The Wood Shop, located in historic Malvern, PA, creates beautiful architectural millwork, as well as custom cabinetry, historical reproductions and more.

This 50-foot by 20-foot room features eight-piece crown moulding, low voltage lighting, four plaster niches that were designed to be identical, raised panel backs and solid 1-inch doors and face frames.

Just 30 miles from Philadelphia, PA, and tucked away in the gently sloping green hills and meadows of Chester County, is the historic borough of Malvern. It was founded by William Penn in the 1600s and its downtown retains many of the charms of a small town Victorian village. The high-end homes surrounding the affluent community are just as regal. And although the community is small, it is has enough business to keep David Thal, owner of The Wood Shop, busy.

Thal, whose work ranges from majestic architectural millwork and custom cabinetry to historical reproductions, freestanding furniture, doors and windows, and more, says that he has grossed more business in the last six months than he did all of last year. There may be a downturn in the economy, but his customers are not affected.

He has developed his clientele for about 20 years since the company started in 1988. Thal says that what keeps his clients coming back is that they appreciate the product he produces and are willing to pay for it.

“We’re overwhelmed with work. The jobs I’m doing are for customers I’ve worked with for years, so it’s a repeat business type of thing,” he says. “They have work for us and we are grateful for it.”

An example of Thal’s clients seeming imperviousness to the current economic conditions is the job he did for a client in the Poconos. The Wood Shop ended up getting the package to do all of the cabinetry for the entire house, which was a second home.

Other recent jobs include work for a yoga studio, which featured natural and reclaimed materials and work for the kitchen of a guy Thal met through that yoga studio. That job eventually expanded beyond the kitchen. “Once we got in there, it was more and more and more,” he says. “A lot of these jobs, you get in there for a little tiny job and they see what you do and they like you and you keep coming back. That is really the best type of work.”

Thal illustrated this point by discussing one of his clients of approximately 10 years who asked him to work with her son-in-law,  a designer, on a bed he had designed for her. “We’ve done lot’s of work for [this client],” Thal explains, “very unique stuff. She loves wood.” And this bed was no exception. It has a unique headboard and frame, which gives one the feel of a tree in its natural state, and it was fabricated from English burl elm.

The Wood Shop fabricates a variety of products from architectural millwork to high-end kitchens like the one pictured above.

In the Shop

At the time of CWB’s visit to the shop, Thal was working on two projects. One was a large cherry office with wainscoted walls and coffered ceilings. The other project was cabinetry for a whole house and it included vertical grain fir casework for the kitchen, bathroom vanity, mudroom and dressing room. Thal says that he also sold the client 4,000 square feet of antique hardwood pine flooring.

 On the Floor

The Wood Shop does a wide variety of work, which makes things interesting, Thal says, but “it also makes it a little more difficult to make money because you are not specializing in anything.” So, he is looking into selling flooring to add more revenue streams.

“We’re just starting to get more into it, but I’ve been interested in [doing flooring] for years,” says Thal.  However, the type of flooring Thal is interested in selling is reclaimed wood. He is planning on becoming a distributor and displaying the product in the showroom he is building.

Thal’s affinity for recycled material can be seen in how it was used in his home.

Over the past three years, he and his wife, Holly Nichols, have restored their old farmhouse. They bought reclaimed material for the floors and used the original flooring from the farmhouse as the backing of several display units. With the use of recycled materials in projects like his home, which was recently featured in Philadelphia Home Magazine, and in the yoga studio “we realized that there was quite a response [to the material],” he notes.

Thal’s recent projects are not the first time he has used reclaimed material. About 15 years ago, he fabricated a kitchen using reclaimed lumber. “It’s something we just have a passion for,” he says.

One of the advantages of showing customers the work he did with the farmhouse,  is that they also see the interior design skills of his wife, who is an artist and has a studio attached to the property. “When people come to our house and see it, they see that she did all of the bedding, curtains and window treatments,” says Thal.

Nichols adds, “They ask ‘Who was your decorator?’ And when we get the appointments they ask ‘Can Hope come too?’ I’m not a designer but an artist. I’ve been involved in art as a passion. But I always refer to myself, as far as the wood shop goes, as a design coordinator.”

“People see what we have done with our home and see that we are two creative people and that we work well together with customers,” Thal says.

A employee of The Wood Shop assembles a piece for a project that that will have coffered ceilings and wainscoted walls.

Leaning Green

Using recycled wood gives the material a second life and provides a unique character that is often sought after.

Thal describes how a friend, who used to share space in his shop, was driving by a school that was being demolished. He stopped  and convinced the crew to let him take some of the long leaf yellow pine beams that were in the building. Thal then reworked those beams and used them in his friend’s home.

According to Thal, when buildings are destructed rather than demolished, many of these materials can be saved.

“It may have been old growth or virgin growth tree or it may have been a 200-year-old tree and then it was put in a building from the 1850s and served its life as a structural column or beam for 150 years,” Thal explains. “Now its being cut into boards and exposing the original beauty of the wood. It’s giving it second life. Plus, it is very green.”

Thal says that he is paying a lot of attention to green materials. He had a plywood distributor come in and talk about a product that was green. And he has had customers specifically request green materials. He also says that he pays attention to the type of glues that are more environmentally friendly.

As it relates to reclaimed material, Thal says that it is “something we had an interest in not just because it was green, but it is a beautiful material that you just can’t get anymore. A lot of it was just being thrown into the trash — landfills for the most part. We love old homes and we love old material. I just think that is a look that is hard to achieve.”

Future Goals

Continuing to fabricate high-end architectural millwork as well as specialty pieces is one of Thal’s goals. He also plans to open the showroom by winter and focus on selling reclaimed material. His biggest goal is to continue to do what he does best: woodworking.

“I love what I do and there is a feeling that you get when you start from an idea, then you make it into a sketch working with a customer. You draw it out then put it in the computer and then you take it to the shop and figure out ways that you can do things. Then you finish it and install it. That process, when it’s done and you can stand back and look at that piece — the feelings of satisfaction that you get. That is a great feeling that I can’t imagine achieving any other way,” Thal says.

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