Carriage Hills supplies the latest styles in cabinets and interior design to its high-end clients on the East Coast. Project photos by Shaun Campbell, Creative Force Photography, Union Bridge, MD, and Michael Moran, New York City.

Traditional-style libraries are a popular item in many high-end East Coast homes today.

Doug Fauth, founder and president of Carriage Hill Cabinet & Millwork Co., has seen his business grow from a one-man operation to a successful, award-winning D.C.-area business, enjoying its best year to date during one of the nation’s most profound housing slumps.

Fauth’s business, founded in 1981, started in a workshop at his home, located on a five-acre property in Frederick, MD. He now employs 10 and has added a second address, including 4,400 square feet of manufacturing space, a showroom and design area.

Fauth started learning the basics of woodworking at an early age, he says. “My father was a nuclear engineer, but his free time was spent building houses. My playground was a construction site. I helped laminate tops from the age of six.” Fauth studied chemical engineering in college. But after college, he found he enjoyed what he was doing to help pay for school more and switched careers.

Early in his career, he designed and built custom homes, each a prototype and each different. He learned about quality of detail in every aspect of houses, inside and out, from the ground up, but says he also learned that he didn’t want to be 50 years old and still having to work outside in the winter, possibly shingling a roof.

“My favorite part of the process involved creating the cabinetry and millwork,” says Fauth. “I loved designing kitchens and making beautiful, functional cabinetry for my clients. I decided to make that the focus of my work.”

As his reputation for high-quality work and his client list expanded, Fauth brought more people into his business, including a Certified Kitchen Designer. “Designing kitchens is something I enjoy, but I learned I couldn’t do everything,” he says. “I hired Kris Quinn a decade ago as our resident kitchen designer. She is great with people. We hired Bill Setliff three years ago to expand the commercial part of the business. He designs and sells office furniture, reception desks and casework for the commercial and office environments.”

Fauth says Carriage Hill Cabinetry & Millwork does both commercial and residential work. But he finds the majority of his business has always been strongest for the high-end residential clients.

“We don’t bid on commercial business anymore, but we have found a niche where we can offer our clients a sturdy, well designed, attractive millwork package that includes the furniture, casegoods and millwork together,” he says.

The past year was Fauth’s busiest and 2008 is shaping up to equal or exceed that. Fauth isn’t sure why so many people are remodeling. “Maybe with the housing slowdown, people are opting to stay put and renovate,” he says.

Success Spurs Expansion

Carriage Hill Cabinet & Millwork’s original workshop was on five-acre property of Fauth’s home in Frederick. As the company grew, he expanded operations to a second location, but kept his original workspace.

“We needed more space for a showroom and to accommodate machinery and personnel,” Fauth says. “Our headquarters includes a 4,400-square-foot manufacturing area, plus an 1,800-square-foot showroom, office and design space. The original shop is now used for finishing and veneer layup and is outfitted with a Binks spray booth, Kremlin pump spray system and a Joos Junior 4-foot by 8-foot hot/cold veneer press.”

The main shop, just 13 miles from his home, features two 10-inch Powermatic table saws, an Altendorf F-45 Elmo sliding table saw and a Masterwood Winner 2.45 CNC point-to-point machining center. “We have had the machining center for six years, and it is a total powerhouse, letting us cut, machine, edgeband and join parts at one spot,” Fauth says. “It has eliminated four to five steps and the need for other machinery because it can do so much. Just the elimination of material handling is a big savings.”

Fauth says the machining center is a space saver, in that it eliminates the need for other machines. “That is important to us, too, to make the best use of the space we have.” It also allows the company to offer CNC routing services to other shops.

Other machinery includes a Holz-Her Triathlon 360 edgebander with a Thomas return conveyor, Gannomat Elite 25 drilling and dowel insertion machine, Gannomat Model 260 case clamp, Blum hinge boring machine and Butfering 37-inch single-head widebelt sander. The company uses several software programs, including Microvellum, LT-55 Laser templator, Cabinet Vision and AutoCAD.

A painted island and “furniture-style” cabinetry add variety to this kitchen.

Contemporary Trends

“The East Coast is very mixed when it comes to styles of cabinetry,” Fauth says. “Still very popular is the Shaker door style, which can lend itself to contemporary, traditional or Arts and Craft designs, simply by using different finishes, wood species and decorative hardware. Shaker is a very versatile door.

“Other current style trends of note include a simple flat door in a very dark finish with horizontal grain, to very light wood finishes with the grain running vertically, with bookmatched drawers and doors,” he adds. “Metal trims, doors with all sorts of choices in glass inserts, lift-up doors, vanity cabinetry with legs or wall-mounted, are also very popular. The sleek minimal look is bold, open and handsome.”

Carriage Hill’s logo is “Building craftsmanship into everything we do.” But the company never forgets the importance of details and serving the client, Fauth says. He credits his success in a competitive arena with his company’s attention to detail.

“My lifeline is referrals and repeat business. I have my customers to thank for the great PR work they do for us via word-of-mouth,” he says. “I don’t claim to be the best cabinetmaker in the world, but in my business, it is all about service. I haven’t done marketing and advertising, except to run Want Ads for employees, but prefer to put my time and effort in making the customer want to come back for more.”

Fauth has benefited from some high-profile publicity. HGTV showcased a 21st century bungalow designed by architect/owner Dale Stewart and his wife, landscape architect Sallie Stewart, that features Carriage Hill’s woodwork. “From the curb, the house looks like a 1901 bungalow. But it was actually built in the year 2001,” Fauth says. “Carriage Hill is proud to have created just about everything that is wood inside the bungalow, which was named the National Assn. of Home Builders’ 2001 Home of the Year.

“Kris, our CKD on staff, had done a kitchen for Dale 20 years ago,” Fauth adds. “Dale was building a new home and wanted us to do the kitchen. He is very particular, but so are most of our customers. We figure if they weren’t particular, they would be at the big-box stores instead of working with us.”

Fauth says that after the couple saw his ideas for an Arts-and-Crafts-style kitchen, there was a “meeting of the minds” and Carriage Hill’s footprint in the home expanded. The final project encompassed coffered ceilings, a staircase, 8-foot-tall interior doors, windows, oak beams, paneling, columns and an entertainment center, as well as the kitchen, bath and laundry room cabinetry and countertops.

Fauth says that it is not unusual for a client to return in a few years, asking for additional projects or to greatly expand on a planned renovation. “For one family, we started out doing the kitchen. They liked it. We then did the family room. They liked it. So we did the basement family room and a library. The clients didn’t want the electronics and computers to show, so we ‘hid’ it all behind pocket doors and faux books.” Fauth worked with Rockville, MD-architect Dean Ventola on the project.

(Fauth notes that the faux books were purchased from a manufacturer in England called Periodbooks.com. He says that it is a great decorating tool which conceals electronic equipment and gives the look of an instant library. “They make the books in any dimension you specify,” Fauth says.)

In addition to the HGTV exposure, Chesapeake Home magazine has profiled several of Carriage Hill’s projects, including home libraries, which are a popular trend in homes in the Northeast Corridor. Fauth says libraries and home offices are increasing in popularity with some of his clients, but they offer the design challenge of housing clients’ electronic equipment in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

“Although people want the technology, they don’t necessarily want to see it,” Fauth says. “Libraries have a long history of warmth and a traditional look that people connect with, and they don’t want to sacrifice style for utility. Contemporary libraries keep the warmth, but disguise the technology, ditching the ‘old-style’ workspace appearance of exposed wiring, cables and unattractive metal filing cabinetry, for wireless features, flat-panels and other state-of-the-art technology. We concentrate on the lush woods and color palette along with other adornments, such as plush leather and textiles.”

Cabinet doors with glass inserts are a popular trend among Carriage Hill’s clientele. Coupled with contemporary pulls, they give an updated look to a traditional Shaker-style door.

Choices for Every Customer

The company offers three options in cabinetry: Plain & Fancy Custom Cabinetry; Timberlake, a Division of American Woodmark Corp., and custom cabinetry built in-house. “Some clients opt for a mix,” Fauth says. “We like that we can offer clients a range to fit their budgets. Our staff is dedicated to interacting with clients to find out what they need and then crafting, installing and servicing it to perfection.”

Fauth has many examples of the company’s customer service. “One of our favorite client interactions was working with a woman who had a definite idea of a color for her cabinetry finish, but was having trouble expressing the exact hue,” he says. “She said she couldn’t describe, it so she brought in a purse and said, ‘This is what I want.’

“Another client wanted a cherry door, but wanted it painted in two tones, red and black, distressed, sanded at the corners and rasped, followed with a hand glaze and topcoated. But it’s all in a day’s work and all about getting it just right,” he says.

“And, we like a challenge,” Fauth adds. “Cabinets are basically boxes on the wall that hold plates. The trick and craftsmanship comes in how you finish it and detail it. We cater to clients who want something more. For clients with small children who couldn’t reach the sink, we fabricated a step stool as a pullout, hidden in the toe kick.”

Carriage Hill not only offers cabinets and services from design to installation, it also carries various lines of granite and quartz countertops, as well as appliances. While the company is primarily doing residential work at this point, part of its success is being flexible to changing market needs. So in the past, it has worked in the commercial end as well.

“We have done Cellular One store interiors nationwide, even four stores in Alaska and interiors at Boston’s Logan Airport and Washington, DC’s Reagan National Airport,” Fauth says. In addition, some of his local clients enlist his help on vacation homes (and yachts) that can be somewhat local or even on the West Coast.

“One of our clients is a well-known high-end furniture manufacturer from Virginia,” Fauth says. “It was a pleasure to work for him, since he was knowledgeable about the quality of the details involved in his project and could appreciate them.”

Another client hired Carriage Hill to do the majority of the woodwork for a 15,000-square-foot house, including 2,000 lineal feet of crown moulding that went into one library’s coffered ceilings and beams. Another client spent $500,000 just for cabinetry.

Fauth stays on top of what’s happening in the industry in part by being active in related groups. He is a member and past-president of NARI (National Assn. of the Remodeling Industry) and a member of the NKBA (National Kitchen & Bath Assn.) and NAHB (National Assn. of Home Builders), among other organizations.

He also is willing to try something new to keep expanding. Case in point, he recently participated in a Frederick County Home Builders show, which was a first for the company. “We had a very busy weekend. Although I’m used to being on my feet all day in the shop and at the job, I have a new appreciation for the tradeshow industry,” says Fauth. “We were curious about using a home show as another marketing tool and will be interested to see if is effective.”

Fauth says the one area that can be the most challenging in his business is finding qualified employees. But he adds that he is lucky to have many long-time employees at Carriage Hill.

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