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High art for expensive tastes

From substantial remodeling in a mansion directly across from President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Largo estate in Palm Beach, Fla., to the Tavern on the Green dining venue in New York’s Central Park, there’s simply no confusion as to why the owners of Staack Moore Woodworking refer to its products as the “couture” of woodworking.

John Staack (right) and Jim Moore, owners of Staack Moore Woodworking.

Situated in the quiet outskirts of Philadelphia, the shop encompasses 8,000 sq. ft. within two stories of an industrial facility in a multi-zoned neighborhood. The brick-and-stone exterior is rather plain, but step inside and you will see a dramatically different view with busy workers focused on crafting the most intricate projects on the main production floor. The walls of the stairway leading up to the second-floor drafting department are covered with framed photos of the company’s extensive custom work, from fine furniture and cabinetry to one-off pieces that are eclectic in nature.

Business partners John Staack and Jim Moore proudly build projects for their high-end client base, consisting almost entirely of multimillion-dollar homes. They rely on the skills of their enthusiastic employees, all of whom have attended an art school. Currently there are 10, including the two owners. While all hands are skilled and knowledgeable about woodworking, everyone brings his or own additional artistic abilities to the table, from drafting to painting, incorporating those mediums into the designs. Additionally, two CNC machines help give them the cutting edge by offering automated capabilities.

Working primarily through designers and architects, while also designing pieces for individual clients, the company specializes in mixing traditional woodworking with contemporary needs of residential homeowners and commercial businesses. Projects themselves vary, but the common thread between them is that the shop exhausts all measures to produce the finest original custom work.

“Our specialty is that we start with the log and go entirely through the product to installation and deliver a completely original design every time,” Staack says. “We’re unique in that we use custom processes through the whole thing. We’re doing everything from the early stage of design to the final product and finishing.”

Sprouting their roots

Having been in business for more than 18 years, Staack and Moore have a wealth of combined experience that brought this venture to fruition, creating beautiful projects for clients in the Philadelphia area and beyond. Staack attended the University of the Arts and Moore attended Temple University, both Philadelphia schools with recognized arts programs.

The two originally met and became friends while working at a furniture company called Maxwell and Kelly Construction Co. in Philadelphia in 1994 and shared the common goal of wanting to build furniture for a living. When their employers Michael T. Maxwell and John N. Kelly went their separate ways, Staack stayed on and relocated to Bedford, Va., in 1995 when Maxwell established the M.T. Maxwell Furniture Co.

Staack Moore’s extensive portfolio includes this home interior designed with Taj Mahal or Mughal style architecture.

Meanwhile, Moore, being a city kid at heart, remained in Philadelphia and took an apprenticeship with furniture maker Michael Hurwitz while at Temple. Staack returned to Philadelphia in 1996, started his own shop and began to collaborate with Moore. They became co-owners in 2008 and focused on expanding their portfolio of elaborate projects for designers and architects, working strictly by word of mouth.

The big one

They landed their biggest client through a high-end designer at the beginning of the Great Recession. It turned out to be a six-year job for two residences in Pennsylvania and Florida that grossed about $500,000 per year.

“They were making demands on us that were taking up our whole shop and it looked like a year’s worth of work at [the beginning],” Moore says. “We were a little wishy-washy about putting all of our eggs into one basket. Then we saw the recession coming and were like “why not?” We had to take advantage of it. That made the best six years of business ever. It carried us over the recession and beyond and we doubled our staff at the time.”

The Florida home is a mansion in Palm Beach, featuring a convex, dome-shaped cypress light fixture that spans 12’ with a ceruse finish and gilded edges. The clients were so impressed that they ordered similarly intricate pieces for the rest of the place.

“The more we gave them, the more they wanted and you have to do it because we wanted to keep them as clients,” Moore says.

While that relationship continues, the shop has been working on an apartment in Philly’s Rittenhouse Square that features a 17th century French library originally built in France and shipped to the shop for reassembly.

“The project we got at Rittenhouse Square came by word of mouth, which usually includes other craftspeople and customers. A lot of craftspeople at this level recommend each other because there are only so many people that do what they do. When these houses and restaurant projects are being discussed, we are often brought into the conversation by glassworkers, blacksmiths and other artisans,” Staack says.

Adding automation

The light fixture in Palm Beach, Fla., that started a long-term and lucrative commission. Below, an elaborate entertainment center.

The shop’s ability to combine technology from its two CNC machines, along with traditional woodworking techniques, enables it to produce a custom brand in a cost-effective way. It is one of the first artisan woodshops in the Philadelphia area to incorporate CNC technology with its processes, according to the owners, giving it the ability to cut just about anything out of wood.

The shop started with a ShopBot in 2007 and added a ShopSaber in 2012. The owners say they have a much different use for them than other woodworking shops do: adding geometrical and other 3-D designs to functional and decorative pieces.

“Many shops use the CNC technology just to save time. We don’t use it that way. We use it to slow us up. We’re not just using it to drill shelf holes or put parts out, although we do that also. We use it as the tool that we take it to its fullest capabilities, not just efficiency but using it creatively,” Moore says. “The CNCs are so flexible. They are one of the big things that allow us to do what we do. They don’t care what they’re cutting. They don’t care how long they’re working.”

From a production standpoint, the shop has produced many prototypes for architects and designers as well as parts for manufacturing. Skilled programmers can work from 3-D rendering and 2-D vector base digital files.

An art shop

The owners give credit where it’s due to their diverse group of employees. They work in all design styles and formats from full CAD drawings to architectural plans. Clients are provided with professional CAD-based shop drawings, material choices and finish samples.

“Our designer is also a painter, and another one of our employees is a painter. Everyone here is mostly multiskilled. We all know a little bit about everything and the automated skills makes a lot of what we do more practical, time-saving and cost-effective,” Staack says.

Finishing techniques and styles vary from eco-friendly distressed organic finish to traditional highly polished lacquer. Recently, there has been an increase in requests for European finishes including paints and fills, especially with muted colors that incorporate added visual intensity through gilding and other techniques.

“We’ve seen lots of reclaimed woods lately, but the trend of reclaimed is kind of over. Now we’re dealing with European woods, which are new for us. French designs are really trending. We don’t do reproductions, but interpretations. We interpret historical finishes and designs,” Staack adds.

Quality control

The owners credit their diverse group of multiskilled employees.

Now that the owners feel the company is in its prime, they are considering downsizing a bit. Additionally, they want to find a way to preserve and repurpose some of the unique designs into a product line.

“We’ve talked about is being a little more product-oriented, using the techniques we’ve developed to create a little more product design. It may not be an action. We’re trying to figure that out. We’re trying to refine how we can get this custom feel into a product. We will still stay at a higher end,” Staack says.

“The problems that we find with our work now are that we do these extremely eccentric, very unique pieces and they go to one client. They’re very visible people and very well-known spaces, but it would be nice if we could get some of what we’re doing a little more accessible. I think we’ll still be hitting a similar price point in the market, but I think we’d like the fact that we’re also producing the same thing more than once.”

Moore adds that the company is successful because it defines itself by offering creativity, passion and flexibility. This is the mantra he and Staack want to keep in focus as they move forward, with the hope of honing in on their best skills to streamline production.

“It can be exhausting doing this level work for every project, mentally and physically. So if we can, we want to reproduce something that gets the same artistic feel that doesn’t need every ounce of everything from us the entire time. We’re trying to refine what we offer. That’s our goal.”

Contact: Staack Moore Woodworking, 2810-28 Victoria St., Philadelphia, PA 19134. Tel: 215-425-4345.

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue.

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