By Chip Chapman
Published: March 21, 1996
"The era of the handmade product in disappearing," said Lawrence Zechmeister.
However, the trend certainly isn't his fault.
As the owner of Zack's Workshoppe in St. Clair Shores, Zechmeister is building cupolas the old-fashioned way - by hand and one at a time.
Cupolas are small, gazebo-like structures, usually with a weathervane on top, situated on roofs of houses, garages, or other structures.
"In this country, cupolas originally were used to ventilate barns or houses," Zechmeister said. "Originally in England and here, a cupola was a room were women waited for their husbands to return from the sea. Often they would leave the cupola and pace along the widow's walk on the roof.
These days, cupolas serve mostly as decorative additions to rooftops.
"What do you feel when you look at a home?" Zechmeister asked. "Instead of rebuilding a home, a cupola can help create a feeling by adding a piece of history."
About 18 years ago, Zechmeister was working as a carpenter at Turtle Lake Estates, owned by developer Maury Cohen, when an architect working there asked Zechmeister if he could rebuild a cupola on the roof of the stable.
"It took about three months," he said. "It was the first one I ever did."
About 10 years ago, Zechmeister was asked by a Doctor in Romeo to help convert an old barn into a house.
"After 14 months on the project, I asked him what he wanted done with the silos," Zechmeister said. "The silos were converted into round bedrooms and on top - 92 feet in the air - cupolas. After that I was a "cupola-holic."
Zechmeister is a high-end carpenter who specializes in trim work, mantels, panels, inlays and other woodworking. But for the past five years, he has been concentrating on cupolas.
He is currently displaying his cupolas at the International Builders Home, Flower and Furniture Show, which runs through March 24th at Cobo Center.
"I usually do about three to five shows a year," Zechmeister said. "Shows function like a showroom. That's where I take orders."
No two of Zechmeister's cupolas are the same, he said. "From trees grown in Michigan, our cupolas are handcrafted and personally designed," he said. "Each window is handmade, milled, shaped, cut and installed and trimwork is custom crafted." It takes about 10 days to build a small model. Larger ones take about 24 days.
I can only build so many a year," he said. "I don't want to mass produce them."
Although he hopes his business will continue to grow, "I don't want to expand to the point where I lose the flavor of what I do."
Zechmeister involves his entire family in building the cupolas. His wife Shelly paints them, daughter Erica, 16, helps with secretarial work, son Jonathon, 14, helps in the workshop. Son Stephen, 9, and daughter Allyson, 6, also help.
"They stapled the fliers for the Cobo show," Zechmeister said.
Harvey Kosinski, of Kosinski Quality Construction, helps build and install the cupolas.
Zechmeister uses all copper and brass weathervanes made by a company in New Jersey. Customers can chose the design for their cupola as well as the weathervane that will sit on top.
The small cupolas cost $899 and the large ones are $2,445. The price includes the weathervane as well as delivery and installation.
"One of the reasons I have stuck with this is that I love what I am doing," Zechmeister said. "It is my passion. The cupolas are like old friends."
Like old friends, Zechmeister has been known to visit his cupolas after they have been installed.
"A customer from Bad Axe came down to see his cupola being made," he said. "I took him on my 'cupola tour' around Grosse Pointe Woods and Grosse Pointe Farms and showed him about 10 that I have made."
Home | Artistic
Design Custom Cupolas | Copper Weathervanes
What newspapers have said about Zack's Workshoppe
Copper Banners & Turret Caps | Show Listing | E-mail