Whether visiting old house museums on class trips like ca. 1686 Marlpit Hall where Dennis grew up in Middletown, N.J. or traveling on family trips to New England to see historic sites, he was always attracted to "old buildings and old things."
"Item for item -
houses, everyday objects, don't have the life, the mystery of their antique counterparts; they haven't witnessed history." "I'm not the first to say you can feel that when you work on these old homes."
In college, during summer breaks, winter breaks, he worked construction framing new homes with contractors, remodeling older homes with others. Sometimes they would work weeks and months building additions on 150 year old homes only to have the work look like it was airlifted from a 1970's home in the subdivisions. "This was visually jarring to me...it just didn't look right."
After graduating from Rutgers he continued working in the building trades. Eventually, when he started out on his own, he learned that if you looked closely and studied the existing building, your finished work could be more in tune with the older structure - it might even look like it was built in the 1770's -not the 1970's.
Working on the early 19th c. home of a local architectural historian he discovered the "historic preservation" field and began contracting with larger general contractors on public museum projects, while continuing to work on the older homes of his private residential clients.
Thirty years later, the goal is still the same...when he lays down the hammer at the end of a job, "it has to look right."