House Preservation and Restoration
Judson Aley of R.J. Aley, a contractor based in Westport, generously offered to restore the windows at the Eli Whitney Boardinghouse (c. 1827) pro bono. While he was here, I had an opportunity to talk to Jud about preservation. What I found most interesting in speaking with him, was that no matter what our backgrounds or how we came to preservation, we both shared a common goal: protecting our culture one preservation project at a time.
Jud grew up around construction (his dad was a contractor in the Westport/Weston area). Although his dad did new construction, Jud was always a fan of historic buildings. The house Jud grew up in was a 1918 Dutch colonial house and his grandparents lived in a 1790s farmhouse, which Jud feels had a great impact on his desire to preserve old buildings.
After high school, where Jud's favorite and best subject was history, he went on to get a degree in landscape design. While at school, instead of living on campus, he rented an old farmhouse, further deepening his respect for historic buildings. In his free time, he would drive around and check out old buildings.
Later, Jud went to SCSU and got a BA in History with an Art History minor. In 1996, he started his own construction company with another carpenter and an Isuzu Trooper. Jud now has six carpenters on staff, including Jorge Lugo and Caesar Lopez (who are both working on the Boardinghouse). He doesn't want his company to grow so big that he can not make site visits and have a hands-on involvement with every project. Some contractors do historic preservation because they must. Jud is the opposite; he does preservation project because he loves to.
One of his first projects was adding a master bath suite to an 1898 Victorian for architect David Barkin. David is an accomplished (and award winning: see CPN May/June 2007) historic architect and had a great influence on Jud. David imparted a sense of respect for the building as a living entity, placing importance on not only its original appearance, but also its evolution over time.
Jud had a great quote; “If you want to be a purist, remove your electricity and plumbing”. Jud qualifies this by sharing a story about a friend of a friend who actually lives like this, right out of 1870, including the clothes, the lack of electricity and plumbing, and getting around by dog sled, in NEW YORK CITY!
I'll leave you all with some parting words by Jud which I think hit the nail on the head:
“Be respectful of the history of the house, whatever period it may be from.”