Preservation in Practice

Mary Helen and Michael Fabacher Scholarship Recipient & NBSS Graduate Hollis Webb

“I get excited when I see a timber frame house on Nantucket,” Hollis Webb says, “What do I have to do to get other people excited about them, too?”

A Nantucket native, Hollis is one of just eleven students who graduated this past June from the North Bennet Street School’s (NBSS) heralded Preservation Carpentry program. He is the 2017 and 2018 recipient of the NPT’s Mary Helen and Michael Fabacher Scholarship.

Carpentry has been a part of Hollis’ life for as long as he can remember. Family and friends worked in the trades on Nantucket, and Hollis has experience in many different aspects of homebuilding. Prior to enrolling in the Preservation Carpentry program, Hollis worked as a carpenter, including on some traditional projects with Pen Austin.

“Nantucket has a solid community working in preservation and historical architecture,” Hollis says, “All these first period homes are just five minutes away.”

With Nantucket’s high concentration of historic homes, Hollis knew a program in preservation was the right next step in his career.

Preservation Carpentry first-year students learn basic woodworking skills in the shop, with an emphasis on the use of hand tools. “We applied some of the basic timber framing we learned in the first year to a first period home. That was incredible,” Hollis says.

Second year students take their skills on the road. Hollis’ class recently completed a sill restoration on a 1720s house in Norwell, MA. Sill repair was one of the more challenging projects Hollis has encountered at NBSS, “You’re working on projects with no easy solution. You’re figuring everything out as you go.”

Attending the NBSS has changed the way Hollis views his hometown. “I remember coming back home during Christmas after my first semester, and it was like seeing Nantucket for the first time. I was seeing the island through a different lens.”

After graduation, Hollis plans to return to Nantucket full time to live and work. “I’m excited to get back. There are projects in every direction,” he says, “The best thing that could happen would be to work with a homeowner who really appreciates the idea of restoring their home.”

Hollis encourages anyone interested in applying to the North Bennet Street School to work in carpentry for a few years, and “find a way to study Nantucket’s old houses, not just to study the frame, but to dig into the history of the house.”

At the Nantucket Preservation Trust, our doors are always open to help you learn more about the history of Nantucket’s architecture, or about our scholarship programs for students who want to learn traditional trades.

This article originally appeared in the 2018 issue of Ramblings. You can read the full magazine online here.

Preservation in Practice: Window Restoration with Brian FitzGibbon

A window in process.

Brian FitzGibbon, antique window-restoration expert, has taken out only one ad since he began working on historic homes. At age seventeen, he started a painting business and put a small classified ad in his New Jersey hometown newspaper. His phone has been ringing ever since.

The youngest of seven children, Brian grew up in a Victorian house. When he was still in high school, his parents hired Italian master craftsman Antonio Pinola to work on the house and Brian spent thousands of hours working alongside Antonio. “He hated doing windows, and our house had tons of windows, so he trained me to work on them,” Brian says.

While well versed in many trades, Brian had dedicated his work to saving Nantucket’s antique windows. Why windows? There’s beauty in looking through the imperfect, hand-blown glass. When you look through old windows, Brian says, you are looking back on the world the way it would have been seen two hundred years ago. Nearly all window frames made prior to 1940 were made with old growth wood. Antique window frames were made from the finest grades of lumber, easily disassembled and repaired, and meant to last for generations. Before machines, each sash was carved by hand. It is an exceptional feeling to hold in your hands a window made by a Nantucketer more than two hundred years ago. You think of all the storms the paper-thin glass has endured.

 

A restored door.

So why are these beautiful, impeccably made antique windows rapidly disappearing from Nantucket, and from countless houses across the country? One of the biggest misconceptions about antique windows is that new windows are more energy efficient.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Manufacturing replacement windows is highly energy intensive, and often involves long-distance shipping that uses even more natural resources. It would take many years to recoup the cost of replacement windows through energy savings—often longer than the life of the replacement windows themselves. With proper installation, copper weather-stripping, and exterior storm windows, antique windows can equal or beat the insulative value of new windows.

Window frames painted and waiting for glass.

“I want to help these houses live for generations,” Brian says. This year, he  worked on restoring the windows of 100 Main Street and Shanunga in ’Sconset. That’s over a hundred sashes. Brian does all the work himself, by hand.

Brian’s especially thrilled to be working on Shanunga, one of his favorite houses on the island. The historic cottages of ’Sconset are an absolute delight to all that stroll by them, and he’d love to do more work on these important cottages. Imagine what the island would have looked like when all windows were handcrafted glass.

 

Originally published in Ramblings