With sympathetic additions and a full restoration, design/build architect Rob MacNeille incorporated Selkirk Ledge's circa-1900 charm into a comfortable and efficient year-round home.
Richard Mandelkorn With sympathetic additions and a full restoration, design/build architect Rob MacNeille incorporated Selkirk Ledge's circa-1900 charm into a comfortable and efficient year-round home.
Rob MacNeille of Carpenter & MacNeille
Cheryl St. Onge Rob MacNeille of Carpenter & MacNeille

Rob MacNeille has traditional New England architecture in his blood. “I grew up in Connecticut, in a house that was built in 1718,” says the Essex, Mass.–based architect/builder. His architectural training—and the time he spent on construction crews when architecture jobs were scarce—left him with a deep affinity for the old ways of building. “In addition to the visual harmony, I have a lot of respect for the practicality of the construction,” he says. “Since [so many old buildings] are still here, they were clearly built to last.”

MacNeille’s company also followed a traditional path. He and his late partner, Terry Carpenter, founded Carpenter & MacNeille in 1996, seeking to revive the old master builder model. That confused some people—“The insurance companies didn’t know what to do with us,” MacNeille says—but clients caught on right away. “Within weeks we were too busy to worry about how to do it. We just had to do it.”

An architect attuned to the builder’s perspective and a builder with a keen interest in design, MacNeille and Carpenter were “mirror images,” MacNeille says. That mutual respect is reflected in a company where neither design nor construction seeks the upper hand. “It should be a two-way street, learning from each other on every project,” MacNeille says, and traditional architecture, with its common language of craft and detail, reinforces that relationship. Perhaps as a result, many of the company’s field staffers have logged more than a decade with the company. “They have a sense of pride in what they build,” MacNeille explains, “and they have a say in it.”

Having provided interior design services since 2002, the company opened a cabinet and millwork shop in 2004. More recently, Carpenter & MacNeille began offering maintenance and small-project services to past clients. “That was my reaction to the slowdown,” MacNeille says, “and it was a big boost for us; there was a lot of untapped business out there.” Alone at the helm since Carpenter’s untimely death in 2007, MacNeille credits his success in moving forward to the partners’ shared belief in cultivating a staff capable of running the company without them. “Over the years we would talk about our long-term plans,” MacNeille says. “We both wanted this to be a long-term organization that would outlive us. That was our dream. It’s still a goal.”

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Carpenter & MacNeille / Essex, Mass. / www.carpentermacneille.com / Years in business: 16 / Employees: 30 / 2011 volume: $7.5 million / 2011 starts: 23