Need a 16-inch baseboard? Custom stairs? Heister House Millworks has spent the last 27 years supplying customers whose needs call for a product not found among the rails of moldings at the local big box or lumberyard, says COO Jeff Hunt. Founded in 1988 by two local craftsmen, today the millworks, located in Mount Pleasant Mills in the heart of Pennsylvania hardwood country, has diversified to supply the molding needs of the modular housing industry and recently added a custom cabinetry division.

Allen Mowery

Crafting a Company
Brad [Lauver] was making moldings in his garage, and Lorne [Nipple] was building stairs for his clients in pole barn, and when Brad outgrew his space, he moved in with Lorne. Then one day, they decided to throw in together.

The new business became Heister House when Brad’s log home package—he was building a new home on Heister Valley Road—arrived addressed to Heister House.

Creating Niches
The interesting thing about Heister House is that we are a specialty business, but also very diversified. The manufactured housing segment is 40%; then we have a custom builder segment, about 30% to 35%, which is skewed more high-end, supplying all sorts of fun stuff, like built-in bookcases and columns.

We also manufacture flooring, and OEM (original equipment manufacturers), where we are taking someone else’s product and doing something with it. For example, we pre-finish commercial doors for Masonite. Then we have a cabinet business [added in 2016].

Capturing the Modular Market
Although modular housing—boxes built indoors in a factory, then set on a foundation rather than stick built—is only 4% to 5% of the housing market nationwide, most of our customers would be considered modular.

We supply the interior and exterior doors and moldings. Then a builder who works with manufactured homes builds the foundation, joins everything together when the modules are delivered, connects utilities, and takes care of the punch list items.

We grew because of the modular business, then we hired an experienced salesman who got us into other segments of the wood crafting industry. His idea was to get the millworks to supply everything for the house after the drywall was up, and the kitchen put in, ideas geared more to the stick builder. The only thing we don’t do is windows, since there is not a lot of value add for those.

Profiles Galore
The moldings business has grown by custom demand, and it’s gotten us into some really interesting projects. We did a house in Cape Cod, and we had 54 different profiles in that one house. The typical house has three. Molding packages can be $40,000 to $50,000 on a $2 to $5 million house. We have done work for clients where we had to sign a confidentiality agreement not to say who they were.

Molding Trends
We are seeing a trend in higher-end molding for simpler designs, like the Craftsman style. The casing is like a board, or a board with bead on it. We’re seeing that with interior doors as well, where we might do a two-panel versus a six-panel door. Trending now is painted molding—95% is painted white—and oak has given way to poplar or pine. We still have lots of projects with lots of wood in them, but we are using different profiles from those that were popular 10 or 15 years ago.

We do get requests to reproduce moldings, and those requests come from all avenues, from homeowners to architects. As long as we have a 3-to-4-inch piece, we can match it to a T.

Local History
A lot of our lumber comes from a few miles from where we are: maple, cherry, walnut, and ash, and we can order anything that anyone would want. We go through a lot of wood, and we get wood daily from local sawmills.

We have almost a thousand different molding profiles, and we keep them in cabinets at the mill, along with the knives, also made in-house, that are used to create them.