Westport celebrates 45 years - but founder says it’s the worst economy in 53 years

  • Survivors: Westport Architecture's father-and-son team of Stephen West (left) and Tripp West (Photo by Akil Simmons)

    Survivors: Westport Architecture's father-and-son team of Stephen West (left) and Tripp West (Photo by Akil Simmons)

  • Survivors: Westport Architecture's father-and-son team of Stephen West (left) and Tripp West (Photo by Akil Simmons)

    Survivors: Westport Architecture's father-and-son team of Stephen West (left) and Tripp West (Photo by Akil Simmons)

Forty-five years ago this week, Westport Architecture, one of Bermuda’s oldest continuous architectural firms opened its doors.

Bermudian Stephen West, whose family has been in Bermuda since the 1600s, began his company at the age of 24 on November 12, 1967.

He began his love affair with architecture at the age of 17, working for Kaufmann and Associates and then attending architectural school and working in Boston.

With just $100 in his pocket, Mr West started his company — then called F Stephen West & Associates — in the converted hayloft in a horse stable on his parents’ property, which also served as his apartment.

Three decades later, in 2000, Mr West changed the firm’s name to Westport Architecture.

His first project was for a family friend designing and constructing a master bedroom and bathroom addition.

From there — word spread of Mr West’s talents and a successful and long-standing business career ensued.

For the first four to five years, Mr West was a one-man show, doing all the work himself all along building a loyal clientele.

Today, with six employees, Westport Architecture is an award-winning design/build firm, in that the company has its own construction team. Their foreman has been with the firm for 28 years.

“We all speak the same language,” said Mr West. “And clients like that they can come to us from the initial concept right through handing them the key.”

Westport has also branched out to focus on interior design, decorating and staging and well as landscape design.

Over the years, the architect has developed his own signature look which marries traditional Bermudian architecture with modern amenities.

“We are known for a pleasant scale on the exterior and then inside there is this element of surprise of how large the interior is,” said Tripp West, Mr West’s son who joined the firm in 1999 after graduating from Rhode Island School of Design. “We’ve designed a few tricks over the years.”

Like others in Bermuda, Westport has faced tough times during the recession but have managed to keep business going steadily.

“The economy is the worst I’ve seen it in 53 years,” said Mr West. “It’s the first profession that gets hit by any recession. It has been a survival year but we have a very strong client base and business has picked up over the course of the year and we’re doing well now.”

“Fortunately, even going through these times which is probably the worst we’ve seen in terms of a construction recession, we have loyal returning clients along with some new clients but our returning clients are the ones that carried us through,” added Tripp. “It’s a constant glowing relationship, which is great.”

Some of the memorable projects include converting a shipping warehouse in St George’s, that was originally a barracks for the British Army into a residence complete with priceless works of art and an interior door shipped in from an Asian temple.

The firm has also redone two buildings in Flatts Village — their old office and their current office, which is painted a bright orange and has a picturesque view of the inlet.

But with all of the projects over the years, Mr West says he couldn’t pick one he felt was most memorable, except for one that is near and dear to his heart — that of his own son.

“It was one of the greatest days of my life when Tripp joined us at the firm,” said Mr West. “Tripp brought professionalism, a lot of new great, modern ideas and very good business sense.”

“We ham and egg very well,” he added. “We don’t fight, just have good strong discussions and it’s a very balanced relationship with the two of us. I just can’t describe how much fun we’ve had.”

Though his younger son, Britten, works in the insurance industry here in Bermuda, Mr West still holds out hope that his first grandson, Oliver, a year old, will someday join the firm.

While the company celebrated its anniversary by conducting site visits followed by cheeseburgers from Dorothy’s Kitchen, Mr West said his future plans for the firm are for it to continue to grow steadily as it has done for the past four and half decades.

Though the one thing the patriarch of this family-run business is not planning for is retirement.

“I love to go to work, I look forward to Monday morning,” he said. “I will never retire. I might take a few more days off but I’ll never retire. Retire to do what? That’s like giving up a passport to me.”

“If you have a spark to do something, use it, I don’t care how old you are,” he added. “To be able to go to work and love what you do, that’s a very small percentage of the world.”

Mr West has now also started to dabble in the world of iPad art, selling his creations of Bermudian architecture and scenery across the Island and online.

Westport Architecture can be found at www.westportarchitecture.bm/ and Mr West’s iArt at www.bermuda-iart.com

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Published Nov 14, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 13, 2012 at 7:28 pm)

Westport celebrates 45 years - but founder says it’s the worst economy in 53 years

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