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A Solo Act


Springfield Union News

May 22, 1983—Marcia Motichek


“I think construction runs in my blood.  My parents were always involved with restoring or building a home.  Weekends were often spent working on one house or another when I was small.  So it seemed only natural that one day I would take on a renovation project of my own,” says Leslie Clement.


The house she has taken under her wing is the former Skinner mansion on 346 Maple Street, Springfield which she bought in 1981 for $42,000.  Restoration of older homes is no longer considered unusual, but in Ms. Clement’s case it was a major undertaking since the bought the house when she had just turned 22.


Ms. Clement’s skills as a carpenter’s apprentice (she still has one year left in her apprenticeship) meant that there were some advantages when it came to doing woodworking, framing, plastering and climbing.


The thing I like best about restoration work are the discoveries involved.  Each day has been a learning process for me.  Some things have had to be re-done --- like deciding to have insulation blown into the walls after the house had just been painted, but Clement sees it as a management lesson.


Ms. Clement’s home was originally built by Gertrude and Henry Skinner in 1905 in the Maple Hill section, an exclusive area of Springfield that attracted wealthy industrialists, lawyers and merchants.  Judging from the unusual features incorporated in the original designs of the mansion, she believes the Skinners were innovative and progressive-minded people for the late Victorian era. 


A large skylight was built into the peak of the roof, and meant that light would be shed on the servants’ quarters.  A floor built of glass brick provided additional light into the second-floor hallway below it. 


When the 16 room house was purchased by the new owner, it had been neglected, but was not entirely vacant for forty years. 


Anyone who tells you that restoring an old house is all glory is not being entirely honest with you, said Clement.  In her case, she admits there were moments of intense disillusionment and frustration.  The upstairs hallway took three months to replaster the buckling and crumbling walls and ceiling --- having to be reached on staging and high ladders.  On frustrating days, Clement took heart from hearing comments from people who strolled by the house and told her what a great job I was doing. 


There is a real sense of exhilaration, she says, when she considers that the project she has taken on is generally regarded as the kind of work most people assume only men can do.


Reflecting on her three-year experience, Leslie believes there is a real connection between women and the renovating process.  Does she feel it has to do with rebirth and renewal?  She agrees that is part of it.  But she says it also has to do with an instinctive feeling in women “for caring and nurturing of something previous.” 


“I couldn’t have figured out how to do a lot of things if it were not for my 96 year old carpenter friend.  He lives at the nursing home around the corner and stops by every day.  He’s share a lot of wisdom about repairs and carpentry techniques.” 


Ms. Clement admits that she is a “hardware fanatic.”  She rebuilt 36 windows which required not only replacing casing and reglazing glass, but restoring the brass work and locating replacement parts. 


The kitchen has been restored, the six-foot slate sink and maple floors renewed.  There is a modernized yet quaint country breakfast nook, complete with a new skylight and ceiling fan.  A tired old Glenwood gas stove discovered in a junk store was brought home like an abandoned puppy and given new life.


Even the best of carpenters experience dissatisfaction, have to rip out and start over again.  Such was the case with Leslie’s arbor.   The first one she designed and bjilt in the side yard wasn’t to her liking.  It went up.  It came down.  In its place is a new one that pleases her.


Leslie is now working on her MBA at Western New England College.   With her formal education and on-the-job training, she says she would like to head-up restoration projects --- from pointing up foundations, making decisions on financing projects to selecting colors. 


“Small in scale is how I see my next restoration.  I’d like to find a five or six room cottage and get to work on it.”

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