Case Study: University of Portland’s Dundon Berchtold Hall Entries

Teamwork and expertise made this project happen. Jeff Vasey (Mill Foreman), Pete Kmosko (Cabinetry and CNC Foreman), Curtis Nagel (Drafter), and Rex Vaccaro (Product Design Manager) collaborated for months.

Dundon-Berchtold Hall is the first new academic hall that University of Portland has opened on campus in over two decades, and Versatile Wood Products was thrilled to be a part of its completion. The intention behind the design was to create a space that was aesthetically similar to the historic buildings that are on campus and in the vicinity. A classic, traditional look was the goal, with stylistic references to the Collegiate Gothic style commonly seen in prestigious East coast universities.

Versatile designed and built six door pairs with sidelites and Gothic arched-top transoms, as well as two single doors with traditional rectangular transoms. This classic aesthetic calls for quarter sawn white oak. This species is historic, durable, and beautiful, but it takes a skillful eye to select layouts from this type of wood. Pieces were selected for harmony in both grain and color. The look of the finished product is determined when we first handle the rough lumber in the mill.

But the challenges didn’t end with lumber selection. Since Classic architectural elements are defined by their dimensionality, grand formal entrances like these call for multiple layers of trim. Large, chunky millwork profiles add depth and drama to the design and visually support the heavy detailed doors. Adding a Gothic arch to this formula made this a technical feat that we addressed with both traditional and modern methods. Accuracy was paramount in order to match up all of the curved pieces precisely, and for that task we looked to our CNC operator.

This detail from the shop drawings shows the final rendering of one of the elevations. All elements must align with each other while fitting the masonry opening precisely.

Before the pieces could be cut out, the wood blanks had to be assembled. Keeping in mind the color and grain harmony mentioned above, we also had to consider how the grain was going to be revealed on the round pieces. Quarter sawn grain patterns are revealed when wood is cut at a specific angle.

Our mill foreman had to consider how the grain would be revealed as the shapes emerged from the blanks, and with a curved piece, this is a more challenging process. Additionally, with the heavy wood and long expanses, the joints had to be robust and strong. This required compound miter glue-ups, where the face of the glue-up is angled to the shape of the final curved piece, while the meeting joints are also angled to increase glue surface. All of this planning and consideration is necessary before it ever hits the CNC platen. Once we were ready to start cutting the shapes, the CNC operator must determine the best plan of attack for the cuts—not only the direction, but the depth and speed of each pass. To lose a piece due to tear-out after all that work can be heartbreaking. The CNC is a high-tech tool but requires as much skill and thoughtfulness as any other woodworking instrument. 

This detail section shows the multiple parts used in the jamb and casing, which give the entry the imposing drama befitting this building. Note the triple laminated door construction, which provides extra stability for these oversize door slabs.

Versatile Wood Products partnered with Fortis Construction and Soderstrom Architects to bring this project to life. Our high-quality design and expert craftsmanship created these exceptional entries, which will grace the entrance of Dundon-Berchtold Hall for many decades to come.

Sovereign Hotel Restoration Award

Beautiful Sovereign Hotel Restoration

Sovereign Hotel Renovation Team Celebrates Project of the Year Award
Members of the project team behind the Sovereign Hotel renovation, submitted by R&H Construction and Emerick Architects, celebrate the Project of the Year award. (Sam Tenney/DJC)

Versatile Wood Products is proud to stand alongside Emerick Architects and R&H Construction to win DJC Top Project of the Year Award for the restoration of the Sovereign Hotel! The DJC awards are:

“… the premier awards program for the region’s built environment. Honoring the best building and construction projects in Oregon
and SW Washington, DJC TopProjects is the must-attend annual event to meet the people and firms who are doing outstanding work in the regional built environment.”


Watch a beautiful video on the restoration of this 95-year-old luxury apartment hotel here:

A Brief History of the Sovereign Hotel

Since its construction the Sovereign Hotel has been an apartment building, radio station, and home to the Oregon Historical Society.

Sovereign Hotel

The landmark Sovereign Hotel was built in 1923. The nine-story building is a Georgian-style designed by Carl L. Linde. Its first occupants were KFWV radio in 1926 until 1927. In 1938, Harry Mittleman bought the Hotel; until 1972 it was known as the Sovereign Apartments. The Sovereign Hotel was added to the United States National Register of Historic Places on December 2, 1981. In 1982 the Oregon Historical Society (OHS) purchased the building to expand the Oregon History Center.

Sovereign Hotel

One of the most beloved aspects of the Hotel is the murals. The Hotel is an L-shaped building with six sides. On four of the sides, murals commissioned by OHS were painted in 1989 by Richard Hass. Two of these murals rise eight stories.  One side depicts the Lewis and Clark expedition, while the mural on the south side shows the pioneer period in Oregon’s history. In 2014 OHS sold the Hotel under the agreement that the new owner would preserve the murals.

Versatile and the Sovereign Hotel

For Versatile, the story started in August of 2015. Our team started exploring scope options with the team from Emerick to see what the possibilities were. Versatile’s historic building experts participated in detailed site assessments to help decide how to best approach the building restoration. We were able to propose an array of strategies to choose from.

Flash Forward to Spring of 2016:

While the window scope was being sorted out and set in motion, we next concentrated on the custom storefront and entryway system. The storefront was particularly challenging. This was because the oversized tempered glass required was larger than any domestic tempering oven that we could locate. The glass ultimately had to be sourced from Canada.

The storefront was constructed out of Sapele. This beautiful material is often selected for stain-grade products because of its rich, dark appearance. Versatile will also utilize it for paint-grade applications when high exposure calls for greater resistance to weathering and decay. The entry system, consisting of quartersawn white oak door, side panels, and arched transom, were designed to coordinate with original materials and details.

We Rose to a New Technical Challenge with the Arched Transom Unit:

For maximum accuracy, we looked to our state-of-the-art CNC machine to produce the radiused pieces. The geometric precision on some of the slender pieces was so accurate and consistent, we have since adapted our production to incorporate this strategy. This is a perfect example of how Versatile strives to bring new technologies together with traditional building methods to create the best products possible.

Additional interior and exterior oak doors were added in succession, as well as some cabinet drawers and faces (yes, we do that too!). All in all, we had 13 phases to this project, finally concluding in August of 2017.

Check Out our Photos

Sovereign Hotel
Sovereign plans and arched pieces

Sovereign Hotel
Sovereign arched transom in progress

Sovereign Hotel
Sovereign Arched Transom Gluing

Sovereign Hotel
Chuck from R&H Construction stands in front of the Sovereign door and arched transom

Witherspoon Building: Case Study Update

 Witherspoon Building

What challenges did Versatile face during the Witherspoon Building project?

The age of the Witherspoon building combined with the amount of steel that was required to bring the building up to current seismic standards made our job very difficult.

Another challenge was incorporating electronics for a security system into a solid wood door.

 Witherspoon Building

What were the Uniquely Versatile solutions?

We had to keep very close vertical and horizontal alignment throughout our storefront system. We built the rough openings around the steel beams.

To incorporate the electronics, we ran wiring through the lock rail of the door to get them from a special hinge to an electrified latch. This was then linked to a card reader. This was an extremely difficult and laborious task that our shop pulled off.

 Witherspoon Building

What was the result?

The vertical mullions at the lower and upper storefront windows align perfectly, as do all of the casings.

As for the door, the result was an end product that looks beautifully simple and historic. But upon closer inspection, actually houses a tremendous amount of hardware and technology.

 Witherspoon Building

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Doors In High Exposure Areas — Best Practices

Best Practices

Best Practices For Doors starts with quality….

Living in the Pacific Northwest, we are faced with a lot of rain.

Here are a few ways Versatile combats the water during the build process, to keep your doors in great shape.

Quality materials are a must! We always use high quality, solid wood. The materials used will play a large role in the longevity of your door.

Most commercially manufactured doors are made up of many pieces of wood joined together. A veneer is then added to the exterior to give it the look of a solid piece of wood. At Versatile Wood Products, each piece of wood is hand-selected so our doors can be made by single, double or triple laminating, without a veneer.

To ensure that the door is completely sealed, Versatile provides a full gluing of all joinery.

Best Practices

…and technique

All doors go through the wet glazing technique, with neutral-cure silicone, instead of the dry glazing technique, which uses rubber gaskets. The benefit of wet glazing is that the seal is less prone to shrinkage and cracking.

To greatly reduce air and water infiltration, Versatile uses silicone bulb weather-stripping. This is preferred to foam filled, vinyl coated compression weather-stripping as it has superior durability and air sealing. Silicone bulb is also smaller and essentially hidden in the tight spaces that we have on custom doors.

In addition to the materials of the door, an entryway overhang can have a large impact on the longevity of your door.

Best Practices for doors: entryway overhang

The height and depth of an overhang matter. The deeper the overhang, the more protection your door will get. Depending on the direction your door faces, the distance of the overhang should be at least half of the height of the door.

Best Practices

Best Practices for doors: Water management

Water management is also important. Keeping water away from problem areas, such as the sill, framework, and top of the door is a must.

Best Practices

Using a traditional threshold, where the sill has a slope, or bevel, is the ideal way to drain water away from the framework.

Best Practices for doors: positive wash

Another key thing is to provide a positive wash (having no flat surfaces for water to pool on), this will ensure a lifespan of 15-20 years. For a door exposed to water, the sill should be at a slope of at least 10 degrees. All other flat areas should be beveled to avoid having water collect on the door.

As the top of the door is also susceptible to water damage, an in-swing door is preferred in high exposure areas to provide extra protection to this vulnerable area.

Best Practices

For taller than normal doors of eight feet or more, a multi-point (3 or 5 point) locking mechanism is recommended. This will provide additional sealing points against air and water infiltration and reduce warping and bowing of the door.

Best Practices


Best Practices for doors: laminated glass

For doors with glass that are exposed to the elements, Versatile sometimes uses laminated glass. As illustrated below, laminated glass is two panes of glass with a polyvinyl butyral (PVB) inter-layer. Using laminated glass will decrease the chances of breaking or cracking in stormy conditions.


Best Practices

Best Practices for doors: the finishing touch

Think about how you will finish your door. Clear and stain finishes will require more maintenance than a painted door; the door will need to be refinished more often than if it were painted. If it is in constant sun, the wood is more likely to fade when finished with a clear coat or stain.

Best Practices

Water management and quality materials are key to keeping your door beautiful for years to come. Ready to create your own durable and beautiful entry system? For more information and to begin a quote, contact Alex MacKenzie,

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Full Sail Brewing Custom Entry System — Custom Case Study

Full Sail Brewing

We were happy to recently complete a custom storefront system for Full Sail Brewing’s Hood River corporate offices. It was the perfect mix of Uniquely Versatile elements: unusual scale, specific climate and weather conditions. And a client with a very specific design aesthetic in mind. Here’s a look at the goals and challenges of the project:

The Goal for Full Sail Brewing

Use of Vertical Grain Douglas Fir was a central design theme throughout this project.  The main entrance is meant to highlight that theme. With solid CVG Douglas fir transom, sidelites, and doors with a clear finished interior and exterior.

Full Sail Brewing

The Challenges for Full Sail Brewing

TMencer Construction Company approached us with this opportunity along with other custom shops in the region. Although our price point was higher, Tim Mencer valued our commitment to on-site consulting services. Mencer also valued our ability to provide complete AutoCAD drawings for review. And, our expertise in integrating very specialized hardware for custom projects like this one.

An Off-Kilter Rough Opening:

The biggest challenge to the project was that the existing masonry opening was not at all square, plumb or level. Several framing options had to be explored to find a solution that would fit the doors and glass as designed while adjusting for the variances in the existing opening.

Complex Commercial Hardware:

The commercial hardware specified for the doors was very complex and challenging to integrate into an entry door of normal thickness.


The Uniquely Versatile Solutions for Full Sail Brewing

Extensive onsite and off site consulting by our product development team about the available framing  options helped TMencer Construction narrow down some workable solutions to the site’s out of kilter opening measurements.

To address the hardware issue, we ultimately decided to make the doors thicker than originally specified (2_1/4” instead of 1_3/4”) in order to overcome some of the biggest hardware integration challenges and ensure greater long term durability.


The Result for Full Sail Brewing

The final project’s simple lines and unadorned clear grain fir makes the entrance seem easy and approachable without hinting at the surprisingly complex design solutions required to integrate them into the space. We are proud to provide such a warm wood welcome to the staff and guests of Full Sail Brewing.

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A Revealing Restoration

A Revealing Restoration

A Revealing Restoration: The Daily Journal of Commerce had an intriguing cover story yesterday about the Witherspoon Building. The Witherspoon is a 123 year old downtown building on the Portland Historic Resource Inventory. It is presently being renovated to serve as the headquarters for Parliment, an advertising and brand design firm.

The building has a fascinating history

This includes stints as a brothel, a speakeasy, and also a secret entrance to the Shanghai tunnels.  The tunnels were used to whisk unsuspecting sailors into a new life of press-ganged labor.

The article shines a light on the challenges of bringing such a historic structure up to current seismic standards, explaining:

“Hands down, the biggest challenge is the structural seismic upgrades that (need) to be done,” said LSW’s Esther Cho Liu, the project’s architect. “The building is quite old, so nothing is really lining up anywhere … It was actually pretty crazy. Not one of the walls on the exterior lined up all the way … All the existing floors, especially the second floor … it’s just a mess.”

Fortunately, Chris Erickson, Parliment’s owner, has a vision for how to make the most of this messy situation. It comes with a cool project for Versatile Wood Products.

A Revealing Restoration

As shown above, the main floor facade of the building was entirely bricked over at some point in the building’s past. Erickson, in collaboration with LSW Architects and R&H Construction, plans to strip away the brick and restore the full original storefront facade. They have commissioned custom historic reproduction storefront windows and a huge 8 ft entry door to be installed into the newly revealed original facade.

A Revealing Restoration

A Revealing Restoration. A Uniquely Versatile Solution

The architect’s goals for the storefront were to maximize daylight as well as open up the views in the ground floor space. While ensuring the long term durability of the windows and doors installed in the space.

The original specs for the windows included installing separate manufactured windows side by side while creating a bank of storefront-style windows. Versatile was able to design a single custom window with 4 large panes that will accomplish the same goal. It will keep the mullions to a minimum between the panes of glass thus maximizing the natural light. This solution will be applied to all four banks of windows in the current storefront plan. Versatile will also provide a large custom entry door and two smaller side entrances to the project.

Careful selection of tight grain CVG fir, properly painted and pre-treated with benite will ensure the long term durability of the product.

Versatile is expert with turn-of-the-century architecture.  This ensures that every detail of the window’s design and construction will be in keeping with the original architectural style of this historic building.

How would 19th century craftsmen have constructed these windows?

Most likely, the original windows were site glazed in place. The Versatile solution mimics this look while providing a much easier installation for R&H Construction.

How will windows this large get to the site?

In this case R&H will reap the benefits of working with a local custom shop.

To transport these 17 ft long windows to the site, Versatile will build an outrigger frame on the delivery truck for safe transport to the site. This is feasible because of the relatively short distance the windows have to travel. An out of state manufacturer would have had a devil of a time finding a safe transport solution for such large pieces.

We look forward to seeing this beautiful building restored to its original look. We can’t wait to show you how the finished project looks!

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A Tale of Two (Historic) Doors

Versatile recently had the pleasure of working with Pink Martini’s Thomas Lauderdale and his partner Phillip Iosca to repair and restore the two 135 year old doors on the front of the historic building that once housed a picture frame factory and now provides both living space for Phillip and Thomas and rehearsal space for Pink Martini.

Here’s the tale of these intriguing doors and the uniquely Versatile solutions that helped prepare them for their next 135 years.


Why was Versatile called?

Versatile was called to the case following a very unfortunate break in at the building that not only resulted in the loss of several computers, it resulted in broken glass and significant crowbar damage to the doors. After 135 years of faithful service, it was time to return these doors to a better state of repair.

What made the doors unusual/challenging?

At 115″ tall (9 1/2 feet), these doors provided a unique challenge simply because of their height. They had also survived the flood of 1894, so almost every measurement of the doors and the jamb was slightly warped or out of square. For example, there was a 7/16″ difference in width from the door’s top to its bottom.

Another unusual feature of the doors was the use of  a”gunstock” stile. These long thin exterior edge panels angle in at the bottom, making their shape resemble a rifle stock. Typical of the Victorian era, these stiles were designed to maximize the width of the glass in the upper portion of the window while still allowing for maximum strength and stability in the lower portion of the door.

What did Versatile do to refurbish the doors?

harker building drawing

The doors needed to be completely stripped and refinished. The glass needed to be replaced and some of the wood near the locking mechanism needed to be replaced and repaired. The handles and hardware also needed to be replaced with hardware that would increase security while being consistent with the period and style of the doors.

Here are some pictures of the restoration in process:

Iosca Door 12.20.12

One intriguing facet of the repair? A metal detector uncovered over 40 screws embedded and hidden under multiple coats of paint that were evidently used to repair a previous crack in the wood.

Iosca Door c 12.20.12

The Uniquely Versatile Solution: It would have been simpler to replace many elements of the door with new reproduction elements. Instead, Versatile respected the history of the door’s original materials, retaining and restoring as much of the original wood and detail as possible. A new lever handle and updated locking mechanism improved the security of the door while staying true to its Victorian aesthetics.

You can check out the restored doors (and the beautiful home and office space they protect) on the Architectural Heritage Center’s upcoming Heritage Home Tour, July 27th from 10 am to 4 pm. Get details and tickets here.

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A Refreshed Welcome

Welcome to Versatile Wood Product’s new blog!

We thought we would begin with a recent project we worked on that helped a home owner create a more welcoming entry to their home.

Here’s what the entry looked like before we got there:

Vanzanten 2

A bit scuffed and unwelcoming, right?

And here’s how it all turned out:


The next project will be to paint the home’s exterior. The trim will get a fresh coat of paint as part of that project. The doors will keep a simple clear coat finish to highlight the natural warmth of the fir.

Its amazing what a simple project can do to make a home feel more like home, isn’t it?

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