Washington Woodworking Company
Located in Hyattsville, Maryland, Washington Woodworking (WW) is one of the Capital Region’s leading architectural woodworking specialists, providing high-end interiors work for a range of prominent clients including large multinational corporations, law firms, general contractors and architects.
The company occupies the very top end of the interiors market, building and installing wall panels, doors, jambs, built-in units, reception desks and credenzas matched only by some of the largest names in the industry. The award-winning company has garnered over 100 individual recognitions throughout its 100-plus year history.
“It’s our quality and our service that really sets us apart; we strive to be the best quality on the East Coast. We want to gain a customer for life so we treat each project with the highest level of attention and respect.” says Ken Lauer, president and chief operating officer of WW. While WW works primarily in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and northern Virginia, the company has completed projects as far away as Atlanta and Philadelphia.
WW’s 80,000-square-foot production facility in Hyattsville allows the company to produce many of its own custom products, including veneer lay-up and doors. The company’s experienced woodworking team includes cabinet makers, finishers and carpenters.
While the company was built on an expert foundation in woodworking, WW has expanded its slate of interior design solutions in recent decades to include a wide array of materials such as glass, stone, leather, fabric panels, solid surface and stainless steel. “Most of our customers prefer a turnkey operation and we take care of it all from doors and hardware to metalwork, glass, lighting and synthetic stone,” says Lauer.
Finding a niche
Originally founded in 1897 as a lumberyard and millwork company that manufactured and sold stock woodwork, windows, doors stair parts, lumber and building products, WW made an important pivot into the high-end interiors market in the late 1970s.
Lauer joined the company shortly after, leaving a position as a project manager at a woodworking company in Baltimore to join WW in 1983. Lauer has steadily worked his way up in the company over the last 33 years, trading in his role as a project manager for that of an estimator before becoming vice president and eventually, president of WW.
Today the company has grown to employ between 80 and 100 employees, including a dedicated team of experienced woodworkers and craftsmen — 30 cabinet makers, four finishers and 30-plus carpenters — and 12 office staff.
WW has completed interiors projects for some of the world’s largest corporations, NGOs and financial institutions, including the World Bank, General Dynamics, Hilton Worldwide and Northrop Grumman. The company has been called in three times over the past four years to complete interiors work for EIG Partners, a Washington, D.C.-based provider of institutional capital to the global energy industry. “The first project with EIG consisted of really nice veneer work, then they put on an addition, which was about half the size, and in the past year we landed another job with EIG,” says Dailey.
Last year WW completed an extensive interiors project at LMI Government Consulting that included teak paneling, an ornate reception desk, polished stainless steel and extensive use of high-gloss finishes and paint work, a difficult technique that the company has developed a specialty in as of late. “We’re getting a lot of requests for high-gloss paint on projects, and we pride ourselves in getting the finish as close to perfect as possible so the high-gloss looks almost like a mirror,” says Dailey.
One recent project in a lobby for Tishman Speyer Properties in downtown Washington, D.C., presented a unique challenge for WW. The metalwork-intensive project called for the construction of a glass and stainless steel reception desk that could be easily cleaned to help maintain the company’s professional environment. WW developed a unique design solution that involved a rotating, 12-foot-long stainless steel plate, but at 800 to 1,000 pounds, that presented its own set of challenges.
“What we came up with was a turntable,” says Dailey. “We basically found a bearing that would hold 20,000 pounds and mounted it to a metal frame within the desk and then bolted it to the stainless steel stop.” The stainless steel plate covering the reception desk can now be rotated 90 degrees, allowing for easy cleaning on the interior glass panels.
WW has become adept at translating the whims of architects and clients into functional office space. “We take the designs architects come up with and make a product that is safe and functional,” Dailey says.
Growing the next generation
As a union shop, WW has no problem attracting qualified union employees when the need arises. “We keep a base crew, but also hire from the union as we need to build our team,” says Lauer.
While the union affiliation has served WW well throughout the years, a lack of new workers entering the trade could well lead to workforce issues in the near future, according to WW vice president and production manager Mike Dailey.
“There aren’t a whole lot of young people that want to get into the woodworking trade,” Dailey says. Coupled with the dwindling number of cabinetry apprenticeships in the local area, WW has taken it upon themselves to bring up aspiring cabinet makers. “If people come in that don’t have skills as a cabinet maker, we still give them a shot. It allows us to assess their skills and evaluate them to see if they can do more than just work on the bench. Then we bring them up the WW way,” he says.
WW has a vested interest to help train the next generation of woodworkers. They have recently started working with local high schools and colleges with woodworking programs or classes. Mike Dailey and the Shop Superintendent, Pat Tuck, visit schools to work side by side with students and speak to them about the woodworking opportunities. “I like having a hand in inspiring the next generation of woodworkers,” says Dailey.
Looking toward the future
As the economy rebounds and big projects start to pick back up, Lauer is confident in WW’s future. “I’d like to grow more and stretch beyond the local boundaries to do more on the East Coast and maybe Midwest. We’re also considering some projects in San Francisco; we’re trying to spread our wings a little bit,” he says.
For Lauer, the business is all about providing clients with one-of-a-kind, high-end interior solutions that bring added value and an air of professionalism to corporate headquarters and law firms. “I like the fact that we’re a highly respected company in our field. We pride ourselves on providing our customers the best quality in service and materials,” Lauer says.
With more work available and more cash flow, companies now have the means to accent their offices with unique architectural woodworking elements. Washington Woodworking will remain a leading name in custom interiors in the Washington, D.C., metro area and beyond.
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