It is a comical and perhaps typically light moment for cabinetmaker Doug Mooberry. “Cabinetmaker,” as Mooberry explains for perhaps the 3,000th time in his 35 years of being one, is an 18th-century English term for a craftsman who hand-makes any type of furniture—not just cabinets.
As the long-time owner of Kinloch Woodworking in Unionville, Mooberry and his staff are nationally known for their custom furniture. Their inventory ranges from hideaway desks to garden gates to multitudinous styles of chairs. Mooberry guides a guest to a chair at a large outer-office table made of bubinga, a tree from equatorial Africa whose big and colorful boards are popular with cabinetmakers. Then he goes looking for a chair for himself, and finds a small milking stool. “This should do,” he says, sitting down to discuss how he became master of a furniture atelier whose work is often featured in national magazines.
“It’s been so busy that we haven’t had time to make things for the showroom,” he says, looking around the sparsely appointed space.
With dark, wavy shoulder-length hair that makes him look like a refugee from a 1970s English rock band, Mooberry seems so young that the news that he’s been running this business for 35 years forces one to start doing the math. Approaching 60? Really?
Mooberry is a local guy—a graduate of Unionville High School, a short walk down the road from this modest set-back house. There’s a large multi-story studio in back situated on West Doe Run Road, in the heart of the half-dozen blocks of this small town’s “business district.” It was in high school that he fell in love with woodworking in a shop class.
Mooberry had planned a career in business, graduating from Gettysburg College in 1982. “There were absolutely no jobs,” he recalls. “And besides, I wanted to have my own business.”
After a summer working at Winterthur in its extensive furniture collection and a brief internship with a local cabinetmaker, he set out on his own. As for the name Kinloch: “We’re Scottish, and I wanted a Scottish name for the business, so I opened a map, closed my eyes and put my finger down.”
Most of the other decisions Mooberry has made in the years since have been more calculated. Today, Kinloch has seven employees, plus four other cabinetmakers who work at the studio a few feet away from the house that holds the offices and the showroom. “About 20 percent of what we do is restoration,” he says. “But the majority is new pieces of furniture.”
Pieces range in size from smaller items such as stools or accessories to larger pieces like beds and cabinets, so Mooberry has no idea how many pieces his team produces a year. When it comes to customers, a few come in knowing exactly what they want, even bringing detailed sketches. But most just have a general idea and ask him to come up with the design and the detail. Often, he’ll make a visit to the client’s home to see where a piece will be placed before he starts designing.
“Fifteen years ago, we’d take orders two years out,” Mooberry says. “Today, we live with the Amazon curse. People expect things to be delivered tomorrow.”
Ideas for designs come from a variety of places, and Mooberry and his cabinetmakers often blend classic designs with elements of the modern. “We use the collective knowledge of the shop,” he says.
For inspiration, he still likes to go to Winterthur and other museums in the area, including the Wharton Esherick in Malvern. He also tries to have a targeted visit to the Metropolitan in New York at least once yearly.
To explain how he integrates styles, Mooberry points to a bench along the wall nearby. “That looks like a traditional Shaker bench, but we added some modern elements to it,” he says.
One that’s very visible is a streak of blond wood that interrupts the brown of the bench’s back. Mooberry explains that the blond part (“that’s called sap wood, which is the outer rings of the log”) was once seldom used in fine furniture. But today’s designers love incorporating this two-tone look into their pieces.
“Did you see our library on the left when you came in?” he asks, mentioning a two-volume set written by Thomas Sheraton, the late 18th-century English cabinetmaker who had a whole style of design named after him. “Sheraton knew how to do everything. The only problem is translating what he says.”
Indeed, the language on the page shows how much the English vocabulary has either evolved or devolved in the two centuries since.
As we walk toward the showroom, he shows me two small pieces —a cabinet and a sort of spice box. The latter he makes as an impulse buy for browsers looking to purchase, but whose houses are already filled with full-scale pieces. “They make good end tables or jewelry boxes.” he says.
Mooberry points out the elements of design in each piece: inlays, different woods, changes in grain directions. The spice box is especially intriguing, a complex design of 11 drawers that completely hide a 12th drawer with an undetectable opening in the back.
Mooberry also shows off one of 10 boxes made out of wood from the vessel U.S.S. Constitution. Another showroom piece looks like a conventional cabinet, but it opens up into a modern pullout desk ideal for a watercolorist or designer looking to store finished works.
But it’s across the small courtyard where all the action takes place—two very high stories of well-lighted, well-ventilated floor space filled with modern and antique tools. At work on each floor are two Kinloch cabinetmakers, each with three or four pieces of furniture in progress around them. The work is not compartmentalized according to function. Rather, each man takes a piece from design to finish, a testament to the ability of each to think conceptually while using tools to make a precise finished product—although there are times when nothing more demanding than an hour or so of rubbing is involved.
“We have one man who started with us when he was 15, because it takes time to learn the craft,” says Mooberry. “Now he’s 27, and I had him completely design the last piece he made.”
Off in a shed-like section of the first floor are stacks of boards of all different woods, sizes and colors. Mooberry says he has another barn full of wood a few miles away, where he lives with his wife Sara, a potter by trade. Upstairs, there’s a row of cabinets containing the sort of pulls and catches one might see in Restoration Hardware. The shop has been collecting them through the years. Many were made in English foundries, and the crew sorts through them when looking for the proper piece.
“The funny thing is, we’ll have someone come into the office with a magazine article about us from five years ago,” says Moorberry. “They finally decided on what they want made that caused them to keep the article.”