Skagit Architectural Millwork, located in Mt. Vernon, WA, fabricates high-end commercial projects.

The wall panels in the lobby of this office building, which houses Expedia.com’s headquarters, were fabricated with Purebond.

Washington State is awash in rugged beauty, from the islands of Puget Sound to the snow-capped Cascade Mountains. Trees dressed in the colors of fall, purple, red, yellow and orange, stand amid the evergreens. And located in Mt. Vernon near the banks of the Skagit River is Skagit Architectural Millwork, a full-service architectural woodwork company, which specializes in high-end commercial millwork for the United States and Canada.

Craig and Alison Wells bought the company in 1982. Prior to that, Craig operated Wells Construction, which built homes and condominiums and light commercial projects.

“I was sitting around reading the paper one morning and found the ad for this company,” says Craig. “I came up and interviewed with the owner and we decided to buy it. I was always interested in millwork.”

“He loves saws and things like that,” laughs Alison.

“I kinda didn’t get enough Tinker toys when I was growing up,” Craig adds with a chuckle.

The Wells originally bought just the business and leased the property, but in 1984 they had an opportunity to purchase the land, which includes an additional building across the street from the main office. The total square footage for the office and shop is approximately 20,000.

Skagit now has 25 employees, but that number can vary, depending on the install crew. “So [it is] anywhere from 25 to 40,” Alison explains. “But it probably averages out to 25. Whenever we have jobs out of town, they are part of the carpenters union, and most of them are in the Seattle area. That’s where most of our jobs are, as well as in Bellevue and Tacoma.”

Ninety percent of their work is commercial, with some high-end residential work.

“We do highly customized woodworking. We’re a premium Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI) shop,” says Alison.

The company takes pride in its quality work and the skill of its employees. The Wells consider their high-quality products, as well as their attention to service, as key to their success in the commercial millwork market.

“We’re very service-oriented,” says Craig.

“And we do high-quality work. If we make a mistake, we fix it. We don’t argue about it,” Alison adds.

“That’s important. In a lot of cases, you’re not dealing with the same contractors. It kind of cycles. Sometimes we will be working with them three to four times a year and then we don’t see them again for a few years,” Craig notes.

Placing the right bid is also important. Although money drives the contractor to you, Craig says, it is crucial not to compromise your price. “Our product is high-end — we just don’t compromise price. It just doesn’t work. [Plus] our workers are used to quality and they do everything high-end [regardless of the bid].”

Skagit Architectural Millwork fabricated custom lockers in the players’ locker rooms of Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington.

High Standards

High standards are a hallmark of Skagit Architectural Millwork. The workers follow AWI Quality Standards and Skagit offers a standards test for its workers to encourage a thorough understanding. “What we’ve done here is offer an open book volunteer [opportunity] to whoever wants to take the test and pass it. Of all our workers, everyone has taken it,” Craig says.

Skagit is a union shop and Craig says that the company actually pays higher than union scale to its employees.

“In terms of how we evaluate [employees], we offer our guys a little bit more money if they pass the standards test,” says Paul Hardy, business manager.

With regard to the new Skills Standards, which are being developed by the Woodwork Career Alliance, Craig says, “It is an interesting concept.”

Pete Schmidt, shop foreman, concurs, adding, “It would be nice to know when you are hiring somebody that he has accomplished “x” skills standards established by AWI.”

Schmidt also adds that it would be “natural” for an employee to want to continue his education following industry-code skills standards “because it would give them an edge if they did go to another shop. It would give them something to reference.”

It’s All Material

Standard materials used by Skagit for its high-end projects include hardwood, hardwood veneers, melamine and particleboard, as well as Purebond, a urea formaldehyde-free hardwood plywood from Columbia Forest Products.

“Everything is going green,” says Craig. He uses Purebond as a substrate. “It’s not supposed to off-gas anything harmful. It’s the coming thing. We just finished a job for the Boys and Girls Club that had a high LEED rating. It’s a learning process [meeting the LEED requirements], but it is not rocket science. You just have to follow the parameters, which are pretty clear. All you have to do is to follow that in order to satisfy the requirements of the project.”

Their materials are ordered just-in-time, so there is not a lot of inventory kept on site. Craig attributes this to the fact that they don’t have a standard product. “We buy for the project,” he says. “Our work is highly customized.”

Equipment in the shop includes two IMA CNC machining centers, two Altendorf table saws, a Holz-Her edgebander and a Wadkin moulder. Chem Aqua, a non-toxic coating from Sherwin-Williams, is used for finishing, which is done in-house.

Craig says that Skagit’s manufacturing process is unique in that it uses dadoes and rabbets instead of dowels.

“There is kind of a trademark to our product,” he says. “We kind of build cabinets the old-fashioned way. The CNC equipment that we’ve had for more than 10 years actually complements our manufacturing.”

The company’s first CNC was bought in 1999 and the second one in 2003. Craig credits the machines with allowing the company to be versatile and making it easier to produce curved parts, like columns and desks.

According to Schmidt, using dadoes simplifies assembly. “I think that the way we build is great because the dadoes and rabbets are self indexing, and you can look at a part and see how everything goes together better and quicker,” he says.

Schmidt says that this process allows more people to get involved in the building process as opposed to dowels where “you have someone over there pressing all of the casework together. You build a better crew and they understand how things go together,” he adds.

Skagit Architectural provided all of the custom millwork for the restaurant and spa of Heathman Hotel in Kirkland, Washington.

Current Projects

Although the economy has become worrisome for many business owners, Skagit has managed to stay busy. Some of its current projects include work for Boeing.

“They have a pretty big hangar [in Everett, WA],” says Craig. “It used to be the biggest building in the world, but apparently they don’t need all of the manufacturing space that they had. They are building a five-story office tower inside that building.”

“They’ve got those planes, the 787s, which they are producing and are backlogged. So hopefully they’ll keep adding additional support staff, which will keep us busy,” adds Hardy.

Other projects include the lobby and common space area for a high-end condominium, Olivian Tower in Seattle, and a curved reception desk for a medical facility in Silverdale, WA.

Skagit also fabricates store fixtures. Some of its projects have included grocery stores, a cafe for Nordstroms, fixtures for Coldwater Creek and a restaurant.

The company’s client list also includes work for Safeco Field, the University of Washington and the United Airlines Red Carpet Room at Portland/PDX.

When asked about future goals for the company, Alison responds with a laugh, “Oh yeah, we have lots of dreams.”

“Like survive this economy,” Hardy chuckles.

On a serious note, Alison said that they have plans to expand the building across the street and to add a second floor and cafeteria.

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