Talent Will Out

Louise Tomlin talks to Karl Terry about two things that are extremely close to his heart - his love of art and his passion for specialist conservation roofing work.

The choices we make in our early years take us in certain directions and shape us into the individuals we are today.

Those choices can be the result of someone either encouraging us to reach for the stars, or maybe by them urging caution so we travel a more earthbound journey. A journey that in itself could still bring rewards but may come at the cost of a talent thwarted that should be realised and given the freedom to blossom.

As a teenager Karl Terry loved art. Painting and drawing were what made school bearable. He very much wanted to go to art college when he left school, but although his parents and art teacher recognised he had ability he was persuaded to take a proper job, one that would give him a reliable income and some security. So he joined his father’s building company and soon realised that it was Kent peg tiling that he enjoyed most, as it was interesting and challenging. His keen eye for detail enabled him to learn the skills quickly, and working alongside time-served tilers and Kent peg experts he found his niche and never looked back.

Mansion in Surrey
The Cloth Hall, Smarden

Karl started his own roofing business in 1993 and readily admits that it wasn’t all plain sailing. He says he remembers making some mistakes early on: running a business is like any challenge in life, if you mess up you do your best to put it right and learn from it, then you carry on. Persistence has certainly paid off, as the company is multi award-winning, with accolades such as the ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Roofing Industry Award’ in He has also been awarded Master Craftsman status by the Worshipful Company
of Tylers and Bricklayers and is an NFRC Heritage Roofmaster, amongst his many other honours.

It’s clear from talking to Karl that he is a modest man by the way he mentions that although he is proud of the success, he is also slightly embarrassed by the plethora of awards his company continues to acquire. What is also clear is that he has a passion for the work he and his team are involved with. A large proportion of this, at least 90%, is heritage and specialist conservation work.

Since forming Karl Terry Roofing Contractors over 28 years ago he has assembled a hand-picked team that has built up an enviable reputation for high quality, sympathetic and successful restoration work that has safeguarded many historic buildings throughout the south-east of England, and even as far afield as Florence. The majority of his team has stayed working with him for more than ten years.

Hendon Place, Woodchurch

“We always keep in mind that the buildings we are privileged to work on are hugely important to our national heritage, remaining acutely aware of the historical significance especially when carefully disassembling the work of the original craftsmen who have built a structure several hundreds of years ago. Authenticity is paramount in the reconstruction process and the materials we use, like genuine lime mortar and traditional tiles. It’s great there has been a revival with several firms making traditional Kent peg tiles and fittings again.”

The team love a challenge, the more complex and interesting the better. It’s apparent they have a huge amount of experience from looking at the portfolio images on the website of examples of tiled roundels, laced or swept valleys, eyebrows, mansard roofs, mitred hips, all wonderful terms for a trade that is steeped in tradition and that evoke a great sense of history.

There’s an interesting twist in this tale that takes us back to the beginning of the story and Karl’s love of art. In 2005 he was called by Chris Daynes to do some roofing work on his house. Chris was Karl’s art teacher at school. Whilst work progressed on Chris’s roof he encouraged Karl to try painting again, which he did. He started painting en plein air, which translates as ‘in the open air’. It’s a practice that was favoured by the French Impressionists like Monet, Pissarro and Cezanne, who wanted to paint the effects of light and its changing ephemeral qualities in landscapes or cityscapes in all weathers.

“My work is an immediate response to what I see and feel when immersed in the ever-changing landscape. This process has opened my eyes to the beauty that can be found everywhere, even in the mundane. Going back to art has been a revelation to me,” he says.

Rekindling his passion for painting wasn’t a momentary whim. After starting again 15 years ago he hasn’t stopped, any spare moment he gets he is outside with his easel and he’s travelled extensively creating wonderful paintings that are his personal response to the light and landscape in many different countries. It is not surprising when you look at the results to hear of the success that has followed. The startlingly beautiful paintings are full of energy, with wonderful colours that invoke the atmosphere of light reflected on water, spellbinding skies, deft brushstrokes that conjure up distant structures, all taking you into a moment in time that is captured in the works.

There’s no doubt that Karl Terry the artist has made up for lost time: success followed just a couple of years after he picked up the paintbrush again in the shape of multiple exhibitions at prestigious venues such as The Royal Society of British Artists, The Royal Society of Oil Painters and The Wapping Group of Artists show. He’s no stranger to awards in this area either, recognition of his accomplishment as a painter have come from The Royal Society of Marine Artists awarding him Associate membership, and as the winner of the Red Rag award.

Karl Terry, whether it’s the artist or the roofer has a refreshingly simple approach to life and work. He says, “I enjoy life and I like people, and I like to make people happy, especially my customers.” And customers in either sphere are plentiful, so he’s definitely doing something right. Maybe it would be fair to say that his artistic talent that was suppressed many years ago and was diverted into a successful artisanal career has at last found an outlet. Or maybe it was his artistic gift, aesthetic appreciation and keen eye for detail that has made him the excellent craftsman and roofer? Whatever the case we salute you, Karl.

You can find out more about Karl Terry’s roofing at: www.kentpegs.com or his painting at: www.karlterry.co.uk

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