His, hers and theirs

Laughter isn’t the only thing binding George Distefano and Maria Bilotta.

This North Salem couple brings together two family-owned businesses — his, GlasSolutions, a glass and metal company, and hers, Bilotta Kitchens, a custom cabinetry company. Combined, the businesses have been open for nearly a century.

“Two family businesses: She deals with my family. I deal with her family. It’s amazing that everybody gets along,” Distefano says.

“And we still have the greatest holidays,” Bilotta adds with a smile. “I mean, it’s so difficult to run a business, especially with family.”

The two gather around their kitchen island, sipping coffee. To their right is a wood-burning pizza oven surrounded by marvelous wooden cabinetry. To their left, you can see a spotless glass fence bordering the backyard deck. Straight ahead is the kitchen stove, complete with a glass backsplash. Just outside of the kitchen is a wine shelf, featuring an array of corks on the wall underneath, courtesy of Bilotta herself. Farther down the hallway is a nautical-themed bathroom with a glass, showcase-style sink embedded with seashells — keepsakes collected by their children during a family vacation.

It’s safe to say the duo’s handiwork has turned their house into a home.

HIS

George’s father, James Distefano Sr., started GlasSolutions in 1954 as Real Glass Co. The Newburgh-based business had only three employees — including George’s mother — and specialized in residential projects. In 1999, George rebranded Real Glass Co. as GlasSolutions Unlimited Corp., which has since grown to 28 employees and locations in Newburgh, Somers and Mamaroneck.

Now specializing in commercial work, GlasSolutions’ projects include schools, hotels and stores, in addition to residential work.

“It’s all about how you service people,” Distefano says. “I like to see things being built and what they look like after they’re finished. Working with architects and designers, it’s always exciting to watch what they ask for and to be involved in creating and seeing the final projects.”

Distefano explains that many of GlasSolutions’ projects are similar in scope, but he encounters the occasional unusual request, including a comedian’s call for privacy.

“He was getting photographed by paparazzi,” Distefano says. “(The comedian) would line his living room with 50 cans of paint and in the middle of the night, the lights would be blazing in his apartment, and he’d be there throwing paint on a canvas. We found out that people were downstairs photographing him, so we had to find a way to shield the windows, but at the same time, he didn’t want to lose his view.”

Distefano’s solution was a specially tinted glass that allowed the comedian to see out but kept prying eyes from seeing in.

“You can’t make this up,” Bilotta says, laughing.

Despite the sporadic spontaneity of the business, one consistency remains — safety.

“Our business has a lot to do with safety,” Distefano says. “All of my people are trained with OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) safety training, because they’re handling glass and metal, climbing on ladders and working with equipment.”

Unlike the earlier days of Real Glass Co., most of the glass used by GlasSolutions is “safety glass,” such as laminated or tempered glass. Instead of breaking into large, jagged shards, which may cause severe injury, laminated glass will splinter but remain intact, while tempered glass will crumble.

“Some people say, ‘Oh my God, how do you handle that? Glass breaks so easily.’ And I say, ‘Well, that’s why business is so good, because glass breaks.”

HERS

Maria’s father, Jim Bilotta, founded his business in 1954 as a residential construction company. It wasn’t until 1985 that his children, Jim, Maria and Regina Bilotta, opened Bilotta Kitchens, specializing in cabinetry, with a flagship showroom in Mamaroneck.

“My father was a general contractor for 30 years and he had a great reputation in the county,” Bilotta says. “My sister, brother and I all went to school for different things. I was in the food business, my sister was in city planning and my brother wanted to be a forest ranger…This was 30 years ago. He let us take it and run, and we did.”

Bilotta Kitchens, which is celebrating 30 years, has also expanded to two other locations, in Mount Kisco and New York City, and works with celebrities ranging from Emeril Lagasse to Mary Tyler Moore and Bruce Willis.

“Anything that needs cabinetry, we’re there,” Maria Bilotta says. “We do libraries, bathrooms, bars, laundry rooms, mudrooms. And then we get involved in everything — counters and appliances. We’ve worked with the same people for 30 years. Some of our installers have been with us since we opened.”

She is particularly proud of Bilotta Kitchens’ contribution to charities like Friends of Karen, a North Salem-based nonprofit providing emotional, financial and advocacy support to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. Recently, Bilotta Kitchens held its seventh Friends of Karen event, “A Night of Your Life,” with live music, games and a silent auction. (See Watch on page 107.)

Maria oversees all of Bilotta Kitchens’ involvement in support of Friends of Karen.

“We do a lot of charity work,” she says. “We do fundraisers every few years.”

THEIRS

The duo may each operate a separate family business, but GlasSolutions and Bilotta often collaborate on projects.

“We try not to talk about it much at home,” Distefano says.

He smiles at his wife, who returns the expression.

But the success of their businesses is not what keeps the wheels turning for this family.

“Despite all of the business stuff that goes on, when you see your kids turn into good human beings, that’s what you’re most proud of,” Distefano says. “The businesses are great, but your kids, when they grow up, and go on with their lives and really become good people, that’s what’s important.”

The couple chat about their three children, recalling memories and sharing some of their accomplishments.

“I feel like they were such a part of our businesses,” Bilotta says. “They’ve come with us to all of our sites.”

“But they do have their opinions,” Distefano says. “And they let us know.”

GlasSolutions Unlimited Corp. is at 212 S. William St. in Newburgh. For more, call 845-569-0001 or visit glassolutions.com. Bilotta Kitchens is at 564 Mamaroneck Ave. in Mamaroneck. For more, call 914-381-7734 or visit bilotta.com

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