When Ed Bulgin took up carpentry, he had no ambition to build the most prestigious houses on Long Island, but it now seems almost inevitable that he would do just that. A college wrestler and soccer player, he was in the habit of driving himself to excel. “And when I hung up my sneakers and picked up a hammer,” he says, “it was, ‘How fast, how good can I be with my tools?’ Each step of the learning process was like a new sport.” That appetite for self-improvement logically led Bulgin to the wealthy summer communities of East Hampton and Southampton, N.Y. “Out here,” he explains, “we’re in the Olympics of the trades.”
The Bulgin & Associates website includes a map of the Olympic venues: 70 project sites in some of the most expensive communities in the country. The current average project runs 10,000 square feet, with square-foot costs in the $700 to $850 range. But there is still a small-town aspect to doing business here, Bulgin says. “The clients all know each other. You have to earn your position through hard work, good work, and honesty.” That approach seems to have succeeded. “Of the 70 projects I’ve done over the past 28 years, we still maintain 60 houses,” he says.
Several years ago, Bulgin took on longtime associate Jeff Gagliotti as a full partner. The two share administrative duties and split responsibility for the company’s projects. A growing proportion of those projects are modern in style, but the company remains on the short list of eminent traditionalist architects such as Robert A.M. Stern. “We’re doing two projects with Stern’s office now,” Bulgin says.
Both types of work present challenges. “Modern architects tend to take you down roads you haven’t been down before, and where your gut tells you you shouldn’t go. The really good traditional architects challenge you in a different way. Some of the methods they have are classical, and contrary to methods of modern-day construction.” In architects’ debates over style, though, Bulgin maintains strict neutrality. “My criteria are different from theirs,” he says. “It’s more about information than design. You want information in a timely manner.” That preference for order on the jobsite shouldn’t lead one to believe that he’s lost his taste for excitement, though. “My passion now,” he says, “outside of the business, is kite surfing.”
Bulgin & Associates / Southampton, N.Y. / www.bulgininc.com / Years in business: 28 / Employees: 140 / 2011 volume: $58 million / 2011 starts: 8