A reputation well built

Just down the street from the railroad tracks and St. John’s Catholic Cemetery on Camp Avenue stands a somewhat incongruous, low-built, single-story brick house, its front door framed by two spindly white columns, a large stencilled “P” set into the tympanum of the pediment above.

I double-check my architectural lingo before I use it, because 75 Camp Ave. in Stamford is the home of Prutting & Co. Custom Builders, and I’ve a feeling that confusing my gables with my entablatures would not go down well. A carpenter by trade, Dave Prutting had a roofing and shingling business before going the whole nine yards, as it were, and branching out into full construction. Today, he heads up one of the most respected building firms in the Northeast. “Deborah, my wife, likes to remind people how she used to hold the ladder for me,” he says, a glancing note of nostalgia creeping in.

Some 45 years on, Prutting & Co.’s reputation is virtually without equal. They have built some of the most spectacular modern homes in New York and Connecticut and have restored countless historical ones, always delivering on time, always coming in on budget. In a market where horror stories are rife, Prutting’s reputation for exceptional craftsmanship and consistently
excellent performance is second to none. What’s more, Dave Prutting’s enthusiasm for quality building is infectious. The thought of building a house had never occurred to me before — after all, there are plenty of pretty ones out there already — but after chatting with Prutting for half an hour in his conference room, I’m totally bitten by the building bug. Better start saving up.

When I ask what’s new in building, the question nearly always turns to technology, rather than pure design. The basement of a new-build these days, says Prutting, “looks like a submarine.” The firm is constantly investing in software — new products, state-of the-art (or beyond the art) systems, cutting-edge engineering. But while he prides himself in keeping up to date on the latest smart appliances, audio-visual aids and gadgetry — “whole-house automation” as he calls it — there is, he concedes a case to be made for old-fashioned simplicity. “Take thermostats, for instance. Sometimes a client just wants an old-fashioned dial.”

Design, of course, is the domain of the architect and while the disciplines of architect and custom builder could hardly be more different, nor could they be more interdependent. “If the architect draws it upside down, we’ll build it upside down,” Prutting says. And he has worked with some of the finest architects in the business — Toshiko Mori in New York, Kieran Timberlake in Philadelphia, Joeb Moore of Moore & Partners in Greenwich. 

Time and again, he emphasizes that his role is to make the architect look good. 

Prutting & Co. also supports the job for years after it’s been completed, teaching the new owners how to understand the new technologies, such as solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling and renewable energy. While sensitive to the environment and simultaneously designed to offer homeowners increasing comfort, they can be complex, even for millennials to fathom.

Prutting’s greatest investment, though — and he is keen to make this very clear — is in smart people. He places great store by his architectural school graduates — six at present — who work alongside his builders, an entirely homogenous team of professionals. When Prutting takes me on a tour of his offices — a wonderful walkabout tracing our way between tables of gargantuan architectural plans and drawings, deliciously tactile building material samples, a library of architectural books and historic magazines, and a mood-board of visual curiosities — the easy relationship he has with his “super squad,” as he calls his team, is apparent, as is the high regard in which they hold him. 

But it’s Prutting & Co’s president, Jack Truman, who sits in on some of our conversation, and whom Prutting himself — still very much at the helm but slowly handing over the reins to a younger generation — has special praise for. “Incredible,” “amazing man,” “the best there is,” he murmurs at different points during our meeting.

A mild-mannered man, with blue-green twinkly eyes, Prutting has something of the aging hippie about him — the chains lurking behind the neat blue-and-white check shirt, the sentences sprinkled with the word ‘dig,’ and I don’t mean in the archaeological sense, the enthusiasm.

A current project, one about which Prutting himself is especially excited, is a waterfront home he is building close to company headquarters — a 15,000-square-foot traditional home with contemporary material in a spectacular setting on an isthmus in Darien. The owner is “high profile, but very quiet,” is all Prutting will say.

Another of Prutting’s homes, in Katonah for perfumer Carlos Benaim, involved removing a historic façade some years back and reassembling it next to the new structure. If it can be done, Prutting & Co. will do it.

I ask him if the building profession is a good one to go into. “For sure. Take me,” he says, “I was a wanderer. I wandered out to Cape Cod where there are only three occupations — fisherman, waiter or carpenter. My first boss told me, ‘If you train as a carpenter, you can work anywhere in the world.’” 

Prutting himself lives in another “spectacular” house in New Canaan, “a very cool town house,” he says, which was featured on the show “Extreme Homes.”

When I get around to building that dream house of my own, Prutting & Co. will be the only way to go. Plus, I already have a name for it — “The House that Dave — and President Jack —  Built.”

For more, visit prutting.com.

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