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From tree to canal lock to restaurant: In a historic timber reclamation and upcycling story, 500-year-old timbers enter their fourth life (or third use) at Point of the Bluff Vineyards in the Finger Lakes Region of NY:

 

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In the late 90’s our sister company, Pioneer Millworks, salvaged massive, 37″ x 42″ x 48′ Douglas fir timbers from one of the Welland Canal locks in Ontario, Canada. The trees culled for the timbers were 400+ years old when they were harvested and served the canal for nearly 60 years.

From the beginning–a bit history of on the heavy timbers:

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37″ x 42″ x 48′ Douglas fir timbers from the Welland Canal Lock. The trees were at least 400 years old when they were harvested in the early 1900’s. 

 

The falls and rapids of the Niagara River presented a major obstacle for an uninterrupted waterway from the Atlantic Ocean to the American heartland. To circumvent the river, the Welland Canal, with eight large locks, was built. Initiated by local businessmen, the first canal was built in 1829. The present-day Welland Canal is the fourth to be constructed. The difference of 99.5 m (326.5 feet) between the levels of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie is now overcome with 43.4 km (27 miles) of canal.

 

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During renovations of the third canal in 1927, Douglas fir timbers were installed in Lock N0. 8, one of the longest canal locks in the world. As the canal locks were updated/repaired, the wood was removed in the late 1990s and the enormous timbers, each weighing over 20,000 lbs, headed to Pioneer Millworks Farmington, NY yard.

 

Mod: modern, stylish, cutting-edge. A term–and design aesthetic–we’ve encountered with frequency across our offerings, including in our fine woodworking projects.

Floating, sliding, open, unembellished, clean grained–this custom entertainment center tucked into a modern city loft is all about mod.
Floating, sliding, open, unembellished, clean grained–this custom entertainment center tucked into a modern city loft is all about mod.

Often the resulting creations have straight wood grain, right angles, clean lines, and low profile hardware. Fine woodworking has a great capacity to embrace mod details that go beyond these standards to include various materials, textures, and designs. Mod influence can stand on its own or in combination with traditional styles. Our team at NEWwoodworks enjoys testing their capabilities in kitchen cabinetry and more. It’s commonplace to find a project’s cabinetry needs are much greater than the kitchen alone. It takes many forms: built-ins, bookcases, buffets, entertainment centers, closet organization, vanities, and more.

Transitioning from public to private space, from one level to another, from inside to outside: the staircase. We enjoy the creativity that can be expressed in the functional and essential staircase. Stairs are like furniture that flows, curving, lifting, descending; solid, floating, short, or lengthy…and always dependable.

 

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Our fine woodworkers and our designers think of stairs as sculptural and architectural elements. Often a focal point in the home the options for customization are many. Materials, shape, location, and integration with the frame.

 

The stairs play a large design element and integration with the frame in this NJ home.
The stairs play a large design element and integration with the frame in this NJ home.

 

Rob D’Alessandro, General Manager of NEWwoodworks, our fine woodworking division, shares, “Stairs are always a challenge, but fitting them within a timber frame adds a whole new element. Proportion: the scale of the stair components so as not to be dwarfed by the heavy timbers. Integration: joining into the frame itself. Material choices: not all wood species are durable and aesthetically pleasing with Douglas fir timbers. There may be other elements, such as metal details that relate the staircase to the timber frame. These are just a handful of the considerations when creating each staircase.”

Inspired by barns familiar to the New York countryside, this long, linear home situated on rural acreage overlooks the rolling hills of the Hudson Valley. Designed by Amalgam Studio of NYC and built by Black Oak Builders, the cadence of a series of repeating trusses define the high, light-filled, and airy interior canvas.

“The open setting and the rural, agricultural, and historic nature of the property brought us very quickly to the concept of a “modern barn”, explains the project architect, Ben Albury, Principal of Amalgam Studio. “I researched vernacular barns of the area and looked at three historic forms in particular: the New World Dutch Barn, the English Barn (or 3-Bay barn) and the New England Barn. These contextual archetypes informed the overall form.”

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We began with kiln dried Douglas fir timbers, crafting the traditional gable shape with a modern integration of blackened steel bottom chords and embedded metal connectors. A custom, multi-step finish produced a darkened truss with more pronounced grain patterns. “The client and I both wanted to highlight the nature of the material used for the main structure. It wasn’t a steel portal frame so painting didn’t make sense.” Ben continued, “The process chosen highlights the beautiful grain of the timber, and gives it additional protection from UV damage. The darker tone sits well with the black metal elements, but also contrasts beautifully with the white oak interiors.”

Project enclosure systems are one of the biggest areas to benefit from high-performance building techniques, and there are several options: SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) and our Matrix & Matrix-S Wall system, to name a few. As we push for better envelopes and efficiencies with every project, we’re applying decades of experience in creating turnkey timber frame structures to crafting prefabricated wall systems.

 

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“When you buy a car, no one shows up at your house with all the parts and builds your new car in your driveway, right? So why build walls on-site?” asked Eric, our Timber Frame General Manager.

 

A project’s design is further developed in building modeling software where potential problems can be identified and solved immediately, prior to fabrication and prior to being on-site. Redundancy assures accuracy: we believe in building it twice—virtually then actually. Creating these systems off-site allows for a climate-controlled environment, reduction in material waste during construction (off-site and on-site), and increases the efficiency/speed of site production. All while minimizing our coworkers’ time out of town.

 

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“When you have a good 3D model, the outputs are nearly endless. We can study every angle; predict–and–solve potential issues before anyone puts hammer to nail. We’ve followed this method in timber framing for years and produced some seriously complicated frames. It was logical to apply what we already know to be a highly efficient methodology to prefabricating high-performance enclosures,” explains Eric.

I recently chatted with Jennifer Palumbo founder/principal of Jennifer Palumbo Inc, a Boston-based interior design firm. It was a pleasure to discuss her perspectives on design and intentionality with textures and colors that include special consideration of the place of wood in any space focusing on our timber frame project on the Cape in MA. She shared insider insight into designing and living in the space:

 

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I’m excited to know this is your family vacation home! 

It is! We’d been looking for a location to build a home and found the land in Osterville. I had dreamed of a barn structure in a beach location; it was my initial idea for years. Overall we knew we wanted a large open living space with a barn look and exposed beam work that would fit the beach location.

 

Jennifer Palumbo of Jennifer Palumbo Inc, a Boston-based interior design firm. She believes, “Any interior space can fulfill its function while encompassing beauty and timelessness.”
Jennifer Palumbo of Jennifer Palumbo Inc, a Boston-based interior design firm. She believes, “Any interior space can fulfill its function while encompassing beauty and timelessness.”

 

How did you solve the integration of barn and beach?

School has started again and it has us thinking about recess (who doesn’t love recess?) and thereby the playscapes kids enjoy. We began asking what role wood has in these spaces which brought to the discussion a recent project at the Lilac Adventure Zone Playground. A “natural playground” in Highland Park in Rochester, NY by Barton & Loguidice, the space highlights found forms for play and modern pavilions for shelter.

 

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There has been a surge in natural playgrounds [natural playscapes] which inherently focus on wood and the natural landscape. “Biophilic design, connecting with nature, was central to this playground project,” explained Tom Robinson, senior landscape architect, and LEED AP at Barton & Loguidice.

Biophilia. It’s a term that we’re hearing with regularity these days, and that’s exciting! From Edward Wilson’s “Biophilia” meaning ‘the rich, natural pleasure that comes from being surrounded by living organisms’. Research is conclusive that access to nature and nature-inspired spaces help reduce stress and illness. “We’re trying to recreate the experience of playing in the woods, in fields with rocks and sticks. The idea is to encourage exploration and free play with natural materials,” continued Tom.

 

Many young explorers and adventurers amidst the natural elements of Lilac Adventure Zone Playground.
Many young explorers and adventurers amidst the natural elements of Lilac Adventure Zone Playground.

 

Flanders Park bordering Raquette Pond in Tupper Lake, New York in the Adirondacks is in the process of being transformed into an inviting outdoor performance area. Our craftsmen created a performance bandshell using a combination of custom finished solid and glulam Douglas fir timbers which were raised and joined on May 31, 2018.

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Pete and Jake (left) guide a post as the crane lowers the second timber bent into place. Rick (right) readies another post base fastener.
Pete and Jake (left) guide a post as the crane lowers the second timber bent into place. Rick (right) readies another post base fastener.

 

“Raising a timber frame is an important and exciting event—it offers a chance to witness the culmination of months of painstaking effort of an age-old craft where the bones of the project come together,” explained Eric, the general manager of our Timber Framing group.

 

If you’ve never seen a timber frame made from longleaf southern yellow pine, then you really ought to,” Jonathan remarked, “the resins just glow.” Fascinating how one sentence can lead to numerous conversations, learning, and a search of our photo collection…

 

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We commonly work with Kiln Dried Douglas fir, but big timbers, reclaimed timbers, have been near and dear to us since opening our doors over 30 years ago. The New Energy Works story started with a collapsed building and a new house crafted from timbers salvaged from that wreckage. Today we remain smitten with reclaimed timbers.

 

Getting team members to pose for a photo is much easier when they’re surrounded by big reclaimed timbers in our Farmington, NY or McMinnville OR yards.
Getting team members to pose for a photo is much easier when they’re surrounded by big reclaimed timbers in our Farmington, NY or McMinnville OR yards.

 

As an additional option to kiln-dried Douglas fir, the antique timbers offer extra stability and can always be cut to size for any design/plans. Douglas fir and Heart Pine are our favored industrial reclaimed timber species–we always have them available thanks to our sister company, Pioneer Millworks.

 

Last week we were alerted to awesome photos of a Whole Foods Market in Chicago, IL that features our trusses in the bar area and reclaimed wood from our sister company, Pioneer Millworks, throughout. It’s funny how often “finished shots” of a project don’t arrive until a year or two (or more!) after its completion. This project was no exception having opened in early 2017. I struck out to learn more about it, connecting with Mark Scherrer, Senior Associate at BRR Architecture and lead architect for this particular Whole Foods, known to us as “Lakeview”. Mark recalled the store with ease and answered questions before I even asked:

 

If you’re not familiar with Whole Foods, they’re an award-winning national grocer with solid ethos and product focus on natural and organic foods. The stores are an experience, each one unique–any chance we have to visit one, we take it!
If you’re not familiar with Whole Foods, they’re an award-winning national grocer with solid ethos and product focus on natural and organic foods. The stores are an experience, each one unique–any chance we have to visit one, we take it!

 

Each Whole Foods Market is one-of-a-kind, very purposefully designed. Mark explained that for Lakeview: “We knew we wanted the store experience to end with a big design feature. There’s a sense of ‘arrival’ to the Red Star Bar that you feel when looking out from the grand lobby, and customers are encouraged to make this part of their overall shopping experience.”

 

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Pioneer Millworks, provided a variety of reclaimed wood with original patina, saw marks, and other character, used to accent ceilings, walls, fixtures, and some signage in the Lakeview store:

“That’s not a glulam!” I said, incredulously. 

“It is!” Eric insisted with a laugh, raising his hands in defense.

Seeing as Eric is one of the most sincere and honest people around, I figured he had to be right. “Okay,” I replied. “Let’s talk glulams.”

Glulam use around the world has developed into some crazy, creative, and nearly unbelievable structures:

 

Glulams have been incorporated around the world for very intricate and challenging designs, such as this pavilion project for the 2015 Mulan World Expo by X-TU’s Architects in France.
Glulams have been incorporated around the world for very intricate and challenging designs, such as this pavilion project for the 2015 Mulan World Expo by X-TU’s Architects in France.

 

Some of the basics on glued laminated timbers (glulams) that I commonly hear: they come in just about any size and shape (meaning they can make spans that solid timber simply doesn’t grow to); they can achieve geometric shapes and structural performance that is otherwise unattainable with solid timber; they’re inherently stable and dry; they have visible layers of wood. As a visual person the look is always top of mind for me which is where this conversation started:

 

The project that started this conversation…what do you think of the curving bottom chord of this timber and steel truss? Solid or glulam? (Check out the end of this post for the answer.)
The project that started this conversation…what do you think of the curving bottom chord of this timber and steel truss? Solid or glulam? (Check out the end of this post for the answer.)

 

As the change of seasons approaches with Winter easing into Spring, we’ve noticed our calendars filling with celebrations, conferences, benefits, and parties. The locations vary greatly in size and complexity, but all offer a sense of community, warmth, and growth—we’re excited for the experiences they’ll provide. All of this scheduling has inspired us to share your existing timber frame event spaces and take a look forward to what’s ramping up in community building spaces:

 

The Lodge at the William Noah Allyn (Welch Allyn) Conference Center. Photo c Mary Buttoph.
The Lodge at the William Noah Allyn (Welch Allyn) Conference Center. Photo c Mary Buttoph.

 

Winter created a shimmer of magic for a couple at Deerfield Golf & Country Club.
Winter created a shimmer of magic for a couple at Deerfield Golf & Country Club.

 

Timber frame trusses allow for capacious or cozy clear spans within a structure. A minor number of posts are required allowing for infinitely adaptable spaces to fit a variety of needs and offering uninterrupted views across the room (and across the dance floor)—minimal posts, maximum personal interaction.

 

Combining solar with timber framing? We’re all in. We’ve teamed up with SunCommon, a solar energy company with locations in Vermont and New York to bring their latest innovation, the Solar Canopy, to life.

 

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These structures are making solar even easier to add to businesses and homes. The canopies are great for over driveways, parking areas, patios, wood piles, or serving as new outdoor spaces. We like this project as an energy producer, gathering spot, and outdoor storage space–the uses are nearly limitless.

 

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According to SunCommon’s calculations, a two-car bi-facial panel canopy generates enough solar power for the average Vermont home. Designed to take advantage of snow, they use glass solar panels on the Canopies that absorb light from both the front and the back thanks to Sunpreme bi-facial solar panels. If the Canopy is covered with snow on top, the underside of the panels will still produce power from the sunlight reflected off the snow-covered ground. Providing shelter, making the most of inclement weather, and offsetting energy demands–yes, please!

Mike Beganyi spearheaded the partnership with SunCommon and has been on-site taking photos of several of the Vermont canopy projects, including the first canopy opening with Vermont Governor Phil Scott at Hunger Mountain Co-op, a member-owned grocery and cafe.

 

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“No fish and no gum today?”

I was sorry to disappoint Pete for our design discussion, but I was indeed empty handed except for my notebook and pen. I reluctantly shook my head. With his usual cheer and chuckle, Pete continued, “That’s okay, Megan. Next time…both.”

 

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I had sequestered Pete on the porch this sunny afternoon to learn more about a large lake home project the team had designed. It was raised late last year on Smith Mountain Lake and, rumor has it, is steadily nearing completion.

 

An early rendering of the Smith Mountain Lake project.
An early rendering of the Smith Mountain Lake project.

 

“I can’t say I’m feeling very linguistic today,” Pete admitted. It turned out he had been doing sheer wall calculations, which meant crunching numbers, all morning. Regardless of a head full of figures and formulas, we managed a good conversation diving into details of the design/build for this family vacation home. I even learned a new term:

Has it really been a decade since we opened in Oregon? No. Actually, it’s been 9 years. Summer, 2008 I landed out here after a few years of research and prep just in time for the roughest economic face plant many of us have known (and I’ve known 4 others in our 30 years).

I liken that whole beginning to parachuting out of an airplane amidst blue skies into a thick but fluffy-enough bunch of clouds. Once inside, there was some suggestive bumping about, some troublesome turbulence, but not a clear sign yet of what lay ahead. Then suddenly I break through those clouds and the scene below me opens like a battlefield movie: burning buildings, scorched earth, hungry villagers with widening eyes and the air full of acrid smoke. (Yes, yes I’m exaggerating for effect. There were no burning buildings.)

That was the starting of our west coast effort at the beginning of that darned big recession. In looking back, it might have been better to hang out on the beach for 4 or 5 years rather than make the effort we did to build our business in such a setting. But I am neither prescient nor idle, and so work we did.

…and we’ve made great progress, and well, we’re pretty glad we didn’t just hang out on the beach. I would have gone insane.

 

Sean seems to be our resident selfie expert. Here he captured himself along with a few of the rest of us west coasters: Darren, Richard La Trobe (artist and bridge maker), me, David, and Quinn.
Sean seems to be our resident selfie expert. Here he captured himself along with a few of the rest of us west coasters: Darren, Richard La Trobe (artist and bridge maker), me, David, and Quinn.

 

Today we’ve grown to 25 coworkers in timber framing, carpentry, design, engineering, and millworks, and the buzz is on.

 

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Thanks, Phil and Rocio. Little did you know how perfect your timing was when you came to us and asked for a “small but perfect home”. Fertile ground indeed, and my mind raced with the many recent thoughts about working on something like a precious gem, or what we’re calling a NEW Jewel.

So many of our clients now are building smaller homes because they simply don’t need a bigger one. Seems smart for many reasons: less vacuuming, less heating and cooling, less taxes. And for many, less strain on the finances as we get to the point where retirement shines bright and hopeful.

 

Phil and Rocio with their new Aussie pup Sherlock.
Phil and Rocio with their new Aussie pup Sherlock.

 

I’ve closely followed the whole Tiny House thing, and a few of my friends have been drawn to it. There’s plenty about it on the web, but simply put they’re tightly designed and crafted homes of 200-400 square feet, often built on a chassis and wheels. Cool idea, but hard to live in for most, I’d reckon. For the jewel of a home in my own mind, I wanted to start with 1,000 square feet. Enough room for a pleasant common area, a couple of away rooms for bed and work, a couple of bathrooms and yes to a mudroom and pantry. (For Phil and Rocio’s, we ended up with 1,140 square feet.) 

 

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Grab a stool and a cutting board, or a plate, or a pencil, or a toothpick, or a tablet, or…?! Welcome to the kitchen island. Food prep, snack counter, breakfast bar, coffee cafe, homework hub, central party point, family communication center—its uses are nearly limitless.

 

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If a kitchen is ‘the heart of the home’, then the island is arguably a home’s centerpiece; imperative at meal times, after school, and during gatherings with friends and family. “I truly enjoy the engagement with and connection most people feel towards this area. I have the most fun working with our clients on their islands. These structures are the ‘sweet spot’.  Looking back on 21 years of this work with New Energy Works, I think islands are often the best part of any job,” said Rob, General Manager and lead designer for NEWwoodworks.

 

Rob was enjoying a few moments at the island before the Open House of a project we built on Keuka Lake.
Rob was enjoying a few moments at the island before the Open House of a project we built on Keuka Lake.

 

As we approach kitchen design, islands are carefully considered, discussed at length, loosely outlined, discussed more, and finalized in detail. “When we have the opportunity to design this area our goal is to bring a thoughtful and logical approach to creating a comfortable, functional, and engaging space incorporating the family’s varied wants and needs,” continued Rob.

 

Dining, meeting, drafting, sewing, displaying—the table is one of our most versatile pieces of furniture. They range in size, use, and style—across cultures and materials. Small functional bedside tables, wide ornate coffee tables, grand formal dining tables: each personal and flexible to nearly any imaginable design.

 

In this New York home, two wide reclaimed Elm thresher boards were bookended, butterfly joined, and placed atop a custom fabricated metal base.
In this New York home, two wide reclaimed Elm thresher boards were bookended, butterfly joined, and placed atop a custom fabricated metal base.

 

For over two decades our fine woodworking group, NEWwoodworks, has been designing and crafting all varieties of tables, working out nuances and integrating creativity with functionality. Wood is this team’s preferred medium, be it antique reclaimed, live-edge, or newly sawn. Celebrating the beauty of the wood is instinctual with these craftsmen.

 

Headed for its new life as a bar height community table, this creation has intentionally selected planks from original Foundry Maple flooring with a resin pour finish atop a powder coated custom steel base.
Headed for its new life as a bar height community table, this creation has intentionally selected planks from original Foundry Maple flooring with a resin pour finish atop a powder coated custom steel base.

 

A new home build in Pine Plains, NY offers an example of the design flexibility of heavy timber, showcasing contemporary and minimalistic timber framing.

Designed by Amalgam Studio, each bent is open and airy, blending timber and steel. We crafted the bents using double 4×10’s, sandwiching ½” steel plates at critical locations. Powder-coated steel tension tie-rod connections span the width of the home joining the posts together. They bring structural stability while keeping the frame light.

 

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Prior to assembly, each stick received a custom ‘burned’ finish. Charring the Douglas fir creates a deep color tone and raised grain texture. We’re excited to use this old technique to bring a new twist to traditional materials.

 

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This project is aiming for a few awards and possibly Passive House status. We’ll share more as Black Oak Builders finish out the project.

 

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Special thanks to Ben Albury of Amalgam Studio for the great images and raising video.

Timber Home Living magazine documented the Olsen’s journey to building their family retreat in the Berkshires from 2014 to completion in 2016. What happens during a custom home building project? Starting with our design team join the story from the Olsen’s point of view as we craft the timber frame, enclosure, and custom woodworking. Click through each part of the eight part series below to get the inside scoop.

The Olsen’s story, and the Welcome Home Series, begins with the land…

 

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Part 1From Dream to Design
The Olsen’s begin designing their dream home on land they’d been spending vacation time visiting for 10 years. Harmony with the land and the family was a must.

 

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Part 2: Laying The Groundwork
Breaking ground – an exciting day, especially with a few last minute modifications.

 

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Part 3: Built to Last
Our team raises the frame and the Olsen family watches their dream home take shape.

 

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Part 4: Worth the Wait
Weather delays…but not for long!

 

For over 20 years NEWwoodworks, our fine woodworking division, has specialized in handcrafted cabinetry, furniture, stairs, doors, and other custom designed interior furnishings from their shop in Shortsville, NY. The Shortsville-Manchester Area Chamber of Commerce (SMACC) is a volunteer organization that promotes progress and a positive business climate. NEWwoodworks has supported local Shortsville activities for many years, including the annual Wild Water Derby, and has been recognized by SMACC as business of the month.

“Crafting projects from antique reclaimed wood is a unique privilege,” remarked Rob D’Alessandro, General Manager. “We’re excited to be recognized by the Shortsville Manchester Area Chamber of Commerce as a Business of the Month.”

NEWwoodworks has built a reputation as the go-to shop among designers and architects for taking on challenging, one-of-a-kind, custom woodworking projects. Each piece is hand-crafted using sustainably harvested and often antique wood by skilled craftsmen and design software. Thanks to experience, talented hands, digital technology, and good-old-fashioned creativity the more unique, the more difficult, the better the project.

The craftsmen at NEWwoodworks have knowledge and abilities which ensure every project is a work of art, whether it’s doors, cabinetry, stairs, tables, wine rooms, or commercial fixtures. They have worked with world-famous retailers, hotels, restaurants, and spas to bring the vision of the brand and the designer to life. Great attention is paid to the details: hand-forged hardware, oil rubbed finishes, and antique wood-with-a-story-to-tell are a few of the features incorporated in their products.

 

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