The following is reprinted from the February, 1998 issue of Architect/Builder Magazine
When Peter Novak was a young boy growing up in Chicago he was not afraid to dream. Brought up in a neighborhood of primarily Czechoslovakian immigrants, he learned from his grandfather, a skilled railroad tool and die maker, the joy of working with one’s hands to create things of beauty. When Peter’s dreams took him to Berkeley, California in 1970, he used his skill to help build a communal bakery, pizzeria and restaurant interiors. Later, while living in Bakersfield, he expanded this skill with a degree in cabinetmaking from the local junior college. In early 1975, after moving to Santa Barbara, he was fortunate to have his dream of being a carpenter on high quality projects come true, eventually starting his own business as Peter Novak Woodworking.
Today Peter Novak has fulfilled another dream, that of being an award winning general contractor. His company, Peter Novak Building and Design, won two 1997 builder awards from the Santa Barbara Contractors Association, including Best Residential New Construction and Best Kitchen and Bath Remodel.
While being an award winning contractor is another chapter and another milestone for Peter, he is very humble when he refers to his skills and talents as a carpenter and craftsman. He reflects back to his grandfather’s skills of being able to turn metal into a functional work of art and allows an old belief to slip out--that the soul of every block of wood is waiting for an artist to release it and together capture the elements of beauty within. Peter is the first to admit that it takes years to learn that artistry, but acquiring and nurturing that skill has been another one of his dreams.
Learning that skill took him, in the late 70’s, to Laurel Springs Ranch, a 160 acre ranch above Painted owned by Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden. He helped to turn the ranch into a summer camp for under-privileged children. Because he invariably found himself in charge of jobs and overseeing projects he became instilled with the desire to become a general contractor, acquiring his license in 1980. His quest took him to interior designer John Alexander, from whom he learned many of the elements of the art of design. “John gave me vision, Peter says. “Our work followed along the lines of, ‘I have the simplest of tastes, the best will always do’ and he showed me over and over how to take whatever space we were working with and turn it into something pleasing and inviting. From him I learned how to give a room atmosphere, how to make an environment. I learned what makes people feel good when they enter a room, and how to makes rooms that always welcome anyone who goes there.”
Peter explains how he learned to be concerned with the smallest details, because those items give emotion to a room. He became familiar with finish materials, tiles, shapes and design specialties that create feeling. He spent years in Montecito doing finish work on custom homes and came to realize his specialized craft was in demand and marketable.
Being a builder with design skills has opened many more doors for Peter and he looks forward to continuing his custom work on new construction and remodels, adding more commercial work to the balance.
The two projects that won him awards were typical of the challenges that face builders in the Santa Barbara area. Peter was able to take an older tract home and completely change the interior into a light, bright, inviting environment with a new Kitchen and Master Bath--within budget and within 2 months!
The award winning new home was built in a canyon high above Santa Barbara, and had a natural spring running through the site. Besides this challenge, which required five separate drainage systems, his crew had to contend with intense heat, insects and rattlesnakes.
The home itself features interior beams with a distressed appearance and lightly sandblasted. Doors, windows, wide plank pine flooring and cedar baseboard were all distressed and covered with a multi-stained finish to enhance the natural beauty of the timber. The locksets and hardware were antiqued for an “old world feeling”. Ceramic tile with an aged appearance fills out the Entryway. “Casa de Corazon”, or “House of the Heart” was completed within 9 months and within budget.
Peter takes a personal interest in every project and records details with photographs to show progress and changes, especially if the job involves remodeling. “People’s homes represent a lifestyle and we are trying to help them maintain or upgrade that lifestyle, which involves a lot of emotion and working closely with the client," says Peter. He has sensitivity to people’s needs and what they want and he tries to reach a happy medium between the two, as well as respect budget restraints. “It’s a delicate balance," he adds. “I have developed a standard in my product and people who have seen my work tell me that they want the same quality of workmanship in their homes. Most of my work comes from referral. I hope to maintain that reputation as I expand into more custom building and commercial work.”
If one has vision, dreams have a way of materializing. This seems to be Peter Novak’s specialty--taking dreams and turning them into reality, not only his own, but those of his clients as well. In home building, it’s definitely vision that makes the final product materialize--and it’s a skill Peter has been able to demonstrate for decades.