Nest — Fall 2021

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home design real estate

FALL 2021






Vintage-inspired cabin décor in St. Albans

New Frameworks designs with sustainability in mind

Chandler’s Dry Goods is BTV’s first “refill” depot

A retirement dream home on storied land in Hinesburg

Electrician lights the way with Village Voltage


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e’ll soon seen pumpkins on the porch, woodpiles in the yard and smoke curling from chimneys. In keeping with that ambience, Nest explores some fittingly rustic décor in this Fall Issue. We take a tour of St. Albans’ CAMP HICKORY HOUSE, a vintage-inspired vacation cabin modeled after 20th-century Adirondack camps. After that glance backward, we look to the future of homes, design and the building trades. Worker-owned cooperative NEW FRAMEWORKS innovates with ecologically minded building techniques; CHANDLER’S DRY GOODS offers sustainable, and often refillable, household products in Burlington; and electrician GRACE KAHN ushers in an era of diversity in the trades. Oh, and read all about a couple building their RETIREMENT DREAM HOME where one of them nearly died in a plane crash 42 years ago. Talk about connecting past, present and future!

The Camp in the Woods .......... 6


St. Albans’ Camp Hickory House is a vintage gem BY JO RD AN AD AMS

Building the Future ................10

New Frameworks constructs healthier environments — in the workplace and beyond BY S A LLY P O L L AK

Cleaning House .......................14


“Refill” depot Chandler’s Dry Goods brings sustainable home products to Burlington BY CA R O LY N SH AP IR O

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FALL 2021


6 Vintage-inspired cabin décor in St. Albans

10 New Frameworks designs with sustainability in mind

14 Chandler’s Dry Goods is BTV’s first “refill” depot

18 A retirement dream home on storied land in Hinesburg

22 Electrician lights the way with Village Voltage

A home in Charlotte retrofitted by New Frameworks PHOTO COURTESY OF STINA BOOTH/NEW FRAMEWORKS

2021 Marvin Lumber and Cedar Co., LLC.


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The Cabin in the Woods

St. Albans’ Camp Hickory House is a vintage gem BY J O R D AN AD AMS •

Adelle Lawrence and Jeremy Smith at Camp Hickory House




Camp Hickory House, a vacation property in St. Albans

Childhood memories are some of the most powerful. Adelle Lawrence proves that every day, selling vintage items at Barge Canal Market, the business she and her husband, Jeremy Smith, own in Burlington. The same appreciation for the old and unique distinguishes their newly purchased vacation property, Camp Hickory House, near Lake Champlain in St. Albans.


“As a kid, we would always go to this camp in the Adirondacks,” Lawrence said, standing proudly in the cozy two-room house she and Smith snagged in late spring. They worked quickly to renovate it for the summer season. “When we bought this place, I was picturing … what I grew up with.” Beyond using Camp Hickory as a source of additional income, the Burlington-based couple also hoped the 1925 cottage could be their own personal escape, one they could occasionally open up to friends and family. It’s a five-minute walk from a 700-foot stretch of shared beachfront. On a recent weekday, between bookings, Lawrence described the classic 20th-century escape of her childhood: rustic cabins with eclectic décor, stacks of puzzles and board games that may or may not have all their pieces, and, of note, no TV. She and Smith were adamant about making their camp screen-free — and not just because there’s no good place to mount one. “It takes away from the whole feel,” Lawrence explained. Most of the walls in the 550-square-foot rental are dominated by windows looking out onto the surrounding one-acre yard, and any configuration of couch and TV would throw off the room’s visual balance. As purveyors of midcentury-modern goods at their South End shop since 2012, Lawrence and Smith know a thing or two about decorating with vintage. Their camp has enough of the old-school vibe Lawrence described without being over the top. To bring things into the present, it’s suffused with a contemporary, chic minimalism. Most of the improvements they made were small spruce-ups, as opposed to the structural changes that would have been required on 90 percent of the properties they saw. That’s not to say that getting Camp Hickory ready for rentals was simple. The couple added new laminate flooring, reduced the size of the kitchen island, layered on fresh paint and made cosmetic improvements to the dormer, which had been unfinished on the interior. Smith also custom-built a sliding barn door that separates the bedroom from the main space. Though such doors have become a trendy accent, this one is largely practical, since there’s hardly any space in either the main room or the bedroom for a swinging door. As pickers — skilled, knowledgeable buyers who source goods for resale THE CABIN IN THE WOODS

Game shelf at Camp Hickory House


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The firepit at Camp Hickory House

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— Lawrence and Smith knew exactly where to find everything they needed to flesh out their vision. First, “We looked at a lot of inspiration pictures online,” Smith said. The couple pored over Instagram and Pinterest, using search terms such as “Adirondack camp,” “vintage lake house” and “cabin style.” Then they bought “a lot of stuff” from Essex Junction’s Five Corners Antiques, Lawrence pointed out. The two-story shop has a reputation for stocking an abundance of furniture, accent pieces, knickknacks and ephemera. The couple also sourced items from other nearby camps and estate sales, and even repurposed some things from their own shop. They sometimes ignored their shrewd

profit-making instincts to perfect Camp Hickory. “[Decorating] is a little different than when we’re buying for the shop,” Lawrence explained. “We went to shops, and we were like, ‘This is exactly what we want, and we’re gonna pay full price for that because this is our own place.’” Some items were constructed from repurposed materials, such as throw pillows made from old Pendleton shirts the couple found on Etsy. They reupholstered a pair of armchairs with iconic Hudson Bay blankets that were too chewed up to be functional. Other pieces coalesce into a classic vacation vibe: old wooden oars, badminton rackets, an antique boat rudder and propeller, a hiking cinch sack, retro


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NEW FURNITURE SHOWROOM COMING TO STOWE! thermoses and canteens, mounted fish, an old lantern. And, of course, Camp Hickory is packed with board games and puzzles — all of which are intact. A shelf brims with old editions of classic titles, such as Scrabble, Othello, Mille Bornes, Clue and Boggle. There’s also a new, retro-inspired edition of Mystery Date, perhaps the kitschiest board game of all time. Lawrence and Smith felt it was important not to go overboard with decorating, for both aesthetic and practical reasons. “It’s so easy to fill space with things — like, Look at these little tchotchkes, so fun — but then it’s like, Where’s someone gonna put their drink down?” Lawrence said. The care they’ve put into curating

Camp Hickory has made it a popular rental property. Guest bookings “filled up really fast” once they put it on Airbnb for $150 a night, Lawrence said. Aside from a day or two here and there, Camp Hickory has been chock-full of tourists since it came on the market in June. It’s completely booked until October, when it closes up for the winter. Lawrence and Smith didn’t even have a chance to experience their own summer getaway. “Next year, we’ll definitely block ourselves out some time,” Lawrence said. m



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Building the Future

New Frameworks constructs healthier environments — in the workplace and beyond B Y S A L LY P O L L A K

Ayla and Brandon Bless were watching the sun set on a recent evening at a construction site in Shelburne. The project is an addition to their house at Bread & Butter Farm, where Brandon is animal and land manager.

New Frameworks cofounder Ace McArleton (bottom left) and Shane Eazor on the site of a new build at Bread & Butter Farm in Shelburne



Standing inside the building-inprogress, young Ayla asked her father when she could help. He told her she’d be part of the plastering team, using a trowel to apply a finish plaster made of local lime, sand and manure. “It’s simple. We can make that plaster ourselves,” Bless, 38, explained to a reporter. “It’s fairly easy to learn how to do. I’m going to have my 3-year-old daughter help. It’s a giant, building-sized art project.” To construct the addition’s walls, on which that DIY plaster will go, the Blesses are counting on an Essex Junction design-build company called New Frameworks, which specializes in natural and local materials. A vital part of its mission is to “draw down” carbon — or reverse emissions — in its projects. “Climate justice and climate response is not a theory to us; it’s a practice,” Ace McArleton, who cofounded the company in 2006, said in a phone interview. “And we wake up every day knowing that every action we take within New Frameworks is informed by that.” Organic straw bales from Nitty Gritty Farm in Charlotte insulate the wall panels on the Shelburne addition. “It’s kind of the holy grail of a wall system, in so many different ways,” Bless said of the straw-bale panels, which New Frameworks designed for use in a variety of its building projects. Using a plant-based material such as straw in construction can be environmentally beneficial because it stores carbon from the atmosphere. The agricultural


by-product also contains less embodied energy than other kinds of insulation, meaning less energy is used to produce it. The carbon footprint is further reduced if it’s a locally sourced product that travels a relatively short distance for use in building. The prefab wall panels are just one of the services and products New Frameworks offers. The company, which is booking into 2023, works with residential and commercial clients on projects including renovation, new construction and improving building performance in existing structures. The latter effort requires an analysis of how air, moisture and heat move in a building, McArleton said. “We ask, ‘How is this building working?’” he explained. “‘What are its best areas and areas that need work? And how do you do that using materials that are low-carbon and nontoxic?’” McArleton, 44, cofounded the company in 2006 with Chloe Jhangiani, who is now a social worker A CE in California. Jacob M C ARL ET ON Deva Racusin, who directed the natural building certificate program at Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, joined New Frameworks in 2009. He and McArleton wrote a book together called The Natural Building Companion. Racusin and several other members of the team share the title of cofounder. In addition to its commitment to natural materials and, as McArleton puts it, “their effective use in our climate,” New Frameworks is committed to workplace equity and social justice. From the start, a primary aim of the company has been hiring and training transgender people, gender-nonconforming folks, people of color and women, said McArleton, who identifies as trans. “Representation and presence in the building trades is a difficult thing for anybody who’s not a white, able-bodied, cisgender dude,” he said. McArleton grew up in suburban Chicago and Ann Arbor, Mich. He studied environmental science with a focus in chemistry at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He developed a particular interest in toxins, especially


following a visit with the Environmental Field Program to Love Canal, the site of a 1970s environmental disaster in Niagara Falls, N.Y. He walked through the neighborhood with a “former resident-turned-activist, a mom whose kids got sick, and one who died, due to the toxic chemical exposure,” McArleton wrote in an email. “Her passion and loss fueled me to want

to fight for ecological and social justice, and to see how those were intertwined.” McArleton moved to California’s Bay Area when he was 21, “partly because I was coming out as a transgender butch,” he said. He saw a flyer for a job as a tile-setter with a small, woman-run company. He had the required truck, and the owner was paying $15 an hour. BUILDING THE FUTURE

Top: Ace McArleton talking with José de la Cruz Rodriguez about the day’s work at Bread & Butter Farm in Shelburne Bottom: McArleton showing the base plaster made of local lime, sand, manure and chopped straw PHOTOS: LUKE AWTRY

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Building the Future « P.11 “I called her, and she said, ‘Come on over,’” McArleton said. He learned the basics of the building trades, starting with how to change a blade on a utility knife. After a time, he moved on to doing tile work for union jobs and became a masonry apprentice on the construction of a multiuse office building in Oakland. He loved the work — but he was scared to go to the job site every morning. “There was a lot of drug use, a lot of swearing, a lot of anger and violence,” McArleton recalled. “That was the norm ... I firmly believe that toxic white masculinity is harmful for everyone.” The experience was conflicting for McArleton. “I came away from that seeing that the trades are so beautiful, and there’s so much potential because it is so creative,” he said. “And it broke my heart to see the way in which social violence that is normalized within the trades gets in the way of the enjoyment of the craft.” McArleton moved to Vermont in 2002 to attend the Institute for Social Ecology in Plainfield. He held various jobs — including bartending and installing ventilation systems — before starting New Frameworks four years later. The company has undergone several iterations. It’s now an employeeowned business whose team members, including former farmworkers, speak both Spanish and English on worksites to the best of their abilities. New Frameworks is developing prototypes for on-farm housing for migrant workers — and seeking design input from the people who will live there. The homes will have the same straw-bale panels that Bless is using. And, if they use a similar plaster mixture in the construction, there will be plenty of manure available. Enzymes in the manure have a strengthening effect on the lime in the mix, according to McArleton. This type of knowledge about natural material, and its application to construction, is what sets New Frameworks apart. “A huge part of our work has been investing our time and money into R&D to prove the efficacy of these materials in this climate,” McArleton said. “We’re not just interested in doing hippie shit. I want something that’s actually going to be effective.” m


Learn more about New Frameworks at



New Frameworks did a deepenergy retrofit on this house in Charlotte, prioritizing natural materials to give the home a modern yet rustic feel. Native wood was used in the flooring, and the triple-layer bay windows are energy-efficient. PHOTOS COURTESY OF STINA BOOTH/ NEW FRAMEWORKS




Brittany Iafrate of Chandler’s Dry Goods


House “Refill” depot Chandler’s Dry Goods brings sustainable home products to Burlington BY C A R O LY N S H A P I R O •

When she was living near Portland, Maine, Brittany Iafrate regularly visited a “refill” store. There she could buy household products in bulk and place them in reusable containers brought from home.




But when she moved to Vermont in fall 2020, the eco-conscious consumer found no similar option in Chittenden County. She had to come up with other ways to reduce single-use plastic. “I tried to buy the biggest size of the most sustainable product I could find, which is really the best you can do when you don’t have a refill store,” she said. Iafrate, 29, solved her no-waste dilemma when she opened Chandler’s Dry Goods in January. On College Street in Burlington, it’s the first refill store in the city, and perhaps in all of Vermont. The shop sells a variety of household necessities, such as dishwashing liquid, hand soap and laundry detergent, which are stored in huge glass pump dispensers and purchased by weight. Customers come in with a refillable vessel, weigh it while empty to calculate the tare, then fill it with product and weigh it at the register to pay. Chandler’s also carries personal grooming items, including solid shampoo (think bar soap for your hair), chewable toothpaste tablets that lather for brushing, and refillable pots of cream deodorant to apply by hand or with a tiny spatula. A selection of other home goods and gifts aims to help people do better, sustainably speaking: reusable lunch bags and backpacks made of waxed canvas, natural-bristle dish scrubs with wooden handles, wool felt balls that improve the efficiency of a clothes dryer, and soap-saver pouches that extend a cleansing bar’s life to the final shard. “It felt like something that would fit in here, and it does,” Iafrate said of Chandler’s Burlington presence. “We get a lot of people who come in here like, ‘I’ve been wanting to see one of these.’ ‘I’ve been meaning to go to something like this.’ ‘I’m so glad you’re here.’ We get so many different comments about it that it makes me feel really welcomed and connected in a way that I didn’t expect.” Refill shops have popped up along with growing public


awareness of plastic pollution and the proliferation of single-use packages. About 300 million tons of plastic waste are produced every year worldwide — an amount equal to the weight of the entire human population, according to a report from the United Nations Environmental Programme. Since the 1950s, about 60 percent of the plastic produced has ended up in landfills or nature, the report said. Earlier this year, the New York Times cited research from an Australian environmental group, the Minderoo Foundation, that indicated the average American uses and throws away about 110 pounds of single-use plastic annually. Chandler’s occupies two large rooms in the space that used to house Sukha Yoga studio. Befitting a proprietor who pledges to reuse, Iafrate outfitted the space with racks and tables from the now-defunct JCPenney department store in Berlin.

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County’s Healthy Living Market & Café and City Market, Onion River Co-op — offer bulk items that customers can store in their own containers. But they lack the scope of products of a refill depot such as Chandler’s. “You can get a dish soap and some laundry [detergent] and maybe a body wash,” Iafrate said. “But you can’t really get any of the liquid shampoos and conditioners.” Iafrate grew up in Skowhegan, Maine, which had a single co-op that “smelled weird,” she recalled with a chuckle. She graduated from Pennsylvania’s Allegheny College with a degree in environmental studies and went to work on a Maine farm. At the end of the growing season, she took a job at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, an employee-owned seed and farm products purveyor in Waterville, Maine. During her five years there, she earned her master’s degree in sustainability sciences from a Unity College online

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Iafrate welcomes customers with advice and encouragement, not judgment and preaching. If someone forgets to bring a container, no problem: Chandler’s keeps a stash of reusables forgotten or donated by other customers. “I try to keep it approachable,” Iafrate said on a recent afternoon in her store. “I don’t want to judge folks for coming in. I don’t care if you bring in your Seventh Generation plastic jug,” she added, referring to the Burlingtonbased company that sells natural household products nationwide. “You’re refilling it. That’s the whole point. You have to start somewhere.” Many natural foods shops and grocery co-ops — including Chittenden

program and started working remotely for the college’s admissions department. Last October, Iafrate joined her partner, Chris Perry, in Vermont. To combat the stir-craziness of pandemic isolation, they would venture out of their Essex apartment for ice cream and drive around. They noticed many storefronts with “for lease” signs. Meanwhile, Johnny’s Selected Seeds offered its employee stockholders, including Iafrate, a one-time chance to sell back their shares to the company during the pandemic. Iafrate jumped at the opportunity and netted $30,000, which she used to launch her business. The word “chandler” is an English word dating from the 14th century CLEANING HOUSE

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HO ME G O O DS Showroom at Chandler’s Dry Goods


Cleaning House « P.15 meaning candle or soap maker, and it’s the maiden name of Perry’s mother. “Dry goods” are commodities sold in bulk. Iafrate chose the College Street location for its proximity to Church Street, keeping customer convenience in mind. “I wanted somewhere that wasn’t just a destination,” she said. “I wanted it to be able to be accessible by public transport, and I wanted you to also be able to grab lunch or dinner or coffee or go to the co-op, so you weren’t just driving to me.” Late in August, Megane Hamel and Kristen Potter, who are both studying nursing at the University of Vermont, dropped in at Chandler’s and stopped at the hair care display. “I really want to try solid shampoo,” Hamel told Potter. “I’ve used it before,” Potter replied. “I really like it.” The students said they try to shop with sustainability in mind. At Chandler’s, they’ve found items with “clean ingredients” that they don’t see elsewhere. 16


“Before, there wasn’t anything like this,” Hamel said. “Or you’d have to pay for shipping, which defeats the purpose of sustainability,” Potter added. Most of Chandler’s BR IT TANY liquid cleaning products come from Rustic Strength, a family-owned company in Missouri. It offers a “closed-loop” system, which means nothing is left to discard. The liquid soap comes in fivegallon buckets that Iafrate empties into dispensers, then returns to the company for refills. Not every product at Chandler’s qualifies as closed-loop, but it has to meet Iafrate’s criteria. Ingredients must come from sustainable sources that aren’t detrimental to the environment or toxic to fish or wildlife. Iafrate avoids palm oil, an element in many household and food products that’s a major contributor to deforestation. She looks for sustainably harvested bamboo and wood, as well as essential

oils processed without harmful practices. For most of the liquid cleaning products, Chandler’s charges by the ounce, ranging from 29 cents for hand soap to $1 for bathroom cleaner. The latter is concentrated, so IAF R ATE three ounces are added to a 16-ounce bottle that’s then filled with water. The solid shampoo bars, at $9 or $10 each, are among the pricier items but last three months, Iafrate said. “A lot of people come in thinking it’s going to be more expensive, but I pay a lot of attention to price, because I don’t want to price people out,” she said. “I want it to be pretty comparable to Seventh Gen.” Iafrate also tries to carry locally or regionally made products whenever possible, even though they may cost more. She sells goods such as dishwashing blocks and laundry tablets from Farm Craft VT, a producer that uses materials grown on its Shelburne property or by other nearby suppliers. Chandler’s carries dishwasher pods


with a nonpetroleum, water-soluble alcohol casing, but Iafrate would love to offer a no-waste liquid or powder in bulk. She also wants to add products for pets, menstrual care and babies. Some items are a challenge. Chandler’s stocks bamboo-handled toothbrushes that say “100% biodegradable” but have nylon bristles, which aren’t. Iafrate is researching better alternatives. “I like getting feedback from people [on] what they wish I would carry,” she said. Someone asked for cleaning vinegar, for example, so Iafrate now offers it. Other customers have requested a Cuban mop, which has a long handle with a T-shaped head around which they can wrap a towel or other reusable cloth. Consumers are increasingly savvy about the products they buy, and that bodes well for Chandler’s business, Iafrate said: “We’re realizing the impact that plastic has.” m


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8/23/21 11:33 AM

Crash and Learn

A Hinesburg couple builds a house on the site where one of them nearly died in a plane crash BY K E N P IC AR D •


Phil and Debbie Gianelli in front of their Hinesburg home build

Some couples build their dream house on property inherited from family, on land with gorgeous views or in a place that has deep sentimental value. Phil and Debbie Gianelli chose the location of their retirement home in Hinesburg for all those reasons, and one other: It’s the spot where, 42 years ago, Phil fell out of the sky at 97 miles per hour and nearly died in a plane crash, while Debbie watched from the ground in horror.


Aerial view of the Hinesburg farm on June 14, 1979, minutes before the plan crashed in to the trees below



A Long Island native, Phil met Debbie in the late 1970s while both were undergrads at what was then Johnson State College. She’d grown up in Jeffersonville, then moved with her family to a 200-acre dairy farm in Hinesburg. The two began dating. Phil, who was 20 at the time of his fateful flight, had always wanted to see Debbie’s family farm from the air and take photos of it. So one day, his friend Bob Bardsley Jr., then a 27-year-old pilot and aircraft mechanic from Burlington, offered to take him up in his single-engine Cessna 140. The weather was clear, dry and beautiful on June 14, 1979, when the plane took off from Colchester Champlain Airport, which was then a small grass airstrip near Malletts Bay. The two-seat aircraft flew east to Morrisville-Stowe State Airport, where it filled up with 24 gallons



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Pilot and aircraft mechanic Bob Bardsley Jr. (left) with his single-engine Cessna in May 1979



of aircraft fuel. It headed back toward Burlington, then south to Hinesburg. “That’s the last I remember,” Phil said. “I don’t even remember seeing Burlington from the air. I took pictures, but I don’t remember taking them or seeing the farm.” (The historic aerial photo accompanying this story was salvaged from Phil’s camera, which survived the crash.) It was 4 p.m. when the Cessna 140 flew over Debbie’s family farm on Magee Hill Wreckage from the 1979 plane crash in Hinesburg Road in Hinesburg. “I know exactly what time it was because I was milking the cows,” she said. Recognizing the sound of Bob’s plane, Debbie ran out of the barn and saw the plane dip its wings, a common aviator greeting. She then watched as the plane accelerated and swooped toward the ground, expecting it to pull up again in a dramatic, low-altitude flyover. But things didn’t go as planned. Phil learned later from the Federal Aviation Administration that the aircraft likely got caught in a downdraft. It hit a stand of pine trees, which snapped off one wing, flipped the fuselage upside down and hurled it into a stone wall. Debbie watched as Bob climbed from the wreckage, bleeding profusely, and ran over to her. “He said, ‘I killed your boyfriend!’” Debbie recalled. “I said, ‘What are you talking about?’” Until that point, she’d had no idea Phil was aboard the plane. CRASH AND LEARN

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Aerial view of Phil and Debbie Gianelli’s Hinesburg property

Crash and Learn « P.19 Debbie immediately ran to the wreckage and climbed through a small hole in the fuselage, where she found Phil, still strapped into his seat and dangling upside down, unconscious and badly hurt. “It was not pretty,” she said. “Fortunately, all my injuries were confined to my face and head,” Phil joked. Though Phil survived a crash that the FAA later described as “unsurvivable,” he said, the danger was far from over. Because the plane had two full tanks, aircraft fuel was leaking all over him and Debbie. When neighbor Craig Brown heard the crash, he ran over with a chain saw, intending to remove the fallen tree that had trapped Gianelli inside. Had he started the chain saw, Phil said, a single spark could have ignited the fumes and blown up the plane, with Phil and Debbie in it. 20


Thankfully, that gruesome fate “wasn’t meant to be,” Debbie said. She stayed by Phil’s side until emergency crews arrived and extricated him from the wreckage, which took about half an hour. Phil woke up in the hospital three days later with 132 stitches in his face and multiple staples in his head. He spent the rest of the summer recovering from his injuries, which included chemical burns from the fuel. Phil went on to graduate from the University of Vermont in 1981, then married Debbie in 1986 before pursuing a career in medicine. He practiced psychiatry and neurology in New York City for nearly three decades. Debbie became a Montessori schoolteacher until her retirement in 2008. After Phil’s retirement in January 2020, the couple decided to leave Long Island and resettle on the Hinesburg property Debbie and her siblings had inherited. They sold their house in

Manhasset, N.Y., last December and have been renting a house in Richmond, where they’ll stay until their retirement home is completed. The couple expects to move in sometime in October or November. They asked their builder, Huntington Homes, whether the workers could set the 2,100-square-foot manufactured house on the foundation on June 14, the 42nd anniversary of the crash. (Due to poor weather, however, they missed the anniversary by several days.) Some of the aircraft wreckage still sits on the property. The Gianellis said they plan to bring the cockpit closer to the house and possibly get it hoisted into a tree so it’s more visible. Why would the couple choose to build what Debbie called “my dream home” in such an ill-fated meadow — and even memorialize what was undoubtedly one of the worst days of their lives? As Debbie explained, many of the

people who lived on the road at the time of the crash are still their neighbors. Plus, she added, “It’s a million-dollar view.” “Was this a plan our whole life to build on that spot?” Phil said. “Sounds great, but not really.” Phil admitted that his near-death experience wasn’t nearly as impactful as some people might expect. He still flies in airplanes, though his ophthalmologist convinced him not to pursue his own pilot’s license. But the plane crash profoundly affected Debbie, giving her a lasting sense of gratitude for life. “Every day I wake up, I’m happy,” she said. “Even when I’m not happy, I’m happy.” Indeed, both Gianellis say they’re excited to start the next chapter of their lives in the place where they almost had their last. “For all intents and purposes, it should have been,” Phil said. m

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8/9/21 6:47 PM



For electrician Grace Kahn, business is bright BY MAR GAR E T G R AY S O N •

The last few years have been big for Grace Kahn. Last summer she posted an ad on Front Porch Forum for her freelance services as an electrician; now she’s the owner of Village Voltage, a Williston-based company that employs a master electrician and an apprentice. She came out as a trans woman in 2018, and she says that embracing her true identity motivated her to start the business.


Grace Kahn of Village Voltage



S ER V I CES “There was this newfound drive because I was officially me,” Kahn said. Kahn moved to Williston from South Florida in 2014 with her now ex-wife and children after googling “best places to raise kids.” In Florida, she’d owned a swimming pool maintenance business, a career she knew wouldn’t transfer well to Vermont. She ended up training as an electrician at a large company, which she declined to name because things went south after Kahn came out. Kahn said her boss didn’t understand her transition. He eventually stopped calling her during the pandemic, which Kahn saw as a convenient excuse to push her out. Inspired by a mantra from Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed — “We can do hard things” — and knowing there was a shortage of electricians in Vermont, Kahn posted her advertisement in May 2020. “Boom. It was off to the races,” she said. Her offerings at the time were smallscale. “I was rolling up in a 2012 Subaru sedan with a couple of car seats in the back,” she said. People liked her work and recommended her, and business grew. Within a few months, she was able to get licensed (which is not required for some residential electrical repairs), buy a van and hire a former coworker. Now her team is working on new houses and bidding on larger projects, and Kahn wants to provide jobs and training opportunities for other people with marginalized identities. Seven Days spoke with Kahn by phone for an illuminating conversation about her work and goals. SEVEN DAYS: Why do you think representation and diversity are important in your line of work, and in the trades in general? GRACE KAHN: I could give you 50 reasons. In electrical, because there are no electricians. You need to start shopping in other places if there are no guys out here, you know? If they’re out of Heinz ketchup, you’re going to have to go get Hunt’s. But also, for me as a trans person — can we change opinions, social constructs, cultural norms so that people like me can exist more comfortably in the world? Trans women are really struggling to get jobs. That’s huge. I’m not a billionaire with a million different companies that I can staff with LGBTQ+ folks. But I take care of my employees. At the end of the day, I’m not only out there so that cis people can see me. I went to Jericho, Vt., to a pride thing I took my kids to, and I met this trans guy, 12 years old, named Charlie. And Charlie’s like, “Are you trans?” I was like, “Yeah, I’m a trans woman. I own this business. I’m an electrician.” He was like,

“What?” I was like, “Dude, you’re totally normal.” I didn’t come out until I was 33, and it was really hard. The fact that I’m out here doing this is going to help get the kids out of the closet at 12 and not 33. I want to save people from pain if I can, because there’ve been wonderful trans activists out there that have done this for me. We’re business owners, and we’re charitable, and we’re part of this community. We’re not hiding in the shadows. SD: What do you think are the barriers that still exist to diversifying the trades? GK: The comfortable way that men will say horrific things to each other.

This girl that I hired today, she worked one day for one large company here in Vermont, and she said the word “faggot” was used multiple times. I don’t know if there’s a simple answer to changing toxic masculine culture on job sites. It’s so normalized. I would correct it. SD: Does it get frustrating or tiring to have to correct and teach people? GK: Yeah, it gets tiring. But you hear how I am: I try not to judge people. Everybody has a heart, and I know how to get into that heart. So that’s what I lead with. But as hard as it is for me, it’s harder for people who don’t have the words that I have and the courage that I have, which I’ve only really found in the last



couple years with really heavy-duty therapy. I love to see the look on people’s faces when I make them laugh, and I know they’re leaving with a sense of, I just met a trans person who’s cool as hell, and she loves herself. It just feels really good when I can see them flip. SD: Do you think, overall, Vermont is supportive of LGBTQ business owners? GK: Yes. It’s not my typical customer ... who’s confused by me and us. I show my humanity to people. And I find the humanity in them. SD: Are there opportunities in your work when you have to problem solve or think creatively? GK: Constantly. There are these wireless [light] switches that I’ve been using. You can wire the one switch into where your regular switch is, and then there’s a wireless component, [which connects to the wired switch,] that you strap to the wall with a bracket, and you put a plate over it so it looks like it’s an actual switch, and it works flawlessly. The technology is there at this point, and you can trust it. People are like, “I only have one switch at the top of the stairs, and every time my kids come downstairs, they don’t shut the lights off.” [With the wireless switches,] I don’t have to run wire in the walls. That’s really cool. Smoke detectors drive people crazy. If they are doing funky things and your batteries are all fresh and you’re not seeing any weird lights blinking, you can blow compressed air in them and essentially just blow all the gunk and the dust out. It can save people a tremendous amount of money, because smoke detectors are not cheap, and fire doesn’t discriminate. You can give this secret away. SD: What should potential customers expect about your availability right now? GK: Somebody called me today, and I told them, “Maybe in a month, if I get help.” We are popular, and I think it’s just because we have a great reputation now. I started this business with the dream of only having an apprentice and hiring a trans person or a queer person. I just wanted to pay the bills and pay my child support and have a place for myself to transition safely and comfortably. That was the idea that started this, and I did not imagine that I would be here now. m This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.


Find Village Voltage on Facebook, or call Grace Kahn at 391-7389. NEST FALL 2021


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