November 18, 2020

High Quality Building and Collaboration Are Hallmarks of Pinneo Construction

BETTER BUILDING: “We do everything from historic renovation to modern glass and steel projects. As we near a quarter of a century of restoring, adding on to, and building some of Princeton’s most distinguished homes, the gratification that comes from collaborating with area architects remains as strong as ever.” Tom Pinneo (far right), co-owner with Chris Myers (second from right), of Pinneo Construction, is shown with the Pinneo team at a recent project.

By Jean Stratton

Authenticity, transparency, collaboration.

These are the core values, the foundation of Pinneo Construction.

When Tom Pinneo established his company in 1996 at 372 Wall Street, these principles were uppermost. “My partner Chris Myers, who joined me in 2002, and I have been deliberate in creating a process-driven company that prioritizes financial transparency and collaboration with our clients and their architects. This sets us apart.”

A lot sets Pinneo Construction apart, including the background and experience of its owner. A graduate of Princeton High School and Middlebury College, Tom Pinneo earned an M.A. in Eastern Asian studies from Stanford University.

New Direction

“For a time, I had in mind to become a professor of Chinese philosophy,” he recalls. “I was drawn to the Taoist philosophers Lao Tzu and, especially, Chuang Tzu, who believed, ‘What you know in the world, you learn from doing.’”

This view led Pinneo to set forth in a new direction. “To a restless grad student,” he explains, “they spoke about the limits of language and the possibility of a life centered around a skill. I had always been interested in architecture and building, so I took their 2,500-year-old advice, and went off to the North Bennett Street School in Boston, where I focused on learning about carpentry.

“I think that the seed had actually been planted when I worked for a local builder during summers while I was at Princeton High School. I got a taste of what it was like to read a two-dimensional plan and then stand back at the end of the day, and see that you’d realized that plan in three dimensions in rafters and studs.

“By contrast, and as fulfilling as it was, grad school was too much just in my head, and it became evident to me that I wasn’t cut out to be a professor. The Taoists, in effect, gave me permission to chart a different course.”

After leaving Boston, Pinneo worked for different builders in the Princeton area before starting his own company in 1996. “And while my Chinese has faded,” he notes, “my trajectory says something about a construction company that does things a little differently. We are transparent, process driven, and collaborative.

“I had to learn a lot,” he adds, “but I am very comfortable asking for help and learning from those who have more experience. I knew who to ask, and I was able to assemble a great group of specialists. We have a full-time staff of nine, including carpenters, and also great subcontractors  — foundation workers, plumbers, electricians, etc. I have benefited from the experience and expertise of others.”

High Quality

The firm, which works on a full range of sizes and styles of residential projects, is known for its high quality results and complete attention to every detail.

“Wherever you are in the development of the project, we are ready to be a resource to you and your architect to help find the right materials, iron out construction details, or explore options,” explains Pinneo. “We’re not architects, but we’re good partners in the design intent and we’ve got a stable of subcontractors and vendors behind us to find answers.”

Their projects include historic renovations; new construction; modern alterations to existing, often traditional, structures; as well as transformations of barns into habitable homes.

Examples include a Princeton “tree street” Victorian which received a “burst of modern” in the form of a light-filled, two-story stucco and cedar-clad addition. Large expanses of floor-to-ceiling glass and a blue stone patio with a terraced basement access reorient the house to the back garden.

A Hodge Road home acquired an updated look with steel windows, lead-coated copper, large format floor, and handsome wall tile. Interior and exterior were tied together with a smooth flow of line and form.

Landmark Home

Historic renovations have unique considerations, with reference to a respect for the past. A Mercer Street Neoclassical home was built in 1896-97, burned down in 1903, was rebuilt in the same style after the fire, and was then largely untouched for the first century of its existence. Pinneo’s work entailed a gut renovation, two additions, construction of a three-car garage, and the relocation of an outbuilding for use as a pool house.

Period molding on both the interior and exterior as well as custom millwork blend old with new; oak paneled elevator, and new mechanical systems all bring this landmark home into the 21st century.

A project on Aunt Molly Road in Hopewell includes an addition to a 1980s house. A master bedroom suite (bedroom/bath/walk-in closet) and sunroom are currently under construction, as are renovations to existing rooms, including a home office.

Home offices, in particular, are in demand these days, as more people work from home. This has increased during the virus, and will no doubt continue. The company has remained busy during COVID-19, reports Pinneo.

“People have been leaving the city and moving to the suburbs, including Princeton and the area. We have been working with those who want to renovate or add on to their new house.”

Bath and kitchen remodeling are important projects, he adds. These are notable spaces for updating and expansion.

Clients want their home to be a comfortable expression of their lifestyle, points out Pinneo. And they also often want the renovation or addition, even with the updates reflecting 21st-century advances, “to look as if it has always been there.”

Modern Style

He notes that a more modern style is becoming popular with many clients who often want stainless steel, glass, and sleek finishes.

“You can also have a traditional frame with modern fixtures inside,” he explains. “Also, we always look for opportunities to inject sensible energy-efficient solutions, ranging from insulation to solar to geo-thermal.”

Projects can take anywhere from five or six months to two years depending on their size and complexity. Also, in the case of large-scale, complex jobs, the work can be done incrementally, over time. Costs may range from $150,000 to a few million dollars.

“When we begin negotiations, I will point out that a project may fall into ‘such and such a range,’” explains Pinneo. “We have financial transparency throughout. We emphasize this, and we show everything line-by-line.

“During construction, we keep things on track with a dedicated project manager on-site every day, weekly meetings, tight financial controls, and our Golden Rule of never starting additional work without written approval. We start our project with a realistic schedule, and check in weekly.

“Getting it done 100 percent is often a homeowner’s fear. We finalize the project with a homeowner walk-through, and we don’t leave until the punch list is complete.”

Multiple Projects

Pinneo Construction’s projects are seen throughout the Princeton area and beyond, and many long-term clients have often had multiple projects with the company.

“We are also now seeing second generations, adult children of our original clients,” says Pinneo. “In addition, we have a lot of international clients, who live in Princeton and the area. Word-of-mouth has been very important to us.”

Tom Pinneo looks forward to continuing the work he loves. As he says, “There is real satisfaction in building something. And I enjoy working with the homeowners, architects, and our team. I like the communication and collaboration.

“Most of all, we want to be authentic. For us, it is about transparency, process, and collaboration. Our clients believe in our authenticity and our ability to provide high quality architect design driven projects.”

For further information, call (609) 921-9446. Website: