Crafting Excellence in Woodworking: Swedish Door
For almost two decades, Paul St-Germain and the House of fine Carpentry have been leaving an indelible mark on the woodworking landscape of the Ottawa area and beyond. Their journey, driven by an unwavering commitment to excellence, has transformed their humble beginnings into a renowned name synonymous with craftsmanship and innovation.
“Even when I was a kid, I was passionate about woodworking. From a young age, I designed and built furniture,” reflects St-Germain. His affinity for the artistry of woodworking began early, and even as a child, he possessed an innate sense of attention to detail. “I’ve always thought about finishing,” he recalls. The meticulousness extended to even the smallest imperfections—a misplaced stain or a subtle scratch—that would draw his focus. “I would rub my hands on the surface and notice if it was bumpy and so on. Those are things that I would pay attention to and think that maybe the work was too rough and needed to be better, that the finish had to be nice. You build on that,” he says.
St-Germain’s appreciation for quality was not confined to woodworking; it pervaded every aspect of his life. “I’ve always liked good quality stuff,” he says. This value was reflected in his career choices, consistently gravitating towards companies with an unwavering dedication to quality. “For me, it has been a longtime cultural thing,” he notes. The pursuit of the finest quality became a defining principle, whether it involved choosing the best food, clothing, equipment, or machinery. This ethos was not just about acquiring the best; it was about expecting excellence, something that could only be obtained through artisans who wholeheartedly invested in their craft.
The Evolution into Excellence
St-Germain’s journey took a significant turn as he transitioned from the realm of electronics to embrace the realm of woodworking. After earning a graduate degree from Carleton University, he spent sixteen years in the electronics industry. However, his heart remained anchored in carpentry. It wasn’t long before he established the House of Fine Carpentry, initially as a modest trim company. The demand for his expertise flourished, leading to a trajectory that would encompass fireplaces, mantles, wall units, and eventually culminate in the creation of custom cabinetry, kitchens, and a comprehensive carpentry manufacturing organization.
St-Germain’s philosophy is underpinned by one central tenet—treating clients with the same level of excellence he would expect for himself. “I know how I want to be treated,” he asserts, and his clients reap the benefits of this principle. His commitment extends from the initial point of contact to the final product leaving the door, encompassing every touchpoint of the customer journey. His emphasis on qualified staff, from skilled salespeople to meticulous product handlers, ensures that the House of fine Carpentry delivers nothing short of exceptional quality.
Elevating Excellence through Superior Finishing
The establishment of Swedish Door further demonstrates St-Germain’s pursuit of perfection. Fueled by the need for impeccable finishing, Swedish Door emerged as a dedicated product manufacturer specializing in high-quality doors for kitchen cabinets. Recognizing a market gap, St-Germain harnessed the added capacity to offer door packages for IKEA cabinetry. This strategic move fulfilled a demand for high-quality, customizable components to enhance cabinetry within various budget ranges.
“The finishing at Swedish Door is superior because the demands of House of Fine Carpentry are for high-quality finishing. When Swedish Door was launched it was because House of Fine Carpentry needed a finishing company. They were using an outside firm to do the finishing but weren’t happy with the quality and lack of control. Swedish Door was created as a separate product manufacturer with a storefront and online business that sells to contractors, installers, and just about anybody across the Ottawa area who wants high-quality doors on their kitchen cabinets.”
Quality and Versatility: Swedish Door and IKEA
The juxtaposition of Swedish Door and IKEA reflects the diversity of the market’s quality spectrum. St-Germain acknowledges IKEA’s commendable efforts in developing a good quality cabinetry line. While it might not represent the pinnacle of cabinetry excellence, IKEA’s hardware and quality-conscious approach align with their target market.
“You have got to remember that there are products everywhere along the axis of supply and demand. There’s a product that’s available for every price category. IKEA has done a great job at developing a good quality cabinetry line. Is it the best cabinet? No, it’s not the best cabinet, but it’s good for the market they are going for and their hardware is a Blum line of slides and hinges, so that’s good quality stuff. The customer knows that they aren’t going to get three-quarter inch plywood cabinetry boxes with pre-finished maple on them. These clients have a budgetary constraint, or between other choices don’t want to spend all their money on the cabinetry itself, but at the same time want to customize. That’s where we fit into the market.”
Swedish Door bridges the gap, offering customized, top-tier door packages that harmonize with IKEA’s cabinetry, enhancing its appeal while maintaining affordability.
“I got the idea that we could use the added capacity at Swedish Door to sell door packages for IKEA cabinetry. We had clients who were coming to us and asking us for these types of door packages. It fits a piece of the market where a client can get a high-quality, custom component to enhance whatever cabinet fits their budget. We now make painted HDF doors, veneer doors, and some laminate door packages for aftermarket IKEA cabinetry. People buy the cabinetry from IKEA, and they put our door packages on them.”
The Art of Quality: A Culture of Excellence
The artisanal finishing at Swedish Door is a testament to a culture rooted in quality. Handcrafted and automated methods alike yield an unparalleled level of excellence. However, quality transcends technique; it requires a cohesive team with a unified vision. “A strong, knowledgeable team and a consistent vision” ensure that high-quality products emerge from the outset. St-Germain underscores the necessity of a quality-oriented culture at every step of production. Even seemingly inconspicuous details, like handling and storage, are essential components in the pursuit of perfection.
A Commitment to Every Touchpoint
St-Germain emphasizes that quality is a holistic endeavor. Every individual involved in the production process must possess a dedication to ensuring quality. From design and production to shipping and delivery, a collective mindset oriented towards excellence is indispensable. The dedication to quality resonates throughout the journey, echoing the belief that the right thing must be done for the client, from the inception of an idea to the final product.
“If an individual takes a door package that comes in the shop and drops some of the doors on the ground and puts them back on the rack, there’s a problem. Or if they take the parts that come in and they throw them on the rack as opposed to gently laying them on the rack. Those are all steps that damage the product, and you end up spending time either rectifying that through priming, finishing, or sanding. There’s so much handling, you realize. Any time you handle something there is an opportunity for there to be a mistake.”
A Legacy of Excellence Continues
Paul St-Germain and the House of fine Carpentry have carved a niche in the woodworking landscape, driven by an unyielding pursuit of perfection. Their legacy is defined by an enduring commitment to quality, a passion for craftsmanship, and an unwavering dedication to treating clients with the utmost respect. As they stand at the intersection of tradition and innovation, their story continues to inspire a new generation to embrace the art of woodworking, not merely as a skill, but as a manifestation of dedication and excellence.
Tyler Holt is the Editor of Wood Industry / Le monde du bois magazine. He has a master’s degree in literature and publication, and years of experience in the publishing and digital media industry. His main area of study is the effect of digital technologies on industrial and networked production.