What Does Custom Wood Building Mean?

Custom Wood Building

Custom wood building is an art that has been around for about as long as humans. Many of the same terms we see today were used thousands of years ago. On Raymond McInnis’s site, A History of Woodworking, he shares a piece from an article written on Stonehenge:

“…The largest weighs as much as 50 tons. Unique today, Stonehenge was probably also unique in its own time, some 4,500 years ago – a stone monument modeled on timber precedents. Indeed, its massive lintels are bound to their uprights by mortise-and-tenon joints taken straight from carpentry.”

Modern Wood-Building

With the progress in modern technology and industrial demands, Woodworking as a field has changed. For example, the development of (CNC) or Computer Numeric Controlled Machines in 1949 made it possible to mass-produce and reproduce products faster—not only faster but with less waste and the ability to produce more complex designs. Along with CNCs, the emergence of rechargeable power tools sped up the creation of many projects. They also required much less body strength and endurance than in the past. Despite the increase with technological advances, the quality and craftsmanship of custom wood-building remains unmatched.

What Does Custom-Built Mean?

According to the Merriam Webster, custom built simply means, “Built to individual specifications.” Sounds pretty straightforward, however there are many intricate details involved. Custom wood building is more than making a window or door. It requires more than just the right tools and space. These are essential, yes, but custom building also requires a lot of skill. At Versatile Wood Products every project, both big and small, modern or historical, is performed with the utmost quality and dedication.

“Versatile provides historically accurate custom wood sash, cabinetry, doors and millwork using techniques originated by 18th and 19th century craftsmen. We are committed to creating spaces that honor and make history. By preserving traditional ways of building and blending them with modern technologies and performance standards, we design and build solutions that harmonize aesthetics and temperament with function and utility.”

Versatile’s experienced team specializes in balancing period appropriate architectural design specifications with modern performance standards, combining historic techniques and modern technologies.

What does manufactured mean?

Custom Wood Building

 

 

 

Wood is manufactured in a few types, Plywood, particleboard, fiberboard, medium density fiberboard (MDF), and veneer. In addition to the CNC machine, another reason for the increased popularity of mass-produced wood products was the invention of manufactured wood. Manufactured wood products have become a popular choice because they are less expensive to produce. Manufactured wood products are also more readily available at Big Box stores.

Understanding what custom wood building and manufactured wood are is important when starting a project. For example, determining the exact specifications for choosing the right window or door is important. Having the exact build for a particular project is crucial. Not just for the aesthetics, but for long-term quality.

“By hand-selecting tight grain wood patterns and using time-honored techniques our products will last for many years to come.”

How Versatile produces lasting quality

To better understand the separation between custom wood building and manufactured wood, the following Versatile projects will highlight the distinction. In this first custom case study, the restoration of a historical landmark highlights the stunning craftsmanship Versatile (and Arciform) demonstrate. The agility and flexibility accompanied by the great care required shows why custom wood building is essential.

Restoring First Congregational Church

The First Congregational Church turned to Versatile and Arciform to stabilize and restore the wood elements of this feature. Constructed in 1895, the First Congregational Church of Portland is a dominant Venetian Gothic icon. The church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a Portland Landmark. This historic structure towers with its 175’ bell tower at the Southwest corner.

Restoring the Gothic tracery was more than just “replacing parts.” The goal was to retain as much of the original fabric as possible. However, what appeared to be repetitive details in the columns and tracery were in fact unique. This prohibited the efficiency of replicating one element to be reused as a template throughout the entire tracery at similar locations. 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.

All new pieces were made of Western Red Cedar, the same wood species as the original elements. This was to ensure historic accuracy and material performance. Replacement parts were then fit in place for sizing and routed with the cove detailing ensuring the tracery appeared seamless. The final product was delivered in sections for ease of hoisting and installation by Arciform.

Modern Buildings

In these three short project highlights, the breadth and skill level of Versatile is apparent. These again demonstrate custom wood building as an art that surpasses manufactured wood products both in ingenuity and workmanship.

 

For The Zipper, Versatile and designer Guerrilla Development used simple solid wood frames and sills. They also used direct glazed windows in solid clear vertical grain fir. This helped to create a truly innovative modern design.

The Evo Building challenges were to create custom casements in Douglas fir to match historic photos of the building. It was nearly impossible to replicate a two-toned color scheme in aluminum but was easily accomplished in wood. The hinged casements on the upper floors were a fall-hazard. Versatile used a sash limiter that would open by 3″ to prevent the potential for someone to fall out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Albina Yard (which can also be seen on Think Wood) had extraordinarily high flush exterior doors: 142” tall and 108” tall full lite doors. In this project Versatile utilized offset pivot hinges to give massive doors smooth operation and an uninterrupted modern look. The project called for building flush doors in a continuous fir veneer with a matching 34” fir transom panel above. The design challenge was that both the flush exterior doors and full lite doors were extraordinarily high in addition to being about 40” wide.

Architecture: Lever Architecture
Contractor: Reworks Design Build

Custom Wood Building Is Good For The Environment

A report by Green Building Elements provides a wealth of researched information that supports the value of custom wood building. A study conducted by Architecture and Design reports that 16% of all the fossil fuel consumed annually is converted into concrete, steel, aluminum and brick building materials. On the opposite end, wood reduces its carbon footprint.

“When trees are made into building materials, that carbon dioxide remains sequestered in the finished products. When wooden building materials reach the end of their useful life, they are often repurposed or recycled into new products. All that stored carbon dioxide is kept out of the atmosphere virtually forever.”

Green Building Elements also reports a cooperative program between a company called Whole Trees in Madison, Wisconsin and the USDA Forest Service. Entire trees that the Forest Service harvests during routine thinning efforts and discards are used. They are turned into beams, trusses and joists to use in building construction.

Custom Wood Building is good for your Health

Custom Wood Building

Custom wood building is not just beautiful and unique in each design but is also good for your health. Another study by Architecture and Design finds that, “the feelings of natural warmth and comfort that wood elicits in people has the effect of lowering blood pressure and heart rates, reducing stress and anxiety and increasing positive social interactions.” Wood products within a room have been shown to improve indoor air quality by moderating humidity. The study also finds that being surrounded by wood at home, work or school has positive effects. Not just on the body and brain, but also on the environment. It can even shorten hospital stays through reduced recovery times.

Truly, Custom Wood-Building Is an Art Of Craftsmanship

From the use of mortise and tenon joinery dating back thousands of years to our state-of-the-art CNC router, Versatile Wood Products’ custom wood projects are built to last.

Creative Window Solutions, Sleek Designs

From modern buildings that include simple lines to historic churches with grand curves, when it comes to creative window design we will use any opportunity to fire up our imagination.

First Congregational Church Creative Window Solutions

We have been honored to design and install windows for buildings all around Portland, including the First Congregational Church. This was an opportunity to restore and recreate the magnificent tower that once was the tallest structure in Oregon at 185 feet! Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the church is a rare example of Venetian Gothic architecture—few others exist in America.

First Congregational Church Creative Window Solutions

First Congregational Church Creative Window Solutions 2

Albina Yard Window Solutions

Since we wanted to offer a modern appearance to the Albina Yard building, we went with glass walls and flush awning windows. An awning window is much like a casement window. It is mechanically operated with a crank, hinged at the top so that the sash pivots in lieu of swinging.

Unlike the casement, though, an awning window can be open when it’s raining, making it appropriate for this office space.

Albina Yard Window Solutions

 

Evo Building Creative Window Solutions

A fixed window can be found in designs from traditional to contemporary. Allowing sunlight into a room, fixed windows offer a decorative view of the outside in hard to open spaces. This window is a single sash that’s attached to the frame. Fixed windows are also the most energy efficient type. We chose this style for the Evo building, providing custom Douglas fir. The upper floors feature custom windows that were a match to historic photos that the architect had obtained.

Evo Building Creative Window Solutions

Loyal Legion Creative Window Solutions

Keeping classic architecture intact, we went with the popular Eclipse system for folding windows for the Loyal Legion building in Portland. This window provides a large opening with no vertical element to split the opening when the window is open. These windows can be grouped together so that all of the panes of glass are in one plane. This gives a cleaner and more contemporary look to these windows, even when styled with traditional trim and pane patterns.

Loyal Legion Creative Window Solutions

Restoring First Congregational Church — Custom Case Study

First Congregational Church

Constructed in 1895, the First Congregational Church of Portland is a dominant Venetian Gothic icon along the city’s South Park Blocks. The church is 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 for the First Congregational Church and what were the design goals?

With its severe level of deterioration, the restoration of the Gothic tracery was not just an aesthetic decision. It was 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. Equally important is the goal 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. This was 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.

First Congregational Church

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.

First Congregational Church

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.

First Congregational Church

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.  

First Congregational Church

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.

First Congregational Church

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.

First Congregational Church

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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Carle Kitchen Cabinets — Custom Case Study

Kitchen CabinetsNestled 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. Their job was to update and modernize the kitchen complete with stunning kitchen cabinets.

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. 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. A kitchen that is both functional and beautiful for the Carle family.

 

Kitchen Cabinets

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 kitchen 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 kitchen cabinets, paint grade surfaces for the pantry wall, and solid, clear, walnut grain aligned horizontally on the lower kitchen 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 kitchen 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. 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 kitchen cabinet faces would warp and be ruined.

Carle_2003_Kitchen_A_P_Pro_ (9)

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. 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. 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.

Carle_2003_Kitchen_A_P_Pro_ (4)

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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Block House Café — Custom Case Study

 block house cafe

In the heart of historic Dayton Oregon, The Block House Café recently moved into the 1886 First Baptist Church on Main Street. Working alongside architect Paul Falsetto and Fackler Construction, Versatile created a large back bar with surrounding cabinetry, wait-station, and tabletops from old floor joists in the building.

Block House Café Goals:

To create a large, functional, and aesthetically pleasing back bar that hides the seismic bracing. Re-purpose original floor joists to create tabletops and a bar top.

 Block House Café

Block House Café Challenges:

The biggest challenge we faced with the back bar, which included 10’ high walnut pieces, was installation to conceal three alcoves that were created by updated seismic structuring. The tabletops and bar top proposed a few challenges. They were created from wood salvaged from the original floor joists from the building. We were concerned about the tabletops cupping or warping. We needed to create a flat, smooth surface on the bar top as there were many wormholes in the wood.

The Block House Café

Block House Café Uniquely Versatile Solutions:

We worked around installation problems of the bar by pre-building it in 3 separate pieces. Along with some tolerances to allow for variations in the walls when it was installed on site. The three pieces overlapped once installed to look like one piece of furniture while hiding the bracing behind.

To address the tabletops potentially warping, we added a dovetail key underneath to tie the planks together. By attaching the key to the middle plank only, the planks could expand and contract naturally, but not warp or cup. And finally, to create a smooth, flat surface on the bar top. The wormholes were filled with clear epoxy rather than a colored putty. Since the natural color of fir changes over time, the clear epoxy will make a smooth surface without worry that the wood color would ultimately shift away from the color of the putty. Versatile’s experience and expertise allowed us to anticipate potential issues and create solutions before they became real problems on site.

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Restore or Replace Your Window — 5 Quick Checks to Decide

We get this question every day at Versatile: When is it better to restore or replace your existing windows?

Here’s a quick check guide to evaluating the condition and value of your current windows. This will help to discover which option may be best for you.

1. IS THERE ROT?

Restore or Replace

Any window components with dry rot will need to be replaced. In some cases, if the rot is very minimal, the rotted portion can be removed and filled with epoxy. Proceed with caution. The removal of too much wood from the frame and sill can compromise its strength and create future problems.

How can you tell if you have dry rot? Take a pocket knife or a screwdriver (shown above) and poke it at the wood of the casing, sill and check rails. If the knife goes right in like butter, you have rot.

2. DOES THE WINDOW HAVE THE ORIGINAL WAVY OR LEADED GLASS?

Restore or Replace

Often there is a good reason to restore a window. You may want to conserve the original wavy glass or a beautiful leaded glass element. It is possible to restore antique leaded glass and we have great relationships with some local experts in that process.

If the frame and sash are rot-free, it may be worth it to remove, strip, restore and repaint the existing window.

Just be aware that conserving the glass will come at a cost. Surprisingly, repairing a window to conserve the glass can end up being more expensive than replacing it. This is due to the higher labor costs for repair vs. replacement.

Also, single pane glass has an R Factor (insulating factor) of 0 to 1. From an energy efficiency standpoint, single pane windows are like open holes in your home letting heat leak out constantly. You’ll want to consider window coverings that will help counterbalance the poor insulating qualities of your single pane historic windows.

3. IS THE WOOD IN THE WINDOWS ORIGINAL TO THE HOME? IS IT OLD GROWTH OR HISTORIC?

Restore or Replace

If your old growth wood windows have elements of rot, you will most likely benefit by replacing those components. The good news is that Versatile can exactly match the casing and sticking profiles of your existing wood windows. They will blend in seamlessly with the other windows in your home.

If your old-growth wood is rot-free, you can choose to conserve the wood and re-glaze the window with high performance glass. This will improve its R factor while keeping most of the original wood intact.
Be aware: Doing this will make the window heavier. Double hungs may require adding weight to your existing weight pockets.

Re-glazing will also require modification of that sash that can be both expensive and less durable than a new sash designed to accommodate insulated glass.

4. IS YOUR GOAL TO HAVE A WARMER OR MORE COMFORTABLE ROOM?

Restore or Replace

If your goal in addressing your existing window is to make it less chilly and drafty near the window (or you need to meet the new stricter energy efficiency codes), replacement is going to be your best option. Even if you only plan to replace one window in a room, using a simulated divided lite window with the appropriate coatings will make a big difference in how much insulation value the window has and how comfortable a space feels.

And don’t worry- there are both custom and manufactured options for simulated divided lite windows which means the window can be designed to exactly match your other existing windows if that is your preference.

5. WILL YOU MAINTAIN IT?

Restore or Replace

If it is already part of your home maintenance routine to repaint your window exteriors every few years, the investment in repairing an existing wood window may be worthwhile.

Otherwise, replacing with new aluminum clad or fiberglass sash, inserts or tilt pacs will dramatically reduce your maintenance requirements over the lifetime of the windows. Clad windows never need to be re-painted and will stay colorfast for the lifetime of the window.

Have a window you would like some expert advice on? Feel free to contact us at quotes@versatilewp.com. We can help you determine if you need to restore or replace your windows.

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Custom Double Hung Window — Custom Case Study

Double Hung Window

This may look like a humble little double hung window, but what appears to be straightforward actually took a lot of attention to detail, careful coordination and amazing craftsmanship.

When this job is complete it will be very difficult to identify the original windows from our new window. Other than the fact that the new window operates like butter.

Double Hung Window

The Double Hung Window Challenge

Our colleagues at Kem’s Woodworking needed to help their clients meet current egress codes for a new basement bedroom with a historically accurate window that matches all the original double hung windows throughout this 1930’s West Hills home.

Kem’s cut a hole in the exterior wall directly between two existing windows and challenged Versatile to deliver a window that looked like it had always been there.

Double Hung Window

The Double Hung Window Uniquely Versatile Solution

Versatile built a traditional weight and pulley double hung to the necessary size to meet the egress requirements. We matched the reverse ogee interior detail and the exterior stucco mould exactly.

Double Hung Window

Even the stepped exterior window sill was reproduced to match all original sills.

(The picture below shows the window before the finish painting was complete.)

Double Hung Window

The Double Hung Window Result

It would be tricky to identify at a glance which window was new and which were original. Sometimes, the best Versatile solutions are the ones that are impossible to identify!

Double Hung Window

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Stairwell Lift Door — Custom Case Study

Sometimes the answer to a tricky design challenge isn’t a choice between manufactured and custom options. Sometimes the answer is to use the best of both. Here’s how we tackled one very unusual vertical lift stairwell door with a combination of manufactured and highly custom Versatile solutions.

The Challenge

Versatile client Bobby Meeker had a very unusual request. He wanted to create a privacy barrier between his main floor and the master suite above but his narrow stairwell did not have enough clearance for a traditional door to function.

Meeker_Door_A_06

He wanted it to be beautiful and he needed it to integrate seamlessly with the traditional style of his home with no visible operation. And it needed to lift vertically. There was no room in the stairwell for a traditional swing or pocket door. But there was plenty of room for the door to lift up out of the way into the upper portion of the stairwell.

The Uniquely Versatile Solution

Meeker_Door_D_1

Meeker_Door_D_2

The  inspiration was a door our Director of Product Development, Alan Hart-McArthur, saw in a 1920’s Bungalow in SE Portland.  From that original inspiration Alan set out to devise a weight pocket and track system that was robust enough to support the weight of the door, large enough to house large steel weights, and yet still low profile such that they didn’t take up too much space on the stairs.

The results are 15’ long weight pockets that house nearly 40 lbs of solid bar stock steel in each side and yet are a little over 3” deep.

Meeker_Door_A_05

The Materials

The door is a standard VG fir Simpson door with Prairie grids.  The client then took it to an artist named Ron Branch who sandblasted the custom tree branch etching into both sides of the insulated glass. The door was finished with clear coat and the weight chases and tracks were primed and then painted to match the walls and trim. By using a manufactured door for the base design, the client was able to free up budget that could then be applied to creating a very custom and visually stunning etched glass design.

The Result

Meeker_Door_A_02

The door lifts easily into the upper portion of the stairwell and the narrow weight pockets blend in visually with the rest of the space. We had so much fun helping Bobby find his Uniquely Versatile solution!

What tricky design dilemma would you like our window and door designers to tackle next?

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Custom Wood Island — Custom Case Study

Custom Wood Island: an Unusual Design challenge for Versatile

Turned legs, maple butcher block featuring end-grain detail coupled with a mixture of stainless steel and wood elements come together to create an unusual and challenging design puzzle for the Versatile Wood Products team as they work to create this custom wood island for a client in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Custom Wood Island

Custom Wood Island: It’s About the Detail

Here you see how the end grain has been integrated into the maple butcher block counter, creating a durable cutting surface and a beautiful checked pattern.

Custom Wood Island

Here’s a longer view of the counter, showing the unusual scale of the piece. A stainless steel prep sink and counter will be integrated into the triangular notch as can be seen here. An extremely close tolerance is needed for the end result to be flush on both edges. Versatile Carpenter Jeff Vasey needed to customize each surface that intersects with the stainless steel counter. This ensured a smooth transition between the two elements.

This results in at least one edge that tapers simultaneously in two different directions. You’d never know it to look at it, but some serious hands-on engineering goes into translating an architect’s design into a durable and high quality finished product.

Custom Wood Island

The above photo shows the stainless steel counter that will fit into the notch. It is still wearing its protective plastic skin while they finalize work on the counter surface.

Custom Wood Island

As shown above you can see the 10 turned legs that will form the base of the island. Electric outlets will be integrated into the island using a hollowed out  leg to hide the wires.

Custom Wood Island

Versatile Drafter/CNC Operator Rex Vaccaro creates detailed shop drawings for each custom cabinet we construct in our shop. This ensures that the carpenters have all the information they need to successfully interpret the designer or architects vision.

We can’t wait to see that vision turned into a completed reality.

We’ll keep you posted.

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