Waco-based woodworking firm creates exquisite woodwork for the headquarters of some of the biggest corporations in business.

Lucky employees at this Austin, TX, financial firm eat in style in their Khoury-built breakroom. Photo by Christopher Mann, MannPhoto.com.

Waco, TX, is a rough-and-ready cowboy town, surrounded by flat barren earth and scrubby brush. This dusty town seems an unlikely location for a company that specializes in high-end architectural woodwork for major corporations in gleaming, big city, steel skyscrapers, but it is here that Khoury Inc. has made its center of operations since it was founded in 1946.

The company’s manufacturing plant and office in Waco is located approximately halfway between the thriving Dallas and Austin business communities on the I-35 corridor that roughly corresponds to the old Chisholm Trail, where cowpunchers once drove large herds of longhorn cattle north to market. These are cities which seem to have weathered the economic recession well so far. Cranes loom in the skies, moving girders amongst gleaming highrises; and construction workers in hardhats move in groups through the city streets below.

Khoury has done high-profile work for some of the biggest names in business, including corporations like Blockbuster, Nokia, Qwest and Mary Kay; financial firms like Merill Lynch, J.P. Morgan, KPMG and Goldman Sachs; several prestigious banks, hotels and law firms; high-end private residences and even a skybox for Texas Rangers baseball team owner Tom Hicks.

On the Job

One recent job the company completed is the lobby for the Rosewood Court office building in Dallas. This stunning project was created using plain quartered makore stile and rails with pommele makore as the center panels on the walls. These prefinished panels were shipped loose and hung with Z-clips, on a stile-and-rail frame. The ceiling panels were plain quartered makore. Project Manager David Jenkins says this was a difficult job.

“This project presented the challenges of not only heights, but overall widths as well,” Jenkins says. “Many of the panels had to be shipped on a flat-bed truck because the design did not allow us to break them into smaller sections. The pommele has height limitations, so a strategically placed joint was used in the upper panels.”

That was not the end of the challenges presented by this project.

“The largest challenge was the schedule,” he adds. “The contractor wanted us to install before the building was temperature and humidity controlled.”

Indeed, the high humidity rate is a true Texas villain of this story, presenting difficulties to overcome for woodworkers like Khoury. Veneer produced in high humidity may curl and loosen when the heat or air conditioning is turned on. And projects completed in 85% humidity in Texas and then shipped to drier places in the country have to be handled extra carefully, with close attention given to this issue.

Another recent project the company completed was for a prominent financial firm in Dallas. The main veneer used was plain quartered anigre. Although this may not sound complicated, Lead Estimator and Project Management Lead John Manchen explains that there is more here than meets the eye.

“It was a challenge with the anigre’s clear finish to obtain the color the architect desired,” he explains. “The original veneer specified by the architect was no longer available, and the other flitch samples produced an undesirable pink hue. We went on a two-week veneer search and finally found a flitch that was light enough and large enough to produce the project. The log was more than 51,000 square feet in size.”

The height of the walls and length limitations of the veneer were other complications, as the walls were more than 12 feet, while the veneer was 11. A butt match would have created color issues, so a stack match was used to help maintain the natural light color. Quartered paldao also was used in accents and on a few walls.

The crowning achievement of this project is its reception feature wall. At more than 30 feet tall, it serves as an impressive sight to visitors of the firm, as well as a guardrail for the upper level. This wall had to be fabricated in pieces in the shop and assembled on site, as it was taller than the shop ceiling.

Khoury’s exceptional work has not gone unnoticed. The company is often selected to work with some of the biggest names in design and architecture, such as Gensler, one of the largest architectural firms in the world.

The companies that inhabit the offices also express their appreciation.

Among Khoury’s many projects is the Mary Kay headquarters and museum. Photo courtesy Khoury Inc.

“Khoury Inc. provided the woodwork in Winstead PC’s Austin office,” says Robert Bass, a Shareholder in the firm’s Construction Practice Group, “which compliments our space and adds an element of warmth and depth to the overall appearance of the office. We have received a number of compliments from employees and visitors.”

Meeting the Challenges

Tight deadlines, ever-changing designs, working before the heat is turned on and miscommunication between the parties involved are regular issues to overcome for Khoury, but not the only ones.

“With all our work so driven by field dimensions, we have to wait until we can fabricate,” explains Russell Sones, project manager/estimator for the company. “When the job has a big curved panel, we try to furnish them with templates for the floor for when they lay out their walls. Then we know what the radius is held to. Unfortunately, we’ve sent templates out for a job and when you get out there, they’re all stacked up and have never been opened.

“Everybody has their own way of doing it,” he adds. “A sheetrock worker doesn’t want a millworker telling him how to lay out a wall, and we don’t want them telling us how to do our job either.”

Nor do the headaches end there. Jenkins, a project manager with more than 30 years of experience, has found himself entering a whole new world of “green” building and low-emissions gluing. He shakes his head as he recounts the company’s first experience with low-emissions glue.

“The supplier gave us the wrong spray gun and we were wasting more than we applied,” he recounts. Jenkins is spearheading the company’s efforts to get up to speed on the new green regulations in order to compete in the bidding process on jobs requiring it.

“That’s the way everything’s going,” he says.

Through the Years

Khoury Inc. was founded in 1946, originally as Alex Khoury and Sons, when current CEO Ernest Khoury graduated from Texas A&M (in aeronautical engineering). Ernest’s father Alex was a longtime employee of the C.M. Trautshold Co., a Waco woodworking firm founded in 1893. He left that company after more than 40 years to work for another company, but when its capital fell through, Ernest and his father (as well as brothers) started working out of their garage, before building what is now their current offices and 42,000-square-foot facility.

“That’s how we started, my father and I, just hoping that we could do $1,000 of business a month,” Ernest reminisces. “We started doing architectural millwork. My dad was a moulder man. He knew how to work everything in the shop, especially the bandsaw. I never saw a man do work like that. It was incredible. Back then, I had a hand-cranked forge and made all the moulder knives that were machined and heat-treated out of pieces of automobile spring steel.” A 1926 Hermance square head moulder was purchased and is still in use, especially for curved pieces.

Khoury says he and the company have been through multiple recessions, the death of his father and a fire, but have managed to persevere, building a business based on the quality of their craftsmanship, which he says his workers learned from the old masters of woodworking. He still uses the tried-and-true methods he learned.

“I have a computer, but I don’t really do anything with it,” he admits, saying he leaves that area to younger staff members. “I still do my drawings on the same drawing board I used at Texas A&M. And I still have two slide rules in my bottom drawer and get them out if I need them.”

But despite Ernest’s appreciation for older methods and machinery, he also sees the benefits of the new technology, including a Komo Mach III VR 512 CNC machining center, AutoCAD, Microvellum and Tractivity estimating software.

“Before the purchase of the Komo router, I was doing all the circle work on my hands and knees,” he says. “We’d make a form and hog everything on the shaper. Now it’s so easy to do circle work on the CNC,” he says.

Helping direct Khoury Inc. into the future is Ernest’s nephew and company president, Greg Khoury, who espouses a forward-thinking approach to business when times are bad.

“Like lots of companies, we want to tool up and move forward to be ready for the next economic wave,” he states. “We are following that train of thought with equal parts aggressiveness and caution. However, you can overstep and create a financial burden instead.”

This room divider, built by Khoury Inc., enhances the hallway of a financial firm in Austin, TX. Photo by Christopher Mann, MannPhoto.com.

Wisdom of Experience

Ernest looks ahead and says his biggest concern is where the woodworkers of the future will come from. Although his current crew is highly skilled and experienced, he admits to having difficulty finding qualified employees to bring along in the business. Although it has the advantage of less traffic jams than the big cities, living in Waco can be a tough sell for people used to the amenities of Dallas and Austin. Even the Waco technical school has eliminated its woodworking courses.

“I see it all going away,” Ernest says ruefully. “In another generation, there won’t be hardly any architectural woodwork. Somebody is going to have to start training.”

But Ernest says he will keep working at the business he has worked at for more than 60 years, adding that the one thing he will not change is the company’s dedication to craftsmanship.

“I’m still working. I’m trying to cultivate these young boys here so they can take this thing and go with it,” he says. “We are a premium shop. I learned things one way, and that was my father’s way. And that was the right way.”

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