Mountaintop Millwork

Aren Design of Vail, CO, provides complete woodwork packages for luxury homes in this classy resort area.

By Hannah Miller
This den has a rustic flavor, typical of many of the Vail, CO-area homes for which Aren Design supplies complete millwork packages.

Austrian-born woodworker Rudi Neumayr crafts relationships with customers as carefully as his company, Aren Design Inc., crafts architectural millwork for their expensive homes.

Many of those homes are chalets scattered around the mountains of Vail, CO, where Aren Design's nearly 20,000-square-foot facility is located. Others are in New York, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and elsewhere. Aren builds and prefinishes custom architectural millwork for shipment all over the country, then contracts with local companies to install it according to Aren's specifications.

Neumayr, who apprenticed in a Salzburg antiques reproduction shop at age 14, approaches every job the same way, by helping customers picture how the woodwork will fit into their homes. His goal is to build customers' trust. He does it "with sampling, drawings and sketches."

Aren's drafting team, part of the company's 25-employee workforce, not only makes shop drawings, but also makes an artistic sketch for the customer. "Why confuse them with all kinds of crazy lines? A beautiful sketch does more for them," Neumayr says. After that, "a full-size mockup is 'the proof of the pudding.'

"If we are producing paneling, for example, we build a section as a full-size sample," he adds. "If we do doors, we make one complete door for them to see the final product."

To make sure that everyone is on the same page, Neumayr invites not only the client, but also the other subcontractors as well (sometimes as many as 15 to 20) to a meeting in Aren's 2,500-square-foot studio. Samples of wall coverings, carpet, hardware and other elements of décor are shown.

"That's all laid out in combination with our wood mockups, and it is really great for the client to see how it all relates, in color and proportion," Neumayr says.

Aren Design also collaborates with other millwork companies on certain large projects, contributing special elements within the total millwork package, such as stairs and library built-ins with paneling and doors.

This coffered ceiling shows off Aren Design's craftsmanship. The ceiling above, made of koa, features beam work with corbels.

The company's typical jobs start at about $1.5 million. "We are talking about a complete package for a high-end home," Neumayr explains.

"We are maybe one of the higher priced shops," he adds. "But we provide all these extra communicative services, which customers very much appreciate."

Training for high-end jobs

Neumayr, 62, came to Vail 26 years ago and started Aren Design. In the U.S., and in a previous shop he started in Salzburg at age 23, he put into practice the techniques of traditional woodworking he learned during his reproduction-shop apprenticeship. "Most of the woodwork was done by hand. Carvings, inlays and gold plating, you name it. It was wonderful training," he says.

He concentrates on high-end because it is the natural culmination of his training and experience, he says. The challenge to progress to more difficult work "brings you automatically into a higher-end product. Once you get better in your craft, you don't want to go in a direction where you just nail boxes together."

His skills have brought him recognition beyond the local area. Neumayr has been featured on the HGTV show "Modern Masters," demonstrating how to "age" wood. It is a look that is popular among clients.

Aren Design's finishes usually are hand-rubbed, which Neumayr says "gives a very fine look to a product. We are not trying to load up the wood with a lot of finishes." He uses a variety of thin lacquers, polishes and waxes, including a favorite rubin (red) shellac made in India that he likes because of its "pure" quality.

This self-supporting winding staircase is made of pine wood.

The company plans and builds the occasional high-end home, but architectural millwork is its main business, accounting for some $1-$2 million in sales per year. It does some commercial work, but residential accounts for 70 percent of business.

When the company builds a home in the Vail Valley, the exterior is likely to be in a rustic chalet style. "We could build any style, but this is the look of mountain homes in this area," Neumayr says. For the interior woodwork, however, "we cover the full spectrum, from highly rustic to very traditional with intricate detailing to very contemporary."

The intricate details on items like ceilings, doors and cabinetry often are hand-carved. "I'm against machine carving," Neumayr says, "where the appearance is not authentic. The touch of the human hand is gone. That's the charm of traditional woodworking."

That said, his shop philosophy is to blend traditional woodworking techniques and tools with modern production methods and equipment to achieve speed and precision. Modern equipment, he says, is "something you have to have today, because we need speed. Customers want things in much shorter time."

A year ago, after much consideration, Neumayr invested in a Weeke CNC router. "We wanted a machine like this for a long time, but never really thought we could utilize it," he says. "Now we realize how smart the step was. CNC is just wonderful for oval or round machining, precision drilling and cutting. It's a joy to see the precision and speed."

Aren Design's craftsmen, some of whom have been with the company 25 years, work in a 12,000-square-foot shop and a 3,000-square-foot finishing area. The facility also has 2,500 square feet of storage space, a 1,200-square-foot re-saw area for veneers, the 2,500-square-foot studio and conference room and a 1,000-square-foot office. It is all needed, Neumayr says, to accomplish the broad range of work the company does. "Really, we are one of the more flexible shops, including the finishing," he says.

"We do not shy away from a project because of its size or degree of difficulty," he adds. "The more challenging a job is, the more exciting it gets for us."

After 48 years experience, what does Neumayr consider as the greatest challenge today? "Producing complicated, hand-crafted woodwork in less time, while still maintaining the highest level of quality and customer satisfaction," he says.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                           

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.