By PHYL NEWBECK
In the early days of Jim Huntington’s business, New England Housewrights, he was wearing a lot of hats.
“I was running a business and doing the design work and the carpentry,” he said. “It was fun but exhausting. After a few years and not making any money, I realized I had to be more efficient.” These days, Huntington leaves the carpentry work to others.
“I miss it,” he said “but it had to happen.”
Huntington studied agriculture and engineering at the University of Vermont, but midway through his collegiate career, he realized he wanted to design and build houses. At the time, UVM didn’t have courses in architectural drafting, so Huntington figured things out on his own. “I’ve enjoyed it ever since,” he said.
Huntington has switched from drafting by hand to the computer.
“It was a long learning curve,” he said. “I do miss my drawing table. The computer has a lot of advantages but there are some disadvantages.”
Huntington and his wife Carol moved to Charlotte in 1980. They briefly lived in a teepee while he designed and built his first house at 26.
“I sold it and I didn’t make a dime,” he said, “but it got me a steady stream of work that never stopped. It’s all been word of mouth.”
The couple spent a year in Alaska but soon moved back to Charlotte.
“I feel lucky to be here,” the 63-year-old said. “I love Charlotte, except for the black flies and when it rains in January.”
Huntington’s preference is to build homes that are small, well-constructed, and energy efficient but he will provide his clients with whatever they are looking for. His first houses were timber-framed but he has switched to more conventional building methods and has built a number of net-zero homes. He is the sole employee of New England Housewrights but he has a carpentry crew that has been with him for 15 years and other contractors who have worked with him for twice that time.
When Huntington first started his company, he hoped that summers would be busy and winters would provide him with lots of time to ski, but he has learned that his business isn’t a seasonal one. That said, he makes time to ski with a group of friends every Friday (and occasionally on other weekdays which are then christened Fridays) at Mad River Glen. Huntington works on weekends in the winter because that’s when lift lines are the longest. He also enjoys Nordic skating and ice boating on Lake Champlain and smaller bodies of water. He has a two-person ice boat called a gambit which allows him to introduce others to the sport. In the summer he mountain bikes and sails.
“There are endless things to do here,” he said.
Huntington still loves what he does. “I can’t say all of it is fun,” he said, admitting that running the business is the least enjoyable part of his job, “but I really love working with people and designing and building houses.”
Huntington is currently working on four projects but only builds one at a time. He is hoping to work a little bit less so he can spend more time with his ski group and his wife, who has retired. “I can’t see myself doing anything else,” he said. “It took a lot of painful years to make this work, but it was worth it.”