Calderwood Custom Millwork in Newport, R.I. is a relatively new company that stems from a more familiar one that originated in the Ocean State almost 40 years ago. Known previously as Yoffa Woodworking, the custom woodworking shop rebranded in May 2018 after the founder’s sale to Dan Kinsella of Kinsella Building Co.
Working closely with clients, Calderwood – which is based on a name in the new owner’s family – maintains the same philosophy as Yoffa, focusing on superior craftsmanship so custom pieces maintain their beauty and integrity for generations. It has five employees, four of whom worked there before the sale.
Shop manager Mike Menard speaks for the team by expressing his pride to be part of the old company and to move forward with the new one.
“We maintain our same values, customer service, passion for quality and look forward to serving the customers in our community. We are proud to be providing more than cabinets in that aspect,” says Menard.
A loyal crew
Joe Yoffa founded the company in 1984. As Menard explains, Yoffa earned a fine arts degree at what’s now known as the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth then worked independently as a field carpenter in the early ’80s until he had enough work to open a shop.
Menard joined in the late ’90s as an apprentice at the age of 18 after graduating Rogers Vocational High School in Newport. He’s in his 27th year with the company.
“This was my first job. Joe had been working here alone before I came along. It was just the two of us for the first several years. We grew to four employees by the early 2000s and it has pretty much been run the same way ever since, working with architects and a core of general contractors,” he says.
Other team members include shop foreman Karl Cressotti, cabinetmakers Adam Swist and Jeremy Weinard, and bookkeeper Linda Scott who has earned the nickname “den mother” for helping keep the guys organized. Weinard is the only employee who was not part of Yoffa; he joined in April to fill a vacancy.
Although it operates from the smallest U.S. state, the business is fortunate to be surrounded by cities and towns with residents in the market for handcrafted cabinetry. The yacht-filled harbor around Newport itself illustrates lucrative jobs that are likely within reach through proper networking.
“Early on we only worked with local contractors and they were always getting local jobs, so there really wasn’t a need to expand far because there was so much work here in in our basic circle,” says Menard.
Menard says residential clients tend to prefer contemporary designs with minimal trim. The shop has been outsourcing its finishing for 20 years and painted cabinetry is a top request, followed by a clear finish on quarter-sawn white oak.
Calderwood’s commercial contracts include a bar in downtown Newport, specialized details on a commercial vessel, and cabinetry for yacht clubs and clothing stores.
“Having some commercial work is actually really nice for us because it serves as a showpiece being so close to us. Nobody’s ever going to see our work in someone else’s house except for the family and friends of whoever owns that house. But when we build a bar or put some cabinets in a store and somebody comments on them, they will say this local shop built them,” says Menard.
Navigating today’s market
Annual job volume depends on the types of jobs that come through the door, and those can range from a window repair on an old Colonial home to a millwork package for an entire 10,000-sq.-ft. mansion.
“It can really vary. Right now, we’re doing two brand new homes back to back. They are large jobs that will take five months each. We will do some smaller projects in between,” says Menard.
It was different during the Great Recession, Menard explains. “The bigger jobs at that point were harder to get so we ended up doing more smaller jobs per year. It was just more difficult. It’s easier to do one big job and focus and sink your teeth into it than do small jobs constantly as far as over an entire year.”
Part of the company’s quality control is building with mortise and tenon joinery. The shop has also made the decision to avoid automation. If any CNC work is needed, the shop will sub it out.
Menard says the shop is doing some more cabinet refacing recently.
“We never really did that before and I don’t know why because we’re perfectly equipped for it. We build all of our own doors right here. The homeowner didn’t have to rip out the kitchen. We didn’t have to reface the actual cabinetry, the cabinet boxes were in good enough shape to keep so we just added a few things like lights and rails, things like that, and the paint color they wanted.”
Given its space constraints, the shop doesn’t have room to handle an increase of volume, employees or equipment, so goals encompass improving workflow in other ways such as streamlining shop setup from fabrication to assembly.
“Our goal currently is just to be able to do the jobs we’re working on more efficiently. Then we can maybe do one more job a year because we’ve gotten them done faster. But we don’t compromise quality for speed,” says Menard.
“We’re at a very steady, comfortable pace with the amount of work that we have. We are not hurting and we’re not to the point where we’re overwhelmed. It’s a good place to be right now. We already have the next job lined up after the first job.”
Contact: Calderwood Custom Millwork, 62 Halsey St., St. 1, Newport, RI 02840. Tel: 401-846-7659. www.calderwoodmillwork.com
This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue.