Stonemason travels to repair and beautify homes

Clare Howard

Dorothy Thornton’s Mediterranean-style home and Giverny-style gardens stop traffic, especially this time of year when coreopsis, purple cone flower, Russian sage and rudbeckia abound in exuberant brush strokes.

She has loved her home in Peoria, Ill., for 37 years, but she hasn’t loved the crumbling limestone balusters on the porch, the crack in the front stone steps, crumbling tuck pointing around the brick archway to her garage or the pitted concrete steps up to her art studio.

These are not the kind of repair jobs within the purview of a regular handyman. Owners of the stately homes in the area fret over this kind of deterioration that requires specific skill to repair.

To their delighted astonishment last summer, a savior of sorts appeared before these homeowners: Bekim.

Word of his coming spread far and wide among the lovers of older homes. Now here for his second season of work, a network of people rejoice in sharing their Bekim stories.

Who is this man?

Bekim Berisha left his native, war-ravaged Kosovo and certain induction into thearmy in 1994 when he was 16-years-old. He went to Italy and apprenticed with a stone mason in Florence for three years.

He fell in love with an American woman in Florence, married her, and when she became homesick, he followed her back to Ohio and they now live in Indianapolis.

He started looking for work, expanding to neighboring states.

"He just showed up here one day and started doing the kinds of repairs no one else knew how to do or wanted to tackle," said Andrew Rand, who owns a large 1903 Georgian Revival brick home on Moss Avenue. "He’s our Kosovoan son of Moss."

Rand’s neighbor Ruby Picl said, "Sometimes people come into your life by accident, and they give so much. I’m grateful to Bekim. He is honest, dependable, extremely kind and sensitive. He must have had a gentle upbringing.

"When I met Bekim, he was just a wonderful surprise. For the amount of work he gives, he does not overcharge."

Picl said she postponed many needed repairs on her 1927 home because of the trouble finding qualified people to do the work.

"You can’t just look in the phone directory," she said.

Last year, Bekim started working on her home in September and worked through several frosts, finally leaving town in late November. He returned this summer to do her garage.

"I’m a flower person," Picl said. "Bekim told me he’d do his best so the dust would go down the alley."

Rand said Bekim and his crew put up scaffolding and repaired one of the tallest chimneys on Moss Avenue.

Laura and Andy McGowan had problems with water in the basement of their Moss Avenue home. Bekim changed the grading around their house, tore out an old wooden deck and made a patio out of old brick pavers.

"We had to look all over for enough pavers for the patio," Laura McGowan said. "We found pavers all over the property and in the back alley. We were given some from neighbors."

The patio was designed to complement the architectural style of the house. It curves and embraces a huge maple tree.

With scientific precision, Bekim explains how he set the pavers on 7-inches of compacted gravel and 1-inch of compacted sand.

With the eye of a painter, he planted poppies, rudbeckia, hydrangea, meadow sage and coreopsis. Into the shady corners, he tucked hostas, coral bells, begonias, ferns and impatiens.

By the time he finished the project he had ripped out the old deck, removed old overgrown shrubs, regraded around the house, repaired crumbling and cracked masonry, designed the patio, gleaned the neighborhood for enough old pavers, installed the patio, landscaped with a combination of native and hybridized plants and did some house painting.

He works with his cousin, who trained with him in Italy. Together, they have trained some American workers who help on jobs.

Rand said Bekim knows how to mix tuckpointing so it looks old and blends in without creating the patchwork look of some tuckpointing repair jobs.

"No one wants to do this work for a reasonable rate. Homeowners don’t want to pay commercial rates," Rand said. "People get these huge quotes and then put off the repairs … and the deterioration gets worse.

"One neighbor on Moss was fighting a roof leak for years. Bekim was able to determine it was really a mortar issue, not the roof."

Bekim typically works from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

"You just don’t see that kind of work ethic," Rand said.

Looking over the work in progress on Rand’s carriage house, Bekim said, "People leave tuckpointing so long, the damage gets worse. It’s better to repair it as soon as it starts to fall."

Besides grinding out the old crumbling tuck pointing and replacing it with new, he had to dismantle one section of the brick wall and completely rebuild it.

In Italy, Bekim said he worked on stone and masonry that was from hundreds to thousands of years old. There, the work was mostly stone and stucco. Here, he does stone, stucco, brick and tuckpointing as well as concrete, paving, painting, dry walling and landscaping.

"In Italy, nothing less than 600 years old. Here, 100- to 150-years-old," he said explaining the age of the structures he repairs.

He hopes to work on projects in the Peoria area until November and return again in March.

With the eye of an artist and the temperament of a New Yorker, Thornton scrutinized her repaired limestone balusters recently and said, "It’s amazing. You can’t tell they were ever broken. He’s a genius."

Bekim can be reached at (317) 650-6796.

Clare Howard can be reached at 686-3250 or