Meet Shop Carpenter Mike Perkins

Meet one of Versatile’s newest Shop Carpenters, Mike Perkins.

What inspires you about custom woodworking? What drew you to this line of work?

I’m inspired by bringing the old back to life by using age old techniques and processes. The hands on aspect is what drives me and I’m able to utilize my 28 plus years of experience.

Do you have a special skill you want to tell us about?

I have been a home-brewer for over 25 years. Mastering many styles, I’ve also won awards at local County and State fairs. One of my favorite recipes is a German style smoked ale (Rachbier), which I smoke my own malt for. I try to brew at least once every few months to keep my supply up.

Describe one of your favorite past projects. What were the challenges? What were some of the features that made it memorable?

I really liked working on the First Congregational Church tower restoration, where I was matching the handmade moldings. Being asked to do some wood turned pieces for the project was an awesome way to show off my talents.

What are the top 3 things on your bucket list?

#1 Go to Munich for Oktoberfest

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Restoring: First Congregational Church

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Constructed in 1895, the First Congregational Church of Portland is a dominant Venetian Gothic icon along the city’s South Park Blocks. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a Portland Landmark, this historic structure towers above its neighbors, quite literally, with its 175′ bell tower at the southwest corner. This tower was once accompanied by two others on adjacent corners, which were removed in 1940 following significant storm damage. Existing conditions prior to the summer 2015 restoration included extreme deterioration of the wood Gothic tracery arches at the belfry. As the last remaining tower on the building, the restoration of these elements was a crucial component in retaining the architectural integrity of this historic church.

What was the scope of the project and what were the design goals?

With its severe level of deterioration, the restoration of the Gothic tracery was not only an aesthetic decision, but also a safety precaution after a loose piece fell onto the sidewalk below. The First Congregational Church turned to Versatile and Arciform to stabilize and restore the wood elements of this feature. As with any preservation project, the goal was to retain as much of the original fabric as possible and to maintain the character defining features of the original design. The four tower faces all required work, but the south elevation suffered the most significant damage due to exposure and UV damage. The tracery at this location was removed and restored in-house at Versatile. The other elevations were in fair enough condition to be restored on-site by the Arciform team.

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What challenges did the project face?

The location of the architectural details proved to be the biggest challenge. Nearly 175′ up in the air and surrounded by scaffolding, the south elevation tracery was cut into sections and lowered to the ground for transportation to Versatile’s shop.

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It quickly became apparent that not only were the face-applied details of the tracery loose and deteriorating, but the backerboard holding the element together was also unstable. It arrived to the shop in pieces, like an oversized puzzle of fragile history. Another challenge was in the design itself. What appeared to be repetitive details in the columns and tracery were in fact unique, prohibiting the efficiency of replicating one element to be reused as a template throughout the entire tracery at similar locations.

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What were the Uniquely Versatile solutions?

Once in the shop, each element was laid out and assessed to determine which pieces were salvageable and which required replacement. After meticulous documentation, all parts were mapped and translated into CAD files. Having these otherwise inaccessible components in-house provided the unique opportunity to prepare a custom library of details for First Congregational Church in anticipation of future restoration needs and part replacement.

Intact elements were cleaned and prepped for refinishing. Substantial details such as the monolithic Corinthian columns appeared unimpaired from the surface, but experienced wood rot at their core. With the use of consolidants, these items were also saved.  

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Other details were reproduced using templates created on our CNC machine. All new pieces were made of Western Red Cedar, the same wood species as the original elements to ensure historic accuracy and material performance. Replacement parts were then fit in place for sizing and routed with the cove detailing to ensure the tracery appeared seamless. Keeping the site conditions in mind, the final product was delivered in sections for ease of hoisting and installation by Arciform.

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The First Congregational Church restoration marked the final project of our former shop foreman, Eric Voss. The success of this project can be credited to his skilled craftsmanship and attention to detail.  Many thanks go out to him and his multiple years of service on Versatile’s team of talented woodworkers.

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This project was named one of Restore Oregon‘s Most Endangered Places in 2015. You can check out the whole list of Endangered Places here. The 2016 list will be announced at the Restoration Celebration (sponsored by Versatile Wood Products) on November 13th. Get the details and RSVP for that event here.

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Meet Custom Design Specialist Josette Katcha

A native to the Midwest, Josette studied interior architecture and worked as a preservation and design consultant on both new construction and restoration projects for 7 years. Lured by the mountains and architectural styles of the Pacific Northwest, Josette moved to Oregon in 2013 to receive her Master of Science in Historic Preservation at the University of Oregon with an emphasis on building technology.

You’ve been brought on as Versatile’s first-ever Custom Design Specialist. Tell us about what your areas of responsibility will be.

My role on Versatile’s team is to work directly with our clients in creating design solutions for our custom projects, specifically on historic properties. I will be assisting in sales and navigating the historic review process to ensure that our designs and products integrate with original historic fabric.

You have a background in historic preservation and interior design.  What aspects of Versatile’s work and process are most similar to your previous work? What’s the most different?

I worked for a private consulting firm juggling both preservation project management as well as design services for new construction. My brain was split into two worlds – coordinating restoration crews and designing interiors and specifying finishes. In a way, my new position at Versatile merges these responsibilities for each project, as I anticipate preserving the appearance of architectural details while making alterations in materiality and operation to serve the clients’ needs. How this position differs from my background is the material we work with and the region we work in at Versatile. My former position mainly involved restoring solid masonry walls that underwent extreme freeze/thaw cycles in the Midwest. I now look forward to working within the fenestrations of these walls, their wood components, and designing for their longevity in a high moisture climate.

What inspires you about custom manufacture?

The possibilities. In the preservation world, projects are often faced with restrictions in design, which can become very frustrating to historic property owners. I look forward to working for a company with skilled craftsmen that can tell a client, “Yes, we can make that,” or, “Yes, we can restore that,” turning a preservation project into reality.

Describe one of your favorite past projects. What were the challenges? What were some of the features that made it memorable?

My colleague and I designed the interiors for a new construction residence made of hemcrete, a rising building material in Europe but one of the first buildings of its kind in the U.S. Hemcrete walls are formed much like concrete, but made of hemp stalks and a lime binder instead of stone aggregate and cement. The project was challenging in that the material was new to the region and the entire project team, including the installers, so it made for multiple delays in the project schedule. All finish decisions had to comply with strict permeability and breathability standards for the hemcrete to perform properly. What made this most memorable was a wonderful client who was completely open to new ideas and technologies with an unrestrained budget, a dream for any designer. Some of our project highlights included salvaging French doors from a demolished home and modifying them into interior pocket sliders, milling over-sized beams removed from the historic Pabst brewery for reuse as kitchen shelving, and harvesting wood on-site for other architectural details.

What are the top 3 things on your “bucket list?” 

The highest item on my bucket list is to backpack the fjords and tour the historic fishing villages of western Norway. On a more achievable scale, I hope to summit Mt. Hood once snow conditions are favorable. A long-term goal of mine is to establish my own work shop to create furniture and support my dream of restoring an old Airstream.

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Case Study: Carle Kitchen Cabinets

Carle_2003_Kitchen_A_P_Pro_ (10)Nestled deep in Southwest Portland, the Carle family kitchen was the subject of an extensive remodel that was completed in late 2014. Interior designer Barbara Sumner and architectural designer Kristyn Bester worked with Versatile’s Product Designer Rex Vaccaro, to update and modernize the kitchen.

The design process for this particular project exemplifies our modern era; most of the communication during the process happened via Skype since the Carle family had been residing in Amsterdam when the project began. As with any remodel project, the designers hit a few snags, and the home was still under construction when the family returned to Portland. Ultimately, however, the Arciform and Versatile teams were able to achieve a contemporary, streamlined kitchen that is both functional and beautiful for the Carle family.

 

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What was the scope of the project and what were the design goals?

 For Versatile, the scope involved an entire run of custom upper and lower cabinets as well as a pantry wall; a large kitchen island with a cantilevered eating area, and a built-in window bench. Some retrofit shelving and a wet bar in an adjacent living room were also included in the design. The finishes ended up being a contemporary mix of stainless steel-wrapped upper cabinets, paint grade surfaces for the pantry wall, and solid, clear, walnut grain aligned horizontally on the lower cabinets.

What challenges did the project face?

The biggest challenge that this project presented was the fact that the client had a strong desire for all of the lower cabinets to carry a visually  distinctive horizontal line from the wood grain along the length of the kitchen. The surface area along the sink wall and island was very broad, and there was some difficulty in locating beautiful, solid pieces of walnut that were large enough to cover those surfaces. The main issue with long spans of wood, however, is that they will always warp over time, so there was an initial fear that the cabinet faces would warp and be ruined.

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What were the Uniquely Versatile solutions?

The first step in solving the problem was to communicate with designers working on the project. With regards to the sink wall, the solution was to simply compromise on the pattern, and face the cabinets with a classic vertical grain rather than risk the possibility of warping. To create a horizontal appearance on the surface of the nine-foot long island, a laminating method was used, in which a few boards of walnut were glued together along their long edges in order to add stability. Laminated wood still carries the possibility of warping; however, by alternating the grain patterns on the boards (essentially flipping every other board so that the grain pattern is opposite the one before it), more stability is added to the wood,  creating a preventive measure against warping. We were also able to retain the horizontal grain pattern that the client wanted, and applying these solutions to the project resulted in a stunningly beautiful set of kitchen cabinets.

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Versatile is always looking to come up with inventive solutions for the challenges faced when collaborating with others. Our creative team worked with the talented designers at Arciform to achieve their client’s needs for this beautiful home in Southwest Portland.

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Case Study: Mid-Century Custom Cabinetry

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This architect designed mid-century modern home featured existing hemlock cabinets that needed restoration, plus a client who wanted to expand square footage and increase the utility of the space for entertaining. Versatile refinished and modified the original kitchen cabinets to house new appliances and fabricated a new bank of cabinets that matched the existing style and hardware, concealed the new refrigerator and expanded the available storage.

Project Goals
To restore and expand the kitchen with as little impact to the original fixtures as possible while modernizing the appliances and integrating them into the existing architecture.

Challenges

  1. The unusual species of the wood in the existing architect-designed cabinets required a careful exact match of wood and hardware in order to blend the new elements seamlessly with the old.
  2. Integrating contemporary appliances into a space designed for the 1960s without distracting from the period style of the space required extremely precise fits on the surrounding cabinets.

Uniquely Versatile Solutions

  1. Research of the architect’s work and a deep understanding of the principals of the original architectural style helped identify creative but architecturally appropriate solutions to the integration challenges.
  2. Precise measurements and good communication with the contractor during the design of new cabinets ensured a seamless installation.

Client’s Reaction

We love our home and think often about the wonderful job you have done for us.

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