Historic Home Renovation: Carter’s Grove
In the summer of 2014, Tim Leahy, of Kirby Perkins Construction in Newport, R.I., needed a Virginia painter. The project: a full-scale historic home restoration of Carter’s Grove, an 18th century mansion on the banks of the James River, near Williamsburg.
Leahy, the company’s architectural finish director, turned first to the website for Fine Paints of Europe, which makes the top-notch paints needed for some areas of the project. Scanning FPE’s list of certified painters, “There were very few highly qualified painters in that area of Virginia,” Leahy says. He reviewed websites, contacted a handful of firms, and found Rick Holtz, president of H.J. Holtz & Son.
“Rick was able to very competently talk with me,” Leahy says. “He was confident, capable and experienced. And he showed a willingness to do a little or everything.”
That’s a good thing, because, as with so many historic home renovations, the project evolved.
Initially hired for exterior and interior prep tasks, the Holtz & Son team eventually assisted with painting, finishings and wallpapering. “Rick’s team helped us from the beginning in stripping much of the modern paints,” Leahy says. “His workers weren’t afraid to do the dirty work, and they were also capable of doing fine finish work.”
The Georgian mansion, built in the 1750s, had been owned and operated as a museum by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation since 1969. Sold to a private citizen in 2014, the house is a National Historic Landmark, on the National Register of Historic Places and on the Virginia Landmarks registry. Given these designations, Leahy says, most of the 14,000-square-foot house could not be “materially” altered but restored to its original historic appearance.
“We were careful to preserve the existing texture and character – the original fabric – of the house,” Leahy says, noting that workers had to be particularly attentive to original wood details and plaster work, while removing layers of paint that had been added over the years. The interior has now been repainted with its original colors, gleaned from paint chips obtained and analyzed by the Department of Conservation at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Kirby Perkins Construction had staff relocate to Williamsburg for the nearly three-year historic restoration project. Leahy says it was helpful to have additional expertise available nearby. “We had a very good symbiotic relationship,” he says. “I would be happy to work with Holtz again – one thousand percent.”
For his part, Rick Holtz says working on a historic home restoration is both similar and completely different from working in a modern house.
“We bring the same attention to detail no matter what the project is,” he says. “But in an older home, you find different challenges, since work has been done to the house over the years. There are also specific guidelines about materials and, in some cases, specific techniques that we can use.”
In the end, Holtz says, it’s still someone’s house.
“You always want the home to look its best and be what the homeowner wants,” he says. “It’s our job to carry out the homeowner’s vision using the best techniques and materials we can, so the owner is happy and the house is in the best condition possible.”
In this case, that meant teaming up with Kirby Perkins Construction to help restore one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the nation.