We’re excited to announce our newest team member, Gary Paquin. Previously working for companies such as McCoy Millwork, Rejuvenation and Jack of the Woods Construction, Gary has been working in the home industry for over 15 years.
“I started as a carpenter and have always had a strong interest in historic restoration, finish carpentry and architectural history. I’ve spent the last 7+ years in the waste management industry. I’m ready to get back to my happy place at Versatile,” says Gary.
Another cool fact about Gary is that he and Richard, Versatile’s owner, are longtime friends.
“I met Richard shortly after he and Anne moved to Portland. We worked together at Serendipity Center: a school for troubled kids. We became fast friends and have been close ever since. I was the best man at their wedding,” says Gary.
Gary also runs a podcast with his friend Jeff Peart.
“It’s just two guys talking and trying to be funny. Been doing it for over two years. It’s a lot of fun,” says Gary.
“As the Business Development Manager, Gary will be helping our clients learn more about our product. At Versatile Wood Products, we know our company is only as good as our people. Which is why we are so excited to have Gary join our team!” says Richard De Wolf, Versatile company owner and CEO.
We’re excited to learn more about Gary Paquin as he gets into his new role with Versatile. Stay tuned for a more in-depth post on Gary and his work with Versatile coming soon!
With the sun shining, beer on tap and music in the air, Versatile opened their doors to guests for Design Week on April 19th and introduced the new semi-custom windows line, Ingenuity; demonstrated the efficient biomass boiler system and gave tours of their space to curious builders, contractors, architects, designers and anyone who wanted to learn more!
Custom wood building is an art that has been around for about as long as humans. Many of the same terms we see today were used thousands of years ago. On Raymond McInnis’s site, A History of Woodworking, he shares a piece from an article written on Stonehenge:
“…The largest weighs as much as 50 tons. Unique today, Stonehenge was probably also unique in its own time, some 4,500 years ago – a stone monument modeled on timber precedents. Indeed, its massive lintels are bound to their uprights by mortise-and-tenon joints taken straight from carpentry.”
With the progress in modern technology and industrial demands, Woodworking as a field has changed. For example, the development of (CNC) or Computer Numeric Controlled Machines in 1949 made it possible to mass-produce and reproduce products faster—not only faster but with less waste and the ability to produce more complex designs. Along with CNCs, the emergence of rechargeable power tools sped up the creation of many projects. They also required much less body strength and endurance than in the past. Despite the increase with technological advances, the quality and craftsmanship of custom wood-building remains unmatched.
What Does Custom-Built Mean?
According to the Merriam Webster, custom built simply means, “Built to individual specifications.” Sounds pretty straightforward, however there are many intricate details involved. Custom wood building is more than making a window or door. It requires more than just the right tools and space. These are essential, yes, but custom building also requires a lot of skill. At Versatile Wood Products every project, both big and small, modern or historical, is performed with the utmost quality and dedication.
“Versatile provides historically accurate custom wood sash, cabinetry, doors and millwork using techniques originated by 18th and 19th century craftsmen. We are committed to creating spaces that honor and make history. By preserving traditional ways of building and blending them with modern technologies and performance standards, we design and build solutions that harmonize aesthetics and temperament with function and utility.”
Versatile’s experienced team specializes in balancing period appropriate architectural design specifications with modern performance standards, combining historic techniques and modern technologies.
What does manufactured mean?
Wood is manufactured in a few types, Plywood, particleboard, fiberboard, medium density fiberboard (MDF), and veneer. In addition to the CNC machine, another reason for the increased popularity of mass-produced wood products was the invention of manufactured wood. Manufactured wood products have become a popular choice because they are less expensive to produce. Manufactured wood products are also more readily available at Big Box stores.
Understanding what custom wood building and manufactured wood are is important when starting a project. For example, determining the exact specifications for choosing the right window or door is important. Having the exact build for a particular project is crucial. Not just for the aesthetics, but for long-term quality.
“By hand-selecting tight grain wood patterns and using time-honored techniques our products will last for many years to come.”
How Versatile produces lasting quality
To better understand the separation between custom wood building and manufactured wood, the following Versatile projects will highlight the distinction. In this first custom case study, the restoration of a historical landmark highlights the stunning craftsmanship Versatile (and Arciform) demonstrate. The agility and flexibility accompanied by the great care required shows why custom wood building is essential.
Restoring First Congregational Church
The First Congregational Church turned to Versatile and Arciform to stabilize and restore the wood elements of this feature. Constructed in 1895, the First Congregational Church of Portland is a dominant Venetian Gothic icon. The church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a Portland Landmark. This historic structure towers with its 175’ bell tower at the Southwest corner.
Restoring the Gothic tracery was more than just “replacing parts.” The goal was to retain as much of the original fabric as possible. However, what appeared to be repetitive details in the columns and tracery were in fact unique. This prohibited the efficiency of replicating one element to be reused as a template throughout the entire tracery at similar locations. After meticulous documentation, all parts were mapped and translated into CAD files. Having these otherwise inaccessible components in-house provided the unique opportunity to prepare a custom library of details for First Congregational Church.
All new pieces were made of Western Red Cedar, the same wood species as the original elements. This was to ensure historic accuracy and material performance. Replacement parts were then fit in place for sizing and routed with the cove detailing ensuring the tracery appeared seamless. The final product was delivered in sections for ease of hoisting and installation by Arciform.
In these three short project highlights, the breadth and skill level of Versatile is apparent. These again demonstrate custom wood building as an art that surpasses manufactured wood products both in ingenuity and workmanship.
For The Zipper, Versatile and designer Guerrilla Development used simple solid wood frames and sills. They also used direct glazed windows in solid clear vertical grain fir. This helped to create a truly innovative modern design.
The Evo Building challenges were to create custom casements in Douglas fir to match historic photos of the building. It was nearly impossible to replicate a two-toned color scheme in aluminum but was easily accomplished in wood. The hinged casements on the upper floors were a fall-hazard. Versatile used a sash limiter that would open by 3″ to prevent the potential for someone to fall out.
The Albina Yard(which can also be seen on Think Wood) had extraordinarily high flush exterior doors: 142” tall and 108” tall full lite doors. In this project Versatile utilized offset pivot hinges to give massive doors smooth operation and an uninterrupted modern look. The project called for building flush doors in a continuous fir veneer with a matching 34” fir transom panel above. The design challenge was that both the flush exterior doors and full lite doors were extraordinarily high in addition to being about 40” wide.
A report by Green Building Elements provides a wealth of researched information that supports the value of custom wood building. A study conducted by Architecture and Design reports that 16% of all the fossil fuel consumed annually is converted into concrete, steel, aluminum and brick building materials. On the opposite end, wood reduces its carbon footprint.
“When trees are made into building materials, that carbon dioxide remains sequestered in the finished products. When wooden building materials reach the end of their useful life, they are often repurposed or recycled into new products. All that stored carbon dioxide is kept out of the atmosphere virtually forever.”
Green Building Elements also reports a cooperative program between a company called Whole Trees in Madison, Wisconsin and the USDA Forest Service. Entire trees that the Forest Service harvests during routine thinning efforts and discards are used. They are turned into beams, trusses and joists to use in building construction.
Custom Wood Building is good for your Health
Custom wood building is not just beautiful and unique in each design but is also good for your health. Another study by Architecture and Design finds that, “the feelings of natural warmth and comfort that wood elicits in people has the effect of lowering blood pressure and heart rates, reducing stress and anxiety and increasing positive social interactions.” Wood products within a room have been shown to improve indoor air quality by moderating humidity. The study also finds that being surrounded by wood at home, work or school has positive effects. Not just on the body and brain, but also on the environment. It can even shorten hospital stays through reduced recovery times.
Truly, Custom Wood-Building Is an Art Of Craftsmanship
From the use of mortise and tenon joinery dating back thousands of years to our state-of-the-art CNC router, Versatile Wood Products’ custom wood projects are built to last.
The Sellwood Pool Bathhouse was built in 1910. We matched the original windows exactly by bringing the originals into our shop to replicate.
A Year in Review: The Sovereign Hotel
Built in 1923, the Georgian-style Sovereign Hotel was designed by Carl L. Linde. We made several solid white oak doors and storefront assemblies with beautiful arched transom windows. This was one of the first forays into using the CNC machine for arched details—making them faster, more accurate and safer to produce.
A Year in Review: Setzoil Door Modification
Being entrusted to modify an original Leroy Setziol door was certainly a highlight for 2017. We improved the door structure and make it easier to hang in the jamb, removed and replaced the dated veneer on the interior and edges of the door, using clear vertical grain (CVG) fir and teak.
A Year in Review: Hollywood Theatre Doors
We worked with Arciform and architect, Paul Falsetto to create the updated entry system for the historic Hollywood Theater.
A Year in Review: 30th & Killingsworth Storefront
This entryway for the popular restaurant Autentica features double-hung windows and transoms.
A Year in Review: Custom Midcentury Modern Credenza Set
We had fun designing these custom pieces in a classic retro style.
Friday, Nov. 10th, 2017: On a rainy evening in downtown Portland, more than 250 people came together. Celebrating Oregon’s historical structures and preservation at Restore Oregon’s most important fundraiser of the year, The Restoration Celebration 2017. This year it was held at the beautiful Sentinel Hotel. The Sentinel was built in 1909 and designed by William Christmas Knighton. Knighton was Oregon’s first architect to use Viennese-influenced Early Modern and modified Arts and Crafts styles in his designs.
Versatile was proud to be the presenting sponsor at the restoration celebration 2017. They welcomed the guests with a toast by Anne De Wolf and Snow Blackwood (below).
So many people make an impact on Oregon’s historic preservation. This became obvious as the DeMuro Awards were given out to the leaders in preservation who are designing our historical structures in a way that makes sense for Oregon’s future.
At Swedish restaurant Broder Nord, right up the road from Versatile headquarters, Erica Witbeck took some time out of her busy day managing schedules to share her story with me. Learning about Erica and what it means to be an “operations manager” was not only interesting, but complex.
Erica started with Arciform — Versatile’s sister company — 4 years ago as their purchasing manager and 2.5 years ago she transitioned into the operations manager position for Versatile.
Erica Describes the Difference Between Two Roles
“As purchasing manager, I tracked inventory, scheduled delivery drivers and managed usage of the paint booth facility. Now I manage people more than product.”
Erica has a unique background, having studied sculpture and printmaking at PNCA in addition to art history and chemistry at PSU.
Her father’s doctoral studies and subsequent university assignments lead the family throughout the Midwest. Erica grew up in a variety of towns from Nebraska to Indiana
Erica’s father is a botanist, and currently works in environmental risk assessment. Her mother recently retired from respiratory care, having previously worked and studied in phlebotomy and emergency response.
It’s clear that Erica’s parents have passed on a level of education that plays out in Erica’s career today. She remembers illustrating cell structures of plants for her father’s textbook as an adolescent and realizes, spontaneously, how this is at work in her career today.
“My father had my brother and me do illustrations for his journals. I learned the vascular systems of plants at a young age,” she remembers and then realizes, “I now understand why wood makes sense to me.”
Erica Witbeck has always loved materials. She talks of the different ways wood behaves when it is kiln dried vs. air dried and how different wood treatments or product applications can behave in a variety of scenarios. Her chemistry studies have helped her out more than once in this arena.
A Typical Day at Versatile Wood Products
I ask her about a typical day at Versatile and she says, “It all starts with the schedule. This can last from around 2 hours to the good part of my day, depending on how many hiccups there are.”
She must check-in with the shop, the drafting and design teams and with the sales people. Each department plays an important role in the production of a job. The life cycle of a job can complete in a matter of weeks, or be years in the making. This wide gamut of timelines and people involved is why “the schedule”—or more commonly know in the construction industry as The Gantt Chart—tends to be the driving force in Erica’s day.
Erica must have her finger on the pulse of each job so that she knows when it is time to call a production meeting, facilitate each department’s needs, or help lay out next steps. It is up to her to determine when it is time to call in more carpenters, or to notice if there is an equipment limitation that may hamper capacity; for example, “Do we need to buy more glass cups to take on that huge window job? How many jobs can start milling simultaneously, and how does that affect pacing?”
“It’s not just hours and bodies, it’s activities,” Erica says when she describes how she thinks about each job. “I don’t want to send anyone home and I also don’t want there to be more work than the shop can handle at one time. It’s like playing chess with the people and pieces on the board.”
I can sense the pride and confidence in Erica’s voice when she talks about the historical aspect to Versatile’s work.
“As a custom wood manufacturing shop, we’re not always going to be the first choice for every job. But with our expertise in historical projects, we’re known as a trusted go-to that is fluent in custom historic buildings.”
When I ask what her favorite part of her job is, she says,
Erica tells me a bit about her home life with her two children, ages 6 and 9. She compares them to bear cubs and the garden she’s created from a yard that used to be nothing but dirt. “Gardening brings me peace. I don’t listen to music or podcasts when I garden. That’s my time to hear my surroundings. To connect with my neighbors and to feel the dirt.”
Before we wrap up our “Fika” (coffee-time as the Swedish would call it), Erica says, “There’s a 3rd aspect to my job that’s pretty interesting. It’s a surprising part, that I didn’t realize would be so fun for me.”
“What is it?” I’m curious.
Using Versatile’s internal project management program, FMYI, QuickBooks and Excel, Erica works to organize statistics from each job into charts that can be used to analyze and provide meaningful insights.
“We may have jobs that feel incredibly challenging. The emotional story may be that the job was terrible, but if we make room for that challenge, the analysis may reveal something different.”
Erica Witbeck recalls the whale watching center in Depoe Bay Versatile worked on last summer and how it was their first time working with salvaged redwood. “We had our concerns, but it ended up coming out really well. It left us with a high-traffic, historic project to put in our portfolio. Through the data I could see by every metric that the job was a success.”
Finding trends and patterns that lead to solutions brings Erica’s analytical mind to the table. I’m left with the thought that analytical thinking may actually be more prominent in artists than we realize.
As a train filled with lumber roars by, Versatile Wood Product’s mill foreman, Jeff Vasey, takes a break from his normal duties to share his story with me. Jeff is the longest-working employee for Versatile and started with the sister company, Arciform, in 2001. Beginning as a field carpenter, he worked with a small team of four carpenters who built the original Arciform building in North Portland off Skidmore Street and Interstate Avenue. The business owned by Richard and Anne DeWolf’s quickly outgrew that location.
“Arciform outgrew the original shop right away,” says Vasey. “So they bought a second building in the industrial area off North Randolph Street.”
The Arciform shop space was originally only ¼ of the size it is today, and much of it was rented to other tenants. “AWOL Dance Studio would have aerial dancers hanging from the ceilings in one part of the warehouse,” remembers Vasey.
Arciform Acquires Versatile Wood Products
Then, in 2011, the merge happened. Arciform acquired the 30-year-old custom wood manufacturing company, Versatile Sash and Door (now Versatile Wood Products). The aerial dancers no longer dangled from the ceiling and Vasey played a major role in the expansion of the workshop.
Jeff’s devotion to Arciform and Versatile and his pride in his work becomes clear to me as he talks about developing the space.
“As a field carpenter, you’re sort of a jack-of-all-trades. This came in handy for me as an employee of Arciform and Versatile. I helped wire the new building’s shop-space and created a piping/dust-collection system. In addition I remodeled, built and moved equipment as our space and services expanded,” says Jeff.
Jeff Vasey’s Story
“I’ve always had a mechanical-type of brain,” Jeff reflects. He remembers participating in the soapbox derby when he was 9 and 10 years old, where he won the awards for best constructed as well as best designed car.
Raised in Fargo, North Dakota, Jeff Vasey moved to Portland in 1985. I learn that Jeff is not only a carpenter, an engineer and a mechanic, but he’s also an artist.
Art brought Vasey to his wife, Vicky DeKrey,as well as to Oregon. Vasey and DeKrey met at North Dakota State University, where they both majored in art. At first living with a cousin in Washington, DC, they finally followed their favorite professor, Jerry Vanderline, who was originally from Portland, Oregon. As a result, when Vanderline moved back to Portland, he invited them for a visit.
“We toured over 11,000 miles of land on the way. Oregon was by far the most beautiful of all the places I’d been.”
It’s a familiar story to me. My own parents grew up in the flat lands of Oklahoma. When they took a road trip to the Northwest they were completely wonder-struck by the tall trees and lush greenness of it all. Perhaps it is a place that attracts artists.
However, once in Oregon, Jeff Vasey painted less and less. He got into photography, created electronic music, hiked and backpacked. He also started fixing a friend’s home in exchange for living there. After a while he learned of Arciform from a friend who worked there.
Jeff’s Work Today
As we walk through the shop, Jeff explains to me what different tools do.
“This one is probably the oldest machine in the shop. It must be over a hundred years old and is built like a battleship.” Jeff says. “It drills this groove into the window frame so you can fit these two joints together.”
He holds up two sash frame corners and slides them smoothly into place. It’s called a mortise and tenon joint.
Jeff is no longer a field carpenter because he has grown into the shop manager at Versatile. When I ask Jeff what his favorite thing about his job is, he says it’s the variety of projects they work on. He likes the details of some of the historical-style carpentry work. He fondly reflects on his days as a field carpenter.
“I miss getting to see the end result of my work as much as I did when I was working in the field. I loved getting to work directly with Anne and Richard on projects, because having the designer or architect so accessible while working on a project is a treat. It’s a collaborative process here.”
I learn that Jeff Vasey is known as the resident wood expert at Versatile. Asking him what his favorite type of wood is, he shakes his head and says, “No, I couldn’t choose just one.”
This week, Richard was interviewed by Amy Rosenberg of Veracity’s StreetTalk Podcast where he spoke about his love for vintage structures, the value of mixed income levels in controversial Historic Districts (HD’s) and why it’s important to protect HD’s and why it’s easier to maintain a building than it is to change it.
After his enlistment in the Navy Curtis Nagel returned to Texas to complete an Associate Degree in Architectural Technology. And to begin his professional journey as a drafter. Curtis’ most recent accomplishment was obtaining his Master’s Degree in Technology Management with an emphasis in safety (occupational and industrial hygiene). During each of these degrees, Curtis worked full time as a drafter and buyer for an electronics manufacturing business. The business developed devices for the disabled community that had limited to no mobility.
You’ve been brought on as one of Versatile’s Drafters. Tell us about what your areas of responsibility will be.
Curtis Nagel: My main areas of responsibility will deal with documenting site specific conditions and applying my knowledge of architectural building systems to assist in drafting technical shop drawings for manufacturing. I will be collaborating with the sales, estimating, manufacturing, and other design teams to ensure my work will be easily understood and of high value.
You have a background in personnel management, avionics maintenance, architectural and mechanical drafting/design, and component procurement. What aspects of Versatile’s work and process are most similar to your previous work? What’s the most different?
Curtis Nagel: The most similar aspect that I can compare is collaboration. Knowledge is not static and must be continuously updated to assist in getting all hands on the same page. With multiple divisions collaborating projects together, we all can gain by learning the experience and knowledge from our peers and clients, working towards an end goal. The most different aspect that differs from my previous employment is with the large amount of individuals involved with each project. When I designed electronic case enclosures, there were only a handful of individuals involved from start to finish during project conception all the way to manufacturing, including principals.
What inspires you about custom manufacture?
Curtis Nagel: I consider custom manufacturing to be hand crafted and of quality work that cannot be obtained at a big box home improvement store. There are many times we “update” our homes with what is readily available but not always of the most suitable choice when seeking quality and period correct components for the project at hand. No matter what restaurant, store, landmark, building, or house that I am visiting, I am constantly looking at the design and building techniques used. I find more enjoyment out of those who take the time to understand the building components and manufacture them to suit the building properly and with quality.
Describe one of your favorite past projects. What were the challenges? What were some of the features that made it memorable?
Curtis Nagel: I was in charge of developing an adaptive switch that would allow users with cerebral palsy to access switch-based communication devices. While there are many types of adaptive switches in the niche market that we served, none were of higher quality. I was able to dissect and study each of the main competitor switches to see what made their switches “special” in their brand. Overall, I found nothing that really set them apart. I focused on designing a switch that was quieter when actuated. More durable for the CP user who was rougher on equipment. And that used custom manufacturing techniques that did not require redundant and costly fasteners. I was able to incorporate die-cut sound dampening foam pads that reduced noise when actuated as well as when the switch recoiled.
Designing the switch using a specific blend of plastics that allowed higher impact. And since this switch was only 2.5 inches in diameter with incorporated wiring and mechanics, the use of excess fasteners was reduced by understanding the effects of bonding plastic parts together with certain solvents. The precision design work of multiple components this small was a challenge to make sure they mate properly and did not hinder functionality because that would mean our disabled users would not be able to use their communication devices.
What are the top 3 things on your “bucket list?”
One of my bucket list items would be to travel to the Pyramids of Giza. I have always enjoyed learning about the architecture of the ancient Egyptians.
During my first year of architecture school I wrote a paper on the architecture in Greece. I would love to go see the Acropolis in person.
A few years ago I used to run competitively and never made it to the marathon level. I would love to leap over that distance hurdle.