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Expectations Are Soaring

Kevin Bradley

Kevin Bradley says business travel on Rectrix’s charter planes is increasing to and from Westfield Barnes Airport.

Westfield Barnes Airport is home to a number of businesses that provide a wide array of services, ranging from fixed-base operators, the equivalent of a commercial terminal for private planes, to general maintenance, antique restoration, retrofitting or upgrades to interiors, and avionics, which include communications, navigation, and other key systems. These companies are busy these days, as plane ownership is strong in the region — and not just among the rich.

Kevin Bradley calls them “time machines.”

He was referring to the private jets Rectrix has available for hire that are used by businesspeople to transport them to and from meetings in distant states.

Clients can drive their cars directly up to these well-outfitted aircraft that are stationed in general-aviation airports and board immediately, which saves the time it would take to park, check in, go through security, and suffer the delays that can occur at a commercial airport. Once passengers are airborne, they have access to technology, privacy, and comfort that allow them to continue their business dealings alone or in conjunction with the people they are traveling with, which can include satellite phone systems, wi-fi service, conference tables, and comfortable seating.

“If someone from Dallas needs to attend a meeting in Greenfield, they can charter a flight to Westfield Barnes Airport, find a rental car waiting for them on the ramp, and return home the same day,” said Bradley, vice president of operations for Rectrix Commercial Aviation Services Inc.

“If they flew commercially, they would probably have one or two connections and have to stay overnight,” he went on, adding that demand for the company’s services is high, and its target market is business travelers, although some people do charter jets to take them to vacation spots.

“These planes correlate to the Four Seasons — they are the Ritz Carlton of aviation in terms of luxury hospitality,” he told BusinessWest.

Rectrix, whose services in Westfield include a maintenance facility called AirFlyte, is one of three businesses at the 1,200-acre airport that provide a wide array of offerings that range from fixed-base operators (FBOs), which are the equivalent of a commercial terminal for private planes, to general maintenance, antique restoration, and retrofitting or upgrades to interiors, not to mention avionics, which include communications, navigation, and displays and management of multiple systems that aircraft need to function.

“People don’t realize how much general aviation occurs in Westfield,” Bradley explained. “Westfield Barnes Airport is a huge economic engine for the regional economy, and the businesses there have brought a tremendous infusion of money and skilled jobs to the area.”

Steve Cass agrees. “It’s a great location and a great place to work. We have approximately 250 people employed at our Westfield facility, and last year we serviced nearly 1,600 customers for both in-house and on-the-road events,” said the vice president of technical marketing and communications
for Gulfstream Aerospace Corp.

Meanwhile, Tom Trudeau, who founded Aero Design Aircraft Services in 1984 at Barnes, says city officials and the Federal Aviation Administration are very supportive of the airport, which is rare because Westfield could make more revenue by selling the land to developers.

“But this airport is pretty solvent,” he told BusinessWest, explaining that his company has always done well and has never been affected by downturns in the economy. All of Aero Design’s business comes from word-of-mouth advertising and ranges from inspections and general maintenance on small private planes to antique restorations, which can take several years if it requires taking a plane completely apart and rebuilding it.

Tom Trudeau

Tom Trudeau says Aero Design Aircraft Services is one of a few companies in New England that does restoration work on antique planes.

The company is one of a few in New England that does this type of restoration, and although this end of the business is limited to clients who can afford costly overhauls, Trudeau also caters to the lower end of the aviation business.

“Contrary to what most people think, flying is not necessarily a rich man’s activity. If you fly strictly for recreation, you can own a plane for less than the cost of a new car,” he said, adding the aircraft he works on range in price from $15,000 to about $3 million. About half his work is on planes used strictly for pleasure, while the remainder involves restoration on more expensive aircraft, which are often owned by businesses.

“But we’re so diverse,” he went on. “We update upholstery and do engine work and sheet metal repair — everything an airplane needs.”

For this edition and its focus on luxury living, BusinessWest takes a closer look at these companies that share space with the Massachusetts Air National Guard and Army National Guard at Westfield Barnes Airport, and how their work continues to take them to new heights.

Plane Speaking

Standards for maintaining aircraft are very strict, and all small planes must undergo annual inspections. Inspection times vary for larger aircraft, but a problem discovered on any plane must be repaired before it can be flown again.

Trudeau said most general-aviation planes in the air today are 15 to 20 years old, and, unlike automobiles, they increase in value as they age. For example, a four-person passenger plane that cost $20,000 in 1975 is worth double that today, and, if it’s in exceptional condition, the value is a lot higher.

As a result, Aero Design is often called upon to install new radios and instrumentation in addition to making upgrades to the interiors of aircraft, and the quality and scope of the company’s work on antique planes has been featured in a number of aviation magazines.

At present, the company is in the process of completely rebuilding a 1952 de Haviland Super Chipmunk, a process that has taken three years. “It probably cost $4,000 to $5,000 when it was new, but it’s worth $200,000 now because it’s so rare and has been modified and upgraded through the years,” Trudeau noted.

Although catering to this market is more lucrative than doing inspections and small repairs or upgrades, the company can do anything an airplane needs, Trudeau said. He has four to five employees and also works on the planes himself. The jobs the company undertakes are so diverse that it never lacks for business, especially since there is always a new generation of pilots purchasing small aircraft.

“Flying gets into your blood, and we have customers who don’t need their planes for business, but just enjoy going up in the air. We also service sport planes, aircraft used by businesses, and planes people have built themselves,” the pilot said, explaining that Aero Design’s clients range from a farmer to a dentist to people who have taken up flying in retirement.

Gulfstream caters to an entirely different market, and works almost exclusively on its own fleet, along with Falcon aircraft.

The interior layout of Gulfstream jets

The interior layout of Gulfstream jets allows business travelers to work in a private, comfortable setting.

Cass said the Northeast has proven to be a very popular corridor for business travel due to financial districts in New York and the number of businesses in Boston, and 65% of its 2,500 planes are kept in the U.S.

In fact, business has been so good that, in 2013, Gulfstream built a new, 125,000-square-foot hangar in Westfield to accommodate not only its flagship G65OER jet, which costs $65 million, holds up to 16 passengers, and can travel non-stop from Boston to Beijing — a distance of about 7,500 nautical miles — but an influx of other models that routinely need service.

“The new hangar doubled the capacity of planes we can store there,” Cass told BusinessWest, adding that there was a real need for the structure due to the increase in business jet travel.

The company’s Westfield location is one of eight service centers in the U.S. and three overseas, in London, Brazil, and Beijing.

“As the fleet continues to grow, more investments are made in infrastructure,” Cass continued, adding that more than 50% of Gulfstream jets are owned by corporations, 30% are owned by individuals, and fewer than 10% are used by the government or built for special missions.

These jets are popular with Fortune 500 companies and other large firms because their cabins are quieter than commercial planes, the pressurization is better, which makes flying easier on the body, and large windows are tailored to provide a lot of natural light and better viewing.

“They allow business travelers to be productive while they’re in the air,” Cass noted. “In addition to high-speed Internet, people can have private phone conversations with a level of security that is important to them.”

Gulfstream produces about 100 to 150 new aircraft each year, and its Westfield operation has shown long-term, steady growth as the fleet continues to grow.

Propelling Growth

Bradley said Rectrix started as an FBO in 2005 in Hyannis, expanded to Sarasota, Fla. in 2008, and has two facilities at Barnes.

The first is AirFlyte Inc., which handles maintenance, and the second is its Aerodrome FBO Center, which is one of five such brick-and-mortar facilities in Massachusetts and Florida that offer amenities such as private business suites, state-of-the-art conference centers, and chart and weather rooms.

Rectrix purchased AirFlyte in 2012 from Gary and Judy Potts, who established the business in 1988. “Our companies complemented one another, and it filled a void in Rectrix,” Bradley explained, adding that, although AirFlyte wasn’t on the market at the time, its owners were willing to sell because the direction Rectrix planned to go in fit well with their vision for the future.

The purchase gave Rectrix a foothold in every geographic area in the state, boasting other locations in Worcester, Bedford, and Hyannis, and AirFlyte has been expanded to those sites, as well as Florida.

AirFlyte also attained the elite status of being named an FAA 14 CFR Part 145 Repair Station, which means it is held to high standards, and its programs, systems, and methods of compliance are thoroughly reviewed, evaluated, and tested. The FAA specifies the types of aircraft that can be serviced, and random drug and alcohol testing and stringent background checks on employees are included.

“We can work on almost any corporate jet, and we complement Gulfstream,” Bradley said, adding that Rectrix has registered 400% growth over the past two and a half years. In fact, after AirFlyte was acquired and its FBO in was rebranded with the Retrix name, the company purchased another FBO at Barnes called Five Star Jet Center, which was a competitor.

The company owns two Challenger 300 jet aircraft and five Learjet 45s, and manages an additional five aircraft, which are all brought to Westfield for maintenance.

“There is a fair demand in Western Mass. for business travel on private jets, and our fleet is wi-fi equipped so business isn’t interrupted while people are in the air,” Bradley noted, adding that there are about 500 commercial airports in the U.S. and about 15,000 general-aviation airports, which means travelers who fly in private planes can typically get closer to their destinations. “Some of our planes have satellite TVs, and some have videoconferencing, which allows them to be airborne conference rooms.”

The FBO and maintenance facility in Westfield complement each other, and AirFlyte Inc. services about 50 planes there each year. Its work includes inspections, repairs, and some avionics upgrades and interior improvements such as new carpeting, leather upholstery, entertainment and communications systems, and lighting; however, the company doesn’t do retrofitting.

Taking Flight

Demand for services at Westfield Barnes Airport continues to grow as private planes are used more frequently for business and pleasure.

“Not only do the companies there infuse the economy with money and good-paying jobs, they attract new customers. We view them as one unit because they offer a full complement of services,” Bradley said, adding that people don’t realize how much general aviation occurs there, and the use of business aircraft is a good gauge of how the business market is doing, as growth in the industry means deals are being made and the economy is growing instead of contracting.

“Over the past two years, there’s been an increase of 20% in use of our private jets by individuals, and the rest can all be attributed to business travel,” he continued.

Which means these companies at Barnes are not only helping to bolster the local economy, but they’re raising it to new heights as more people use ‘time machines’ and take to the air for business and pleasure.

Luxury Living Sections

Personal Space

Rick McCullough

Rick McCullough learned plenty of lessons from his father, who launched what is now a second-generation home-construction business 60 years ago — among them hard work, integrity, and an emphasis on personal relationships. It’s that hands-on quality of his work that McCullough counts among the most enjoyable aspects of his job — not to mention an economy that has shed some lean years and is roaring with new life as families once again invest in high-end, custom homes.

Richard McCullough runs a successful home-building company, but he still refers to it as “my dad’s business.”

That’s because he grew up around R.A. McCullough Inc. — the construction firm launched by his father during the 1950s — and, along the way, picked up plenty of inspiration and lessons for his future career as the second-generation president of this Longmeadow-based family business.

“He first sold houses for other builders as a Realtor, and as he looked at what people were building, he said, ‘I can do this, and I can do it better,’” McCullough told BusinessWest. “So he purchased some raw pieces of land and developed them, and just built the company from there over the decades.”

After he graduated from college in 1995, he went into his father’s business full-time.

“Before that, I was out in the field, doing the grunt work, but after college, I graduated to the office,” he said — a decision that wasn’t always set in stone. “My dad was this amazing businessman, builder, and developer, but I didn’t seriously consider it until I got older. During my college years, I began to see [construction] as a natural fit for me.”

As one of the region’s most prominent builders of high-end and custom residences — typically 3,000 square feet and up — McCullough says he enjoys the hands-on aspect of dealing with clients and helping them turn their design visions into reality.

“I love helping them make decisions around building custom homes,” he said. “And I find there’s less miscommunication when I’m hands-on. I don’t get that phone call saying, ‘so-and-so didn’t call me back; what’s going on?’ There are fewer surprises that way. But I really do enjoy every aspect of this business, everything that’s involved in building homes, from the design through the end result.”

For this issue’s focus on luxury living, McCullough talks with BusinessWest about the changing nature of what a custom home is — and why he enjoys keeping up with those changes.

Beyond the Floor Plan

Make no mistake, he explained — ‘custom’ has meant different things over the decades.

“For example, in the ’80s, bigger was better, and customizing didn’t mean quite what it does nowadays. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, there wasn’t a whole lot of custom millwork, for example, unless it was in the ultra-high end. People today are less concerned about size and more about quality, what goes into it, the finishes.”

Today’s home buyers seem more educated and sure of the touches they desire in a home. As he walked along Bridle Path Ridge in Somers, Conn., a small development of high-end homes his company developed, he explained that, while the exteriors reflect a consistent — but not copycat — look, the interiors are very different, based on their buyers’ preferences.

“The houses’ architecture matches — you can tell it’s the same builder — but they’re very different from each other,” he said. “I love the challenge of creating something different. Sometimes they’ll see a house next door to where they want one built, and they’ll say, ‘that’s what I want.’ Well, we can do that floor layout, but let’s do something unique and something that won’t be a carbon copy of your neighbor.”

Those differences encompass everything from materials to finishes to subtle stylistic changes. “We can mix it up a little bit without going crazy — we’re not going to build a contemporary next to a colonial. It’s a different flavor while staying in the same realm of style.”

As for interior layout, customization today is largely a reflection of the family’s lifestyle.

“It’s really about customizing to an owner’s needs,” he said. “Where is the focus? It’s normally still through the kitchen, through the family room, areas where you spend the vast majority of the time, for ease of entertaining. Or you might want areas for a child to be close to the main part of the house, but have their own separate area.”

Home buyers are always going to focus on price — a home is likely their biggest investment — but McCullough said square footage doesn’t tell the whole story.

“Plenty of people say, ‘what’s the price per square foot,’ but what’s in the house? People think going from 3,500 to 2,500 square feet translates very easily from a cost-per-square-foot standpoint, but if you’re spending, say, 175 per square foot on a 3,500-square-foot home and you want to go to a smaller footprint, you’ll probably have the same size kitchen, same number of bathrooms, same finishes — so you’re going to spend more money per square foot.”

Particularly in the high-end housing market, he added, it’s important to keep an eye on a home’s future marketability. “You say you want only three bedrooms. Well, at least leave space to have a fourth bedroom — over the garage, unfinished. Marketability-wise, that adds a little value for the next person who’s going to buy it down the road.”

Priorities have shifted somewhat for homeowners in the realm of energy efficiency, McCullough said, noting that airtight construction and energy options like geothermal heating are becoming more popular.

He also noted that technology has impacted the features that high-end homebuyers are looking for today — and not just in the realm of home entertainment.

“People want things to be automated now; they want their lighting systems working off their smartphones. Controlling your heating and cooling from outside your home — that’s a relatively new thing in our industry, and you can’t underestimate that part of the business and how much that will grow.”

Bridle Path Ridge in Somers, Conn

Bridle Path Ridge in Somers, Conn. is one of McCullough’s recent developments of high-end, custom homes.

That goes for retrofitting existing homes as well, he added, a process made easier these days by the emergence of wireless technology.

“Cable companies are offering security systems — 20 years ago, you wouldn’t have guessed that would be happening. We have complete home automation … lights, thermostat, cameras you can view on a smartphone,” he went on. “There are so many apps, so many security systems. And it’s evolving so fast. Once you get these systems installed, things will change even more. It happens quickly.”

Ups and Downs

With the homebuilding industry on the upswing, McCullough is happy the recession years are well behind.

“That was an incredible challenge, and something that definitely left a mark on every developer, builder, and remodeler. Some fared better than others, but it was a rough recession,” he said, adding that it was difficult to tell when the tough times would end, challenging developers who wanted to time their investments.

“If a developer saved money throughout the recession, they might have been able to pick up properties, be opportunistic as they prepared for a turnaround, but the turnaround took longer than we thought. Developers were thinking, ‘we’ll have another year or two of this,’ but it lasted a little longer,” he explained. “There’s no book to go to on how to play it. It changed our industry somewhat, and hopefully we don’t forget the lessons of what we went through.”

As a recent past president of the Home Builders & Remodelers Assoc. of Western Mass. — an organization that advocates for contractors on the legislative level and educates consumers about companies and services — McCullough was in regular contact with builders during the extended downturn and came away impressed by their resilience.

“Everyone kept their heads up, even though it was obviously tough,” he said. “It’s a tough industry. We all know it. But our membership has significantly increased recently, which tells you where the economy is.”

The word he chose to describe the current mood? “Euphoric.”

“The market hasn’t fully recovered; we may not reach the level of the early to mid-2000s, when things were flying. But it was so bad for so long, and everything is good right now, in my mind — everything from existing home sales to remodeling to new construction.”

That’s partly because many potential buyers were just waiting out the storm but never ditched their plans for a new residence.

“A lot of people doing that work now had the money to do it, but had a lot of uncertainty — ‘will I get my investment back if I spend a premium on a major remodel or a new home?’ You don’t do that unless you have some view of the future that’s positive. It’s been great getting back into the swing of things after so long a downturn.”

The year has been so positive for the industry, in fact, that even the cold months will be productive in many corners.

“I normally see the vendors and the subcontractors I work with go into seasonal adjustments, down periods heading into winter,” McCullough said. “But people are staying busy through the holidays. Not everyone believes contractors work through the holidays because of the frozen ground, and they wonder whether that’s a good time to have something done. But it’s busier now than it’s been in years.”

Two Hats

McCullough’s father continued to work in real estate in the ’70s, at a good-sized brokerage firm called McCullough & Taft Realty — a tradition the junior McCullough continues today as a real-estate agent at Keller Williams Realty in Longmeadow.

“I’ve been a real-estate agent, where I’m helping a client negotiate with a builder, and I look over the specifics of the contract. It’s an interesting perspective, being more on the outside.”

But there’s something special about being on the construction side.

“I love being hands-on and engaged in every aspect of the project; that’s something I enjoy,” he said, noting that, even though the company has fluctuated in size over the years, he’s always stayed closely involved in projects — an emphasis on relationships he learned from his father.

“My dad was so honest and straightforward,” McCullough said. “I’ve told people he was no rocket scientist, but he worked hard, and his integrity was at the forefront of everything he did. And that’s the way I choose to follow. In the old days, everything was done on a handshake, and it’s nice to feel like we can do that in certain circumstances.”

That’s why he tells people R.A. McCullough is his father’s business.

“To me, it’s more about maintaining the same standards he had. That definitely builds the passion with me — wanting people to be happy, wanting people to have a good experience. It’s definitely not about the money. It’s about everything my dad stood for.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Luxury Living Sections
Recipe for Spectacular Kitchen Calls for Spice, Convenience

Hunter Marosits

Hunter Marosits says luxury kitchens may have two dishwashers, six or eight stovetop burners, and custom features such as bread warmers and microwaves built into a drawer.

The kitchen has long been known as the heart of a home, and many people are remodeling to add style, function, flair, and a dose of luxury to the most important room in their living area.

“Our sales are up 20% to 25% over last summer, and this year has been super busy; our normal lead time is six weeks, and for a while we were backlogged three months,” said Steve Wenninger, president of Ideal Kitchens Home Improvement Inc. in Chicopee, who owns the company with his wife, Marie Wenninger.

Hunter Marosits is also doing well, and says people are expanding the space to suit today’s lifestyles. “But every kitchen we create is unique. We never do the same thing twice,” said the president of H&R Homes Remodeling Inc. in Springfield.

The recipe for success contains many ingredients, but local remodelers say it begins with and centers around the design.

“The kitchen is a critical part of the home, and designing the room is a work of art that depends on the skill of the designer, the flexibility of the client, and the size of the space. Cost must always be balanced with aesthetics,” said Curio Nataloni, who co-owns Kitchens by Curio in Springfield with his brother, Francis Nataloni, a certified kitchen and bath designer.

“A client can buy the best cabinets and appliances, but that doesn’t mean they will end up with a good kitchen,” he went on. “Form follows function, and a good designer may be able to create the same environment by using less-expensive elements that provide the same aesthetic value.”

Those we spoke with said demand for luxury kitchens has heated up, fueled in part by TV remodeling shows and Internet sites with thousands of before-and-after photos.

Today, people want an open-concept room area that often involves knocking down walls and opening up space to suit relaxed lifestyles.

“In the ’60s, kitchens were created with a way in and a way out. But today, people are entertaining more in their kitchens than in their living rooms or dining rooms, so they want a lot of open space,” Marosits said.

Francis Nataloni agrees. “Prior to the ’90s, kitchens, dining rooms, and family rooms were completely separate. But lifestyles have become more informal, and people want a gathering space that encompasses a sit-down area such as an island, where they can talk to their guests while they cook, as well as an eat-in area,” he said.

For this issue and its focus on luxury living, BusinessWest talks with designers about what goes into the ideal kitchen — and what homeowners can get out of one.

Food for Thought

Most kitchen remodelers draw up a design based on the homeowner’s preferences and the size of the space, but thanks to 3-D renderings, large screens, and state-of-the-art computer tools, it’s easy to make modifications and change details.

“Our job is to take what people have seen and want, then give them a realistic idea of what it will look like in their home,” Francis Nataloni said.

However, major kitchen remodels take time, and many homeowners are surprised that weeks or months may go by before the job is complete. That doesn’t mean they are without working space, however, as temporary countertops can be placed on new cabinets, and every effort is made to get the kitchen sink working as soon as possible.

Overall, remodeling a kitchen involves a lot of small but important decisions, said Curio Nataloni as he flipped through a book with hundreds of specifics that include who will be responsible for floors, windows, carpentry, plumbing, electric work, hooking up the appliances, and more.

In fact, the process can be so complex that Marosits refers to it as a “journey,” on requiring myriad choices. “But a lot of customers get as much enjoyment picking things out as they do when everything is finished,” he told BusinessWest.

Trends come and go, and today, people want a streamlined, simple look. And when it comes to cabinets, “oak is out, cherry is really hot, and maple that is painted is popular,” said Wenninger, adding that white, antique white, or glazed finishes, which give a two-tone effect, are top choices, and in high-end kitchens, cabinets often are given a painted, distressed look, which adds depth.

Francis Nataloni said dark espresso is also a growing color trend, particularly in contemporary kitchens. “But new finishes are coming down the pike,” he noted. “Gray and weathered gray is growing in popularity, as it gives a kitchen an urban, barn-style look.”

In addition to color, style comes into the mix, and shaker-style cabinetry is the number-one seller. “It’s become a staple because it has a more contemporary look and lends itself well to an informal atmosphere,” Francis Nataloni said, adding that people get ideas from magazines and websites, which is why his company has a presence on Houzz.com, where it was feted with the 2015 Customer Service Award based on reviews.

But design still comes into play, and a lot can be done to make a kitchen unique.

“Cabinets can be positioned at different heights,” Marosits said, adding that glass doors provide another way to customize cabinetry, with choices ranging from clear to seeded or frosted. In addition, a small touch like positioning the kitchen sink a few inches out from the wall provides more room behind it, but also makes it a focal point.

Since people are seeking a streamlined look, they want to hide small appliances and other items typically found on countertops. And that’s easy to do: there are microwaves built into drawers, corner cabinets that slide open and eliminate the need for turntables, and tall cabinets or pantries that house equipment and gadgets.

In high-end kitchens, refrigerators and dishwashers can also be disguised when they are covered with the same wood or finish as the cabinets, resulting in a seamless look.

Major appliances are important, and quiet dishwashers make a difference, especially in open floor plans. But packages can be pricey, costing up to $25,000, although most people choose models well below that figure.

Although many people still want double ovens, Francis Nataloni said six or eight burners and an oven combo, which includes a traditional oven topped by a smaller ‘speed oven’ that doubles as a convection oven and microwave, often suits the bill.

Countertops and backsplashes are other elements that require critical decision making.

“Granite is the most popular choice, but marble is moving in,” Marosits said, adding that he takes his clients to distributors where there are thousands of patterns at different price points, and they decide what part of a slab will become the focal point.

However, quartz is also becoming desirable. Wenninger said it is stronger than granite and is maintenance-free. “Standard granite needs to be sprayed every year to prevent staining, and although it’s not hard to do, some people prefer to completely eliminate the task.”

People with a large amount of space usually want an island, but in smaller kitchens, peninsulas attached to the wall serve as workspaces and separate one section of the room from another. “An island is like a piece of furniture and doesn’t have to match the rest of the kitchen,” Wenninger said. “High-end kitchens are often mixing stainless and cherry.”

Satisfying Finish

Although everyone wants a luxury kitchen, people who remodel usually fall into two categories: those who want to improve the resale value of their house, and those who love their homes and have no plans to move.

The latter group usually gets everything it wants, although Curio Natalino said the cost can often be reduced by the designer, who can advise them how to achieve the look they want within their budget.

To that end, Ideal Kitchens has its own cabinet refacing shop, and Wenninger has clients in luxury homes who choose to reface existing cabinets with solid interiors to get the look they are seeking.

“We take off the old doors, make brand-new ones, add new moldings, and put a quarter-inch skin frame behind cabinets and on the edges of the shelves. It can save up to half the cost, and glass and large drawers for pots and pans can be added. We can also create dovetail drawers and add soft-door closures,” he said.

Marosits told BusinessWest that moldings can be mixed and matched with an almost endless number of choices, and they can change the entire look of a kitchen.

But no matter what people choose, remodelers agree that, if a kitchen is well-designed, in most cases people should be able to recoup the money they spend when and if they do sell their home.

“Kitchens have a lifespan of 20 to 30 years, and after that they are considered worn or outdated. But most people only redo their kitchens once in their lifetime, and since statistics show they usually get 100% of their money back, there is no reason not to do it,” Marosits said, adding that some luxury homeowners don’t want an entirely new kitchen, but want a new look, which can be achieved with exotic granite countertops, an upscale backsplash, and a change in hardware on the cabinets.

Which means that dreams can come true at a range of budgets, and the heart of the home can truly become its hub.

Cover Story Luxury Living Sections
GreatHorse Moves Strongly Out of the Gate

More than three years — and $45 million — after what started off as a basic renovation of the Hampden Country Club golf course, GreatHorse has made its debut. This new name is not followed by ‘golf club’ or ‘country club,’ said President Guy Antonacci, because it is much more than the former, and is not the latter, in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, management is calling this a ‘lifestyle club,’ and say it more than meets that description.

Guy Antonacci

Guy Antonacci says GreatHorse is a “lifestyle club,” a statement backed up by the size and amenities of the clubhouse, seen here from the course.

As Guy Antonacci remembers things, it was supposed to be just a “facelift.”

That was the term he used to describe what his family, owners of USA Hauling and a number of other business ventures, intended to do with Hampden Country Club when they acquired it at auction in early 2012.

The initial plan, he told BusinessWest, was to take a club, opened in 1973 and that was, by most accounts, tired — an adjective that could be applied to the course, clubhouse, and practically every other aspect of the operation — and make it far less so.

They started with the sand traps, eventually investing more than $2 million in work to refurbish them. But as that undertaking progressed, it became clear that the work couldn’t stop there.

“This project has evolved 10 times,” he explained. “It started with bunkers and drainage, but then you realize the bunkers don’t match the grass on the greens, and they don’t match the fairways. You re-grass the greens, and then you say, ‘the greens are 40 years old; we’re putting all this money into everything else … we might as well redo the greens.

“That facelift … well, it turned into full-blown plastic surgery on the entire body,” Antonacci, the club’s president, added with a hearty laugh, noting that what happened on the course also transpired with the clubhouse, added amenities (everything from a pool to bocce courts), and a new, separate banquet facility a few hundred yards from the first tee.

Roughly $45 million later (no, that is not a misprint), GreatHorse — a name chosen in a nod to one of the family’s many entrepreneurial pursuits, a horse-breeding operation — is ready for prime time.

Well, sort of. The course is open, but work continues, specifically on a redesigned, lengthened, and toughened finishing hole. The rambling, 25,000-square-foot clubhouse, described by Antonocci, the club’s president, as “mountain rustic,” is getting some finishing touches, especially in the pool/cabana area and those aforementioned bocce courts, but is otherwise ready for members. The banquet facility is still under construction, but there have already been a number of bookings, and the first wedding is expected early next year and perhaps by the holidays.

As for those members, there are already close to 600 of them, said Antonacci, who stressed that he was counting individuals, not memberships (there are roughly 170 of those). And he’s quite proud of that distinction.

Indeed, the name Great-Horse is not followed by ‘Country Club,’ ‘Golf Club,’ or anything else, he said, and for a reason. It is not designed to be either of those, in the strictest sense of the words.

Instead it is what he called a ‘lifestyle club,’ one that is already appealing in a huge way to families.

ExteriorClubhouse“I think a big part of our early success is owed to the fact that we’re very kid-friendly,” Antonacci noted, listing facilities and activities ranging from a playground and pool to a planned kids’ movie night. “The golf-only model, or the old country-club mentality, clearly hasn’t worked in this region over the past 10 to 15 years; we’re calling ourselves a lifestyle club, and we want activities for not just the husband and wife, but everyone, right down to very young kids.”

GreatHorse, the facelift that became a full-body makeover, was designed to be different, and it has already succeeded in that mission, said Antonacci, adding that members and potential members alike recognize and appreciate the difference between this facility and more traditional clubs.

The facility is opulent, to be sure — from leather seats on the golf carts to individual wine lockers in the 160-seat dining room (there are 24 of them, and only a handful remain to be sold) — but also casual, or “comfortable,” as Antonacci put it.

That means jeans are allowed in the dining room and the men’s lounge, complete with its majestic views and mounted deer and elk heads (many of which are trophies Antonacci has bagged himself), and there is no prohibition on cell-phone use, as there is in many clubs.

“We want members to feel comfortable; we want members to feel relaxed,” he explained. “We don’t want guys to feel like they’re walking on eggshells; we want it to be an extension of your home.”

For this issue and its focus on luxury living, BusinessWest paid a visit to GreatHorse, a tour that certainly revealed why this facility with the great view is worthy of that designation ‘lifestyle club.’

Going to Great Lengths

Antonacci has some simple advice — some might call it a warning — for those looking to kick the tires on GreatHorse and see what all the fuss is about.

“If you don’t intend to join, you probably shouldn’t visit this place,” he said with a voice that blended sarcasm with a strong dose of seriousness.

The implication was clear, and those sentiments have been backed up by the club’s strong performance out of the gate. Indeed, those who do visit — and have the wherewithal to join the high-end club — are finding it difficult not to eventually sign on the dotted line, Antonacci said. “We have a very high close’ rate.”

That’s because there is much more to tempt potential members than the course, although that’s a good place to start. Other selling points include everything from massage rooms in both the men’s and women’s locker rooms to the 30-odd TVs scattered around the facility; from the view out the back of the clubhouse to the many aspects of the operation that make it family-friendly.

And it all started with that bunker-restoration project in the late spring of 2012.

Turning the clock back more than three years, Antonacci said his family, always looking for solid business opportunities, set about finding one in what most would consider an unlikely place, literally and figuratively, at that time.

The dining room in the GreatHorse clubhouse overlooks the course.

The dining room in the GreatHorse clubhouse overlooks the course.

Indeed, the golf industry, which had been thriving in the years after Tiger Woods appeared on the stage in the mid-’90s and gave the game a huge dose of adrenaline, was still suffering mightily several years after the Great Recession took a severe toll on public courses and private clubs alike.

A number of area clubs were either officially or unofficially for sale, and Antonacci said his family looked, to one extent or another, at several of them, including Hickory Ridge in Amherst and Crestview in Agawam.

The search eventually ended at Hampden, a course and a club that had certainly seen better days but had a spectacular view and what Antonacci described as “good bones.”

What was on those bones obviously needed some work, though, and it eventually came in waves, and in many respects mirrored the experiences of the homeowner who does over one aspect of a room and then realizes this necessitates other steps. And when that room is finished, the others must be made over as well.

So it was with GreatHorse.

While creating a championship golf course, the new owners decided they needed not simply a makeover of the clubhouse, but something new, big, and bold.

“Originally, we were going to fix up the banquet hall and generally leave the old building as is,” Antonacci said. “But we knew that, to do it right, we would have to get rid of the old facility, and that’s when we decided to go full steam ahead with building a new clubhouse.”

And while Guy and one of his brothers, both avid golfers, essentially presided over the course makeover, the new clubhouse was a family affair.

“Everyone got involved,” he recalled, adding that the firm given the assignment to design the clubhouse, Portsmouth, N.H.-based TMS Architects, was given some simple instructions — design something elegant and distinctive, yet also “casual.”

And by all accounts, it delivered, with a facility that includes a full fitness center, a salon, the massage rooms, and a Dale Chihuly chandelier near the front entrance.

“It’s upscale enough to charge what’s being charged,” Antonacci explained, adding that the structure looks more like it belongs in the Rockies than in Western Mass. “But it’s laid-back enough to where you can come, kick your shoes off, relax, and not have to worry about rules.”

Mane Attraction

Billy Downes remembers carrying two of those old-style (and quite heavy) leather golf bags at one time when he caddied at Hampden just after it opened.

That’s why, when it was suggested that the course, with several steep climbs, is difficult to walk, he just smiled.

Downes has a long history at Hampden. He caddied there, played out of the course, and was its pro, after an earlier stint at nearby Elmcrest, when the club went on the auction block in 2012. He told BusinessWest that the creation of GreatHorse has stimulated a great deal of interest and speculation across the region, and in some ways it has re-energized the local golf market.

“I’ve been in the golf business my whole life, and on this end (being a club pro) for the past nine or 10 years, and I’ve never seen in that time what I’m seeing here,” he said. “People come in, whether they’re from another club in this area or not, and their attitude is totally changed. They’re excited — they’re excited to play golf again, they’re excited to be here … it’s fun to see.”

And the course itself is a big reason for this enthusiasm. Redesigned by noted course designer Brian Silva, it is now easily among the best tracks in the region and is already being mentioned as a potential U.S. Open qualifying site and host of state and regional tournaments such as the Mass. Amateur.

Capable of being stretched to just over 7,300 yards, the course maintains, for the most part, its original routing, but is otherwise entirely new. That includes dramatic makeovers to the first and 10th holes, which featured blind tee shots down the mountain and were widely criticized by players.

“It’s a great test of golf for people of all ability levels,” said Downes as he offered a quick tour. “We’ve created what is sure to be a great golf experience.”

To ensure that goal is reached, the club is planning a large teaching facility, and has constructed a huge practice area and three putting greens.

The large pool area at GreatHorse

The large pool area at GreatHorse is one of many features that have made it attractive to families.

But Antonacci and GreatHorse General Manager Bryan Smithwick stressed that there is much more to this facility than the course. Indeed, the tour revealed everything from a huge outdoor patio area with five TVs to two semi-surround golf simulators, suitable for lessons and playing a host of courses virtually; from the massage areas to the so-called ‘club room,’ complete with several large TVs, which Smithwick described as an ideal setting for fantasy-league draft nights; from the huge pool area to a tennis and paddleball complex currently under construction.

Overall, the clubhouse and adjoining facilities were designed with the same philosophy as the golf course — to provide an enjoyable experience.

And everything in the package has to succeed with that goal, said Smithwick, adding that as much attention is paid to the food and wine being served as there is to the grass on the greens.

“You can have all this,” Smithwick said, gesturing to the golf course seen outside the windows of the men’s lounge, “but if the food doesn’t match, you’re not going to be successful.”

The goal is to make the club a nearly year-round operation (it will close just after the Super Bowl next February and re-open a month later for March Madness) and to become a family’s restaurant of choice.

Officially open just a few months now, the club has caught the attention of the buying public, said Antonacci, adding that the more than 170 memberships sold thus far far exceed the goals and expectations for this date.

“In the beginning, maybe six or eight months ago, we were saying that we’d be happy to get 75 or 80 memberships to start, and they’d bring their friends, and everything would catch on the second year,” he recalled. “We thought the first year was going to be extremely light, but that hasn’t been the case at all.”

And when one does the math and divides the number of members by the number of memberships, it’s clear that GreatHorse is appealing to its intended audience — families.

They hail from several surrounding communities in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and even one from Boston. Thus far, the club has relied solely on word-of-mouth referrals, said Antonacci, adding that more formal, targeted marketing is planned.

When asked about the overall goal for memberships, Antonacci said common sense will ultimately dictate a number.

“A lot will depend on activity — some people play once a month, others six days a week,” he noted. “We’ll probably cap the golf memberships at 275 to 350; once we sense that the place feels crowded, we’ll shut it down. One thing we want to avoid is a guy showing up on Saturday morning and not being able to get out for several hours.”

Antonacci didn’t get into any details on rates, offering instead to qualify the price structure. “We like to say that we offer Rolls-Royce value at Audi prices.”

Gait Attraction

Antonacci said that most of the golf publications and other types of periodicals that might review the course and the overall operation won’t do so for at least a few more months.

And those at GreatHorse want it that way.

They would prefer those writers and editors to see and experience a finished product, and, as mentioned earlier, this one isn’t quite finished.

But it’s not too early to declare this one of the more intriguing regional business stories of 2015 and a venture that, like the horses that inspired its name, will run hard and fast in a crowded field of competitors and likely emerge a big winner.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]