What Designers Need to Know About Architectural Millwork

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Architectural millwork is integral to the design, atmosphere, and fluidity of an interior space. Understanding how to properly design millwork, and ensure that it’s constructed and installed properly, is crucial if you want to impress your client with high quality results. 

If you’re an architect or designer (or if you’re simply interested in millwork!), continue reading to learn some of the key things to consider when designing architectural millwork, and how the AWI Standards can help you.

A Brief Overview of Architectural Millwork

When you walk into a room or building, the architectural millwork is often the first thing that greets you. From doors, moldings, and trims to wall paneling and custom storage units, millwork is bespoke woodwork that helps to communicate the overall design and atmosphere of a space.

Unlike the standard manufactured casework that is available in set width increments (usually 3″) and often selected from a manufacturer’s catalog, millwork, which may include casework and more, is designed to fit the client’s unique specifications. As a result, architectural millwork often boasts distinctive dimensions and uses materials that have been carefully chosen to achieve the design intent. 

In order for a piece of woodwork to be considered millwork, it needs to be built into a space. In this way, it can be used to create specific, stand-out features for interiors, enhancing the overall flow and functionality of a room.

However, without proper construction or design, these integral architectural elements have the potential to diminish the functionality, aesthetic, and professionalism of a building. To avoid disappointing your client, there are a few key tools and approaches that design professionals and architects should consider. 

What Do Architects Need to Know About Millwork?

Something you should keep in mind before drawing up plans for architectural millwork is that, technically speaking, there are no rules. Because millwork is meant to define and elevate a space, you should get creative and think of how you can transform a bland interior into an exciting one in a way that meets the client’s vision. 

You can bring a distinctive quality to an architectural project by designing millwork that has unique dimensions, a variety of trims and moldings, or even interesting combinations of materials, like rustic metals with fine woods. But no matter what design route you choose, there is one rule that should guide you: quality is key. 

Quality Standards for Architectural Millwork

High-quality woodwork stands the test of time and makes every element of an architectural project flow together seamlessly. If you’re designing or specifying millwork, an easy way to ensure your piece is designed, constructed, and installed properly is to follow the quality standards for architectural millwork created by the Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI).

AWI Standards specify the best practices, measurements, and compliance criteria for architectural millwork. They address every aspect of millwork production, including technical specifications for:

  • Materials
  • Wood veneers
  • Joinery
  • Finishing
  • Installation of woodwork

The quality standards for architectural millwork published by AWI provide a blueprint for high quality pieces. This means you don’t have to become a woodworking expert to ensure your millwork is designed in accordance with leading industry standards. Additionally, the Standards help architects select materials and establish aesthetic requirements for a project.

There are three grade requirements in the AWI Standards: economy, the lowest grade; custom, the default grade; and premium, the highest quality grade. 

Most Popular Materials Used in Architectural Millwork

Beyond ensuring the quality of your millwork, it’s also important to choose the right material. Different wood species have different qualities that make them unique, so the one you select will have a huge impact on the overall design of the space. 

Here are four of the most popular wood species used in millwork today: 

  • Hard Maple: One of the most common woods used today. Available, in a variety of colors, from Select White (Most common for millwork), to Natural which allows a mix of brown streaking throughout the material. For the most part a subdued grain pattern in comparison to oak. Some logs may provide highly figured grain patterns such as “Birds-eye” or “tiger stripe”.
  • White Oak: One of the strongest hardwood species, heavily grained and depending on how it is cut (Rift, Quartered) will have a very distinctive grain pattern. Color tends to tan and yellow with brown undertones
  • Makore: Often referred to as “African Cherry”, the heartwood varies in color from pink-red to blood red and red-brown. Grain is generally straight, though it can have highly figured mottled or curly grain. Sometimes used in place of Mahogany.
  • Walnut: Very durable and noted for its deep brown color, walnut is most commonly used in interior accent designing.

Specifying Veneers

Just as it’s important to select the right wood material, it’s equally important to specify the right veneers when designing millwork. If you don’t provide proper specifications of veneers for your architectural millwork, manufacturers and woodworkers will be left to do a great deal of guesswork, which could compromise the overall quality of the project. 

To avoid this, it’s advised that you select the veneer flitches you want to use first, and then design the millwork around them. This will ensure that your design accommodates and complements the unique qualities of the wood, such as the size, color, grain, and figure. It also means that you won’t have any nasty surprises down-the-road as woodworkers will know exactly what veneer flitches you want in exactly which areas. 

Benefits to Architects of Understanding Architectural Millwork

By understanding all the ins and outs of architectural millwork, you’ll be better equipped to design beautiful, distinctive pieces that are constructed and installed to the highest quality standards.

Understanding and applying the AWI Standards will help you gain a deeper knowledge of architectural millwork so you can satisfy your clients and build an enviable reputation. Here are some of the benefits you can expect to see when you put all of the advice in this article into practice:

  • Higher quality materials: Knowing the pros and cons between wood species will help you choose the perfect match for your project. The standards for architectural millwork also provide guidance on the best quality materials to use, as well as which grade requirement you should adhere to for the best results. 
  • Get it right the first time round: By understanding the technical specifications for millwork set out in the standards, from specifying veneers to getting the right measurements, you’ll be able to plan ahead and ensure that your project doesn’t get derailed by avoidable mistakes, like the wrong type of veneer or an inexact installation.
  • Create distinctive, cohesive designs: Knowing how to identify the best kind of veneer or wood species for your project will allow you to design millwork pieces that complement each other and work together to create a fluid, eye-catching space. Without this knowledge, you could compromise your design intentions through mismatched materials or incongruous woodwork elements. 
  • Better communication: If you know exactly what it is you intend to do, it will be much easier to communicate your needs to other construction professionals working on the project. Clearly communicating your material specifications, and providing detailed architectural drawings, will make the whole project run a lot smoother. Adhering to the standards also facilitates this by ensuring that everyone in the project is following the same set of rules, specifications, and instructions.
  • More free time: With a strong understanding of architectural millwork, aided by compliance with the AWI quality standards, you’ll ultimately be able to execute your project a lot faster. Instead of fretting over construction details, running quality checks on woodworking firms, or checking shop drawing compliance, you’ll be able to spend more time being proactive in other important areas of your project. When you require AWI Quality Certification Program Certification in your specifications, the AWI/Quality Certification Program takes care of all the aforementioned worries for you, reducing the amount of work you have to do.

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