Building Moxie with Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers :: Moxie, Moser, Maine: Part 1
I think my first question was – “Thos. Moser …” pause “… Cabinetmakers?” And I was standing in Thos. Moser’s newly opened Auburn, ME showroom. Actually, this showroom, dotted with examples of the furniture maker’s work, sits at the immediate front of a 90,000 square foot space, home to Thos. Moser Inc., their Maine headquarters and workshop. It is in this location that all of Moser’s furniture is designed, engineered and built, and it is coincidentally the spot where my education on the company began.
Marketing Manager, Scott Wentzell, answered, “The word ‘Cabinetmakers’ is an old-world term used for craftspeople working in furniture.” He continued, “As Tom was building his business, he abbreviated his name Thomas to ‘Thos.’ as that’s how it would have appeared on the shingle of an old-world craftsman.”
It remains just so now, that wording still stamped on Moser’s signature signage. And yes, apparently everyone in the shop does call Thomas Moser, Tom. Based on my short encounter with the man, the author of Artistry in Wood – pretty fitting I’d say (and more on that in a bit).
- “So …what were you doing in Maine, jb?”
Well, thanks for asking. (And I know that some of my Facebook friends did see my first posts and my announcement of this trip.) You see, I had the unique opportunity to tag along on a visit with a group from St. Timothy’s School. I was popping in on the tail end of a week in which ten high school girls were participating in a special session of Moser’s Customer in Residence (CIR) program (and yes, more too on that in a bit).
What I witnessed, in my few days, was a company . . . built on legacy and tradition, with deep rootings in both family and education . . . connecting intimately with a/their client (St. Tim’s).
It’s probably as good a point as any to note that Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers is celebrating its 40th year. And they are still celebrating, as part and parcel of Tom’s early mission – a connectedness of individual (us, people) and (every) object (they produce). While some practical methods of production have been updated (as I found), the underlying principles remain wholly unchanged. And more on that, well . . . now! Here is a brief video shot as Tom presents to the group from St. Tim’s . . . on the History of and Values behind Thos. Moser:
Tradition & Family
From company literature,
Formerly a Bates College professor, Tom Moser left teaching in 1971 to start making one-of-a-kind furniture in New Gloucester, Maine. …Tom may have been the sole designer and builder, but he was hardly alone. His wife Mary managed sales and finances, while their four sons trained as young apprentices.
Today, Tom Moser continues to conceive and design new products in collaboration with his youngest son, David. Andy Moser is an accomplished craftsman and works in the shop. Aaron Moser directs the company’s growing Contract Sales division.
Family – yes, this is a family-owned business. And that sense of family seems to run top to bottom in the organization here. Another connection that for me was brought even more to the forefront when I felt the sense of family within the group, in residence, from St. Timothy’s. A school itself rooted in some 180 years of tradition.
While many, including Tom, speak frequently of Tom’s close creative work with David Moser (Principal Designer), it was Aaron Moser, in this case, who was the principal individual working to orchestrate not only bringing the group from St. Tim’s in, but also turning a once modest dream (of a furniture plan) into a fully functioning reality. Here’s that story . . .
- St. Timothy’s School, an all-girl’s boarding and day school located just outside of Baltimore, MD, has a $10 million renovation and new construction project under way. Included in this renovation is 20,000 + square feet of classroom space, and a new construction addition that will add nearly another 20,000 sf. The new construction portion of this project includes, among other things, a new library.
Head of School, and a lifelong fan of Moser’s furniture, Randy S. Stevens says of this project, “The entire addition is being built around Moser designs.” Thos. Moser was commissioned and has built the seminar tables that will be used in the classrooms in the renovated portion of the building. Stevens continues, “In addition, they are constructing all of the furniture for the archives, also in the renovated portion of the building. They (Moser) are building all of the library furniture for the new building as well as the furniture in a Center for the Study of World Languages and Cultures.”
But Stevens also speaks of his one-time apprehensiveness. Like many perhaps, he wrongly felt that Moser could be unobtainable. (A quick look at the level of workmanship may frequently fuel this.) But working closely with Aaron Moser, St. Tim’s project became not only a possibly, but, well… you know.
Moser, it seems, is quite simply well versed in direct work with clients. This skill honed perhaps via the means by which they sell.
Moser Showrooms, Moser Contract & a Catalog Moving to Digital
Thos. Moser sells direct to consumers via both their seven showroom locations and through a magazine quality catalog. (Trivia: Can you think of another well known Maine brand that became widely popular selling through a catalog? Answer soon.)
And while that will continue to be the case, especially in Residential markets, it turns out that schools and colleges, particularly libraries, are a pretty established niche for Moser. This arm of production is driven by Aaron’s Moser Contract, and its resume includes (or will soon include) The Walden Woods Project, libraries at the University of North Carolina, as well as the soon to install George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Southern Methodist University … among others. (For the full and pretty jaw-dropping list >> Moser Contract || Markets & Installations || Colleges & Libraries.)
This Fall will mark the first time that a seasonal catalog will not be distributed in print, but rather as an e-catalog fully optimized for computers and tablets. Collections-oriented, and dotted with the faces of the cabinetmakers that make up the Moser family, don’t expect the new digital version to stray much from this formula. Of this move, Wentzell says, “This is simply the direction we (collectively) are moving.” He points to the iPad, but continues, “We will still produce at least one or two printed catalogs a year, but we plan to utilize the digital platform more and more.”
It was the late 90s when catalog marketing, he says, “really became a science.” And I don’t think it is necessarily ironic that the company mastered this sales model. Makes sense frankly, especially when you consider top members of Moser’s team came through the ranks at a company called LL Bean. That very successful catalog-oriented company is headquartered about a mile from Moser’s flagship Freeport showroom (and more on that, well, in another post).
… It Really is Only about Good-Looking & Well-Made Furniture
Thos. Moser (the company) is a maker of distinctive furniture that is 100% American-designed, engineered, supplied and built. Mostly unadorned, the joinery is celebrated … clean, traditional, but not wholly Shaker, as many often times conclude. Many pieces, and especially through David’s explorations, show wide and varied International influences. Collectively, and again grabbing for the company’s literature, the style “echoes of numerous antique traditions as well as contemporary influences. (Hand-crafted) furniture designed to last through life’s journey.”
Of the company’s journey, Tom says, “It’s been a very interesting 40 years.” What is coming … he admits, remains to be seen.
(Well, you could of course come back next time when I talk more specifically about the furniture . . . or the next, next time when I talk a little bit more about Moser’s Customer in Residence program.) For more images from my visit, check out the album St. Timothy’s School Visits CabinetMaker Thos. Moser (on our Facebook page).
- The renovation portion of the building at St. Tim’s is scheduled for completion on September 3 and the new construction is scheduled for completion on November 1. Moser installed the above-mentioned seminar tables a few weeks back and plan to return around October 15 to install the remaining order. A happy year out to St. Tim’s and maybe I get to see the work in all its final glory. Who knows?
Thanks for reading and have a Moxiful day! ~jb
Outtake: St. Timothy’s School
Chartered in 1832, St. Timothy’s School is an all-girl’s boarding and day school with 170 students in grades 9-12. They have students from 23 countries, including Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, France, Spain, Portugal, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Nigeria, China, South Korea, Japan, Angola, Sweden, India, Twain and Singapore as well as 17 States. They are affiliated with the Episcopal Church, the fundamental principles of which provide a moral compass for the community. The school welcomes students of all faiths and draws strength from a diversity of beliefs and experiences. The curriculum is based upon the International Baccalaureate diploma program, which is one of the most rigorous and advanced curricula today for preparing students for the varied challenges they will confront throughout their lives. To find out more, the website is www.stt.org.
Disclaimer: While Thos. Moser paid my expenses for this trip, the point of view expressed here is my own.
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About jb bartkowiak (259 posts)
A one-time construction manager, and always handyman, turned blogger and editor. My wife, Jen, and I are on our 6th property (. . . yes, together). She is a real estate agent. We have two beautiful daughters Evyn and Eva. We currently live and are restoring an 1889 farmhouse in Baltimore's Lauraville area.