One of the best parts of the Old House Trade Show is having the opportunity to chat with exhibitors about their memorable experiences with older homes. It’s also a great opportunity to discuss options for your home projects and find inspiration in the creative solutions offered by all of our exhibitors.
To start the conversation, we caught up with Stephanie Brown, a window technician at Bagala Window Works. An exhibitor at the upcoming 2019 Old House Trade Show, Bagala Window Works (BWW) is a local company and long-time supporter of Greater Portland Landmarks working to preserve the unique heritage of homes through time-tested techniques in window restoration. Stephanie discusses her work with older homes, her favorite window projects, and her perspective as a woman in a skilled trade profession traditionally held by men.
Landmarks: What is your professional background? Did you envision yourself in a trade like window restoration?
Stephanie: I started off in art school. I wanted to apply my creativity to something more historical in the physical world, but I had no idea what that would be. I did not envision myself in a specific trade, mostly because I was unaware of the opportunity. Through a series of fortunate events, I wound up in Asheville, NC with the opportunity to attend an occupational training program focused on historical surface restoration. This program offered training in the foundation of calculations, tools, equipment, color theory, safety, surface preparation, and an appreciation for the historical evolution of the trade. The advanced level covered architectural design styles, plaster repair, more complex techniques, and practical projects at historical properties. Upon leaving school, there were not any job opportunities in a historic setting so my first experience in the field was with a fire, water, and smoke damage restoration company. I was able to put some of my skills to use and certainly learned a lot. From there, I moved back to Maine and worked for myself doing specialty jobs when I could.
Landmarks: How did you learn about your job? What first drew you to your position?
Stephanie: Through searching and always keeping an eye out for historical restoration job opportunities. Moving to southern Maine offered more opportunity in the field. There is not a definite place or title for what I do, so my position had to evolve over time.
Landmarks: What have been some of your favorite projects?
Stephanie: My favorite projects always involve a historic setting. It is a real privilege to work on these sites. I was able to work at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. With a team, I worked on restoring the wrought iron and wooden rails on the grand staircase and the winter garden. Another favorite was up on 6-8 levels of scaffolding at St. Mary’s Church in Lawrence, MA, working to preserve the exterior stained-glass windows. It is fulfilling to see so many residences and miscellaneous buildings in the Portland area that have been restored by Bagala Window Works.
Landmarks: What are some challenges working in a male dominated field?
Stephanie: My family has a home in Maine that has seen seven generations. It still has a barn attached to the house and in that barn is a workshop. When I was a child, I spent time in that shop doing small woodworking projects with my grandfather. I recall my mother telling me that in her youth, she was not allowed in there because she was a girl. I went on thinking that things have clearly changed since my Mother’s time. It was not until my introduction to the field that I realized otherwise. I have faced many of the same challenges that women have faced in workplaces all over, but there is an added layer because of the physical aspect of the trade. The notion I have heard that sticks with me the most is that there are not many women like me, and I don’t believe that to be entirely true. There are not many women who are persuaded to follow a career path into the trades. But for women looking to enter any trade, I would say be prepared for anything. Definitely obtain as much training as possible. I have been disappointed by circumstances that seemed out of my control, but I’ve become a much stronger person through these experiences.
Landmarks: What do you enjoy most about working with older homes?
Stephanie: I grew up in Maine, and for as long as I can recall I have been drawn to older homes. For me there is a great sense of gratification to be part of preserving history. From farmhouses to more grand estates, I see relevance in their conservation. It is rewarding to fix something broken and add value to a place that may have otherwise been lost.
Thank you so much for sharing, Stephanie!
You can learn more about Bagala Window Works at Greater Portland Landmarks’ 2019 Old House Trade Show on March 30 and 31st, where they will be included as an exhibitor and hosting a workshop on tips and techniques for window maintenance. You can also find them on Facebook.
All images provided by Bagala Window Works.