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Lisa DeStefano of DeStefano Architects stands with the newly designed Upstairs at Massimo in Portsmouth. The project represents the 100th completed by DeStefano in the downtown business district since she founded the company in 1995. (GRETYL MACALSTER/Union Leader Correspondent)

A perfect blend in Portsmouth as architectural firm finishes 100th project

PORTSMOUTH - The current cityscape was taking shape when Lisa DeStefano first hung her shingle in 1995.

Growing up in Portsmouth, she had fallen in love with architecture, both historical and modern.

She developed that passion in college and technical school before returning to her hometown to start her business.

"I think we had a wonderful opportunity for positive growth and development in the city. It was a location people wanted to be and people wanted to be in," DeStefano said.

Recently, DeStefano Architects completed its 100th project in downtown Portsmouth, a landmark more significant to DeStefano than her total number of projects to date.

Project number 100 is the redesign of a new upstairs bar at Ristorante Massimo, a quaint, high-end Italian restaurant on Ceres Street that is celebrating its 19th year in business this year.

The former boutique shop features a solid pewter bartop, many wood features, pulley-operated fans and window seating.

It also incorporates features of the historic building, which originally served as the federal customs house.

Maintaining Portsmouth's historic character is an important part of DeStefano's work, and may be why she is sought out by homeowners and businesses .

The company's "Portsmouth 100" includes new construction, building additions, comprehensive renovations, modernizations, rehabilitations, historic preservation work and large scale multi-use developments, including one currently making its way through the permitting process for Maplewood Avenue, which has not been easy.

But DeStefano is no stranger to meetings.

"We build business by building relationships; and for those 100 projects, I've represented clients and presented plans at several hundred meetings of the City Council, Planning Board, Historic District Commission and others," DeStefano said.

Projects also include the recently renovated and expanded Portsmouth Middle School, where DeStefano was once a student.

"Students are happy and teachers are thrilled with their 'new' school," Portsmouth Middle School Principal John Stokel said in a prepared statement. "Lisa DeStefano's vision and passionate advocacy for our renovation was essential to propelling the project forward. The result is a perfect blend of environmental design strategies for energy-efficiency, with preservation of the historic building's character."

The company also continues to grow and will soon expand its offices in Market Square.

Among DeStefano's list of standout projects are the renovation of a 200-year-old bank building to accommodate RiRa, the Irish Pub, the redesign of the Portsmouth Gaslight building, and even the design of a trash compactor enclosure on Ceres Street.

DeStefano now employs 12 in-house staff and four full-time consultants. The company recently added a director of operations with experience in health care and multi-family residential projects.

DeStefano said about half of her company's business is residential and half commercial.

She said she tries to balance a client's desires with the functional needs of a space.

DeStefano said for her, the business is about relationship building, not just a project, and credits those positive working relationships with the company's success in the city.

"I think it's a lot in one defined area - the downtown center business district," DeStefano said. "It is quite an accomplishment, and we were all so thrilled in house when we realized it."

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