A Company in the Know

Interior Wood of San Diego Inc. brings its large knowledge base about materials, regulations and manufacturing techniques to all its projects.

By Sam Gazdziak

Interior Wood of San Diego Inc.

San Diego, CA


Year Founded: 1981

Employees: 32

Shop Size: 10,000 square feet

FYI: Interior Wood has won two awards from the Woodwork Institute of California for its work at the San Diego Museum of Art and the Joan Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice.


Last-minute changes or additions to a project are relatively normal occurances for architectural woodworkers. But the conference table that was added to the construction of the University of San Diego’s Joan Kroc Institute of Peace and Justice was anything but a minor change. The table is 42 feet long and 27 feet wide, and its ellptical shape is comprised of six matched pairs of sections, with each pair having a different radius.

Interior Wood of San Diego Inc. had been contracted to built all the custom cabinetry and millwork throughout the Institute, but it was given only four weeks to build and install the conference table. Fortunately, the company is prepared to handle such situations.

“We have a high level of expertise and a can-do approach, plus the ability to complete work at the very highest level,” says Alan Marshall. As president, he has seen the company grow from a one-man business working out of a garage in 1981 to a 32-employee company that does about $4 million in custom architectural millwork and cabinetry each year.

Interior Wood made the table out of burgundy-stained oak. It seats 36 people and features a state-of-the-art audio/visual system. The entire project was such a success that it won an award from the Woodwork Institute of California. (See sidebar)

WIC lends support to california millworkers

The Woodwork Institute of California was founded in 1951 to promote the greater use of architectural products in California. Interior Wood of San Diego has been an active member of the organization for seven years, and Alan Marshall, president of Interior Wood serves on WIC’s board of directors.

“It helps create a better environment for the millwork industry,” he says. “It represents, helps and promotes wood and wood products.” He adds that there is also an economic advantage in belonging to a group when it comes to insurance and legal and human resources assistance.

One of WIC’s services is publishing the Manual of Millwork, a set of material, manufacturing, finishing, and installation standards for architectural millwork companies. “There are sections that deal with seismic issues and how to install cabinetry to conform to the particular region of seismic activity,” Marshall explains, noting that WIC researches all the materials, down to the fasteners.

Interior Wood has won two of WIC’s annual Craftsmanship Awards. In 2002, the company won the Overall Millwork Piece category for its work on the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice. The year before, it won the Wood Cabinetry category for the San Diego Museum of Art renovation project.

This year’s Craftsmanship Awards will be announced at WIC’s 2003 conference, May 1 to May 3 at the Catamaran Resort in San Diego. For more information, visit the organization’s Web site at www.wicnet.org.


Marshall says the company can provide the best value for the contractor when it is involved in a project from the start. “The sooner we’re brought into a project, the sooner we’re able to do value engineering, make recommendations of different types of materials and assist the project team meet schedules and budgets for a successful project,” he adds. “The pipeline in construction today is so reduced that in order for architects to take full advantage of the knowledge that subcontractors have, I suggest that they involve the significant players as early as possible.”

Resolving Regulations

While there are many advantages to working in San Diego (the United States Weather Bureau has described San Diego’s weather as the closest thing to perfect in America), there are also disadvantages. Like other California woodworking companies, Interior Wood has had to learn to deal with the problems of higher liabilities, labor costs and workman’s compensation costs. “It’s the cost of being a manufacturer in California,” Marshall says. “I believe it is burdensome, but it drives manufacturers to greater efficiency in terms of cost controls. It gives them a greater awareness of how to be in business.”

Part of Interior Wood of San Diego’s award-winning work at the Joan Kroc Institute of Peace and Justice was this 42-foot-long, 27-foot-wide ellptical oak conference table.  

Marshall says his company has compensated by taking advantage of available technology. The company uses AutoCAD for drafting and uses high-tech machines instead of manual machining methods. “We organized work flow through the shop,” he adds. “We pay attention to theories of management techniques and manufacturing technologies. We take all the available information out there to produce the finest products in the most efficient manner.”

Marshall says that his machinery additions are part of an ongoing process. Last year, Interior Wood purchased a panel saw and a sander from SCM Group USA, along with upgrading to AutoCAD 2000. The company’s 10,000-square-foot shop is also equipped with a Morbidelli CNC machining center, and an SCMI jointer from SCM Group USA.

Marshall says that Interior Wood’s machinery nicely complements his employees’ skill level. “We take a craftsman’s approach to the work, but we use all the advanced technology to help us,” he adds. “We’ve found that even with all those advances, there’s still a demand for craftsmen in this industry to execute the work at the highest level.”

The offices of Peregrine Systems included a blend of several materials, included solid wood, exotic veneers, glass, acrylics and metal.  

The combination of technology and skill was important to complete the Joan Kroc Institute conference table. Not only did the employees use the machining center and AutoCAD programming to make the 12 separate sections that would form a perfect oval when joined together, but they also made certain the color and grain was consistent from piece to piece.

Interior Wood’s offices and operations are located in several buildings and trailers on the property. There are separate trailers for office management, project management, engineering and estimating. There are storage buildings for raw materials and finished goods. Machining is done in one building, while finishing and assembly is handled in an adjoining building.

Marshall says that this setup leads to separation of work, so that one type of work is not blocking the progress of another. “The disadvantage, obviously, is that there is more movement, but we’re not a production shop, so it’s not a major disadvantage.”

The Renovation of the San Diego Museum of Art included an entry rotunda, display fixtures (right) executive offices and this 14-foot-long, 1.5-ton reception desk. Despite its size, the desk was designed to be movable for when the rotunda is used for receptions.  

An expanding choice of materials

Interior Wood works with many traditional and exotic wood species, but it has also branched out into many different materials as well. “There’s been tremendous development in acrylics, panels that integrate multi-colored fabrics, synthetic veneers and other decorative materials,” says Marshall. Because designers and architects have such a variety from which to choose, Interior Wood’s employees have to know all about their usage and their machinability. “We need to pay homage to traditional materials but be conversant and familiar with the new materials today,” he says.

One large contributor to this wave of new materials usage was high-tech companies. The Internet boom of several years ago led to an influx of new companies with money to burn. “One advantage in the boom of the high-tech companies was their willingness to experiment in new materials and cutting-edge designs,” says Marshall.

For example, Interior Wood fabricated the millwork for the offices of Peregrine Systems, a software company. The work included steel with a variety of finishes and different types of glass, anigre veneer, custom-dyed wheatboard and acrylics.

Peregrine is still around, but many other companies weren’t so lucky. Still, they left their mark on the woodworking industry. “The boom is over, but it’s created a new database of knowledge in new materials and their use. Designers are more willing to use them,” Marshall explains. “So there has been an upside to the technology boom and bust.”

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