Criswell is the Architectural Marketing Manager for Frank Miller Lumber and represents them to architects and designers around the world. Criswell has been in the hardwood business for 30 years and has represented Frank Miller Lumber for 22 years. He has served on the Board of Directors for the Wood Products Manufacturers Association, the Western Hardwood Association and the Hardwood Federation PAC in Washington D.C. Criswell is a cancer survivor and now serves on the Patient Advisory Council for a new Kettering Cancer Treatment hospital in Kettering, Ohio.

Sheer Volume of Projects

As I travel all over the U.S. and around the world talking to architecture and design firms, I have been struck by the unbelievable volume of planned construction of five and six-star hotels in the next five years.  One hotel group has 80, yes 80 hotels scheduled for China in the next five years.  Another has 15 planned for India in the next five years.  These are only two hotel companies and two countries.  When added together, the scope of planned building is mind-boggling.  All of these hotel properties are massive undertakings.  For example, a hotel in China that is under construction will have its reception desk on the 101st floor.  I am advising on a large hotel in India, one in Saudi Arabia and another in Qatar.  When I consider the amount of man-hours and intellectual capital involved with the design and construction processes and multiply that by the number of projects on the books, I find it extremely hard to comprehend.  One large international hotel company with whom I am working established an office in Dubai in early 2011 and had 40 projects immediately and now, half a year later, they are working on an additional 40.

There is a place for American hardwoods in many of these properties as a sustainable and beautiful interiors material.  I was asked this week about using American hardwoods in environments that aren’t “controlled”, such as in Singapore, where I was speaking.  My natural reaction is to say that all indoor environments are controlled, but upon quick reflection, I realized that there are many living spaces in tropical climates where windows are open most of every day.  In those environments the most logical choice would be quartersawn Red or White Oak which will only shrink and swell in thickness rather than width as it adjusts to the moisture in the environment.

As all of these hotel projects take shape it is my mission to make sure that sustainable American hardwoods are considered.  There are significant opportunities in the next five to ten years and as an industry, we should be at the table.

Be Specific With Specs

I have been assisting some designers and architects in the past year who find themselves up against the clock on a job where hardwood specifications aren’t being met. I tell them the problem is that it’s very rare that the people who are trying to get the job will actually tell the truth about what is and is not possible.

Imagine a scenario where you get three hardwood flooring companies together to bid on a job that is simply impossible to produce. This could be for myriad reasons — the widths and lengths aren’t in synch with the species, the color won’t be perfectly matched to your sample or the time line is simply too short. Now imagine that two of the company reps say they can absolutely produce exactly what you have specified. The third rep ponders for a minute and says that it can’t be done for any price or any time frame. My advice is to dismiss the first two people and talk to the last guy who was willing to walk away from the job.

Everyone wants work, and if someone is willing to pass on the job, they must have a good reason. They can help you re-imagine the space in such a way that it will be unique and beautiful, even if different than your original vision. It is much better to do this exercise at the very beginning of the project than find out at the tail end that the job was never going to look the way you envisioned it. No one wants to have to go back to the client 18 months into the project to renegotiate the look of the space, now based on reality. A bit of work up-front with experts will save a great deal of heartache later. Ask for a truthful evaluation of your hardwood specifications.

The Frank Miller Connection to the Barnes Collection

The Barnes Collection is considered to be the most valuable private art collection in the world, valued at anywhere from $25 to $40 billion. It is also possibly the largest, with more than 2,500 objects, including over 800 paintings by artists such as Degas, Picasso, Matisse, van Gogh, Cezanne and Renoir. In 1922, the collection was housed at the institution, which was founded by a successful chemist named Albert Barnes. I went to school across the street from it in Merion, Pa. I was always curious about the collection, but never able to see it, since the Foundation didn’t want a bunch of school kids wandering around the building. That changed today, as I found myself inside the Barnes Collection’s new museum on Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.

The building was designed by New York architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, and it is nothing less than spectacular. One of the key elements of this iconic museum is the 30,000 square feet of quarter-sawn white oak flooring made by Muscanell Millworks, using FSC® oak lumber from Frank Miller. Frank Miller was involved in the project from the beginning, keeping the supply on track and helping the architects realize their aesthetic vision. During my visit, one of the project managers told me that Frank Miller’s quarter-sawn white oak was the most beautiful hardwood he has ever seen — and he has been in the construction business for more than 20 years. The flooring installer echoed those sentiments. It has been an honor to have our hardwood included in the design of the Barnes Collection Museum. We are thrilled for Opening Day on May 19th and hope you will have the opportunity to visit the museum to see the finished floors firsthand, along with other remarkable pieces of art.

Connect to the Mill!

When I talk to architectural design professionals about using sustainable quartersawn hardwood in their designs, I always stress the importance of connecting to the source of the lumber. By connecting to the source, you can develop specifications for the project that are based in reality. If left to the various contractors and subcontractors involved, the final project will often bear only a faint resemblance to the original vision.

As a designer, it is important to know the realities of the resource and rely on the experts to help you. If American hardwood has a place in your aesthetic vision, let Frank Miller Lumber help you to make it a reality.

Who Is Criswell?

I have 25 years of experience in the hardwood industry, 16 of which have been as a representative of Frank Miller Lumber, the world’s largest quartersawn hardwood sawmill.

For the past several years I have been on a crusade of sorts as a consultant to architects and designers across the U.S., teaching them about the wonders and realities of sustainable U.S. hardwoods and the most beautiful form of those hardwoods, quartersawn. I tell architects and designers that it is my job to inspire the use of U.S. hardwoods in their designs where such inspiration might not exist. Further, I will teach them the differences between plainsawn and quartersawn hardwoods, helping to find the appropriate use for both.

The challenge is to take the unbridled imagination of designers and squeeze it through the funnel of reality so that the vision can be realized in the end. As is true of humans, every tree is unique, and there are limitations that need to be taken into account during the design process. Just because you can imagine 10,000 square feet of rift white oak flooring with a 10-inch face, all color matched with no medullary ray, it doesn’t mean it is possible to produce.

I will keep you apprised of my travels, observations and cautionary tales here in these blogs and on my Twitter feed, @QuartersawnGuru.