Andy Herbine: Down to Earth
PROFILE – July 2014
By Katherine Gaudet | Photography Sarah Beard Buckley
Andy Herbine of Caleb Johnson Architects & Builders brings a builder’s practical savvy to architects’ imaginings
I had planned to meet Andy Herbine at his downtown Biddeford office, but the day of our meeting was one of the first lovely days of this late spring. “Why don’t we meet out at our project at the beach!” he emailed me, and I drove along a sandy spit in Biddeford Pool until I spotted a sign for Caleb Johnson Architects and Builders, for whom Herbine is now director of construction. In a nearly finished rehab, our interview began on a stair landing, sparkling water views on either side. As Herbine, relaxed and friendly amid the commotion, began to tell me his story it occurred to me that I had found him in his true office, creating a calm center while contractors and cleaners whirled around us. Herbine admires the vision of the architects he works with; translating their designs into physical form requires its own kind of artistry. “Seeing something on paper is a lot different from putting it together in the field,” he says. “There are always details that have to be worked out after the fact. A lot of my job is problem-solving.”
Herbine’s position, managing construction within an architecture firm, is a rare one. “It’s not unheard of,” says Caleb Johnson, the firm’s principal architect, but “it’s not a traditional way of running an architecture firm. Architects traditionally produce designs and hope the clients and builders maintain the intent through the construction phase.” Keeping architecture and construction within the same firm creates a different kind of design process, says Johnson. “We’re constantly confronted with the realities of budget and schedule. We’re not just talking over ideas; we have many conversations about what we’re designing that bring it down to earth.” Linking design ideas to the realities of wood and stone, to screws and nails and the people who drive them, is Herbine’s role. “What Caleb dreams in his head—Can it be built? Is it within budget?—I can help map a timeline and financial line to bring the dream to reality,” he explains.
Herbine relocated to Biddeford in January, the last in a long series of moves and changes. He grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania, one of three brothers and part of a close-knit extended family that “was always working on each other’s houses and repairing the old farmhouse and barn on a family property. Whatever needed to be done, we always handled it ourselves.” An uncle who was a civil engineer and developer piqued his interest in construction, and when the University of Maine offered him a football scholarship he enrolled in their civil and environmental engineering program. “I’d never really thought of Maine growing up,” he says. But he had grown up “going to the woods,” vacationing at the family’s farm and hunting retreat in central Pennsylvania, and the rural atmosphere seemed like a good fit. His connection to the state took a lasting turn when he met Katie Clark, now Katie Herbine, a Bangor native who played basketball for the university. Upon graduation the couple moved to Massachusetts and then New Hampshire; Katie completed a law degree and Andy worked as a project engineer and manager for a large commercial construction company.
When Katie took a law job in Florida, Andy decided to would “pick up work” and see where it took him. “After about a year I realized I kept getting more and more busy,” he recalls; his reputation for “quality and attention to detail” was spreading by word of mouth. He decided then to start his own firm, focusing on small remodeling projects. “It was a good learning curve,” he says, “after working for somebody else. It’s a different thing when you’re ‘the guy.’ I learned a lot about myself, the industry, how businesses work.” After building the business for a few years, the couple returned to Maine and eventually settled in Bangor.
The Herbines’ careers continued to take them to new places. Katie now runs an athletics consulting company, Finish Line Fitness. Herbine spent time working for Habitat for Humanity, then building border stations in Calais and Van Buren. By late 2013, when the Van Buren project began to close down, Herbine was ready for a lifestyle change. He and Katie had welcomed a son, Liam, in June, and as he grew it was getting harder to spend the weeks away from home. He began to look for a job “that could be closer to home.”
In CJAB, Andy Herbine found a good match. “I’d heard of Caleb—I read about him in your magazine, actually—and I liked the work he’d done.” Herbine appreciated Johnson’s aesthetic—“clean lines, not too busy”—and sensed that “it was a good match, personality-wise.” For his part, Johnson had been searching for a few months to replace his departed construction director. “Andy came across as a very even-keeled guy who could really handle the pressures and stresses of construction, a guy who could look my clients and subcontractors in the eye and work through things,” Johnson says. “I could tell he knew his stuff and knew how to organize.” Herbine started the job in January, commuting to Bangor on weekends while he looked for a home in Southern Maine (“I’m really picky,” he confesses).
The future of the collaboration looks bright. Johnson recalls that the owner of the Biddeford Pool house “took the time to talk to me about what a positive experience it was, working with him.” With Herbine on board CJAB is growing, and looking forward to new directions. “We’re pushing to be—I hate to use the term green, because it’s used ad nauseam, but we’re trying to be as respectful to the environment as we can,” says Herbine. “We’re choosing our materials and methods to minimize impact, minimizing the use of petroleum-based products, trying to make our projects as efficient as possible.” He also hopes to incorporate into the firm’s portfolio the kind of service-based work he did for Habitat for Humanity.
An outdoorsman and athlete, Herbine is eager to enjoy Southern Maine’s fishing, golf, and especially beaches, but for the present his time in the Biddeford area is “100 percent for growing the business.” He looks forward, however, to a more settled kind of family life. “From my senior year of college to now, we’ve lived in seven states and 13 homes, over 15 years,” he recalls. “There’s been a lot of learning, life and professional experience gained along the way.” After all of those houses, moves, jobs and projects, Andy Herbine is a person shaped by change, with a laid-back demeanor and a wealth of experience and ideas. He is ready to turn CJAB’s designs into new realities.
Caleb Johnson Architect & Builders: calebjohnsonarchitects.com, 207.283.8777