Thomas Moser | Home Front

Thomas Moser
Sep 24, 2015

Thomas Moser, founder and president of the Maine-based Thos. Moser, will provide chairs for Pope Francis's Independence Hall immigration speech in Philadelphia on Saturday, Sept. 26. The pope and four cardinals are scheduled to be seated in Thos. Moser Catena cherry armchairs with custom cushions at the event organized by the World Meeting of Families. One of his Harpswell Arm Chairs will be used for the pope’s departure ceremony. In 2008, the master woodworker provided chairs for Pope Benedict’s visit to the White House.

Moser and his wife, Mary, launched the well-known furniture firm in 1972. It has evolved into a business that employs more than 130 people, and has residential, commercial and academic customers worldwide. The company’s elegant designs are known for clean simple lines, traditional joinery techniques and the use of solid American hardwood.

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Great to have Thomas Moser with us today. He and his wife, Mary, launched their furniture firm in 1972. It has evolved into a Maine business that employs more than 130 people. The company’s elegant designs are known for clean lines, almost Shaker-like simplicity, traditional joinery techniques and the use of solid American hard woods. The company made its Catena cherry chairs for the Pope and cardinals to sit on during their appearance this Saturday at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.  I have an amazing book to give as a prize today. AMERICAN WINDSOR CHAIRS by Nancy Goyne Evans, known as the definitive resource on these wonderful designs. The book $125 in 1996. I will award it to the person who shares the best story today on the chat about an important chair in their family. I will announce the winner at the end and you should email me your mailing address to: konciusj@washpost.com. Thomas is ready to chat this beautiful morning from Maine.  Let's go.

Very pleased to be here, Jura. Thanks for having me,  looking forward to hearing from your readers.

What an honor to provide chairs for the Pope. How was Thos. Moser selected to be involved in this historic event?

Back in the spring one of our associates, Tammy Mears, in our Philadelphia showroom along with my son Aaron reached out to the World Meeting of Families and the Archdiocese.  She told them that we made seating for Pope Benedict and President Bush when Benedict visited the White House in 2008 (Laura Bush was a strong advocate for us), that we are a family owned business with strong ties to Philadelphia (the first city outside of Maine to have a Thos. Moser showroom back in the 1980s), and that the cherry wood we use all comes from the Allegheny Forest of western Pennsylvania.  They were obviously receptive and it has been an real pleasure to work with the organizers.  This will be a first class event to be sure.

How many Thos. Moser staff were involved in the making of the Pope's chairs? What did it mean to them? And you?

There were about 10 craftsman (both men and women) including myself who worked on these pieces, include the 7 chairs, the replica of the Lincoln lectern and the bracing that we be used with the original Lincoln lectern.  Everyone involved sees this as a huge honor, especially since this is the second Pope who has honored us in this way. I am particularly honored to have worked on the bracing for the lectern. The Gettysburg Address is perhaps the single most important speech ever given on US soil and the fact that the same lectern used by Lincoln will be used by Pope Francis is astounding.

I read you inspected the Lincoln lectern that he used at the Gettysburg Address and built a lectern brace for the Pope to use when giving his speech. What did you think of the design of the Lincoln lectern? Was it typical of the era? Would you make it differently today?

It is a small piece, made from walnut wood.  Although its precise origin and maker is not known, it is well designed and executed.  It is a bit top heavy and somewhat fragile due to its age, which is why we decided the bracing was necessary.  We made a replica that is as close to exactly the same as we could make it, in order to make sure the bracing fits properly, and it should hold up just as long as the original.

What are the differences between the Harpswell chairs you created for the Pope in 2008 and the one for Pope Francis?

They are essentially the same chair in terms of the design.  The chairs we made for Benedict were made of walnut and the chairs for Francis are made of cherry.  The Harpswell Chair for Francis also has a custom needlepoint logo of the World Meeting of Families embroidered on the back cushion.

If you had to choose one essential piece of furniture from your line -- what would it be?

The Newport Chair is my favorite, and it is my interpretation of an 18th century Windsor chair.  I also love my son David's design called Rockport, which is an exquisite piece, almost like sculpture.

Thomas, with so many wonderful handmade pieces to choose from, do you have a favorite item in all the furniture you have designed and built? Also, what's the best seller?

As I mentioned, the Newport Chair is my favorite.  Our best seller is the Harpswell Chair, the same chair Pope Benedict used in 2008 and Pope Francis will use on Sunday.

What or who has most influenced your designs?

George Nakashima gave me a methodology in design that I have always followed.  That is, to reference historical forms particularly 19th century American...removing ornamentation and adapting to 21 century needs.

Thomas, I read you were a professor and then decided to follow your passion by becoming a cabinetmaker. Is there anything else, something new, you’d like to learn to do?

I have for the last several years been particulary the human form.  I've been working in clay and bronze, but am very interested in learning how to work with marble and stone which is only subtractive and therefore daunting.

HI, I’ve purchased several Thos. Moser pieces and noticed they are signed. What is the significance of the signature on each piece of Thos. Moser furniture?

There are very few occupations today which afford anything close to immortality.  By placing one's signature on a piece he or she has made, there is a strong chance that his or her great-great-great-grandson will see it.

If you only had one project to work on for the next year, what would it be?

In order to stay out of the proverbial pool hall and away from the golf course (which I detest), I've been making American flags of wood, using walnut, cherry and maple. In fact, one of the first ones I made is on loan to, and on display at, the Washington DC office of Maine Senator Susan Collins.

I have a nineteenth century caned wagon seat, which would have been used to transport two or three children in the back of a farm wagon. It came from my great-grandparents' barn in Nova Scotia, and has been used in bedrooms since then.

Wow. This is amazing! What a treasured family heirloom. Thanks for sharing this.

What does success look like for Thos. Moser in 20 years?

History has shown that very few start up companies survive more than five years.  Even fewer, 50 years.  And perhaps even less, 64 years (which will be our age company's 20 years from now). If we are still here and employing the same people (and perhaps more), that would be satisfaction enough.

HI Thomas, I've always admired your furniture and wonder how you want people to feel when sitting in a Thos. Moser chair?

Interesting question.  I would say that four of the five senses should be employed, which means kinesthetic, tactile, visual and auditory...how it tastes is probably not a criteria.  What I am trying to say, is that it should satisfy all of the senses.

Today's Post Points Code is HF8666

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Being a craftsman or cabinetmaker sounds like a wonderful profession. How would one get into the business today?

My first suggestion for an individual who wants to start his or her own business making fine furniture, is to marry well. Beyond that, tenacity, tenacity, tenacity.  And don't neglect getting educated on the business side, particularly sales and marketing...nothing sells itself.

Thank you, Mr. Moser, for participating in today's chat. I have admired your chairs for some time now. We have a small, armless, oak rocker with a cane seat that takes pride of place in our living room. The chair belonged to my great-great grandmother (I am in my mid-fifties), and my grandfather said his grandma rocked all her grandchildren in this chair. It lived in my mother's bedroom for my childhood, and my brother always admired it. However, NO ONE WAS ALLOWED TO SIT IN IT. It was considered too fragile. My mom gave the chair to my brother, but with his house full of rambunctious toddlers, he asked me to keep it. NO ONE EVER SAT IN IT. On one occasion, we had a house full of company, and a rather large guest plopped right down in it. The chair held without a squeak or creak. I'll give the chair back to my brother when he asks, but for now I am the happy owner of this small piece of family history.

What a delightful story! And so glad it's being used.

I’d love to read about and see more of your work and your inspiration. Have you written any books?

In addition to a doctoral dissertation in my youth which only 4 people have ever read, I wrote in 1977 "How to Build Shaker Furniture" which has been in print ever since, and has sold literally hundreds of thousand of copies. In addition to that I have publish 4 other books..."Windsor Chairmaking", "Shop Drawings of American Furniture", "Artistry in Wood", and most recently (just published this month b y Down East books), "Legacy in Wood."

What parts of your past have most influenced your work?

The first 9 years of my life were characterized by a very nurturing environment by a mother and father for whom hard work and deferred reward was important.  That gave me a grounding that allowed me to survive what would otherwise have been a difficult transition into adulthood.

Are any of your chairs in the White House collection?

Not in the current White House, as far as I know, however, the two Harpswell Chairs used by Pope Benedict and President George W. Bush in 2008 are now in the Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Texas. We also made several benches for the Ronald Reagan Library in California many years ago.

Besides the Pope, what other famous folks are Thos. Moser customers?

We have many well-known customers, among them are author Patricia Cornwell, Olympian Michael Phelps, Al Gore, Timothy Geithner, and the list goes on.  We even made a desk for Steve Jobs, who was well known for having a very sparsely furnish office and home. Recently, our Harpswell Chairs made an appearance on the Netflix show "House of Cards."

Hi Thomas! I like to see, feel and sit in furniture before I purchase it. I know you're based in Maine. Where are your other showrooms?

We currently have six showrooms, located in Freeport, Maine, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC (in Georgetown) and San Francisco.  Through our Moser Contract division, we also have done installations for hundreds of colleges and universities around the country which is where many of our customers and future customers first encounter out work.

Mr. Moser, My favorite piece of furniture is your Dr. White's Cabinet. It's now more than 20 years old and looks better than ever. I love my Continuous Arm chairs and dining table, too.

Thank you very much.  The Dr. White's Chest is a wonderful piece, and probably the single most complex piece of cabinetry we make.

Hi - my favorite chair is a child's rocker, that was my mother's, probably from around 1914. She is gone now, but every time I look at it, I think of her. I used it to rock my little sister & then it held a doll I received in 1954. It now sits in my living room, holding the same doll.

That's a wonderful story, thanks for sharing. It gets to the heart of why we do what we do.

Why do you do keep your business in Maine? It must be hard to get skilled artisans there.

We are very proud to be in Maine, and to have created a sustainable community of craftsman that continues to grow around us. Today we are some 70 craftsman strong, almost evenly divided between men and women. In fact, we just celebrated our 20 year employees, which make up a full third of our workforce.  Maine, and particularly central Maine where we are based, has a long manufacturing tradition and we have benefited greatly form that.

When is Thos. Moser releasing new collections? And if soon, what are some of the pieces?

We continue to evolve our brand under the design leadership of Adam Rogers, whose Cumberland Collection launched last year was a Best of Year award from Interior Design.  Our latest catalog, just launched last week, features a new collection from Adam called Hartford, as well as several new chair designs.  Earlier this month, Adam was the recipient of a "Five Under 40" award for Specialty Design as one of our region's top young designers.

You make great looking hardwood furniture that is built to last - so do the Amish. Why is yours so significantly more expensive?

That's a very good question, and it goes to our choice to maintain everything in American hardwood made here in Maine while adhering to a "one craftsman/one piece" philosophy.  We have also grown over the years and now have all the mundane expenses of operating a business, such as healthcare and such. And finally, we do operate our own showrooms and sell direct to customers from coast-to-coast and around the world.

I'm always looking for unique holiday gifts. A piece of Thos. Moser furniture might be outside my budget but I love the idea of giving handcrafted items. Do you offer smaller items that are suitable as gifts?

You may want to consider our Beacon Box, a small treasure box with the great story.  We also plan to have a few new offerings this holiday season.

Thanks so much for being with us today. We all learned a lot about what you do! The winner of the American Windsor Chairs book is the person who posted about their great great grandmother's oak rocking  chair that they say someone finally sat in! Send me your mailing address at konciusj@washpost.com. Thanks all. Next week's guest is April Cornell, who is known for her beautifully patterned bed linens, table linens and other products for the home. Thanks all for joining.

It has been my pleasure to connect with all of you.  Thank you for taking the time to reach out and for the interesting questions.  I hope you will be able to come see our work in person at our showroom in Georgetown, at 33rd and M Street.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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Thomas Moser
Thomas Moser, founder and president of the Maine-based Thos. Moser, will provide chairs for Pope Francis's Independence Hall immigration speech in Philadelphia on Saturday, Sept. 26. Moser launched the well-known furniture firm in 1972, which employs more than 130 people, and has residential, commercial and academic customers worldwide.
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