Imhotep: Building on the wild side

CORNWALL — It took a long time for Jamie McKenna, Marcel Leduc and Dave Rossiter to choose a name for their new company.
They wanted something original — something that would reflect the uncommon and striking craftsmanship they have tried to produce in each of their building and design projects.
After several weeks they settled on “Imhotep.”
Standing in the living room of their current project in Ferrisburgh — a private home built on the second floor of a custom-designed horse barn — the three explained their decision.
“We get asked that question a lot,” McKenna said. “We wanted it to be something different, because what we’re doing is different. Imhotep was the first master builder — he designed and built the first pyramids. It was a tribute to him, and to doing something different.”
The team admits, though, that the reference is lost on most of the general public.
“Everyone thinks it’s ‘The Mummy,’ from the movie,” McKenna said, shaking his head.
Though unrelated to mummies or Egypt, Imhotep’s work is out-of-the-ordinary. The company, only a year-and-a-half old, has already set itself apart from traditional interior design found in Vermont.
Rossiter, the company’s founder, moved to from Chicago to Vermont three years ago. When he arrived, he jumped on the opportunity to start his own business.
“I was a builder during the housing boom, and it was so repetitive,” Rossiter said. “No one built outside the box because that wasn’t what sold houses. So it was years and years of building cookie-cutter homes, and all you wanted to do was break out and do interesting stuff. I found that opportunity here.”
Anyone who has visited Stonecutter Spirits on Exchange Street can attest to the originality of the company’s work. The distillery was Imhotep’s first project, and its owners, Sas Stewart and Sivan Cotel, gave the team a loose timeline and a bounty of creative leeway.
“Of course, (Sas is) one of those people who’s not just open, but aggressively seeks things that are different,” Rossiter said fondly. “That meshes very well with what we do.”
The space features craftsmanship that’s bound to catch the eyes of bar-goers. Custom-made yellow chairs and wooden benches on wheels sit atop hardwood flooring. A large window allows visitors to peer into the distillery. The walls are decorated with woodwork, and the dappled U-shaped bar top is made entirely out of zinc.
“It came out awesome because we could sit and have beers after work in the space and talk with the owners about each little thing every single day,” Rossiter said.
In its finalized state, the team’s design work at Stonecutter Spirits drew the attention of new clients. Since its completion, Imhotep has designed and built two other bars — one for Otter Creek Brewing and one in Lake Placid. They also fashioned a Russian-style banya (or bathhouse) for a client on Lake Dunmore.
Now, the market for Imhotep’s style of interior design and construction has materialized. The horse barn-house combination is the team’s fifth project, and there are more on the horizon.
“We’re pretty lucky,” Rossiter said. “We did Stonecutter first, and I think that sent us on a little bit of a path. The better it went, the more people were like, ‘Just do your thing,’ and that’s been awesome. I feel like (the projects) are getting better and better, the more freedom we have.”
Though Imhotep’s current clients in Ferrisburgh had a rough sketch and a few ideas for their home, they allowed the team to fill in the details.
The final product will host features like a spiral staircase with custom metal railings, birch hardwood floors, three small lofts with room for sitting areas, and an open galley kitchen with cherry cabinets and a sitting bar made out of slate.
The projects have kept the team busy, but their market is expanding outwards, and they’re expecting to adjust the business to keep up with far-reaching demands.
“It inevitably puts us farther and farther away,” Rossiter said. “We were lucky, doing two in Middlebury the first year, which is probably something we will never do again, just statistically speaking. But we’ve been interested in pushing out.”
“The hard part is, being from Addison County, it’s a smaller area,” McKenna added. “There aren’t many commercial places that are going to tell us to do what we want, so I think we have to figure out how to seek out those places, how to find homeowners that are kind of willing to do something different and trust us to do it, because it’s a smaller population.”
Though the future may hold challenges, the owners believe their company has a strong enough base to push forward. With the members hailing from a different background, each brings something specific to the table.
Leduc has been building for a long time, but he’s also dabbled in other crafts — brewing, wine making and cooking — and in those ventures, he learned from masters who taught him how to approach the crafts. After exploring, he returned to building and design.
“This is what I’ve come back to,” he said. This is what I choose to do after all those things.”
McKenna is described as the company dad.
“I think, for me personally, I have a little self-diagnosed OCD,” he said. “I think that’s what I bring — planning and making sure things are where they need to be, when they need to be there.”
McKenna studied Art and Architecture at Middlebury College, where he was taught to analyze the history and artistic sides of design. Though none of the team members are certified architects, his knowledge in the area has proved useful.
Rossiter could be considered the company’s creative mind. He has inherited the attitude of a furniture designer he worked for in Chicago, who believed that any unusual project was worth tackling.
“Over the years, he built this reputation that if you had something obscure, something that you couldn’t build, you came to him and he would do it,” he said. “I just fell in love with that part of it, the fact that every day we were doing something totally wild and bizarre.”
Rossiter works to push the company, and its clients, into new territory.
“I think we sort of seek out things that are different,” he said. “When we’re given the opportunity, we try and push them in an interesting direction and do things they haven’t seen before.”

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