As a young man, I was perfectly aware of the unrest in our nation during the 1960s and '70s, but I was fortunate enough to find a place where men from so many different backgrounds could come together, work towards a common goal, and be united by their respect for each other's talent — on the job sites of my grandfather and father.

The men at these sites were more than hired help — they were my extended family. Through them I experienced so many different cultures, tasted a world of ethnic foods, and learned the time-honored techniques of their trades.

Harry Muller was a lead carpenter and a Veteran of the Korean War, where he built airplane runways as a member of the Army's Construction Battalion. Even with all he'd witnessed, Harry always kept the job sites in stitches with his hilarious stories and impeccable comic timing. He also taught me many of the tried and true carpentry skills that I use today.


Vince Lapa was a fine woodworker and furniture maker from Calabria, Italy — "The tip of the boot," he used to say. Vince was a true artisan and had worked with stains and finishes for so long and the permanent color of his palms proved it. With a thick Italian accent, he taught me his detailing, finishing, painting, and restoration secrets.


"Junior" was a heavy equipment operator who came from the Georgia Sea Islands. He spoke the lyrical language of Gullah, a mixture of English and African dialect. Junior ran some of our heaviest machinery including backhoes and front-end loaders, and I was always taken by his peaceful manner, sensitivity, and wisdom.


Henry was a well-digger from the South who didn't know how old he really was. At least in his late seventies or early eighties, Henry could dig a hole like no one I'd ever seen, armed with just a pick, shovel, and bar. He told stories of his well-digging days when he would dig hundreds of feet down, making small ledges to stand on along the way. Once he taught me how to cut a switch from a sapling and turn it into a divining rod to find water. And it worked.

Morris Feggans, Therman Feggans, and Nathaniel Ogburn were a laborer team of father, son, and family friend, respectively. All three had been born and raised in South Hill, Virginia and had moved up North during the 1950s. They'd been tobacco farmers, sharecroppers, and even simonized airplanes. I was captivated by their incredible work ethic and ability to pace themselves in order to work steadily and skillfully, without wearing themselves out. Their larger-than-life personalities added a richness to our job sites and they've been some of the best friends I've ever known.

Johnny Roman
was a master carpenter, gentleman, and ex-paratrooper. His willingness to work hard and hustle was legendary and his unwavering positive attitude made him someone to admire. His detail work was so precise — and so fast – he almost made it look too easy. He taught me how to do high quality work quickly and expertly so that everyone wins — the work, the company, and the client. He was the big brother I never had and a real friend to me.