In a world obsessed with the new, the now and the next, finding someone who is equally as passionate about the past is shocking and astonishingly refreshing. Brent Hull is such a someone. As Owner & President of Hull Historical, Brent lives and breathes classical moldings and interiors, and fortuitously taking his enlightening course on that very subject at METROCON Expo & Conference is the reason our paths crossed. Brent began to hone his craft when he studied Historic Preservation and Preservation Carpentry at North Bennet St. School in Boston, Massachusetts, but not before he earned his Bachelor of Arts in History and English at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. His liberal arts foundation has certainly served him well. Not only does his company have an impressive blog called The Timeless House, but he has also authored several books and has a new title in the works called Building a Timeless House in an Instant Age, which condenses much of what he has learned in the last 20 years. In the meantime, read on to find out how Brent has turned his love of classical design into award-winning work and a successful, multifaceted business.
When and how did your love affair with classical architectural design begin?
It was a gradual love affair, and one that deepened over time. I was first exposed to it in Boston while at school, but it was really when I studied the rooms of Winterthur for my second book that I became enthralled with the creativity, variety and great opportunity that is found in classical architecture.
For two years you studied at the North Bennet St. School in Boston. How did you find out about the school and what did your curriculum entail?
The tag line for the North Bennet St. School is “an education in craftsmanship”. I remember that phrase caught my eye and a good friend introduced me to the school because he knew of my love for craft.
The curriculum was awesome: 2-years, hands-on crafting and building. Learning to use and build with old hand tools changed the way I looked at building. This historic approach has formed and transformed how Hull works and builds today.
Part of your repertoire is consulting on aspects of classical architectural design, historic preservation and restoration and custom millwork design. Explain how you work with design professionals.
The typical project is after an owner and architect have formed a team and may have even chosen the builder. We are brought in as part of the design team to help influence and tweak design ideals and details so that they are more historically accurate or architecturally appropriate. Sometimes this includes providing millwork, other times it is just consulting. This consulting is usually millwork specific, but sometimes also includes hardware and glass.
What has been the most challenging project you have worked on and why?
We did a Gothic Revival project in Florida that was challenging (see photos above). It required using some architectural salvage the owner had bought from an 1870″s church in Brooklyn, New York. The job required using it for different parts of the house, but also using it as an inspiration for designing all the moldings, stairs and doors in the house.
It was important to the client that all the moldings and millwork work together seamlessly. This job required a great deal of research as well as numerous samples. It was challenging but also rewarding.
What was biggest work-related mistake that you have made and how did you deal with it and/or what did you learn from it?
Managing expectations is hard. We learned a while ago that a full-scale sample is well worth the extra expense in order to make sure the client can see and understand what they are getting. For the level and amount of work we are providing, assuming the client can visualize the end product from a set of blueprints is a huge mistake.
As far as dealing with mistakes, we always fix problems to the client”s satisfaction. It may cost us a little more, but a satisfied customer, for the work we do, is imperative if we hope to grow and succeed.
Please tell us a little bit about the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art [ICAA] and your role in the organization.
The ICAA is a fantastic group of teaching and active professionals pursuing classical design in architecture and art. A little over 20 years old, it started humbly in New York but has grown to over 15 regional chapters all across the country with thousands of members. It is the only group actively teaching and promoting classical design. This is a grassroots movement that is exciting and focused. I would encourage all your readers to join and get involved.
You are the exclusive licensee for the architectural interiors of the Winterthur Museum and Country Estate in Wilmington, Delaware. How did that relationship come about?
I meet the head of licensing for Winterthur over 10 years ago and we started a relationship. They were looking for quality firms that were interested in doing great work. Some museum villages and historic towns sell their name to the highest bidder. Winterthur is much more interested in quality rather than quantity. It began humbly, and I”m excited to see the name of Winterthur spread and grow as we expose more people to this remarkable historic home.
So many people dream of starting their own business unaware of all that is entailed. What has been your toughest challenge as an entrepreneur?
The hardest thing is being an artist and having to learn to think like a businessman. Though I love what I do, I would love to find someone who could run the business while I work on design. Unfortunately, I don”t think that person exists. Learning to be a better businessman has helped me be a better leader. The challenges of running a business, making payroll, paying taxes etc. are always a challenge, especially after this last recession.
What do you consider your most rewarding industry accomplishment so far and why?
I love teaching and sharing what I know. I”m proud of my books, my writing and my teaching at trade shows. It is a way for me to share my passion and get other people excited about great design and craftsmanship.
What”s the best advice that you could give someone who is thinking about pursuing a career in historic preservation and/or restoration?
Be patient: it takes a long time to grow a business. Network: the key to finding work in preservation is to learn who the players are, who the experts are, and how you can help.