by Janet Essman Franz
Frost’s secret is to pay attention
Tim Frost’s award-winning company, Peregrine Design/Build in South Burlington, was launched 20 years ago from a summer job washing windows.
Like the distinctive, graceful falcon for which his company is named, Tim Frost’s work has become a regular, yet impressive, sight in Vermont during the last two decades. Frost is owner and president of Peregrine Design/Build, a South Burlington company specializing in remodeling and building custom homes. In business since 1988, Peregrine is known for providing distinctive designs and exceptional construction.
The company recently has been in the national spotlight. In the last few months, Peregrine projects have graced the covers of Fine Homebuilding Kitchens & Baths, Kitchen & Bath Planning Guide, and CustomHome, and have been featured on HGTV. Frost was named 2007 Remodeler of the Year by Better Homes & Gardens magazine, which also listed a Peregrine-built mudroom on its “Top Twenty Rooms in America.” The National Association of Homebuilders and Remodelers of Northern Vermont also named Peregrine 2007 Remodeler of the Year.
While Frost humbly credits his mentors and employees for his business success, he has intentionally surrounded himself with ambitious, knowledgeable people. Throughout his career he has made a conscious effort to learn from the mistakes and triumphs of others and to seek advice from successful Vermont contractors.
Frost was raised in Vermont, having moved here at age 2. His family came from Connecticut, where his father was an orthopedic physician. His parents wanted to raise their children in a rural area, so when Central Vermont Hospital needed an orthopedist, they moved to East Montpelier, where his parents still reside in the house they purchased 41 years ago. The Frost kids — Tim is the middle child — have not strayed far. Chris, his younger brother, lives in East Montpelier, and his sister, Hilary, lives in Concord, N.H.
Frost attended East Montpelier Elementary School and U-32 until seventh grade, then Cardigan Mountain School and Holderness School in New Hampshire. He worked summers on a local farm, haying and feeding cattle, picking sweet corn, mending fences, and splitting wood. Working with wood appealed to him, and he decided to pursue a career in natural resources. After a brief stint at the University of Maine at Orono, he transferred to the University of Vermont, where he majored in recreation management.
He found he enjoyed the blending of natural resources and business. An avid skier, he dreamed of a career managing ski areas.
While at UVM, Frost started a summer business with classmate Thad Fisco washing windows for homeowners in Burlington’s Hill Section. “People would ask us to do other small jobs, like painting projects and exterior repairs,” he says.
Repairing rotten wood and changing clapboards led to larger construction and renovation projects. “Doing repairs allowed us to see products that were failing, and to avoid those pitfalls ourselves. That’s what allowed us to grow. We delivered a high level of quality and people recommended us to their friends.”
Frost and Fisco made many business contacts and, after they graduated from UVM, a Hill Section homeowner asked them to bid on a renovation project. Their bid was accepted, and Peregrine Contracting was born. They hired a carpenter with design experience and started soliciting work from contractors with whom they had previously worked.
The name — Peregrine — comes from their appreciation for Vermont’s wildlife. “A peregrine is a unique bird that made a comeback in Vermont,” says Frost. “It’s beautiful in its class, and so we thought it was a fitting name for our contracting company.”
By 1991, Fisco had left the area and Frost continued running Peregrine on his own. He focused on acquiring larger and more beautiful construction projects. “I spent a lot of time cold-calling architects and trying to be involved in projects they were designing, and finally started getting some nicer remodeling projects and new homes,” he says.
Peregrine employs 17 people, including four lead carpenters, a marketing manager, controller, and office manager. Pictured, from left, are Mike Blount, carpenter; Brian Higgins, lead carpenter; Lee Bates, carpenter; and Rick McDowell, lead carpenter.
He claims his biggest break came when Dennis Willmott, an independent contractor for whom they painted, took a job as an architectural designer at what was then known as Truex Cullins & Partners in Burlington. Willmott brought Peregrine in on his projects and was impressed by Frost’s implementation of his designs.
“We had a chance to do a project together in Shelburne — an intense remodeling of a shoreline camp — and he hit such a home run with his work,” says Willmott, now retired. “Not long after that came another lakeshore camp remodeling on a spectacular site in Grand Isle, and it came out so perfectly. Whenever people ask me for a list of quality builders, he is always at the top of my list.
“Tim has an almost samurai quality about him,” Willmott continues. “He’s a Vermonter, in that he doesn’t say a lot, he’s quiet and a good listener and he makes very astute observations. He keeps everything in order and helps clients prioritize what they want to afford. He has a quiet kind of mastery.”
As Frost took on more projects, he hired some of his subcontractors as employees. One of those people was Rick Vaillancourt, who today works as a production manager for Peregrine. Vaillancourt was an independent carpenter when he met Frost in 1988. “Tim came to me to get advice on how to bid jobs. I subcontracted for him for 15 years, and became full time seven years ago,” he says. “Tim is good at delegating responsibility to people, and he expects them to do their job. He’s been able to pick up people who have expertise. He knows how to guide people.”
Peregrine employs 17 people, including four lead carpenters, a marketing manager, controller, and office manager. Three years ago the company added a design division, which includes two design consultants, a draftsman, and an architect. The company name was changed to Peregrine Design/Build to reflect its broader focus.
Design consultants help homeowners make choices throughout the renovation or construction process, from the initial drawings to details such as light fixtures, colors for walls and flooring, countertops, and cabinetry. “This has allowed us to have an integrated process with a single point of contact, to help the homeowners prioritize what they want to do and stay within their budget as the project goes along,” Frost says.
He hired professional architect Cliff Deetjen last winter, which, he says, “has given us a great opportunity to bring our design credibility to a higher level. We found from previous experiences working with independent architects that there often was miscommunication about budgets. We would run into cost overruns and budget surprises, which made for uncomfortable relationships. We realized there was a better way to do it: to control the process from the start to finish by doing the design ourselves.”
Three years ago, the company added a design division, which includes two design consultants, a draftsman, and an architect, Cliff Deetjen. Joanne Palmisano is the marketing manager.
Frost’s home in Underhill reflects his independent style and his preference for natural materials. Willmott designed the house and Frost built it with red birch floors and cabinetry, granite countertops, and a stone fireplace. It features a large, open kitchen where his wife, Millissa, works as a freelance recipe tester for cookbook authors. He describes the house as "simple with clean lines, a lot of room and a breathtaking view of Mount Mansfield. I think it is simple and understated in a way that reflects both Millissa’s and my personality,” he says.
He met Millissa through a mutual friend and they married 12 years ago. Millissa’s parents and siblings live in the Grand Isle region, and the Frosts gather frequently with both of their extended families. They enjoy skiing, especially with friends at Smugglers’ Notch Resort, where 9-year-old daughter, Francesca, participates in a racing program.
In summer, Frost spends his free time on a bicycle. He commutes by bike to work, rides with friends after hours, and competes in the four-day Green Mountain Stage race. Staying physically fit helps keep stress in check. “Things are going well, but it’s a big responsibility to keep things going. I have to stay balanced with exercise and relaxation to clear my mind out.”
Although he strayed from his early career aspirations in natural resources management, Frost remains committed to protecting the environment. Peregrine remodeling projects improve energy efficiency with upgraded heating and electrical systems, insulation and windows. Peregrine recycles concrete, asphalt and paint, and takes framing material off-cuts to the McNeill generating station to burn for energy instead of being tossed into the trash.
Frost believes in continuing education and he strives to provide himself and his employees with opportunities to grow professionally. He serves on Remodelers Advantage Roundtable, a peer-review group for remodeling professionals nationwide to discuss best practices.
“It’s a great tool, to see businesses that are five to seven years ahead of us and learn what we need to do to bring ourselves to that higher level. It has been a big part of our recent move forward as a business,” he says. “I’ve always been committed to bettering ourselves and pushing that through to everyone in the company.”
Frost plans to add another production manager and enlarge the design staff, some of whom will be promoted from within. “Our design/build team will expand,” he says. “We’ve worked hard to develop the system and process that works, and it has brought us to a high level of success with our clients. That’s where we’ll stay our focus in the next few years.” •