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Real Carriage Door Co. grows with new products, more demand

Real Carriage Door Co. makes all of its doors at a manufacturing facility in Gig Harbor. The doors are all made of solid wood and much of the process involves hands-on craftsmanship.While many homeowners have scaled down their budgets for custom home products in the past few years, one company that hasn’t been affected by the trend is Real Carriage Door Co. The family-owned business, which manufactures custom doors and hardware right in Gig Harbor, has been steadily expanding.

Not only has the company moved to a much larger space in 2007 — about 22,000 square feet — it has also added staff in the last couple of years while expanding its product line. Although the beautiful custom-made doors, made of solid wood and some more than 2 inches thick, are still a major focus, Real Carriage has grown its market niche by selling unique hardware. And recently, the company went one step further, introducing a line of non-custom, barn-style door kits for the DIY crowd.

The company’s products include unique sliding-door hardware kits.“We were encouraged to make these barn-door kits because customers wanted us to make more products… People kept asking us about these (non-custom) doors and we kept turning them away,” says Moriah Rees, daughter-in-law of company founder Don Rees.

She is one of six family members involved in the business, including her husband, Scott, and her mother-in-law, Beth. The family atmosphere has permeated through the entire business but another major advantage of being a small, family-based business is the connection with customers.

“We were both involved with sales so we have a pretty good understanding of what customers want,” says Scott Rees, who is the marketing director and has been involved with the business since the beginning. “It’s really helped us to be responsive to our customers.”

As one example, Moriah points to another new product due to be launched in December. “It started out with a customer asking if we had this particular hardware and finish and we said, ‘No, but that’s a great idea.’ We try to keep our ear to the ground,” she says.

The Real Carriage Door Co. team.The interior sliding barn-door kits, which became available earlier this fall, are made with the same high-quality materials and workmanship as the custom doors. And just like the custom doors, they pay tribute to American history — in this case, those days when barns were an iconic image of the rural landscape. Even the VOC-free paint uses milk as a base, just as people did in the old days.

Customers can also purchase hardware kits (one of which, called Hex/Bar, won the Architectural Records’ 2011 Product of the Year), or order a preassembled door.

“It’s a totally different way of thinking about a door than we have before,” Moriah says.

“A different way of thinking about a door” perhaps also describes well how Real Carriage Door Co. got its start. Don Rees, a longtime custom-home designer, frequently made his own doors for projects. More than a decade ago, he created swing-out carriage doors that use motorized openers and the doors became so popular, Rees eventually was compelled to give up home building. But it wasn’t just the style of the doors that made them unique. Every door was custom-designed from the beginning and Rees used such old-fashioned techniques as mortise and tenon joints. The real secret, however, is in the passion he has for wood — a passion that has been passed down to the next generation.

“We feel a real emotional connection to our doors,” Scott Rees says. “If you can pick great raw materials, you can get a beautiful product. You let the soul of the wood speak for itself.”

He says many of their customers feel the same connection, which is why Real Carriage Co. doors become showpieces for many homeowners.

“This is one of the reasons we’re successful — customers. It’s very encouraging to hear the same reasons they are buying the products are the same reasons we’re making them,” Rees says.

The couple tell the story of a new customer who bought a home but the doors were all missing because the previous homeowners took the doors with them. It’s unknown whether those doors were made by Real Carriage, but the company would like its products to be so valued. “We want our customers to love our doors so much that they take them with them,” Moriah says.

Although the company has many new ideas and unlimited product possibilities, Scott Rees says it’s important for them to make products that meet the same philosophy as the original carriage doors created by his father, who is still involved with the business full-time and continues to design.

“That’s what we’re about, creating new solutions to problems but also creating as beautiful a product as we can,” Scott says.

One way they create those beautiful products is through collaboration with local artists. The hardware used by Real Carriage Co. is made by a local blacksmith, for example, and a local woodcarver is hired when a custom door calls for a special design.

Scott says they expect to continue adding to their portfolio of unique, artisan-style products.

“We always have some little project going,” he says. “It’s hard to say exactly what’s next but there’s always new ideas in the works.

For more information about Real Carriage Door Co., go to www.realcarriage.com. For details about the sliding barn-door kits or the hardware, go to www.realslidinghardware.com.

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