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Historic windows are all over Tampa Bay. Who will restore them?

Wood Window Makeover started a window museum that they hope inspires craftsmen to enter their field.
Steve Quillian shows off his Wood Window Makeover shop in Tampa.
Steve Quillian shows off his Wood Window Makeover shop in Tampa. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Aug. 6
Updated Aug. 6

TAMPA ― There are all sorts of museums in Tampa Bay: history museums, art museums, glass museums, photography museums, museums dedicated to first responders, children’s museums.

This month, a new type of museum opened.

A Tampa company that specializes in restoring and replicating historic handcrafted wood windows turned a few hundred square feet of their North Hyde Park headquarters at 1706 W. Cypress St. into the Wood Window Museum.

It displays tools used by artisans plus placards that tell the story of windows dating to when dried animal skin was used for coverings.

While they’ve had walk-ins, the company, Wood Window Makeover, doesn’t expect the museum to become a major tourist attraction.

Related: Developer restoring a Tampa cigar factory seeks historic landmark status

But they hope those who do visit are inspired to get into their line of work.

Wood Window Makeover offers an introductory in-person class every first Friday of the month plus video tutorials on their website, woodwindowmuseum.com.

“Our culture is eliminating the little artists,” founder Steve Quillian said. “We’re becoming rare.”

An award on display at Wood Window Makeover’s window museum in Tampa.
An award on display at Wood Window Makeover’s window museum in Tampa. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

How rare are craftsman who can restore and replicate handmade historic wood windows?

Quillian, who started the company in 2005 when he couldn’t find anyone qualified to help restore historic windows on a Seminole Heights home he was flipping, has done the math.

“There might be 450 people like me in America,” he said. By his estimate, “window artisans represent .00000136 percent of the population.”

And he estimates that there are 80,000 Tampa Bay buildings with historic windows.

“That is around 1.6 million windows to work on,” Quillian said.

They could use as many as 50 employees to keep up with demand, said Lynda Davis, who joined Wood Window Makeover as business operations manager after they worked on her home’s windows. They have eight employees.

“That’s why we want to teach people about what we do,” Davis said. “We are also looking for potential employees.”

Related: Ybor institution struggles to find people who can bake Cuban bread like it's 1915

If a building is designated a local historic landmark, the exterior must remain true to the era when it was built.

Quillian said building owners might find replica windows made on an assembly line, “but if it was built with love by hand, it should be fixed with love by hand.”

Why would someone want to own a historic building, he asked, if they don’t want to respect its history?

Steve Quillian shows off his the Wood Window Makeover shop in Tampa.
Steve Quillian shows off his the Wood Window Makeover shop in Tampa. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Local businesses that have hired Wood Window Makeover to restore and replicate historic windows include the Lion’s Eye Institute that operates out of the F. Lozano Cigar Factory built in 1907, the West Tampa Centro Español building erected in 1912 and now owned by the city of Tampa and occupied by the Hillsborough Education Foundation, and Armature Works, whose building of the same name dates to 1910.

“They are truly passionate about their work and what historic renovation means for the community,” said Jason Woody, president of the Lion’s Eye Institute.

Added John Rañon, president of the Centro Español that now rents space in their historic building, “We’re thrilled at the result of their work. We have come to admire their passion and skill.”

Quillian said they first try to restore an entire historic window and then turn to replication without “cutting corners.”

If the original screen was made of bronze, they use bronze rather than aluminum or fiberglass as modern ones typically use.

Still, Davis said, most windows from historic buildings are made of “old-growth wood,” defined as wood from forests that are hundreds of years old.

That is hard to find because “America was deforested to build America,” she said. So, Wood Window Makeover uses Accoya lumber, which Davis said is closest available to old growth in durability and texture.

“It has a 50-year guarantee,” she said.

It wasn’t until the 1940s, Davis said, that windows were made with what her company considers “planned obsolescence,” the process of designing a product with a short shelf life.

So, Wood Window Makeover does not consider a window made after 1940 to be historic.

Israel Millian, lead painter and glazier, works on a window at Wood Window Makeover in Tampa.
Israel Millian, lead painter and glazier, works on a window at Wood Window Makeover in Tampa. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Most buildings, including the Centro Español and F. Lozano Cigar Factory, require a hybrid of restoration and replication, Davis said. “The goal is for any replication to be indistinguishable from the original and to be created with the same intent as the original artisan — functionality, beauty and longevity.”

The replication or restoration of a single window could take hours, she said, or days, depending on the condition.

Multiply that by the 1.6 million historic windows that Quillian estimates are in the area and he said it should be obvious why there is a need to train artisans for his industry.

“There was once a focus on a love of beauty and craftsmanship that seems to be just disappearing from our culture,” Quillian said. “We can bring that back. It doesn’t have to end.”

Correction: The city of Tampa owns the West Tampa Centro Espanol building. A previous version of the story listed the wrong owner.