High-End Trends Lean Toward Clean and Contemporary
August 14, 2011 | 9:37 pm CDT

By Mike Wilson

Thomas Riley Artisans' Guild stays ahead of the curve with innovative finishes, service and a new customizable closets division.

In kitchens and rooms throughout the home, Thomas Riley Artisans' Guild has seen increasing requests for modern styles.

Clean cabinet design complemented with unusual touches such as glossy automotive finishes are techniques Thomas Riley Artisans’ Guild uses to keep modern high-end customers happy.

The Naples, FL-based custom woodworking company has been building and installing high-end, one-of-a-kind projects ranging from furniture to closets to complete interiors since 1991. Thomas Riley Artisans’ Guild currently has about 70 employees at its 32,000-square-foot facility, which includes design, engineering, manufacturing and finishing departments, as well as offices and showrooms.

It is also in the process of launching a separate customizable closet division with a more standardized product to leverage its legacy of quality to a new customer base, says Matt Riley, who is in charge of client relations at Thomas Riley.

The ultra-custom company rarely does many jobs during the course of the year that have similarities, but some high-end trends can be seen from looking at the overall body of work, Riley says.

“Our historical reference for kitchens isn’t very broad, because we only do a few a year, but we’re definitely seeing more modern applications in general,” Riley says. “You definitely have a tendency to have a more modern or contemporary kitchen, even if it’s a traditional home.”

Contemporary styling has carried throughout many of the company’s residential projects, he adds.

“We are seeing more than we’ve ever seen in the past. A higher ratio of our work is more toward the contemporary and transitional styling,” Riley says. “You have a lot of people that still lean toward traditional, but also want to bring in a modern aesthetic. At that point, we end up integrating not only custom wood products, but metal, glass and alternative materials.”

Although Thomas Riley still receives ornate, traditional commissions for cabinetry, requests for a simpler aesthetic have been on the rise.

“Well, the word ‘clean’ is a word that we hear often,” Riley says. “Clients want (the pieces) to have a beautiful, elegant, but cleaner look. We are, however, still doing a mixed bag of traditional work; we’ll always do traditional work.”

This kitchen is an eclectic blend of custom cabinets & millwork using a variety of wood species, including a Pecky Cypress ceiling, Walnut flooring, Mahogany & Cherry cabinets with special finishes, and a Wormy Chestnut refrigerator cabinet.

The look can be achieved at different degrees through a variety of cabinet designs, he adds.

“The cabinets could be face-frame or frameless, but maybe the style of the door is cleaner. It doesn’t have a recessed panel with applied moulding, it’s more of a flush look,” Riley says. “Then you’re using the veneers and the finishes to stand out.”

Exotic cuts of veneer have been popular choices as natural ways to make pieces pop, he says. Popular species include Macassar ebony, Big Leaf maple, zebrawood, and quilted and blistered products.

Thomas Riley specializes in finishing, and clients also have been choosing new, alternative finishes that the company is offering with more frequency, Riley says. One technique rising in popularity is using high-gloss automotive finishes on top of natural wood products and for painted finishes.

“No new equipment is required for this finish, but there are extra steps,” he says. “It’s very expensive material, and there is usually a hand polishing required. It’s not easy to do, so it’s not our first suggestion to customers, but it’s why they come to us. We started in the finishing business, so we usually get a little more creative with the finishes.”

The walls are fully paneled in quarter sawn, fiddle back Anigre with a Mahogany 'wave' inlay above custom veneered wainscoting. The curved bar displays a blown-glass port hole and features cantilevering Mahogany shelves. Custom turned columns and chrome accents further adorn this dynamic social space.

Another new finish that the company has been employing is Ceruse, which is a metallic powder and polishing application that has been in vogue in Europe, Riley says.

“It’s getting popular, and because we can do it well, we’re getting a lot of demand for it.  It can be applied in a contemporary design application, where you have a round room with nothing but flat wall panels that are curved, and on natural, veneered products. You can even apply it to a more traditional design. It’s a finish that works no matter the shape of the room or the profile of the doors.”

In keeping with interest among today’s consumers to become more organized, Thomas Riley started a new customizable closets division. Although the company has been building fully custom closet projects for years, the new venture is an attempt to reach a larger audience by standardizing certain design elements, Riley says.

“We’ve been doing custom closets for a long time, but over the last 18 months, we’ve really focused on developing a separate division that focuses on closets and wardrobes,” he says. “We are just about to launch some more product lines with incredibly beautiful designs.”

Logic closet system with painted MDF pilasters, solid dovetailed Maple drawers, Rift White Oak veneer shelving and drawer cabinets

Thomas Riley will customize finishes and layout according to a customer’s wishes within certain design parameters. Having some standardization among the pre-engineered systems will allow the lineal-foot cost to drop for customers, making the product more economical than a completely custom project, Riley says.

Condo developers are among the company’s first customers for the new line. The company will install a customizable closet in the developer’s model, and its service is offered when someone buys a unit in the building.

“Developers need to offer as much as they can to entice buyers, whether that means offering a product, or just offering a relationship for a product,” Riley says.

Since the division has launched, it has seen growth, and within the next three months, the company plans to unveil new products and ratchet up marketing efforts.

“In the next three months, we’re doing an official launch, which will include marketing and expanding our Web site,” Riley says. “Hopefully, we’ll see it grow across the country. Our custom business is always going to be our baby; the heirloom-quality products will always be what Thomas Riley Artisans’ Guild is passionate about and known for. The customizable closet division has come from client demand and will be something that has more of a potential for growth and a larger market with larger volume.”

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