’s a proponent of old-fashioned craftsmanship, Simile says technology can be a big help. “A lot of the tedious things that used to be done by hand can now be done by machine. For instance, I have a mortise-and-tenon machine that lets me make joints that are extremely strong but are really labor intensive to do by hand. I still have to make sure everything’s lined up and perfect; it’s not bang, bang, bang. There’s no machine that you can put a piece of wood in and it spits out a piece of furniture.”
Simile’s furniture ranges from individual pieces — some with a notable zebra stripe — to elaborate installations in lofts and offices. “Right now I’m working on a Shaker cabinet — what they call a ‘room-specific piece’ — that’s something I designed after the client told me what she needed it for.”
He calls his signature style “sleekly modern with references to the late 1930s and ’40s,” yet says he’s always open to adaptation. “My latest work is starting to lean toward a Japanese influence. It wasn’t consciously intentional; I didn’t even realize it until people pointed it out to me,” he says. Several pieces from his newest collection were displayed in a November Artful Home show at Manhattan’s Puck Building.
Simile, who has been perfecting his craft for nearly 30 years, relies on Hudson Valley businesses for everything from hardwood from a company in Dutchess County, to custom veneers made by a Greene County source. “There are so many talented people and good products available in this area. I always enjoy dealing with local suppliers,” he says.
Sleek, modernist lines that hearken back to the ’30s and ’40s are a Simile hallmark, as is minimal hardware and the contrast of dark and light tones. All pieces are crafted of solid wood with custom veneers; the stripe in the Zebra console (bottom) and dresser (right) are other signatures
Henry Mangione and David Krein at Frank J. Mangione, Inc.
21 John St, Saugerties
Sometimes plain old wallboard is just fine. But if you need to replace an intricate ceiling medallion, restore an elaborate molding, or cover a wall with three-coat plastering — the way master craftsmen did it in the old days — then Henry Mangione and David Krein are your guys. Mangione is a third-generation plasterer (his grandfather was a foreman during the construction of the Empire State Building), while both he and Krein were trained by Mangione’s late father, Frank.
“We work on a lot of historic homes and museums,” says Mangione, reeling off a list of project sites, including Mills Mansion in Dutchess County, where they restored a cornice molding on the southern façade, and Huguenot Street in New Paltz, where they plastered over the stone walls of homes built by Colonial settlers. The firm also worked on the Jan Martense Schenck House, a 1675 farmhouse that was reassembled in the Brooklyn Museum.
The partners accept a lot of private commissions as well. Often they’re called in after a leak has caused water damage to a home’s moldings. While many workmen are capable of screwing on new, cast moldings (widely available in catalogs), Mangione and Krein actually recreate the damaged moldings in situ. The multi-step process involves making templates based on the old moldings, and then passing those templates over wet plaster as many times as it takes to create the exact molding profiles. “Some larger moldings take 10 passes or more,” Mangione notes. Speaking of his profession, he says, “It’s a dying art, but there’s still a considerable demand for it.”
In his spare time, Mangione can often be found practicing his craft. “I own an 1875 Victorian Neoclassical mansion,” he says. “My father purchased it for a song in 1972 and spent the rest of his life restoring it.” Henry is now painstakingly continuing the job.
”Because plaster is liquid, it can make up for deviations in framing or irregularities in the substrate to create a perfectly flat wall in ways that wallboard can‘t,“ notes Mangione. He and Klein carefully custom-make moldings to match or repair damaged pieces. Prices for moldings are about $70 to $200 a foot, depending on the size and the intricacy. Three-coat plastering on walls costs about $12 a square foot
Sometimes fake really can be fabulous. Just ask Patrick Crews, one of the artists at Fauxever Walls, which specializes in decorative and faux-paint finishes. They can mimic the look of virtually anything, from cracked marble to polished wood, to the iridescent sheen of an abalone shell. One client wanted an exotic treatment for her powder room, which featured a chandelier festooned with fez-wearing monkeys. The solution, involving a lot of cheesecloth, a little sanding and some meticulous hand-glazing, was a reptile-skin finish. “It looked like a really nice alligator purse,” Crews says, laughing. An Italian eatery in Dutchess County got a sand finish (“real plaster has sand in it,” he says), with the walls glazed in earthy browns and umbers to give them a Tuscan look.
For homeowners who want to add visual interest to plain, flat walls, Crews and his colleagues first create the desired texture, then mix and apply pigment. Their tools run the gamut from ordinary rags to special badger-hair brushes (with hairs, he says, “that come from the belly of a British badger and are used to create a cloud-like effect”).
The company takes pains to keep up with new products and techniques. “We’re trained
by the manufacturers of the products we use,” says Crews. “We’ve all taken classes and worked with master faux artists in the industry.” Among those masters is owner Darron Andress, who has been “training” Crews for over 15 years.
The finishes should last at least 25 to 30 years. “This is an investment,” Crews notes. “We want to add to the general ambiance of your space in a lasting way.”
Prices depend on the scope and complexity of the work, with sample boards and initial consultations free. The company can also create painted finishes on furniture and cabinetry.
Painted finishes not only give ordinary walls a visual boost, but disguise less-than-perfect surfaces. Top left: An Old World–style distressed plaster with multiple colors in glazed overlays resembles European sandstone plaster. Top right: Italian textured plaster gives a muted effect, like the true unburnished Venetian type. Embedded copper leaf (left) adds a rich, contemporary look and isn‘t nearly as expensive as it looks. Pewter, nickel, or silver are other options
24 Mill St., Albany, 518-445-2400
“My design philosophy can be described as tailored glamour,” declares Gretchen Bellinger, a fabric designer based in Albany. Indeed, whether her designs are inspired by luxury train travel (Pullman Cloth), the gilded portraits of Gustav Klimt (Right as Rain), or an opulent opera house (La Scala), Bellinger’s fabrics are the epitome of luxurious chic. But while Trip the Light Fantastic (a glittering, shimmering Trevira fabric) may look like the stuff from which ball gowns are made, it’s actually a flame-retardant, synthetic fabric widely used for drapes and curtains (it’s woven in Sweden).
Bellinger, whose ancestors settled in the region around 1750, didn’t set out to be a textile designer. At Skidmore College, she majored in jewelry design, but kept finding her way to the weaving studios. “That was where my heart was,” she remembers. After earning a Master of Fine Arts from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, she landed work at the prestigious architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, where, she says, she “was introduced to an international design spirit as well as to the idea that ‘less is more.’” She started her design firm in 1976, initially focusing on natural fibers in muted, “grayed” tones. Today, her fabrics come in many rich colors and are manufactured all around the world: cotton and linens from Belgium; silks from Italy, France and India; wools from Germany; eelskin from Korea; synthetics from China. Many of her best-sellers are executed in creams and beige — “the colors people live with,” Bellinger says. Also popular are novelty fabrics, like Dusted with Flower, a vinyl decorated with real flowers.
In pursuit of the perfect fabric, Bellinger has used everything from stainless steel to processed bamboo. But whatever the material, she always goes for glamour. “There’s a little bit of glitter in everything we do,” she says.
Bellinger sometimes goes to unusual lengths to create her fabrics. For instance, for La Scala, a plush mohair velvet, she found the mill that made the material that originally covered the chairs in the fabled opera house, then hired the grandson of the original weaver.
Whimsy surfaces in the designs’ names (from left to right, above): Thrilling Me Softly, a mohair cotton velvet in a shade called “I feel the earth mauve;” Right as Rain, a cotton jacquard in “raindrop on roses;” Bloom with a View, flowers on silk organza (“primrose path”); Pasha, a “pomegranate” linen velvet; Isadora, a pleated silk (“Pompeian”); and Limousine, a wool broadcloth (“simca sienna”). At left: On a Wing and a Flair, a wool matelassé available in three shades: “Puff the magic dragon,” “St. George and the dragon,” and “Peat’s dragon.”
Fabrics are available through interior designers
3 Emerald Lane, Suffern
It may be that restoring vintage buildings to their former glory is in Joseph Chillino’s blood. For one thing, he’s a third-generation craftsman; for another, his father was a master restorationist for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “I’ve been working in this field practically since I was a kid,” says Chillino. His company, Showcase Contracting, specializes in repairs, remodeling and renovations for private homes, historic estates, or any fine old building that needs it. Chillino’s team includes 10 staff employees skilled in Old World–style crafts