Usually, when Reihl Mahoney of Kistler & Knapp Builders sends his high-end customers to a supplier to select materials, he likes to go with them. After all, with Kistler & Knapp's luxury custom homes ranging in price from $1.5 million to $3 million, Mahoney, project manager for the Acton, Mass.–based builder, doesn't want his clients to be misinformed—or mistreated—during any part of the construction process.
But when it comes to sending them to Bellingham, Mass.–based Van Millwork, a $20 million specialty distributor of custom millwork, doors, and stair parts, Mahoney has no problem letting his clients go on their own, especially to the dealer's new state-of-the-art, 1,900-square-foot millwork showroom. "I know that with Van, I don't have to worry about them telling my client something wrong," Mahoney says. "That's just the level they're at."
Located in Needham, just 10 miles west of Boston and thus close to the city's numerous architectural firms, the Van Millwork and Design Center targets architects, designers, homeowners, and both high-end custom builders and regional production builders who are looking to add a little millwork bling to set their spec homes apart.
At a cost of $750,000, Van Millwork overlooked no detail in designing and constructing the showroom, which boasts nine distinct suites highlighting different architectural styles of mill-work, from Victorian to Greek Revival to Arts & Crafts. The women's restroom is outfitted with 3-inch, natural bamboo flooring, and the showroom also has a fully functional kitchen display with custom cabinets to finish the space. "The kitchen wall not only shows what's possible in a custom kitchen, it provides space for catering and luncheons and other get-togethers," says Kristen Koehler, Van's director of sales and marketing. "We've hosted a number of our own events, as well as industry functions of the builders association."
In order to give homeowners a true feel for what millwork can do in their homes, Van employed designer Gerald Pomeroy to fill each suite with interior elements highlighting that room's architectural style. In the Victorian suite, clients can lounge on plush, paisley-covered chairs that match the room's wallpaper and rest their feet on a velvet ottoman, while admiring the custom Brazilian-cherry mantel outfitted with a beaded dentil design and mounted on fluted legs. The mantel, topped with miniature carvings and an elegant gold-framed mirror, is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling paneling. Complementary wainscoting wraps around the rest of the room.
"I feel one of the things we accomplished was to bring a collective feeling to each room through the different elements and accessories we used. It takes the tediousness out of selecting millwork by enhancing it with the fabrics, wall coverings, and lighting that would further exemplify those periods," says Pomeroy, owner of Boston-based Gerald Pomeroy Design, who incorporated similar complementary elements into rooms displaying Tuscan, Colonial, Cape Cod, and Georgian-Federal styles. A custom library and an "eclectic" room round out the mix. "[The design elements] catch people's attention, and as a result, they tend to linger in a room longer to study the millwork and absorb and process more of the product."
The ability to process the product is especially important when it comes to millwork, a category that can be baffling to many homeowners. Unlike pragmatic elements such as windows and doors, pros say millwork often can get lost in the shuffle, especially when it's presented in 6-inch lengths on a sample board. Then there's the issue of elements such as door casings and baseboards needing to be the same width so they meet seamlessly—a detail that's often overlooked when customers view samples and pick out the pieces on an individual basis. It was for those kinds of reasons that Van Millwork built the showroom: to highlight its products and educate its builder customers' customers on what high-quality interior detailing can add to a home.
"Samples on a board and take-homes have been done for years," says Van Millwork president Jonathan Van. "But often, the question we get from customers in picking out things like molding and doors is what goes with what. What door goes best with this crown molding? Or what baseboard would go best with this door? We decided within each of the suites to show customers what went with what. Certainly, dealers have mounted doors on walls and put crown moldings in ceilings in showrooms before. But no one has actually gone out and done it to this extent." It was the challenge of showing mill-work in context that led Van to his idea of architectural vignettes, to give customers "permission" to combine various elements and feel comfortable about what goes with what.
And it's not just millwork. The design center also displays doors from Masonite and TruStile, fitted into custom jambs and casings, as well as the custom flooring capabilities of Van's C&R Flooring unit. Door hardware from manufacturers Schlage and Baldwin Images is also on display, packaged in a side-by-side, compare-as-you-go presentation wall. A separate workroom with computer stations, as well as flat-panel screens throughout the space, allow salespeople to work with customers on complete visions for their homes.
So far, the bundled packaging and guided-tour approach to various architectural styles has worked. Koehler says customers who used to be baffled by the array of millwork options available to them will now come in and order an entire package within minutes. "They'll just say, 'I'll take the crown and the chair rail and the baseboard just as you show it here,'" Koehler says. "They don't have to think about it, because they see it all together and they know they like it."
That contextual setting has helped Van not only boost sales of its own moldings, but its Masonite and TruStile door lines as well. Scott Schmid, president of TruStile, says that of the 300-plus showrooms nationally where his doors are displayed, Van's stands out.
"Van is on the leading edge of showroom design," Schmid says. "They're unique to the degree that they've completed the entire package. They give the homeowner a complete picture of what the possibilities are, and that really fits with the market they're going after. It's certainly been a tremendous boom for our business with them."