Thursday, August 17, 2017  



J.M. Kelley, LTD. Passionate Preservationist


Feet soaking wet and rain dripping down his neck, covered with cobwebs and smelling of rotting wood, – Mike Kelley is having a wonderful day.

“Every old building can’t and won’t bepreserved, but at a minimum, we must use every opportunity to study them and learn more about the techniques, vision and aesthetic sense of the people who built them.”

As he exits the derelict 18th century house in Isle of Wight County into the gentle cool rain, he is thrilled to have had the opportunity to examine a fine example of country vernacular architecture before it disappears. “Every old building can’t and won’t be preserved, but at a minimum, we must use every opportunity to study them and learn more about the techniques, vision and aesthetic sense of the people who built them.” It is this philosophical viewpoint, coupled with a passion for historic architecture that has made Mike’s company, J.M. Kelley Ltd., a major player in the field of historic preservation.

Despite five years as a flight officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and career in the AT&T corporate world, Mike’s consuming interest has been historic preservation. He has been studying period structures and styles since the age of 16 when he helped a family friend restore an 18th century farmhouse in upstate New York. He decided to pursue restoration projects as a full-time avocation in 1988, and has not looked back. Taking courses and seminars relating to various aspects of restoration, buying and restoring houses, amassing a significant reference library, and traveling to England and Holland have all been a part of what Mike has done to pursue his passion for traditional architecture. “I immersed myself in learning all I could about period buildings and styles,” reflects Mike, who has also worked in close association with Don Carpentier and his “Eastfield School of Historic Preservation” documenting, restoring, and moving numerous 18th and 19th century structures.

J.M. Kelley Ltd., is a group of historic preservation specialists and skilled crafts people who plan and execute a wide range of restoration projects. Their unique combination of architectural conservation, restoration contracting and design/build services set them apart from both the architect and the traditional contractor. They combine an in-depth understanding of historic architecture, materials, and construction techniques with specialized skills in modern and traditional approaches to historic building restoration and replication. In performing these services, they provide the client with a single point of contact and control for all work from initial conditions analysis through each phase of project execution. He begins each project by working with homeowners to define the scope, design and budget for their project. Next he assembles the project team consisting of “in house” crafts people supplemented, where necessary, by other individual specialists custom-tailored to address each building’s needs. As work progresses, Mike coordinates the interaction of the team and supervises all work to ensure quality and efficiency.

“Today, research is still one of the cornerstones of any project we tackle,” says Mike. “We operate in two camps — the old and the new. We have to know how to install the 21st century conveniences our clients want and need, but with special care, given the parameters of mature structures, all with a fine eye for historically accurate design details. And it’s all there, right in the original design pattern books.” As one client described him, “Mike is one-part contractor, one-part historian.” The construction process with J.M. Kelley, Ltd was like a living history lesson with attention to details such as late 18th century nail-making techniques and early truss systems.”

“We have in the past been known primarily as an historic preservation company; however, in recent years we have frequently been asked to also design and construct sympathetic additions and auxiliary buildings, along with custom details to newer buildings and offices,” says Kelley. “In many cases we use the original pattern books or actual period examples to faithfully reproduce in form and scale the architectural esthetics of the past.” Concealed modern state-of-the-art construction techniques and materials allow J.M. Kelley to provide the amenities for modern living while preserving the historical significance and charm of a period structure.

J.M. Kelley, Ltd. was born of Mike’s love for history and of a sincere desire to preserve architecture of the past for future generations to enjoy. “There’s nothing like taking a building apart in to its tiny component pieces to learn how it’s built,” says Kelley. Mike’s firm works primarily with residential clients, but some of his past clients have included old house museums and light commercial type structures. One most notable was a seven-year project assisting with the move of the historic interiors for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City during the Museum’s rebuilding of the American Wing. The first phase of this project was the documenting, dismantling, and re-erecting of a mid-18th century Dutch vernacular building on the third floor.

Mike also enjoys doing presentations for local historical societies on preservation topics. He has spoken at numerous historic preservation conferences in Boston, Washington, D.C. and most recently presented a lecture at the Virginia AIA Annual Conference in Richmond on the topic of moving historic architecture. Aside from his construction projects and consulting, Mr. Kelley also has appeared on HGTV ‘s “Old Homes Restored”.

Mike has had a long association and friendship with noted architects, curators, and craftsmen in Virginia. It was these associates that encouraged him to relocate his company to Virginia from upstate New York. Recent projects for Kelley include repairs to a 1740’s landmark building near West Point, and a 17th and 18th century interiors preservation for a residential client.

J.M. Kelley Ltd. is committed to providing preservation services to the area that are sensitive to the integrity of each structure. Incompatible restoration procedures can diminish a building’s value by accelerating deterioration and erasing historic character. “We address each project individually with sympathetic, low impact techniques yielding the highest results, without sacrificing character or age value,” notes Kelley.

A common thread that permeates all of the services that J.M. Kelley Ltd. offers is extremely high quality work, executed with fine detail. They provide the same careful attention to each project whether it is just a fireplace and chimney restoration or a complete structural overhaul. This is not merely work for Mike Kelley, but a way of life and a philosophical approach to conservation. He loves what he does and cannot think of a more interesting or challenging career.

If you are interested in meeting with Mike Kelley to discuss a potential project, please call him at his office at (804) 200-5705. You can also visit the extensive website of J.M. Kelley Ltd at www.jmkelleyltd.com to get a greater feel for the experience and high standards of excellence that they bring to every project.