Forgot Password

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Wood It Work? Communication Is Key to a Successful Project

NEW YORK—It’s a story as old as time itself: the miscommunication between designers, sourcers and contractors that can lead to unmet expectations, disagreements and costly delays for the project. How can workflow and relations be improved? Simply put, communication is key.

Seeking to bridge the communication divide, a group of designers, millworkers, sourcers and specialty applicators converged at the Steelcase Showroom in New York’s Columbus Circle for “Wood It Work?” a panel discussion about the intricacies of wood and its applications for projects hosted by The International Interior Design Association’s New York Chapter (IIDA NY). Ginger Gilden, president of IIDA NY, and the event’s co-chairs Janine Shapiro and Amgad Labib sought to create a space where designers could ask questions, address key concerns and build a better understanding of the unique skills and challenges every role brings to the table.

“We wanted to have a designers point of view on what specs would look like, what the issues are and how to communicate with a woodworker, source and general contractor,” said Amgad Labib, senior workplace consultant at Steelcase. “In addition, we wanted to get the manufacturers point of view of how to make the process easier for them. We hoped it would open the channels of communication between designers and manufacturers of the wood industry.”

The panel was sponsored by Steelcase, Lutron Electronics, Maars Living Walls, and TEKNION and moderated by Louis Ottrando of Structure Tone, the panel included speakers from Designtex, William Somerville Inc., UHURU, TerraMai, Rulon and Corporate Woodworking.

Choosing the right wood

Not all wood makes the cut. The quality of wood and veneers can vary greatly. Just as you would need the right tool to do the job, create the look you’re envisioning with the right selection of materials. Consider the accessibility, species and cuts of the wood when writing specs for a project and be sure to consult a woodworker on your choice of materials for best results.

“First of all, we’re talking about two different things: grades of millwork and grades of veneer. The millwork grades are premium, custom and economy and then the veneer grades come from the Hardwood Plywood Veneer Association and those would be AA, A, B, C and so on. Most of the work you’re doing in the high-end realm is going to be at least A-grade veneer and possibly AA-grade, if it’s a super premium project,” said Richard Shelley, business development and preconstruction services manager, Fetzer Architectural Woodwork.

“In our business, if you took a 100 logs and sliced them all maybe 10 of those would be A or B grade; and if you took a 100 of those logs and sliced them again, maybe you might have AA grade for panels and doors; and then if you took 100 of those and sliced them, maybe one to five would be true architectural grade, blueprint matched for large projects. The percentage is like one in a thousand,” said Dennis Drew, project manager, Corporate Woodworking. “Most of the high-end veneer are for large sequences, tall panels would be very difficult to source because there’s very few of them. We tend to know what’s available at any given time.”

Sustainability Matters

The designers in attendance asked many questions about the harvesting of trees, growth cycles and how we can enjoy the beauty of wood in design projects without draining natural resources.

“The general harvest cycle for hardwoods is somewhere between 50 to 80 years and once you’ve hit that 80-year lifespan, the tree is actually going to die anyway, so let’s take advantage of some of those beautiful trees and incorporate them in our spaces,” said Shelley. “Also, let’s create the opportunity for new trees to grow in and absorb that carbon. Newer younger trees are actually absorbing more carbon than the older more stagnant trees, shall we say.” 

Get to Know Your Species

Depending on the sizes of the panels and the sequences for a project, designers must first have a larger conversation about the species. Digging deep and gaining a clearer understanding of what you need from a particular species is where it all begins.

“If you have large panels, large sequences, we probably need to get away from the maple, the cherry and the walnut that might have very small sequences because they’re smaller trees,” said Shelley. “They grow a lot slower and we harvest them faster here in the U.S. than in some of the other parts of the world.” 

Face Time, For the Win

In this day and age where texting is the primary form of communication for many, it’s time to go back to basics with a traditional phone call or, even better, a meeting in person to square away the fine details to ensure a successful project execution. Also, early is best when reaching out to the experts to ensure the execution will be on time and within budget. Last-minute communication can be detrimental to the project as well as costly.

“When picking up the phone at a very early stage in any project, ask the questions and develop that dialogue and relationship to extract information that will make your project or design successful. It’s invaluable. To this day, and I’ve been doing this 15 years, I still pick up the phone to call people and say ‘how do I make this job successful’ or ‘tell me what I need to do to help this project,’ said Louis Ottrando, account executive, Structure Tone. “If you wait, it’s a dangerous game as there could be costs incurred after the fact. If you’re engaging a professional, engage them early and often. You’re going to see a big improvement in your projects.”

Capping the evening’s event, Saul Boshak, VP of sales & marketing, Corporate Woodworking, Inc., shared this piece of advice for designers wanting to effectively communicate their vision with sourcers and general contractors: “The social media and email doesn’t work for this, we need face time. Pick up the phone and give us a call. It’s our favorite thing to talk about.” 

—Corris Little