Jeff Vasey, Versatile Wood Products Jack-of-All Trades

Jeff Vasey of Versatile Wood Products
Jeff Vasey of Versatile Wood Products. Behind him sits a 100-year-old “mortiser machine.”

As a train filled with lumber roars by, Versatile Wood Product’s mill foreman, Jeff Vasey, takes a break from his normal duties to share his story with me. Jeff is the longest-working employee for Versatile and started with the sister company, Arciform, in 2001. Beginning as a field carpenter, he worked with a small team of four carpenters who built the original Arciform building in North Portland off Skidmore Street and Interstate Avenue. The business owned by Richard and Anne DeWolf’s quickly outgrew that location.

Train tracks off North Randolph street, Portland, OR.
Train tracks off North Randolph street, Portland, OR. Photo by Christopher Dibble

“Arciform outgrew the original shop right away,” says Vasey. “So they bought a second building in the industrial area off North Randolph Street.”

The Arciform shop space was originally only ¼ of the size it is today, and much of it was rented to other tenants. “AWOL Dance Studio would have aerial dancers hanging from the ceilings in one part of the warehouse,” remembers Vasey.

Arciform Acquires Versatile Wood Products

Then, in 2011, the merge happened. Arciform acquired the 30-year-old custom wood manufacturing company, Versatile Sash and Door (now Versatile Wood Products). The aerial dancers no longer dangled from the ceiling and Vasey played a major role in the expansion of the workshop.

Jeff’s devotion to Arciform and Versatile and his pride in his work becomes clear to me as he talks about developing the space.

“As a field carpenter, you’re sort of a jack-of-all-trades. This came in handy for me as an employee of Arciform and Versatile. I helped wire the new building’s shop-space and created a piping/dust-collection system. In addition I remodeled, built and moved equipment as our space and services expanded,” says Jeff.

Jeff explains the many types of wood Versatile carries. Versatile holds over 40 different species of wood and grades.

Jeff Vasey’s Story

“I’ve always had a mechanical-type of brain,” Jeff reflects. He remembers participating in the soapbox derby when he was 9 and 10 years old, where he won the awards for best constructed as well as best designed car.

Raised in Fargo, North Dakota, Jeff Vasey moved to Portland in 1985. I learn that Jeff is not only a carpenter, an engineer and a mechanic, but he’s also an artist.

Art brought Vasey to his wife, Vicky DeKrey, as well as to Oregon. Vasey and DeKrey met at North Dakota State University, where they both majored in art. At first living with a cousin in Washington, DC, they finally followed their favorite professor, Jerry Vanderline, who was originally from Portland, Oregon. As a result, when Vanderline moved back to Portland, he invited them for a visit.

“We toured over 11,000 miles of land on the way. Oregon was by far the most beautiful of all the places I’d been.”

It’s a familiar story to me. My own parents grew up in the flat lands of Oklahoma. When they took a road trip to the Northwest they were completely wonder-struck by the tall trees and lush greenness of it all. Perhaps it is a place that attracts artists.

However, once in Oregon, Jeff Vasey painted less and less. He got into photography, created electronic music, hiked and backpacked. He also started fixing a friend’s home in exchange for living there. After a while he learned of Arciform from a friend who worked there.

Jeff’s Work Today

As we walk through the shop, Jeff explains to me what different tools do.

“This one is probably the oldest machine in the shop. It must be over a hundred years old and is built like a battleship.” Jeff says. “It drills this groove into the window frame so you can fit these two joints together.”

He holds up two sash frame corners and slides them smoothly into place. It’s called a mortise and tenon joint.

Jeff is no longer a field carpenter because he has grown into the shop manager at Versatile. When I ask Jeff what his favorite thing about his job is, he says it’s the variety of projects they work on. He likes the details of some of the historical-style carpentry work. He fondly reflects on his days as a field carpenter.

“I miss getting to see the end result of my work as much as I did when I was working in the field. I loved getting to work directly with Anne and Richard on projects, because having the designer or architect so accessible while working on a project is a treat. It’s a collaborative process here.”

One of Vasey’s favorite woods is this quarter-sawn white oak. He holds it to the light for us to see it shimmer.

I learn that Jeff Vasey is known as the resident wood expert at Versatile. Asking him what his favorite type of wood is, he shakes his head and says, “No, I couldn’t choose just one.”

by Snow Blackwood, Creative Director of SnowBDesigns
Photos by Christopher Dibble Photography

 

Richard De Wolf Interviewed on StreetTalk Podcast

This week, Richard was interviewed by Amy Rosenberg of Veracity’s StreetTalk Podcast where he spoke about his love for vintage structures, the value of mixed income levels in controversial Historic Districts (HD’s) and why it’s important to protect HD’s and why it’s easier to maintain a building than it is to change it.

See the accompanying article and hear the interview on the Veracity website.

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.

About Versatile Wood Products | Contact Us

Meet Versatile’s New Drafter: Curtis Nagel

After his enlistment in the Navy Curtis returned to Texas to complete an Associate Degree in Architectural Technology and begin his professional journey as a drafter. Curtis’ most recent accomplishment was obtaining his Master’s Degree in Technology Management with an emphasis in safety (occupational and industrial hygiene). During each of these degrees, Curtis worked full time as a drafter and buyer for an electronics manufacturing business which developed devices for the disabled community that had limited to no mobility.

You’ve been brought on as one of Versatile’s Drafters. Tell us about what your areas of responsibility will be.

My main areas of responsibility will deal with documenting site specific conditions and applying my knowledge of architectural building systems to assist in drafting technical shop drawings for manufacturing. I will be collaborating with the sales, estimating, manufacturing, and other design teams to ensure my work will be easily understood and of high value.

You have a background in personnel management, avionics maintenance, architectural and mechanical drafting/design, and component procurement. What aspects of Versatile’s work and process are most similar to your previous work? What’s the most different?

The most similar aspect that I can compare is collaboration. Knowledge is not static and must be continuously updated to assist in getting all hands on the same page. With multiple divisions collaborating projects together, we all can gain by learning the experience and knowledge from our peers and clients, working towards an end goal. The most different aspect that differs from my previous employment is with the large amount of individuals involved with each project. When I designed electronic case enclosures, there were only a handful of individuals involved from start to finish during project conception all the way to manufacturing, including principals.

What inspires you about custom manufacture?

I consider custom manufacturing to be hand crafted and of quality work that cannot be obtained at a big box home improvement store. There are many times we “update” our homes with what is readily available but not always of the most suitable choice when seeking quality and period correct components for the project at hand. No matter what restaurant, store, landmark, building, or house that I am visiting, I am constantly looking at the design and building techniques used. I find more enjoyment out of those who take the time to understand the building components and manufacture them to suit the building properly and with quality.

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

I was in charge of developing an adaptive switch that would allow users with cerebral palsy to access switch-based communication devices. While there are many types of adaptive switches in the niche market that we served, none were of higher quality. I was able to dissect and study each of the main competitor switches to see what made their switches “special” in their brand. Overall, I found nothing that really set them apart and I focused on designing a switch that was quieter when actuated, was much more durable for the CP user who was rougher on equipment, and that used custom manufacturing techniques that did not require redundant and costly fasteners. I was able to incorporate die-cut sound dampening foam pads that reduced noise when actuated as well as when the switch recoiled. Designing the switch using a specific blend of plastics that allowed higher impact. And since this switch was only 2.5 inches in diameter with incorporated wiring and mechanics, the use of excess fasteners was reduced by understanding the effects of bonding plastic parts together with certain solvents. The precision design work of multiple components this small was a challenge to make sure they mate properly and did not hinder functionality because that would mean our disabled users would not be able to use their communication devices.

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

  1. One of my bucket list items would be to travel to the Pyramids of Giza. I have always enjoyed learning about the architecture of the ancient Egyptians.
  2. During my first year of architecture school I wrote a paper on the architecture in Greece. I would love to go see the Acropolis in person.
  3. A few years ago I used to run competitively and never made it to the marathon level. I would love to leap over that distance hurdle.

About Versatile Wood Products | Contact Us

Versatile’s New Sales Assistant: Nicole Carruth

Meet Nicole Carruth, one of Versatile’s new Sales Assistants. She has a degree in Interior Design from Portland Community College and previously studied art. Professionally, she has a background in retail and the service industry.

You’ve been brought on as one of Versatile’s first-ever Sales Assistants. Tell us about what your areas of responsibility will be.

As a Sales Assistant, my basic responsibility will be to format sales quotes and estimates; I am also here to support the Sales Team whenever other needs come up. I’m excited to grow in this position and I look forward to discovering what defines the role of Sales Assistant in the future.

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

The aspects that are most similar to my previous work are things like writing specifications and researching materials. The thing that is most different is that I’m working in a sales department that isn’t storefront retail, which is refreshing.

What inspires you about custom manufacture?

Custom manufacture is unique and somewhat of an art form in modern society; and I have the privilege of contributing to that.

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

Most of the projects I’ve worked on have their own set of challenges. I can’t single one out, but I know that I’ve learned a great deal from all of them, and that’s the most important thing to me.

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

I don’t know about three, but I definitely want to visit Spain someday.

About Versatile Wood Products | Contact Us

 

Meet Versatile’s Newest Drafter: Taylor Rife

Taylor Rife is Versatile’s newest Drafter. He has a Certificate of Computer Aided Design and Drafting from Portland Community College and a Culinary Arts Diploma from Oregon Culinary Institute. He drove a cab for four years, commercial trucks for a short time and cooked in a variety of restaurants. Read on to find out what inspires Taylor.

1. You’ve been brought on as a Drafter for Versatile. Tell us about what your areas of responsibility will be.

 I will be working mainly with cabinetry; drafting for shop drawings.

2. Tell us about your background. What aspects of Versatile’s work and process are most similar to your previous work? What’s the most different?

I have a culinary background and a background in transportation. Similarly, I really enjoy the creative collaboration with engineering and communicating with others in a progressive environment. In a sense, the detailed way that things are done are very unique which makes it different as well.

3. What inspires you about custom manufacture?

Architectural design and specifically woodwork, is an organic art form, which makes it a very interesting subject.

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

A lot of my training was in 3D/solid modeling CADD programs (Solidworks, Inventor). I worked on a variety of applications, including mechanical and consumer product design. The satisfying thing for me is in the details. Putting a lot of work into all the little things, such as geometric and parametric features, that enhance the functionality and beauty of a product; then seeing the end result be awesome, it is a great feeling.

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

I don’t really have a defined bucket list, but I do really enjoy traveling; the outdoors. I’d like to travel to a lot more countries and gain some fluency in Spanish and/or another language. Eventually, I’d like to own a small piece of property somewhere rural. One day, I’d like to play in a band again.

 

About Versatile Wood Products | Contact Us

 

Meet Shop Manager Jeff Varner

Jeff Varner (3)

You’ve been brought on as Versatile’s Shop Manager. Tell us about what your areas of responsibility will be.

I will primarily be monitoring systems and processes as they relate to the daily activities of the shop: production schedules, safety standards, resource needs, tool repairs, etc. My goal is to help facilitate a clear and efficient flow of communication as it relates to production, and to support each of the talented Versatile craftsmen in their work.

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

For a long time most of my construction experience came from working on restoring old homes. I was essentially self taught out of both a personal interest in learning how to create something and even more so out of necessity: How can I get this old window to open and close properly? or What style of house is this and what kind of details would have been used when it was built? Most of the time if I didn’t know how to do something I would have to figure it out on my own by taking it apart to see how it was put together. I love the fact that here at Versatile there is so much thought given to details like traditional materials and construction, and attention paid to maintaining accuracy and architectural integrity. That said, the biggest difference is the huge knowledge base to draw from in the form of the talented craftsmen I get to work with. There is so much collective experience in this shop and pride in workmanship so it’s really inspiring to be a part of it.

What inspires you about custom manufacture?

In so many cases, artistic details and architectural elements reflecting a particular era or style of a building are crucial to making a building look “right” in relation to its immediate surroundings, and at the same time create greater harmony and utility within it. We’ve all walked into houses before and thought “Something here doesn’t look or feel right.” Even if we’re not sure what it is. It’s often the execution of thoughtful improvements along with the introduction of “custom” pieces that make a building special and unique within any given style. That is the part that I’m attracted to; the artistic expression in the application of these custom elements, and the artistry and skill necessary to produce and integrate them.

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

My favorite projects were the houses I’ve helped bring back from the effects of age and misguided stylistic makeovers. They are like my kids so I can’t choose one over the other. The oldest house I owned was built in 1894 and had suffered decades of abuse. It was only a few blocks from where I grew up and for years I walked by it on the way to school. As I was working on it I did a lot of research of homes from that era to figure out how to put it back together, and in the process I learned a lot about Portland history. It’s like time travel in a way to think about the day-to-day lives of the people who inhabited the very same house over 100 years before, who came and went through the same front door and who walked up and down the same staircase. As I was working on it, I liked to think that they if they could see it today, that they would recognize it and hopefully approve.

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

I don’t think I can narrow it down to 3 things. We really love to travel and see new places so I’d like to continue doing that as much as I possible. I think it would be fun to live abroad for a year or so at some point. I like living in Oregon though so it would be tough to ever leave permanently.

About Versatile Wood Products | Contact Us

We’re Hiring!

IMG_7062

Versatile Wood Products is growing rapidly and we are looking to expand our team.

Rooted in the traditions of 18th and 19th century craftsmen, Versatile Wood Products provides uniquely versatile solutions to building challenges with a focus on custom-crafted historically accurate architectural wood products. Located in Portland, Oregon, our 40,000 square foot custom wood shop tackles residential, historic preservation and commercial projects throughout the Portland metro area, including Washington High School, Coquille River Lighthouse, Union Station and the Ladd Carriage House.

Versatile offers a competitive benefits package, encourages continued education to improve your skill-set and has a positive working environment. Visit our website to learn more about our company and what we do.

Available positions:

Professional Drafter

Versatile Wood Products needs a professional drafter for residential, commercial and historic architectural products such as windows, doors, cabinetry and mill work. Versatile is based primarily in the Portland Metro area and this position is full-time.

The drafter will be a key member of our design team, documenting existing conditions and creating shop drawings for high end architectural products with a keen awareness of project specifications and how structural decisions impact the outcome. She/he will collaborate with the Custom Design Manager on residential, commercial and preservation projects of large and small scopes, including some of the most prominent historic rehabilitation projects currently happening in Portland.

Skill set should include:
– Good communication
– Critical thinking
– Pride in her/his work
– Team player
– Problem solving
– Ability to meet or beat deadlines

We seek applicants with an Associate’s Degree in Architectural Drafting or 1-2 years’ experience as an architectural drafter in a related field, with a passion to create architectural products of the highest standards.

Duties/Expectations:
– Computer proficiency in Word, Excel, Outlook, CAD and 3-D modeling programs
– Experience with KCDw and/or Enroute software is a plus
– Working knowledge of window, door or cabinetry construction is a plus
– Punctuality, meeting deadlines and managing timelines
– Verifying feasibility of designs
– Reviewing plans, specs and project highlights

Great Benefits Package:
– PTO
– Medical coverage paid 100% by Versatile
– Paid holidays
– 401k plan
– Profit sharing

Please respond to this posting with a cover letter, resume and portfolio or work samples to jobs@versatilewp.com
Qualified applicants will have a strong work ethic, professional appearance and should have a valid driver’s license and properly insured vehicle. A pre-employment drug test will be required and professional references will be verified.
Versatile Wood Products is an equal opportunity employer.

Shop Helper

Versatile Wood Products, a custom sash, cabinetry and door company, needs a professional, self-sufficient Shop Helper. Under the supervision of the Shop Manager, the helper is responsible for the cleanliness and organization of the shop. This includes maintenance and janitorial duties in and around the building, as well as assisting with entry level shop activities as needed. Some familiarity with wood shops and power tools is a plus. Qualified applicants will have a strong work ethic, professional appearance, clean criminal record and can pass a drug test.

Minimum Requirements:
– Is able to lift and carry loads and objects of up to 75 pounds
– Possesses and exhibits personal initiative to regularly work without supervision
– Is timely, organized and meets and beats deadlines
– Is able to admit mistakes
– Has pride and respect for the work
– Puts the business first and strives for the success of this business
– Is an efficient and safe worker
– Has a professional appearance
– High School diploma or GED
– Possesses the ability to multi-task and determine priority of tasks
– Responds well to direction

Great Benefits Package:
– PTO
– Medical coverage paid 100% by Versatile Wood Products
– Paid holidays
– 401k plan
– Profit sharing

Please send a resume to jobs@versatilewp.com
****Please respond only if you meet all requirements****

 

Custom Wood Shop Sash & Door Foreman

Be an integral part of the most interesting historic rehabilitation projects currently happening in Oregon as a member of our custom sash and door team. Versatile Wood Products specializes in the restoration and replication of historically accurate custom wood windows, doors, cabinetry and millwork. Our 30 year history includes work on iconic buildings throughout Oregon as well as residential projects throughout Portland. We need a Foreman for our Sash and Door Department.
The ideal candidate will possess exceptional interpersonal skills, coupled with the ability to communicate clearly and concisely with colleagues, clients, stakeholders and management.

Job Description:
– Establish and drive detailed custom production processes for Sash and Door Department
– Collaborate with Design and Sales Teams about custom building design and details
– Redline, edit, and approve shop drawings for accuracy and buildability
– Compile materials takeoffs based on approved shop drawings
– Manage special restoration projects as needed
– Train and mentor craftsmen and carpenters in historically accurate construction techniques
– Coordinate the activities and schedule of the Sash and Door Department with Shop Manager
– Implement and maintain safety and shop best practices

Requirements:
– 5 years verifiable hands-on fine woodworking experience and 2 years of management in a custom shop environment minimum.
– Knowledge of traditional anatomy and construction of windows/sash and doors. Ability to critically read and interpret shop drawings is a must.
– Experience with high-end materials and one-off production as well as larger custom production efforts.
– Passion for historic methods and products.
– Proficient in Excel, Word and Outlook.
– Outstanding communication, organizational and follow through skills. Must be an effective, team-oriented leader.
– Must be timely, organized and meet and beat deadlines.
– Must have cell phone, valid driver’s license and properly licensed and insured vehicle.
– Must work as a team player with Operations Manager, Shop Manager, and Design Department Manager.

Great Benefits Package:
– PTO
– Medical coverage paid 100% by Versatile Wood Products
– Paid holidays
– 401k plan
– Profit sharing

A pre-employment drug test is required, criminal background and professional references will be verified.
Please respond to this posting with a cover letter, portfolio and resume via email to: jobs@versatilewp.com
****Please respond only if you meet all requirements****
Versatile Wood Products is an equal opportunity employer.

Get to Know Your Window & Door Guy: Rod Hilkiah

rod - everest

Where are you from?

Olympia, Washington. I’ve been in Portland for 19 years.

 What is your position at Versatile Wood Products & how long have you worked here?

I am the Versatile Estimator.  I started March 2nd, so about two months.

How long have you been doing this?

I’ve been in the carpentry world for 17 years and estimating as part of contracting for about 6 years. I got my start working in a cabinet shop in Clackamas. I’ve been in either cabinets or finish carpentry ever since. Teaching is my other vocation, I have taught quite a few literature classes at Warner Pacific College Adult Degree program.

How/why did you start in this business? What made you decide to be a custom window & door estimator?

I received my Bachelor’s in Geography thinking I would be an Urban Planner. I loved going to school, so I don’t regret the experience, but that didn’t pan out. When I interviewed some Urban Planners, they all said, basically, ‘if you can do anything else, do it.” They all felt that it was too political, and didn’t include as much of the creative side of planning as they had hoped for.

While I was going to school at Multnomah, I picked up some work on the side at a cabinet shop. I found that I had a knack for it, and really enjoyed it. Fast forward a few years and, after I got married, I received some training and tried my hand at finish carpentry, eventually starting my own business – Hilkiah Custom Carpentry. I have learned about myself that I find life in the process of creating things; tangible things that can be enjoyed or utilized by others. Fine carpentry has served that purpose for me.

What is the most memorable project you worked on? Why?

When I was a contractor I had the opportunity to build a fireplace mantel for a job in Shelton. I found a local chainsaw artist who fashioned the top out of a log he found locally. I built up the face with cultured stone and trimmed it out. It became the focal point of the house, with the Douglas Firs and the Puget Sound visible through the giant windows on both sides. Everybody loved it.

What was the most challenging project you worked on? Why? 

Since I worked mostly by myself with my finish carpentry business, I frequently had to move some very large projects by myself. I became creative when it came to physics. I remember my dad saying to me, “give me a lever and I can move the world!” That may have led to some over confidence when it came to working by myself. Looking back at the day I pushed a 7 by 4 foot casement window out through an opening on the third floor of a home in Multnomah Village, and wrestled it into place, I thank the good Lord that I have lived to see another day. These kinds of stories don’t phase my mom anymore, I can’t get a rise out of her even when I try.

What is your favorite wood species to work with? Why?

Balsa. It’s easy to carry.

What are your interests/hobbies outside of work?

I’ve done a fair bit of backpacking, all over the Olympics, My Rainer, and the Oregon Cascades. We hiked to Everest Base camp a few years back. We spent some time in Kathmandu; so the recent events have rattled me a bit. I’m a Disc Golf hacker. Playing with my kids Lucy (4) and Lincoln (2) is a big hobby of mine, they’re loads of fun.

About Versatile Wood Products | Contact Us

Meet Versatile’s New Operations Manager

arciform-staff-1-2014

 

We couldn’t be more excited to announce that Erica Witbeck has agreed to join the Versatile Team as its first Operations Manager. Her job will be to improve the efficiency of our entire production process to meet client goals and deadlines and keep Versatile running smoothly. Here’s a quick interview with Erica to give you an idea of who she is and what she will bring to the organization.

  1. Erica, you’ve been brought on as Versatile’s first-ever Operations Manager. Tell us about what your areas of responsibility will be.

My objective is to be the organizing force for the company. I want to be sure that everyone on our talented team gets to focus on doing what they do best. We have reached a tipping point in scale where processes need to be implemented to make sure it is possible to keep everyone operating smoothly and confidently in their respective areas. We need to be able to create reasonable expectations that we can feel secure about honoring, and we need to do it in a way that enhances rather than inhibits information transfer. Identifying what sticking points there may be, and developing process-based solutions that address the concerns of a growing custom shop, are my biggest goals. This will involve developing and implementing a computer-based sales order/work order system, production planning metrics, and improving internal product flow issues.

 

  1. You have a background in local custom manufactured tile. What aspects of Versatile’s work and process are most similar to your previous work? What’s the most different?

The thinking and working process of makers and designers are definite common threads. There are challenges that are unique to custom manufacture, especially as it scales up to a larger production model. Learning how to control the process while never limiting the customer’s ability to have a shop create something 100% custom is a theme that has carried across my career. The materials themselves are quite different in their behavior and manufacture, but the common threads of shop design and having the appropriate tools and safety measures are the same. The production model I came from was on a larger scale and ran dozens of projects concurrently through production. This shop has fewer projects at any given time, and they generally are made from start to finish in each phase of production before the next order is produced.

 

  1. What inspires you about custom manufacture?

There is a great deal of deserved pride taken from creating a thing of beauty from the ground up. I love fine materials and skilled hands and creative minds, and bringing these aspects in to harmony to make someone’s dream into a tangible reality—well, that’s just thrilling!

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

In my past life, there were SO many custom jobs and projects, they kind of blend together now. Looking back, my favorite projects were always “match this damaged old antique item that we love”. With reproductions, the challenges were not only matching the quality of the original design, but getting glaze chemistry to cooperate and make something convincingly old-looking. It was like archaeology and sculpting and chemistry lab all at once! Getting all of our experts talking and working and testing together made for some really satisfying work. Figuring out how to communicate the process (and its realities and limitations), sample it out in a convincing way, and get those experiments scaled up to an actual finished product was always very rewarding. I instantly saw much of the same intrigue at VWP, and knew I would fall in love. And I did.

 

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

Gracious! Such a tricky question. I’d say if I were fortunate enough to construct my life in a way to make three wishes come true, they would be:

  • Get my mom to the Czech Republic so she can see where her family came from, and share that experience with her.

  • Dine at French Laundry, just so I’ll know.

  • Write the Great American Novel. It’s all in my head, I swear!