Around Williamson County, Bill Powell is a lot of things to many people. To some, he’s a contractor who builds “new-old houses” and lovingly restores vintage buildings. To others, he’s a “picker” hired to breathe history into once-dull spaces. And to still others, he’s the owner of William Powell Co. Home & Garden—a boutique on West Main Street curated with his Americana finds from up and down the East Coast.
Powell says he’s in the business of bringing things back to life. Objects can include ancient houses with a 200-year-old provenance, galvanized roofing repurposed into breakfast tables, or rusty industrial parts transformed as light fixtures; whatever it may be, Powell is a highly skilled operator when it comes aged articles.
“I grew up two blocks from downtown Huntsville, Ala., playing in decaying buildings. I became fascinated with the smell of old houses, and it started from there,” he said. “I guess I’ve been a picker most of my life. I was even out picking while I was in college. I’ve been an antique dealer for 43 years now.”
As a kid, Powell joined his grandmother at auctions and learned the finer points of the process. Her tutelage was well received: since those days some 60 years ago, the dealer has sold to museums (think California State Railroad Museum and the Smithsonian) and private collections around the country.
Growing up Powell says he also observed his grandfather’s work, a contractor who was ahead of the preservation curve in many ways.
“My grandmother started dealing with antiques in 1906. In the ‘50s, she’d take me picking. Her husband was a contractor, and was using recycled materials in his work as far back as the early 1900’s,” he said. “I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, because I’m doing both of their work now.”
Many times Powell takes something old and refurbishes it into modern-day use. But other times, he turns the clock back through his construction of what he calls “new-old houses.” Powell has been doing it for 30 years: he utilizes old or traditional period materials in a new home to complement the historic character of the Williamson County community—just like his grandfather did, back in the day.
But Powell isn’t just carrying on his family’s legacy; he’s also preserving other people’s. Since he moved to Williamson County in 1974, he’s fixed dilapidated historic houses throughout downtown Franklin and Leiper’s Fork, all with a deep history. Because of his fascination for safeguarding the past, he’s played an important role within the Heritage Foundation of Franklin & Williamson County, of which he currently sits on the board.
In his work, Powell revives the former life of Williamson County is renovation projects. For example: for a current client’s downtown Franklin Federal-style home, he’s re-attaching the original stone steps that were implemented in the late 19th century (and later replaced with concrete levels). He’s also rebuilding the original front porch that was torn off in 1910.
“I never get tired of projects, it’s all fascinating to me,” he said. “Oftentimes, I take houses that have really been dumbed down, and I put them back just as it would have been so many years ago.”
Though he was already a busy man, Powell opened his antique store at 506 W. Main Street two years ago in June. The shop’s merchandise is gathered from both the proprietor and special individuals who specifically pick for Powell. It’s a treasure trove brimming with Americana finds and furniture, from commercial architecture and trade signs (a Powell favorite) to hand-painted cottage furniture and collections of vintage maps and huge, aluminum letters.
Powell said that though he was already consumed seven days a week with contract work and solicited interior design services, he wanted a place to house his found prizes in a spot that appreciated history.
“I’ve always loved Williamson County. And I did a lot of work on the Theatre, and saw the energy downtown. I wanted to be part of it,” he said. “It’s really incredible.”
For more information about the store, visit facebook.com/WPCHomeandGarden.