Johnstown native Tom Neri may have put away his Lincoln Logs and his Legos a long time ago, but the urge to build, and to do it with the flair of an artist, never leaves him.
Neri is the owner of Thomas Neri Building and Remodeling since 1983. His artistry is on display throughout Schenectady, Fulton and Saratoga counties, and in the town of Glenville his handiwork can be seen in the transition of what was originally the 250-year-old Seeley Farmhouse into what is now The Waters Edge Lighthouse on the northern bank of the Mohawk River.
While he still enjoys building a house from scratch, Neri takes particular delight in renovating older structures, remodeling existing homes, and providing those buildings with new and elaborate additions.
He lives on the Great Sacandaga Lake in Mayfield, and his office, where he does a portion of his custom building, is located in Johnstown. When he’s not working, he enjoys hiking, biking and skiing with his three daughters.
Q: When did you become interested in building?
A: I started building forts when I was a kid, a pretty young age, and I just never stopped. I had a neighbor who was very helpful. He was always working on something and I was over there all the time watching him. After high school I went to Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica and took their solar technology program for a year. We built sun rooms and solar hot water systems, and that’s what really got me started.
Q: What do you mean when you say “custom builder?”
A: It’s the harder work, the more elaborate stuff that takes more expertise and experience. The simpler things I’ll just sub-out and let other guys do them. What I enjoy is the detailed stuff that really makes you feel like a turn of the century artisan back in the 1900s. They were very proud of their work. They were craftsmen, and they actually felt like artists.
Q: What does your typical day consist of?
A: I do a lot of stuff near the water and outdoors, but we also do things like build bars in people’s basements, or go into a fancy English or Irish pub and do a lot of elaborate work with their mahogany bars. What I really like to do is help someone finish their dream home. So, if somebody wants some special custom-made cabinets, we would do that, or a fancy new bar or a really nice addition on their house. These people have worked hard all their life and now they want to turn their place into something special and they ask me to help them. I really enjoy putting all my energies into helping them fulfill their dream.
Q: How many employees do you have?
A: Right now I have two full-time employees who work with me on the job, another part-timer and a bookkeeper. I’m not one of those contractors who lays out the work and then says, ‘I’ll see you at the end of the day.’ I’m right there working with my guys. Earlier, when I used to sell a lot of windows, I’d have crews working for me. But I really wasn’t happy because I wasn’t doing the work myself. The quality of work went down, so eventually I just stopped doing things that way. I tried production and making money by the square, but it wasn’t for me. I’d rather do a smaller job that really requires time and some custom building to it.
Q: Some of what you do seems like really hard, physical work. Is it?
A: Hard work is good for you, and I’ve always loved working hard at something. I love being outdoors in the sun, and with all that fresh air and hard work, you sleep pretty well at night. Sometimes during the summer it can get a little hot, so I’ll admit I do like the colder weather. I love building in the spring and fall when it’s cooler, but it’s all good. In the summer we might sweat and bleed a little more, but we still love it.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: I get up every morning loving my job. I think it’s the challenge. It’s something different every day, and we get to create and build something new. To use your own mind and your hands to physically turn something old into something new, or to build something from scratch is really exciting. To help other people achieve a dream is a great feeling. I try to protect their investment by putting 110 percent into it.
Categories: Life and Arts