Tricks of the Trade: Consigli’s Masonry Restoration Experts

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The question, “What did you do?” may not seem like high praise, but for professional masons— particularly when restoring a historic landmark property—this is praise indeed. Happily, this is a question that Consigli’s masons are often asked.

But what skill and effort goes into mason­ry matchmaking that assures a seamless, practically invisible restoration repair? The short answer: a lot. For an answer with a bit more detail—the experiences of veteran Consigli masons Stanley Boratyn and Bob Levitre shine light on work that, when done well, is, well, not noticed.

From the painstaking matching of one-hundred-year-old mortar, to the fitting of a small stone replacement piece for a seamless “Dutchman” repair—Consigli’s masonry team are master matchmakers.

Dutchmen at Dorchester’s Parish of All Saints

Among the masonry repair techniques used in Consigli’s award-winning restoration of Dorchester, Massachusetts’ Parish of All Saints, Consigli 20-year veteran mason Stanley Boratyn and the All Saint’s masonry restoration team brought their ability to repair stone with stone, using the “Dutchman” method.

Originally built in 1893 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Parish of All Saints was the first church designed by notable Boston architect Ralph Adams Cram, and strongly influenced parish church building in America and Europe.

Stanley explained the trick with Dutchman repair is to cut the replacement stone to fit as snuggly as possible, so very little epoxy is needed to hold it in place—increasing its seamless appearance. He estimates that he has created at least 300 Dutchman repairs over the years on Consigli’s projects.

Echoing Bob Levitre, Stanley agrees that masonry work is a skill perfected over a lifetime, “Every single day you are learning something new.”

Our team also acts as a second set of eyes for the client to assure full restoration. In this case our masonry team identified several additional areas on this National Register of Historic Places property that required Dutchman repair that the restoration architects had not noticed. This detailed work included replacing many sections of the church’s sandstone trim—from the roof’s parapet, to the entry porch, to door and window lintels—using stone recycled from other areas of the church. And, in addition to the Dutchman repairs, the restoration also used 35 tons of historically matched mortar to repair over 46,000 feet of masonry joints.

Now, with the restoration complete, The Parish of All Saints is just about ready for another hundred years—or more.

Experimentation in a Mason’s Workshop: 300 Recipes and Counting

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Bob Levitre brought his meticulous approach to developing the perfect colored stucco to match and restore the historic stucco pathways at the Trustees of Reservation’s Francis William Bird Park in Walpole, Massachusetts.

Stucco’s ingredients, virtually the same as mortar’s, are sand, a “binder” (i.e. cement or lime) and water. The color of mortar and stucco comes from the sand and any added pigments. To create a perfect match of color and texture is a painstak­ing process—and like a secret family recipe—its success can depend on a pinch of this and a dash of that. While Bob, and veteran masons like him, are guided by experience in creating a mortar to match an existing historic property, fine tuning it to be the just the perfect fit takes patient testing and experimentation.

In developing the perfect stucco match for the recent Bird Park path restoration, Bob created and tested over 40 recipes with varying types and amounts of aggregate, binder and pigment—with test samples assembled and then baked in an oven to speed drying. These resulting mortar pat­ties were then compared systematically to the existing stucco in the park. Through this iterative process, it becomes clear how a mortar recipe needs to be tweaked to find the right balance of components— and the right match results. When asked how many individual mortar recipes he has worked with over his years as a mason, Bob figured about 300—so far.

“Every day you learn something,” Bob remarked while explaining that mastering masonry skills is truly a career-long effort.