Landmark Restorations – Frank Thomas and David Westbrook

(Released on January 1)
  Episode Notes Paul Beers: Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of Everything Building Envelope podcast. We’ve got a really interesting topic today with Frank Thomas and David Westbrook of Landmark Restorations Ltd. in Atlanta.


Episode Notes

Paul Beers: Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of Everything Building Envelope podcast. We’ve got a really interesting topic today with Frank Thomas and David Westbrook of Landmark Restorations Ltd. in Atlanta. Welcome guys. Thanks for coming on today.

Frank Thomas: Thank you, Paul.

David Westbrook: Thanks for having us.

Paul Beers: So, we met a couple months ago in Atlanta and we just sort of had a say hello sit down and fact build. I remember, Frank, you actually ran into one of my guys there in a coffee shop with his building envelope shirt on and that got the conversation going. It’s the power of marketing, right?

Frank Thomas: Yeah, it was quite a morning. I looked across and so I said I’ve got to talk to that guy, so it worked.

Paul Beers: And Hall Brody, he’s one of our principals. He runs, our Atlanta operation. So we sat down and the guys were telling me and showing me what you do with restoring facades and glazing systems and whatnot and I thought it was really cool and somebody said, you know you should get those guys on the podcast. I’m, really, really excited about it. I know it would be of big interest to the audience. It’s unique, it’s different, it’s innovative. So, I think that’ll be really, really good. So, to start out let’s talk about Landmark Restoration a little bit. Frank can you tell us about the business, what you guys do and how you operate and whatnot?

Frank Thomas: Thank you. We’re basically starting our 36th year. Like, November of this year we started the company. It’s hard to believe it’s 36 years and so my background really is in the high rise commercial waterproofing industry. I had the opportunity to work 5 years’ sort of like a summer internship with a company in New York, in the northeast and it was invaluable that experience, with that company, the company Landmark Restorations really evolved from the traditional waterproofing of the commercial building into the façade retrofit company we are today. Our goals have always been to create a high performance façade company and David Westbrook, when he joined us, I knew immediately that that piece of the envelope would increase tremendously, and David brings a lot of three-dimensional talent looking at windows and doors of facades, and his background as a preservationist, thus his master’s degree, really gives us the opportunity to sit down with an owner or an asset manager and help them develop again a façade program that we’re extremely proud of.

Paul Beers: Yeah and David you have a very interesting and appropriate background for this that I was really impressed with some of the stuff you’re doing. Why don’t you please tell our listeners just a little bit more about your background and how you got to the point where you’re working with Landmark Restorations now.

David Westbrook: Sure. Well I got a bachelor’s degree in English literature and went to a year of graduate school and then decided I wanted to take a different path and, at the time I had some good friends who had their own stone masonry and timber frame business, and so I got a crash course in stone masonry and timber framing, and you know, they really did it right. They were very proud of what they did and called themselves kind of an old world, you know, they looked back to Europe and those guys whose buildings were 600 years old or more over there, so they kind of really took a lot of pride in doing that stuff right. So, I learned a lot from them, and then from there I just did general carpentry and remodeling framing for about 6 years. They gave me kind of a crash course in general construction, kind of more on the residential side though, and then in 2007 I moved to Atlanta and got into the master’s program for historic preservation at Georgia State University, and through that program I got a job interestingly at a cemetery here in Atlanta. It’s the oldest cemetery in the city, and at the time it was recovering from a tornado that had hit, and it damaged a lot of the historical monuments and markers and things out there, and, so, they knew I had a background in masonry and repair, and so I kind of helped take and guide that restoration somewhat, and it was going to be just a temporary gig and it turned into a longer gig where they got a grant to restore. There was, like, 55 mausoleums or mausolea the plural of mausoleum in the cemetery, so, I had developed a scope of work for each one to figure out, you know, repointing stained glass window restoration. There were different types of stone, sandstone, limestone, granite that these things were made out of, all in different degrees of deterioration. So, we had to figure out what scope or how to best repair that, all keeping in the historic interior of secretary, the standards of preservation. So, we would have to take that scope of work that we developed for the City of Atlanta, to the Urban Design Commission who oversees the landmarks in the city and get it all approved, and then execute the work, and so after that was all done, I started sending out resumes and actually I sent out like three resumes at first and Landmark Restorations was one of the companies I sent my resume to, and Frank called me a couple days later and here we are.

Paul Beers: Yeah and you guys are working on some really some really interesting projects and you guys work in a very wide geographic area like the whole country isn’t that right?

Frank Thomas: We do provide nationwide contract service stuff as David mentioned we’ve got several projects on the west coast in San Francisco, LA, San Diego. We work with a large group in Seattle. We’re in New York, Boston, Minneapolis, Atlanta. In fact, we’re looking at projects as well in the Fort Lauderdale area right now. So, yeah, we do cover a large area. Our clients, of course, like everyone else, dictate a lot of where we go. We’re fortunate we have excellent crews. They’re our crews. We don’t subcontract our work. They’re our own people, and I think that makes a big difference as to why we have those capabilities to travel as well as we do or as extensively as we do.

Paul Beers: Yeah and what kind of client base do you have and what kind of folks are your typical clients?

Frank Thomas: It runs the gamut, really. I mean we have owners that we work directly through. We have real estate companies who own a lot of real estate and have a lot of buildings and then we also work with property managers, management companies of properties and we work for Reit, the groups that owns hotels all across the country. And then we’re doing small jobs like little house museum type things, you know, for little non-profit things. It just really runs the gamut.

Paul Beers: So, so in addition to actually doing the work, you guys actually design the solutions. Here’s what we need to do and here’s what we recommend and here’s how we’re gonna do it is that right?

Frank Thomas: That’s probably our strongest asset Paul. So I appreciate you bringing that up, and we literally, David and I can go in and sit down and whether it’s upgrading the existing façade, or creating a double skin with the new high performance windows and doors, you know, we actually can sit down and help with the budgeting. Probably one of the strongest things we do is help people create a budget or take an existing budget and value engineer the work required.

David Westbrook: Frank likes to say our job is to help our clients figure out the best way for them to spend their money and get the best bang for their buck, and that’s really when we’re doing our jobs, so we can help them do that. Yeah, because the budget obviously is always a very primary consideration. Here’s how much money we have. What can we do with it?

Frank Thomas:So, something to add to what David just said we also help people whether they’re buying or selling a property. Sort of a due diligence, you know, what are they getting involved in? What, what kind of numbers are they going to be required to do, because the banks and the lending institutions have really taken a stronger position, as you know, over the last probably 8 to 10 years, so that when a new acquisition occurs there’s typically as they call it, a tip list of things that the bank is gonna require the owners to perform and so we play an integral part.

David Westbrook: Yeah, that’s interesting when you bring that up. One of our GCI Consultants projects right now is a 10-million-dollar façade restoration on a major resort property in South Florida, you know, stuccos, granite, leaks and things like that. The property was sold and it was conditioned by the lender, who was basically funding the acquisition, that the façade had to be repaired and it needed it too.

Paul Beers: Yeah, when we were talking just before we started the podcast, you were telling me that you guys have different levels of services that you provide on projects, and other, Level 3, Level 2, Level 1. Could you talk about that a little bit more? That was interesting also.

Frank Thomas: Yeah, David developed a means and method of strengthening an existing sliding glass door frame, which in the hotel industry really is, you’re talking about running the gamut, they run from one end of the spectrum to the other. The biggest issue is the wind pressure on doors, and so David developed a method of strengthening the existing frame, and so when you talk about Level 1, that’s the Minneapolis project. New rollers, track guides, locking systems, strengthen up the frame. Clean up, a general tune-up, we call it, the existing glass stays in place, but higher comfort levels for the hotel and the guest inside, and when we talk about the Embassy at LAX again, David and a gentleman that is really our, kind of field supervisor, Randall Alterano developed a method of taping the existing doorframes, where we can take the existing glass out. In this case, it was quarter-inch standard float glass, and we installed high-performance, low-e and soundproofing. The hotel is directly across the street from the LAX airport, or in this case, the jumbo jets and the cargos take off. That was a complete façade retrofit program. The doors were all field-grade finished, by the way a new color. The condensation, we had to take into account, we had our engineers in Seattle develop a low-e factor so that the condensation was significantly reduced or, in some cases, it doesn’t exist at all. The Burlingame Embassy in California is a new door system. Without taking out the existing frame, cap, we were putting in new doors, new triple-locking system, very high performance low-e, and high performance enhanced sound control blast into the opening. All field refinished, clear coat over the coating itself, the existing paint that we were putting on – not existing, but the new paint, and the owners are in love with it. It’s a Hilton property as well, so, we’re getting a lot of exposure on a corporate basis. I can tell you that all rooms on every level are put back into service the day that we finish, so there was no interior work whatsoever.

Paul Beers: I know the hotel guys love that. It minimizes the disturbances to the guests.

Frank Thomas: It makes a big difference. David works very closely on the scheduling. There’s a, rotation that is extremely critical. There’s a lot of cooperation on everyone’s part and David develops the schedule. You may want to chat about that for a quick second. I think that sometimes we forget about communication efforts and we focus just on the, kind of, the nuts and bolts, but the communication that David creates with these schedules, I’d like him to just chat about that for a second.

David Westbrook: Sure. Obviously the hotels want the rooms back in service as quickly as possible, so we work with them at the front end and say, you know, look, depending on the time of year, how busy the hotel is, how many blackout dates they have where they’re gonna be sold out completely and in some cases work has to stop on some projects and so based on their feedback, then we can develop, and then know how many rooms they can give us at a time. That factors into it as well. Then we figure out, okay, what we can do, based on this amount of rooms, we can get this many done, say, in 3 days or 4 days or 5 days, and then we set up a rotation where we give them completed rooms at the end of a day, inspected by, you know, the engineers of the buildings. They sign off on it and it goes back into service, and then they give us a new set of rooms that are out of service for the night, you know, that night, so we can get in first thing in the morning and start working again, and we thought all this out on just a simple Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and everyone has a copy of it. Randall, the guy who’s the field supervisor that Frank was telling you about earlier, he meets every day with the managers sometimes, and then definitely the engineers for the property, and, you know they, just so everybody knows what rooms are being worked on and see if there’s any issues that we need to address, just so everyone is aware and you know, like Frank says, communication. That’s what’s going on.

Paul Beers: By the way, one of the aspects, what I want to touch on or refer to really quick, and then I want to move along is that these are all custom. This is not a one size fits all. Every one of these projects is custom made, from that door opening, from the glass to the aluminum coating finishes, locking systems, adjustments, because we look at a long-term basis for the operations and maintenance going forward, so we remain in place with the hotel, in this case as they go down the road a few years for adjustments and again, whatever is gonna affect operations and maintenance, we’re gonna be involved as well down the road.

David Westbrook: So David you showed me when I was in your office a few months ago some of your techniques used at the suites at LAX, there was a couple of things that Frank already mentioned which is you actually took out the monolithic glass and replaced it with a thicker piece of glass, and also talked about field refinishing. That’s not easy to do. I mean, it, especially with the varying thicknesses of glass. I thought maybe we would do a deep dive into it and describe some of the things that you did on that project and how you did it, and it was really pretty impressive, I thought.

David Westbrook: Sure, like Frank said each project is different. It depends on what you’re dealing with that’s in place first and foremost, and then determining, all right, we can make this work here or maybe it won’t work, but, for that particular project, the doorframes, they were solid. I mean, they were high pretty thick gauged aluminum and the frame itself was wide enough to receive a thicker piece of glass, so we just opened it up a little bit, and we put, like, a 7/8ths inch thick ICU in there, and then, of course, we put in heavier gauge rollers to support that weight and that’s it, really. I mean, it takes some work in the field to do it. We’re lucky that we have great crews, and they are very attention to detail oriented and they know how to execute it, once we give them a scope of work and what we want done, but that’s basically it, you know? We just figure out what are the parameters here, and then determine the sizes of glass, the gauges of aluminum, and then what works and then, in terms of field refinishing, I mean, you know, I don’t know, I’m not a painter, but, you know, our guys are just, I mean, it really comes down to the materials, to be honest. The prep work and the materials we use when it comes down to painting. I mean, we clean it. We scour it a little bit to rough up the surface, make sure you get a good bond with your primer, and then it’s just the guy’s spraying. He does it, puts a good finish on it, and good technique then he masks everything off, of course, to protect the room so there’s no overspray getting on anything.

Frank Thomas: Paul another thing is –

Frank Thomas: David has done some research. Infrared heat lamps that you probably see in automotive shops. They’re brought in because, again, we’re dealing with the elements. We set up trailers that are conditioned for parts to field refinish, so, we take aluminum paint, or paint ****, while we may not be the painters, we have a great crew. Their techniques, they are constantly honing them, and we’re always on the outlook for a different piece that can, you know, help them in the field.

Paul Beers: So, on this particular job, you start out with some, I’m gonna say it’s older sliding glass doors. They’ve been in place for quite a while.

David Westbrook: Over 30 years.

Paul Beers: Yeah, 30-year-old doors, and then the end result was that they, basically, without creating all the dust and the dirt of ripping everything up and replacing it and expense too, in fact that’s another interesting point which I’d like you to talk about, but you started out with a 30 year-old door, and when you finished work it had new high-performance glass. It had a new paint finish. It had new hardware, so basically, taking the skeleton and then making a new door out of it. Did I say that well, or –

Frank Thomas: Yes.

Frank Thomas: I mean it’s basically a brand new door, and performs 100 percent better, not only just from an energy standpoint, but sound was a big issue on this project, so, we went down from, well, 80-something decibels in the room with jets down to the mid-30s. I mean it’s incredible, really the transformation.

Paul Beers: How is the hotel getting their return on this investment? I mean have they actually monetized and looked at the money that they spent on the investment side.

Frank Thomas: It’s an interesting point you just brought up. We were in a meeting, I was in a meeting at San Francisco at an Embassy where we performed the same task at LAX, and Hilton came back to the hotel and said that they were going to get an energy award and that they had reduced their energy consumption by 40 percent.

Paul Beers: Wow.

Frank Thomas: So, while we do this on the front end sometimes, we’ll do the energy, look at the building and provide comparative numbers, you know, what does this low-e mean at different levels. I can tell you that we just finished a test project at one hotel and we took and changed the temperature coming through float glass, where it was 103 degrees, and when we installed the new window system, David designed the interior temperature level at 76 coming through the glass. So, it’s things like that, and I mean, that’s what a lot of our testing does. We actually put samples in. The Morgans hotel is a great example, 5 years ago. We put in a variety of different scenarios. When we finally arrived on the one that worked both for decibel levels, those were in the high 80s. Madison Avenue where the temperature in the rooms that you could not maintain the P-TAC system continually ran both in the summer and winter, and that all changed. So, owners are coming back to us and in this case, the most recent meeting I did was at the Embassy South Sand and Hilton was giving them an award for a 40 percent decrease in energy consumption.

David Westbrook: Now, with the Morgans project, that was one of the ones that we looked at when I was at your place a few months back, and the increased guest comfort, I guess I’ll call it. You know? Not so hot in the room and quieter. Have you heard any feedback on whether they can help them with their room rates or their occupancy or anything like that?

Frank Thomas: Well, and another good point. They actually, let’s talk about the front end, before the glass got changed, or before the system was installed. They were giving away, because of room complaints, a significant amount of money, some 40 to $50,000.00 a month. You know, when you start multiplying that over several years, then it becomes a big number and it sort of gets to the point where, “Let’s do something.” The noisiest part of the Morgans Hotel right now is the fan motors in the P-TAC system. Comfort level has increased significantly. The Vice President and another officer stayed in two rooms that we had done as test units. It was 9 degrees outside. Again, Madison Avenue, and, in fact, it was around Christmastime, so it was very busy. I basically took them to dinner, but before we went to dinner, I said, “Tell me what you want your temperature you want to see to maintain in the room,” and they were both around 72 degrees. We came back from dinner. I shut the system off. They had reached 72. That morning, one room lost 3 degrees and the other one lost 4 degrees, and we really attribute that mostly to the hallway door. So, those are the kinds of tests that we enjoy getting involved in. We are, you know where officers or owners get into the rooms, they can hear, because you can promise all the decibel levels you want or the amount of energy savings. You know, if a guest inside their room isn’t happy, you know and handing them a piece of paper and telling them, “Well, we reduced it by 40 decibels,” doesn’t really mean much.

Paul Beers: So, and I agree with it, that you’re a big proponent of in-place performance mock-ups where you ultimately do the work?

Frank Thomas: Yeah, absolutely.

David Westbrook: That’s our largest selling point by far. I mean, the mock ups, just, speaks for itself, and, like, Frank says, the key principles, come, look at it, see what they’re buying, and see the performance right before their eyes. So, I mean, that is a huge selling point for us.

Paul Beers: And, so, at this Morgans Hotel, David, what did you do to get this dramatic improvement and performance? Because you didn’t remove the existing windows, is that correct?

David Westbrook: That’s correct.

David Westbrook: Basically, like Frank says, we asked a group in Seattle to help us with the sound control glass, and we gave them the parameters. We said, “Look, we would like, what can you make, glass wise and here’s the opening size. Here’s the depth of the pocket we have to work with, and what can you build for us that performs best from a soundproofing standpoint?” And, so, they get to work and then they say, you know, “This is what we think we can get for you,” and then we say, “Great,” and we place the order, install it, and that’s it. I mean, we talk a lot, though, besides just what can you build? I mean, what other, can we install, you know, a secondary piece of glass that’s maybe not, you know, 1-inch think insulated unit. Maybe it’s just a ¼-inch laminated, or 3/8ths laminated piece or something like that. And so, we just have a conversation, and then we install it, and it’s usually just, once and it’s in place, I mean, you just get the results, and it really works, and those guys are great and they know what they’re doing. They help us a lot, and then, also, this particular job, it wasn’t just the windows. It was the P-TAC unit Frank mentioned. I mean, they were wall units, so, a lot of sound came through that, and so we took it out, insulated the cabinet of the P TAC itself, filled in holes that were through the floor, gaps between the exterior louvers and frame of the P-TAC unit, but all that lets all that sound and air and everything else in, and so that helps as well, besides the glass. So, you know, we looked at everything that’s going on in the room, and from the exterior wall, at least, and try to come up with solutions. So, for the Morgans, just, addressing the P-TAC and then also putting in not only an insulated glass unit, but backing up and we put in a secondary piece as well.

Paul Beers: So, what’s the market like these days in your business? Are, you know, I know you’re in the construction world and things are going well. They have been going well for a while, which, I mean, at some point they might start to slow down, but in the restoration side of things, what are the trends that you’re seeing right now?

Frank Thomas: The trend is really on the façade, the total façade, retrofit, as we talked about from top to bottom. We’re seeing more redevelopment, and that’s not so much restoration, but the redevelopment of existing warehouses, midrise, conversions. Some are healthcare Reits, quite a few hotel acquisition and it is unprecedented right now. So, when we look at that façade, that’s where we’re seeing tremendous amount of money being spent to not just, from an appearance or aesthetic standpoint, but how do they really change the concept or the look of a building. You got to retain some of the character, and in some cases the terra cotta the envelope itself, and we see that aspect of the business, actually increasing, and in some cases, we can’t get to these projects. There’s that much involved.

David Westbrook: Well at least here in Atlanta, right now, there’s a lot of old existing, like, turn-of-the-century warehouse-style buildings are being repurposed. Which is great and they’re not tearing them all down. So, we get a lot of calls on those types of projects, where they have these old steel-framed windows. You know? What do they want to do with them if they want to keep them? Old wood windows where they don’t want to rip them out, so how do they go about refurbishing those. There’s a good project on our web site under project gallery, called 84 Walton Street, 75 Marietta Street. It’s an old, 1906 vintage building. We did a whole restoration of the façade on that building and it was just old double-hung wood windows, we repainted them, installed an interior storm window, refinished terra cotta, **** brick, a little bit of everything going on, but it was an historic building. But we are seeing a lot of that as well, I guess, the redevelopment of older buildings, which is good.

Paul Beers: So, your web, you mentioned your web site. The web address for that, I’m looking at it right now is www.landmarkrestorations, with an S on the end of it, all one word, dot come, and it’s got, some of these projects we talked about and some other ones, and some really interesting stuff. So, what do you guys see as the future from here? Where do you go from here?

Frank Thomas: Well, we’ve made initial contact last year David and I actually a year and a half ago at the Glass show here in Atlanta, and the security screen railings, wire mesh, perforated mesh aspect of that portion of the business, we think, has a lot of potential. Existing parking garages, the openings, are being, from a security standpoint, looked at for the wire mesh, and it involves aluminum and, it’s different types of perforated and wire mesh installed. It increases the awareness of the garage, the appearance, without spending a lot of money and it also increases the security aspects of it. One of the projects in San Francisco during the door retrofit program, the fourth floor was a plaza area, pool with outdoor activities, and if somebody wanted a sliding glass door to be open, then they were vulnerable to somebody just walking in on them. The new system that we installed has a stainless steel security mesh screen door that you could open the operating section. You can keep that closed. You can still get daylight, airflow through, and that aspect of the business is another piece, again, when we talk about high-performance façades, that’s becoming an integral piece of our business.

Paul Beers: I’ve never heard of that application before, you know, screens are basically, in my world, I’ve always known of them as insect screens, so it keeps the bugs out, but not much else in or out. You know, there’s even issues sometimes with people falling out of buildings through the screens and whatnot, and, it’s pretty interesting to me that there’s actually a, I guess you’d call it a structural application with the stainless steel wire mesh that can prevent people from coming in or going out for that matter?

Frank Thomas: Paul, it’s a good looking piece as well, but I can tell you that you can take a baseball bat. You can’t cut it. If you did cut it, you can’t rip it out. It’s literally locked into the frame. It’s not a bolt gasket, and so, you know, high schools, university systems, as I mentioned, the parking garages, hospitals where aesthetics are important, and we can provide now a custom-built frame with the stainless steel mesh. They can be fixed. They can be operating. They’ll look good, and they’ll stop and allow all the functions of the window or the door needs to perform, and yet they’ll provide the security while they’re aesthetically look like they belong on the property.

Paul Beers: Yeah, so that does sound like a really good growth opportunity.

Frank Thomas: It fits the façade program that we’re developing, or we’re continuing to develop.

Paul Beers: It gives a whole ‘nother benefit that really, so many people don’t even know it’s available. So guys, that’s really interesting. Like I said, I was fascinated when I came and met with you a couple months ago, and impressed and that is why this podcast got organized for this podcast recording, so, thank you very much for, for coming on.

Frank Thomas: Thank you for the opportunity, Paul.

David Westbrook: Yeah, thank you very much.

Paul Beers: Yeah, I look forward to staying in touch and, and keeping up with what you’re doing because it really is interesting, and we know that our listeners are gonna be interested as well, and I’ll encourage them again to just check out your web site, and again, that’s, and they’re in Atlanta, not to be confused with the other companies with similar names in other cities. So, again, guys, thanks so much, and with that, thank you everybody for listening to another episode of Everything Building Envelope podcast. We have an Everything Building Envelope newsletter. If you’d like to receive that, please text the word buildingenvelope. It’s all one word, buildingenvelope to 228-28. Again, text the word buildingenvelope to 228-28 to sign up for the Everything Building Envelope e-newsletter. It has some technical articles and other things of interest, so I think our listeners will enjoy that, and with that, this is Paul Beers saying, thank you for listening and so long.