Born into a family of Old Believers, the son of an unmarried soldier’s daughter, Gornostaev educated himself into one of the foremost architectural restorationists in imperial Russia. When he changed his surname from “Fedorov” remains unknown, as does everything else about his life before he graduated from the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in 1892. Completing his degree as an “artist-architect” from the Academy of Arts tree years later, he then worked under the supervision of architect. V. V. Suslov. Study trips abroad and to northern Russia completed his education, and from 1899 he taught history of Russian art at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture and also at the Stroganov Academy of Applied and Decorative Arts, 1900-1910. He joined the Moscow Archaeological Institute when it opened in 1907, where he taught for three years. As an archeologist, his only significant work came at the 14th Congress in Chernigov, where he oversaw plans to restore the Hetman Palace of Kirill Razumovskii in Baturin.