Peter D. Bensley renovated homes in historic New England neighborhoods and built new ones with creativity, craftsmanship, and an attention to detail that awed his most demanding clients.
He invested the same energy into his friendships.
"Peter was a rock, for everyone. For his friends, for his co-workers, and for his family," said his brother Christopher of Andover. "He was always there when you needed him."
Mr. Bensley, founder and president of Bensley Construction Inc. of Cambridge, died early Jan. 18 in Meredith, N.H., when the truck he was driving skidded out of control on snow- and ice-slicked Route 104. Mr. Bensley, 51, was driving his son Sam, 13, to a ski race at Ragged Mountain. Sam suffered minor injuries.
A former resident of Jamaica Plain, Mr. Bensley recently moved his family to Newburyport and had a vacation home in Sandwich, N.H.
Since founding his company in 1988, homes built and renovated by Bensley Construction have been featured in Architectural Digest, Fine Homebuilding, American Homestyle Gardening, Custom Home, and Design Times.
"Beyond Peter's reputation for high-quality craftsmanship, he brought out the best of each person on the job," said Boston architect Ann Finnerty. "Peter was a good listener and knew how to work diplomatically with demanding clients. . . . He kept us on track to make sure their dreams were realized." One of the homes Mr. Bensley built was for Arthur Golden, author of "Memoirs of a Geisha."
"Peter was a very rare character who was extraordinarily good at what he did," Golden said. "He was not only competent and smart and used good judgment, he was fun to be with. He had a way of hiring really good people, and he dealt with people in an honest and decent way."
Rob Schiller of Cambridge was first a friend, then a client of Mr. Bensley's. They had played squash together weekly for 10 years.
"Until I worked with a different contractor," Schiller said, "I had taken for granted how Peter had successfully mediated between client and architect, how he invisibly resolved conflict, charted a path to the middle ground, creatively solved technical problems, offered alternative resolutions of all kinds, and quietly guided my decision-making with his own good sense of taste."
Mr. Bensley was born in Summit, N.J., where his parents traveled for his birth so his grandfather, Maynard Bensley, a pediatrician, could deliver him at the local hospital. The family was living in Andover, where Mr. Bensley's parents, Gordon and Audrey, were art teachers at Phillips Academy in Andover. Their art skills rubbed off on Mr. Bensley, his brother said. "He became a real creative builder with a flair for architecture and art.
"Peter always knew he had a calling for building ever since he was a child," Christopher said. "When he was 11 or 12, he was involved with the Morse Workshop, a local program for kids interested in carpentry. He made magnificent chests and tables. That kind of gave him the bug." As teenagers, Mr. Bensley and his lifelong friend Charles "Cobber" Eccles spent summers working on construction sites around West Brookfield, Vt., learning on-the-job from carpenters. They both attended Phillips Academy, where Mr. Bensley graduated in 1971.
Mr. Bensley then spent a year at the University of Pennsylvania and took a year off to work on an oil rig in Utah. In 1976, Mr. Bensley graduated from Brown University, where he was a standout lacrosse player.
When Eccles and two partners started a company in Baltimore that was involved with the restoration of old houses, Mr. Bensley joined them as construction superintendent. "Peter had a very strong aesthetic sense and a real feel for the quality of construction. At the same time, he was great at dealing with people. He always engendered incredible loyalty among his employees," said Eccles, whose Baltimore company is now known as Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc.
Returning to the Boston area in 1980, Mr. Bensley cofounded PBK Development Company and set about restoring some 30 or 40 homes in the South End and renovating commercial buildings and multifamily units.
In 1988, he formed Bensley Construction "to focus on renovating homes in historical New England neighborhoods and towns," according to its website. In 1994, the company expanded to include new construction.
Mr. Bensley's personal involvement and that of his brother Zach, of Hamilton, are also described on the company's website.
"While working on projects ranging from $250,000 to $5 million," it reads, "Peter Bensley has intentionally kept his company small enough so that he and his brother, Zach, can be personally involved in every project."
Mr. Bensley did not put the same restriction on his circle of friends. Ray Stecker of Beverly Farms, a friend since their days at Phillips Academy, explained why Mr. Bensley had so many.
"I met Peter one year after my father died, and though he and I were close in age, he became a father figure for me, then a mentor, and, finally, we were peers," Stecker said.
Besides his son, parents, and brothers, Mr. Bensley leaves his wife, Lianne; a daughter, Jordan, 9; two sisters, Wendy Percival of Apia, Samoa, and Jennifer Eskioglou of Athens; and grandmothers Else Nye, of Longwood, Fla., and Helen Bensley of Maplewood, N.J.
Services have been held. Burial will be private.