Wednesday, October 31, 2012

No.5 A Rare Species - G. Michael Merritt of Merritt Woodwork Shares On A Legacy of Excellence

Who: G. Michael Merritt
What: Custom Architectural Woodwork
When: Since 1972
Where: Based in Ohio, Florida + Connecticut,
Services Projects on Land + Sea, Internationally 

George A. Merritt was an utterly dedicated man- a man that sought perfection above all else. Little did he know that his own personal talents, along with his uncompromising work ethic and high standards of knowledge and quality, would set sparks flying and ignite a unique flame for refined, superlative architectural woodwork.
"His talent was in educating and working with his hands;" Reflects George's son, current Merritt Woodwork CEO G. Michael Merritt, "he always wanted to start his own business, but he didn't know what..."
A Merritt Woodwork hand carved floral ornament.
Always handy, and interested in design, George A. Merritt had also begun training under an Italian master cabinet maker- which soon proved a good fit. Not long after quickly mastering new skills of his own, George A. Merritt and his mentor decided to begin their business in 1971; just the 2 of them providing outstanding custom products. One of their strengths from the start was also the ability to draw. As drawing and sketching provided a unique service to potential clients, George soon became something of a developer. Realizing he could work and engage with designers in a rare way, serving as an interlocutor between the moment an interior designer or architect began describing their ideas and and his ability to sketch them out in the shop. Between he and his mentor, George began providing artisanal abilities to American designers in his humble Mentor, Ohio shop.

Mahogany: egg + dart, Acanthus leaf, ornament
These designers often needed him to put these ideas on paper, drawing by hand, so they could work together to capture the details, have them approved on paper so George could flawlessly move forward with their creation. He would then gladly take these approved drawings to the shop and he and his partner would work their magic in making them real.

A Merritt Woodwork custom carved capital in White Oak.
So the sparks had struck up a flame and the game was on- the vision of a highly focused, quality cabinet and millwork outfit had begun. Yet, as George A. Merritt desired to truly house a solid business, he began looking for other talent to join their team. As he began to hire in the late 70's- early 80's, he could see that those that were truly talented were already of age, which was fine for the   moment... But being a keen and thorough businessman, he'd already pinpointed that there weren't many young people in the business and began to ask himself: 'well what am I going to do in 20 years? I cannot just rely on my sons...' And it was through this foresight he made the executive decision to take the path of teaching and educating to grow the company slowly and meticulously over time. He wanted to find high energy people that genuinely wanted to be there and were interested in the trade. And he did. He began to work with people who grew into their talents and were devoted to the team, turning around higher and higher quality cabinetry and millwork as they went.

Merritt gives this parlor's architectural woodwork detailing a white lacquer. Design by Scott Snyder, Inc.

Down the line, George A. Merritt's mentor and original partner decided he didn't was a bit less interested in the business, and opted to let George take it down the new path it was headed. And so it went, spending the days on the shop floor getting dusty from drawing shop plans and working with wood, and dusting off to spend the evening going to dinner and meeting his future clients and designers, all in an effort to truly build something special.

Hand Carved Mahogany Rosette by Merritt
And he did. Merritt Woodwork has grown into what is today an organization of over 150 highly trained artisans and craftspeople, installers and engineers. They have serviced remarkable projects for some of the design industry's most coveted names- Robert A.M. Stern, Bunny Williams, Scott Snyder and the late Albert Hadley to name a few.
"All of my first jobs were in the shop, since I was in junior high." recalls Michael, "And [my] Dad was very stern, no handouts, no nonsense, everything you got you earned. He laid a very structured foundation and installed a strong work ethic in all of us- had everyone complete a 5,000 hour work-training program when they joined the team." 
After years of watching his father work and grow his company, and slowly becoming more and more involved himself, Michael began to consider that perhaps this really could be something for him to do. There was a huge satisfaction in working with designers to orchestrate the undertaking of a custom woodworking program. Besides, Michael jests,
"After enough time around the smell of sawdust, I think it grows on ya'."
Merritt puts it's masterly finishing touch on this dining room with a white lacquer, design by Scott Snyder, Inc.
Another white lacquered masterpiece; design by Scott Snyder, Inc.
But there's more to it than that. We've had the privilege of seeing Michael in action, making his thorough presentation of wood's possibilities to some of today's most coveted addresses, and he may well be underestimating his own passion for wood in architecture and design. You can tell in his presence and intensity that he demands excellence in craftsmanship , engineering and installation, and nothing less, to bring his clients designs to life.  He alone holds a wealth of knowledge to various wood species and types, custom finishes, veneers, and even which architectural vernaculars and geographic locations might benefit best from various materials. He is just as thorough as we imagine his father might have been.

"I suppose due to my English heritage I've always had an affinity for Mahogany, which carves beautifully." Says Michael, reflecting on some of his personal favorite materials. "And Walnut Cherries and Maple woods are also beautiful American woods; but since so many of these trees have been decimated with so much of them wasted, they are harder to come by in solids. So [we] still use them, more sparingly, for veneers."

After 30 years of building a successful company with a sterling reputation, passing his affinity for strategy, beauty and craftsmanship on to his sons Michael and Keith, George A. Merritt passed in 2001. It was right at a pivotal moment in Merritt Woodwork's company history, having progressed just enough for a new level of expansion, and it was at that time Michael and Keith Merritt decided to grab hold of the reins and let her lead the way.

Merritt stuns with this custom globe with hidden compartments.
Merritt Woodwork has grown from servicing high end residential projects with it's astounding abilities (and even custom creation of home furnishings for their projects) and has also moved into not only retail and corporate environments, but also marine environments. Yes, you heard that right, Merritt Woodwork also provides their talent to enhancing yacht joinery, furnishings and living environments. Michael himself has always been a fan of sea life and saw an interesting opportunity to expand Merritt's abilities there. One of his favorite hallmark projects in this new realm was working on Cakewalk: a mega-yacht of luxury, has been the largest to be built in the U.S. since the 1930's.

Cakewalk: 281 feet long and 2,998 tons is grand indeed.
 "It was really a moment of pride for us," says Michael, "we were very involved with the preliminary development and the outcome was beautiful."

Another one of the many ways Merritt Woodwork has since grown into the unique powerhouse of woodwork it is today, has been in utilizing technology and fusing it with highly trained craftspeople it employs along with other trained artisans as well. (One of their favorite artists Merritt sometimes collaborates with is Master Carver Ian Agrell.) Of course with programs like AutoCAD and various new machines to assist with handling and roughing out large quantities of wood (followed by hand carving and touching up), Merritt Woodwork employs an even more exceptional technological tool to their package of services: climate controlled workshops and vehicles.

Being thorough in every way possible, Merritt is also dedicated to being just as economical with time as they are with detailing. Many millwork outfits can struggle to provide timely delivery on job sites or installations as the seasonal humidity, temperature and geographic location affect the expansion and contraction of wood. Michael has pointed out that if the workshop is finishing detailing a project in Ohio in August for September delivery and installation in New York or California- both the climate of the shop and the project location will affect the size and measurements of the material. The best way to avoid being incorrect on sizing or potentially holding up a schedule because they can't install until the wood goes back to the correct size, is to make it and deliver it in climate controlled environments. This way, when the project is ready for them, they arrive and deliver the pre-completed product via refrigerated vehicle and install it first thing. The result is flawless excellence that lasts for lifetimes to come.

This residence gets a Merritt Woodwork finish with an authentic, rustic use of wood.
So aside from all we know now about what a thorough, comprehensive woodwork experience can be for a space, should one choose to work with an outfit like Merritt; we know just how dynamic even more details of design can be. This company has truly taken the age-old crafts of wood, addressed and premeditated all of it's pros and cons, and found solutions to be able to apply its beauty everywhere. And we're glad- now that we've seen wood and millwork intelligently utilized and applied properly, we can be aware when we're not having it done right.

When we ask Michael finally, if there was anything he would like to leave us with, anything he'd like to say to the world about his craft and company, he pauses thoughtfully and says:
"Really, more than anything, I wish I could energize the enthusiasm for woodwork in trades and design, and encourage it's use. It's a special craft. One that never stops being beautiful."
Thanks, Michael. We totally agree.
Merritt Woodwork utilizes Makore wood to bring this modern residence to life. Architecture by Jeffery Berkus Architects
Merritt Woodwork enriches this lush dining area with cerused White Oak. Design by Scott Snyder, Inc.
Merritt Woodwork has worked on projects featured in Architectural Digest, Robb Report, Bunny Williams' Point of View: Three Decades of Decorating Elegant and Comfortable Houses, and many more. You can learn more about them at, or contact their headquarters in Ohio: 440.220.7816.