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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