Peter Carroll can tell you the first rule of starting a business: “Don’t start a business in an industry you know nothing about.” But knowing the rule didn’t stop him from breaking it when he was laid off from Pfizer Inc. in 2007 and decided to go into window repair and restoration.
“It’s been a pretty steep learning curve,” he says. “Brutal, actually.”
But chances are you’ve seen some of his work at such places as the Art Deco-period Marlborough Condominiums building, on South Street, or the Ladies’ Library Association’s Victorian building, on South Park Street. Because his is a dying occupation, Carroll says, he’s now one of the few people who have the skill and expertise to work on historic windows in the Kalamazoo area.
Carroll’s Kalamazoo business, formerly known as Old Home Rehab, is now called North Coast Window Works. “I’ll work on any home that’s pre-World War II,” says Carroll. “Most of my customers don’t actually live in historic neighborhoods. Most of my customers just want to maintain the structural and architectural integrity of their home.”
Maintaining the integrity of an older home can mean a complete window restoration, says Carroll, but most of the time a simple window adjustment or repair will do the trick.
“If you look at the history of the wood and construction used in these windows, the workmanship is exquisite and the quality of the wood — just regular old pine — can’t be regularly found today,” says Carroll. “It’s a special wood that has proven to be highly decay-resistant and stable. It might not look good anymore, and it might not work right, but we can come in and fix those things.”
Why go through the process of fixing old windows rather than replace them with today’s more efficient, user-friendly windows? Carroll says that keeping old windows serves a homeowner’s best interests because of the craftsmanship involved. And most older windows can become as efficient as new windows with repair and reglazing, he says.
“What’s amazing to me is that I can take apart a window that was made in the 1800s, put it back together, find every piece of hardware, and make it look like it was made brand new,” Carroll says. “I can’t do that with a window built in the 21st century. People call and tell me about rotted wood in a window that’s less than 10 years old, and I can’t do anything. Once you take the original window out, you are in a replacement window category — your option is to throw it out and put a new one in.”
Pam O’Connor, who lives at the Marlborough Condominiums building and works as an independent historical consultant, says the fact that Carroll could help fix and restore the more than 900 windows in the Marlborough without throwing them into a landfill or creating a 10-year cycle of replacement was exactly why the building’s condominium association decided to engage Carroll in the first place.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” says O’Connor, who has lived in the building for more than a decade. “The building is a 1920s-style, multi- level, mixed-use property. It’s a big building. Whoever did the project had to be able to organize with about 35 residents and three to four commercial tenants to get this massive project done.”
O’Connor explains that Carroll has committed himself to completing the project and has allowed the Marlborough residents to get it done in stages in order to afford such a large-scale undertaking.
“We wanted to give our money to a local business, like Peter’s,” says O’Connor. “And he’s been the perfect person for the job. If everyone ran their small business like Peter, we’d all be in good shape.”
Aside from doing window repair and restoration, Carroll also helps preserve Kalamazoo’s historic charm by acting as the chairman of the Historic District Commission, a citizens’ group representing all Kalamazoo neighborhoods that helps approve renovation projects in historic districts. And he, along with the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, trains owners and apprentices in renovating and restoring homes and other buildings. Carroll says he wants more qualified and trained people in the business.
“My biggest struggle,” he says, “is to find people who want to work doing what I do and work with me.”
Why does Carroll commit so much time and effort to the historic dimension of Kalamazoo? Simply put, he thinks it is historic structures that keep the city tied to its roots.
“Keeping old homes restored is important because it really binds the fabric of the community,” he says. “It’s important to maintain these structures so that there are opportunities for people who want to live in and take care of these structures to be good stewards of their neighborhoods.